Author Archive

Friedman’s methodology: a stake through the heart of reason

March 15, 2018 5 comments

from Asad Zaman

Romer writes that macro-economists casually dismiss facts, and the profession as a whole has gone backwards over the past few decades, losing precious and hard-won knowledge. He does not consider WHY this happened. What are the methodological flaws that create the possibility of moving backwards, losing knowledge, affirming theories known to be in conflict with facts. How is it that leading economists can confidently assert theories which border on lunacy, and receive Nobel Prizes instead of psychiatric treatment?

This is due to the famous AS-IF methodology of Friedman, which gave economists a license for lunacy.  Friedman came up with this defense of orthodoxy when numerous emprical investigation revealed clearly that firms did not maximize profits, did not know their marginal costs, typically used mark-up pricing, and did other things which did not square with neo-classical theories. Friedman’s argument has been universally condemned by logicians and philosophers as an instance of the logical fallacy of “Affirming the consequent” – the use of modus ponens in reverse. That is, Friedman says, in effect, that theory T implies observable consequence C. We observe C, and therefore we can affirm that T holds. This is obviously fallacious since many different theories, inconsistent with T, may also imply consequence C.  read more 

Understanding Macro: The Great Depression (1/3)

February 26, 2018 6 comments

from  Asad Zaman

Preliminary Remarks: “The trouble is not so much that macroeconomists say things that are inconsistent with the facts. The real trouble is that other economists do not care that the macroeconomists do not care about the facts. An indifferent tolerance of obvious error is even more corrosive to science than committed advocacy of error.” From The Trouble with Macroeconomics (Paul Romer)

Personally, I do not understand why indifference to error is worse than committed advocacy. For an illustration of committed advocacy of error, see postscript below on 70 years of economists’ commitment to a fallacious theory of supply and demand in the labor market. Furthermore, the problem is not confined to macro. Microeconomists are also dogmatically committed to utility maximization, when in fact this hypothesis about consumer behavior is solidly rejected by empirical evidence; see: The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Maximization: A Survey of the Literature

Understanding Macro: The Great Depression

Due to frequent headlines, there is a substantial public awareness of core macroeconomic issues like unemployment, trade agreements, exchange rates, deficit, taxes, interest rates, etc. However, even professionals are often ignorant of the intellectual battles which have shaped modern macroeconomics, since this is not taught in typical PhD programmes in economics. This article attempts to provide the history of ideas which led to the emergence of macroeconomics, since this is an essential background required for informed analysis of these issues.

Lord John Maynard Keynes invented the entire field of macroeconomics in response to the Great Depression in 1929, which could not be understood according to economic theories dominant until then. According to the classical economic theory, forces of supply and demand in the labour market would ensure full employment. Keynes starts his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, with the observation that the economic theory cannot explain the long, persistent and deep unemployment that was observed following the Great Depression. Keynes set himself the goal of creating a theory which could explain wide fluctuations in levels of employment that he observed. He discovered that creating such a theory involved rejecting deeply held convictions, central to economic theory.  read more

Choosing our own pathways to progress

January 20, 2018 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

Pride resulting from global dominance and spectacular scientific and technological developments led Europeans to believe that the West was the most advanced and developed of all societies. Other societies were primitive and under-developed. As these other societies matured and grew, they would follow the same stages that were followed by the West, and eventually become like modern Western societies. Early thinkers like Comte described the stages in growth from primitive society to modern ones in a ‘logical’ sequence. The enterprise of colonizing the non-European world was painted in bright terms as being part of the “White Man’s burden” of bringing enlightenment, good government, science, technology and other benefits of Western civilization to the rest of the world. Until the 60’s modernization theorists, like Parsons and Rostow echoed these sentiments, regarding Westernization as a desirable and inevitable process for the rest of the world. The goal of this article is to discuss some of the difficulties which led to substantial reconsideration of these naïve views. Current views (for example, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen) are much more complex and diverse, and generally more respectful of other ancient civilizations in the world.  read more

Prosperity as human development, not wealth

January 15, 2018 12 comments

from Asad Zaman

The main thesis of our lecture is that our quest for prosperity has failed to deliver the sought-after goals because we have misunderstood the meaning of prosperity , and looked for it where it cannot be found. We base our economic policies on modern economic theory, which is based on the amazing assumption that human beings act to maximize lifetime consumption, since this is the sole source of human welfare. Human beings are far more generous and cooperative than the assumptions of economic theory allow for. Even more important is Richard Easterlin’s discovery that enormously increased levels of consumption do not bring about corresponding increases in happiness. Consumption only brings short-run happiness; long-run happiness has no correlation with consumption, and is far better correlated with character traits like generosity and gratitude. Mindless pursuit of wealth, implemented by policies to maximize growth, has led to increasing misery, instead of prosperity . Growth-oriented policies have destroyed family lives, engaging all members in production of wealth, and they have damaged our environment, destroying the future of our species for short run gains.his damage be reversed? Can we improve human lives and welfare, and also stave off the impending environmental crisis? At the core of the crisis we face is the prioritization of wealth over human beings. A market economy cheapens human beings because it is based on the idea that human lives are commodities for sale in the labor market. Reversing these priorities requires the recognition that all human lives are infinitely precious, with amazing potentials and capabilities for growth in dimensions unknown. Taking this principle seriously would require re-writing all economics textbooks, and radically re-organizing our economic, political and social institutions. Taking collective responsibility to ensure that all members of a society get the chance to develop their capabilities would be a new definition of prosperity , very different from GNP per capita, which is the current focus of policy makers across the globe.  read more

Resources for study of Polanyi’s Great Transformation

December 30, 2017 11 comments

from Asad Zaman

Summary: My 1000+ word summary of Polanyi’s classic: “The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times” has been wildly popular, remaining constantly among the top ten on the RWER Blog since it was was published nearly five years ago.  I have recently (25/12/26) revised and updated the post to clean up extraneous elements and clarify the substance in light of readers comments as well as my own improved understanding. Perhaps the most important element of this post is that it explains how living in a market society shapes our thoughts to conform with the commercialization it creates. Creating radical changes requires the first step of liberating our selves from these blinders, to be able to imagine radical alternatives.  I have also recorded a 28m video-talk on this topic, which has been added to the original post. This post provides links to additional material that I have written about Polanyi over the past five years.

Methodology: Moving forward from critique, Polanyi’s analysis is based on methodological principles radically different from those currently in use. Understanding and implementing these principles woujld allow us to create a new approach to economics and social sciences. My 20 page paper explaining the three fundamental principles used by Polanyi was published in the WEA Journal: Asad Zaman (2016) ‘The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation.’ Economic Thought, 5.1, pp. 44-63. A brief 1000 word explanation of this methodology is available in a WEA Pedagogy Blog post:    The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation. The post also provides a link to a 45m video lecture on this topic. (This lecture has been by far my most popular video-lecture, with more than 2000 views.) Polanyi’s analysis provides the basis for a radically different approach to economics, which considers politics, society, environment, and economics as inter-related subjects which cannot be understood in isolation. One of the deep insights of Polanyi is that economic theory itself is a product of a power struggle between different social classes and cannot be understood outside its historical context.

Ecological Collapse read more

Subjective probability does not exist

December 6, 2017 3 comments

from Asad Zaman

The title is an inversion of De-Finetti’s famous statement that “Probability does not exist” with which he opens his famous treatise on Probability. My paper, discussed below, shows that the arguments used to establish the existence of subjective probabilities, offered as a substitute for frequentist probabilities, are flawed.

The existence of subjective probability is established via arguments based on coherent choice over lotteries. Such arguments were made by Ramsey, De-Finetti, Savage and others, and rely on variants of the Dutch-Book, which show that incoherent choices are irrational – they lead to certain loss of money. So every rational person must make coherent choices over a certain set of especially constructed lotteries. Then the subjectivist argument shows that every coherent set of choices corresponds to a subjective probability on part of the decision maker. Thus we conclude that rational decision makers must have subjective probabilities. This paper shows that coherent choice over lotteries leads to weaker conclusion than the one desired by subjectivists. If a person is forced to make coherent choices for the sake of consistency in certain specially designed environment, that does not “reveal” his beliefs. The decision may arbitrarily chose a “belief”, which he may later renounce. To put this in very simple terms, suppose you are offered a choice between exotic fruits Ackee and Rambutan, neither of which you have tasted. Then the choice you make will not “reveal” your preference. But preferences are needed to ensure stability of this choice, which allows us to carry it over into other decision making environments.  read more

Consumer Theory

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

Lecture 5 of Advanced Microeconomics at PIDE. The base for this lecture Hill & Myatt Anti-Textbook Chapter 4 on Consumer Theory.

Hill and Myatt cover three criticisms of conventional microeconomic consumer theory.

  1. Economic theory considers preference formation as exogenous. If the production process also creates preferences via advertising, this is not legitimate.
  2. Consumers are supposed to make informed choices leading to increase welfare. However, deceptive advertising often leads consumers to make choices harmful to themselves. The full information condition assumed by Economics is not valid.
  3. Economic theory is based on methodological individualism, and treats all individual separately. However, many of our preferences are defined within a social context, which cannot be neglected.

Before discussing modern consumer theory, it is useful to provide some context and

1      Historical Background:

In a deeply insightful remark, Karl Marx said that Capitalism works not just by enslaving laborers to produce wealth for capitalists, but by making them believe in the necessity and justness of their own enslavement. The physical and observable chains tying the exploited are supplemented by the invisible chains of theories which are designed to sustain and justify existing relationships of power. Modern economic consumer theory is an excellent illustration of these remarks.  read more

The Shifting Battleground

November 22, 2017 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

The bull charges the red flag being waved by the matador, and is killed because he makes a mistake in recognizing the enemy.  A standard strategy of the ultra-rich throughout the ages has been to convince the masses that their real enemy lies elsewhere. Most recently, Samuel Huntington created a red flag when he painted the civilization of Islam as the new enemy, as no nation was formidable enough to be useful as an imaginary foe to scare the public with. Trillions of dollars have since been spent in fighting this enemy, created to distract attention from the real enemy.

The financial deregulation initiated in the Reagan-Thatcher era in the 1980s was supposed to create prosperity. In fact, it has resulted in a sky-rocketing rise in inequality. The gap between the richest and the poorest has become larger than ever witnessed in history. Countless academic articles and books have been written to document, explain and attempt to provide solutions to the dramatic increase in inequality. The American public does not need these sophisticated data and theories; it experiences the fact, documented in The Wall Street Journal, that the quality of jobs and wage earnings are lower today than they were in the 1970s. Growing public awareness is reflected in several movies about inequality. For instance, Elysium depicts a world where the super-rich have abandoned the ruined surface of the planet Earth to the proles, and live in luxury on a satellite.

The fundamental cause of growing inequality is financial liberalisation. Just before the Great Depression of 1929, private banks gambled wildly with depositors’ money, leading to inflated stocks and real estate prices. Following the collapse of 1929, the government put stringent regulations on banking. In particular, the Glass-Steagall Act prohibited banks from speculating in stocks. As a result, there were few bank failures, and widespread prosperity in Europe and the US in the next 50 years. Statistics show that the wealth shares of the bottom 90 per cent increased, while that of the top 0.1 per cent decreased until 1980. To counteract this decline, the wealthy elite staged a counter-revolution in the 1980s, to remove restrictive banking regulations.  read more

Completing the Circle: From GD ’29 to GFC ’07

November 16, 2017 1 comment

from Asad Zaman

Karl Marx said that “The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws.” Modern economic theory is a tool of central importance in making the laborers and the poor accept their own exploitation as natural and necessary. As explained in greater detail in the next lecture (AM09), Economic Theory argues that distribution of income is

  • FAIR – everyone gets what they deserve, in proportion to what they contribute (the marginal product)
  • NECESSARY – the laws of economics ensure that this is the only distribution which will prevail in equilibrium
  • EFFICIENT – this distribution creates efficient outcomes, and maximal productivity in the economic system.

In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, neoclassical Economic Theory should be labeled as ET1% (Economic Theory of the Top 1%), because it only represents their interests, and glosses over issues of central importance and concern to bottom 90%. Nonetheless, widespread propagation of this theory through university courses, and popular expositions for the general public, are very important in convincing the bottom 90% that the capitalist economic system is the best possible, and their own misfortunes are due to their own bad luck or other defects.

1      Classical Economic Theory

According to classical economic theory, free markets automatically eliminate unemployment, guaranteeing jobs for everyone at a fair wage, consonant with the productivity of labor. In particular, payoff to labor and to capital is perfectly symmetric – both factors get what they deserve. If government tries to regulate the labor market to create better outcomes – minimum wages, better working conditions, labor unions, etc. — it will actually end up hurting laborers. Economists argue that unemployment is due to minimum wage laws, labor unions, and search costs, and not due to free markets themselves.

2      Credit Creation By Banks

read more


November 2, 2017 1 comment

from Asad Zaman

Varian start his intermediate micro text by stating the maximization and equilbrium are the core principles of micro. Krugman recently stated that I am a “maximization and equilibrium” kind of guy. The goal of this lecture is to show that these two principles fail completely to help us understand behavior is a very simple model of a duopoly.

In last lecture (AM03), we introduced a simple duopoly model. Two ice-cream vendors buy ice-cream wholesale and can sell at any chosen price in the park. If they have matching prices, they split customers. Under Perfect Competition assumptions, with Full Information and Zero Transaction Costs, if they have different prices, then all customers go to the lower price vendor. Straightforward analysis of this duopoly model leads to the following conclusions:

  1. There is a huge amount of genuine uncertainty – probability calculations required for expected utility cannot be made. We cannot know how many people will come to the park on any given day. We cannot forecast the weather conditions, which influence the demand for ice-cream, with any degree of reliability. This means that vendors will adopt rules-of-thumb to make decisions, rather than maximize anything. This leads to the use of evolutionary Agent Based Models as the preferred modeling technique.  read more


October 24, 2017 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

Building on the analysis of Supply and Demand in Chapter 3 of Hill and Myatt’s Anti-Textbook, this lecture constructs a very simple model of monopoly and duopoly, to show that policy implications in these cases differ dramatically from what conventional textbooks teach. The higher level goal is to teach students Meta-Theoretical thinking. This goes beyond the binary logic which lies behind conventional textbooks, which teach student to think in terms of whether theories are true or false, or even instrumental – enabling you to formulate policy and welfare questions. In Meta-Theory, we try to step back and ask questions about who created this theory, in what historical context, which groups did it help, and which did it hurt, and what will the effects be upon us and upon the world, if we decide to affirm these theories for use in our personal lives, and to shape our societies?

The Hill and Myatt Anti-Text is ideally suited to this goal, since it is directly a meta-analysis of the message contained in conventional textbooks, and brings out the implications hidden beneath the surface of the analysis. In particular, the Anti-Text helps us to understand the rhetorical strategy used by conventional textbooks to convince students of theories which are overwhelmingly contradicted by empirical evidence.

BTW, it is worth pausing here to admire the efficiency with which economists succeed in creating such deep brainwashing that mountains of empirical evidence fail to move the faith of the true believers. For Real-World economists, it is very important to study these rhetorical strategies, as exposing this framework is an important component of the De-Programming techniques which are required to reverse the effects of this brainwashing.  read more

AM02: Supply & Demand

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman

2nd Lecture (90min) on Advanced Microeconomics at PIDE, (14 Sep 2017). While planning to teach a heterodox micro course, I was faced with the dilemma of choosing a suitable textbook. Interestingly, there are many options available, but I was not happy with most of them. Some were too mathematical for my taste, some made too many concessions to conventional micro while being critical of it, and some were simply not suitable for use as texts. Eventually, I decided to use Rod Hill and Tony Myatt’s: The economics anti-textbook: a critical thinker’s guide to microeconomics. Zed Books Ltd., 2010. I am very pleased with this choice. It provides contact with conventional micro that we need, together with a critique that is easy to understand, and can be used as a basis for construction of good alternative approaches.

I started the course (first lecture was preliminary introduction to methodology and approach) by covering Chapter 3: How Markets Work (In an imaginary world) of the H&M anti-textbook. This chapter attacks the central Supply and Demand model which is at the heart of mainstream micro in a beautiful and elegant way. I am impressed! I have myself written what I thought (and still think) is a very good critique (see The Conflict between General Equilibrium and the Marshallian Cross). I have also seen other critiques (like Sraffa). But H&M pointed out an angle that I had not considered before. They survey conventional textbooks to pick out the main message being conveyed in the S&D model and its policy implications. Then they show that the S&D model is heavily dependent upon the assumptions of perfect competition, which require small price-taking firms, full information and zero transaction costs. All conclusions of S&D and policy implications fail when firms have market power, and the reverse policy ocnclusions can be easily derived.   read more

Microeconomics: an Islamic approach

October 11, 2017 8 comments

from Asad Zaman

At the heart of modern economic theory is the micro-economic model of homo economicus, who is cold, calculating and callous. This picture of humans as heartless rational robots is what leads to “Poisoning the Well: How Economic Theory damages our moral imagination” (Julie Nelson). I have provided a thorough critique of neoclassical utility theory in my paper:  The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Review of the Literature,” International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2012, pp. 366-414. However, as Thomas Kuhn noted, paradigms cannot be changed by critiques; they can only be changed by providing an alternative paradigm. Thus to oppose neoclassical utility theory, we need an alternative model for human behavior. For western theorists, a natural alternative is the secular humanist model, which allows for a wide range of cognitive and emotive functions not captured in economics. For my purposes, Islam provide a more relevant model of human beings as having spiritual, emotional and rational dimensions. This model speaks directly to my audience.

It is also true that, regardless of how we try, it is impossible to do economics without notions of morality, justice, equity and fair-play. Currently economics pretends to be positive, which means that it sneaks in very questionable (indeed, poisonous) value judgments (like that of Gauthier) into the framework, without explicit discussion. I have explained how the apparently objective concept of scarcity is actually built upon hidden foundations of three major value judgments about exogeneity of tastes, sacredness of property rights, and the idea that (unobservable) human welfare directly corresponds to  (observable) human choice behavior:; see  the normative foundations of scarcity.real-world economics review, issue no. 61. 22. Again to oppose neoclassical micro, we must introduce an alternative ethical and moral framework. Here again it suits my purpose and my audience to use an Islamic framework for this purpose.

Below, I provide a link to a summary of the first lecture I gave, in a unique course on Microeconomics.  read more

Hunter-Gatherer Societies

July 30, 2017 Leave a comment

from Asad Zaman


As a preliminary demonstration, and an explanation of the “Three Methodologies“, we assess how they work in primitive hunter-gatherer societies.

hunter-gatherer is a human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging (collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animals), in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

There are many characteristics of such societies forced by the material conditions of production. Since existing food supplies in any one location are soon exhausted, such societies are generally nomadic. Here are some philosophies, and political and social structures that would naturally arise in hunter-gatherer nomadic societies.

Philosophy: Since human beings are directly dependent on the environment, the idea of “Mother Earth” and a close relationship with nature can be expected to develop. This stands in contrast with urban lifestyles which are remote from nature; it is this detachment from nature which has permitted the widespread environmental destruction which is currently taking place.

Politics: Typical Hunter-Gatherer societies are egalitarian. This is because everyone derives a living directly from nature, and is mobile. If one subgroup is oppressed, they can simply leave, so there is not much room for powerful groups to exercise large amounts of power and control over other groups. Furthermore, in subsistence economies, one cannot afford slaves because there is generally not enough surplus food to feed them. So economic conditions favor egalitarian political structures; nonetheless, human ingenuity can sometimes overcome such obstacles.

Property: Since property of nomads is confined to what they can carry with them, it is necessarily limited. Illustrative of hunter-gatherer attitudes towards property is the Cherokee Constitution of 1839, which states: “The lands of the Cherokee Nation shall remain common property”.

We now consider insights yielded into the study of such societies by the three methodologies discussed in the previous post.  read more

Three Methodologies

July 26, 2017 21 comments

from Asad Zaman

This is a summary of the introduction/motivation part of Lecture 15 on Advanced Microeconomics II, delivered at PIDE in Spring Semester 2017.  The lecture is about 19th Century European History, and how it is deeply entangled with Modern Economic Theory. We cannot understand one without the other.

19th Century European Economic Ideas In Historical Context.

“… the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong …” Ecclesiastes 9:11

In the late 19th century, a battle of methodologies (“Methodenstreit”) took place, which shaped the future of economics. The German Historical School lost out to the newly emergent, quantitative, mathematical and scientific approach. This led to a re-conceptualization of economics as a science similar to physics, which studies the economic laws of motion of societies. For a detailed account of this battle, and its effects, see “How Economics Forgot History,” by Geoffrey Hodgson.

1. Contemporary Methodology:[humans are predictable robots] The idea that economic theory is a science like physics has extremely unpleasant and counterintuitive consequences. We look for universal laws of economics, which apply equally well to Pakistan, France, Brazil, Russia and Nigeria. Furthermore, they apply equally well in the seventeenth, nineteenth, and twenty-first century. The trade theory of economists must apply equally to trade between Ghana and England, India and Pakistan, and the Huron and Iroquois tribes. Since the ability of human beings to shape their destiny in accordance with visions cannot be fit into a scientific framework, human behavior is reduced to that of a robotic pleasure machine, which follows precise mathematical laws.  read more

Adam Smith & the Invisible Hand

July 21, 2017 2 comments

from Asad Zaman

In response to a comment by David Chester regarding Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand, I am reproducing the section in the paper which deals with this issue. This answers his question about how what is attributed to Adam Smith differs from what he actually said.
[Excerpt from the paper: Failures of the Invisible Hand]

Section 6: Recent Vintage of the Invisible Hand

The main goal of this section is to show that the modern interpretation of the IH is relatively recent. The idea that Mankiw (together with other modern economists) attributes to Smith is not actually present in Smith’s writings. In fact, modern writers borrow the authority of Adam Smith to provide weight to a very dubious idea of recent coinage.

We first note that modern interpretation of the “IH” is radically different from any interpretation of this concept that existed before the second half of the twentieth century. There is a growing body of literature (e.g., Grampp, 2000; Minowitz, 2004) which insists that the metaphor used by Smith was never meant to be anything more than a metaphor, and that the meanings inferred from Smith’s idea of IH by the modern economists support only their own interpretation of economic policies. Kennedy (2009) shows that three leading modern economists laud the IH as the “profoundest” and “most influential” contribution of Adam Smith. Nonetheless, their interpretation of the term and its significance is not supported either by Adam Smith or by readers of Adam Smith until the late nineteenth century.

In a corpus of over a million words, the terms IH appears only twice in the economic writings of Adam Smith. It is used only once in the Wealth of Nations in very limited and narrow context. Rothschild (1994) analyses the controversy surrounding the meaning of IH and concludes that what Smith meant by this metaphor was only a “mildly ironic joke.” Blaug (2007) also shows that Adam Smith cannot be blamed for these ideas. He cites other references which state that:  read more

The human development revolution

May 21, 2017 4 comments

from Asad Zaman


Goethe starts his famous East-West Divan with a poem about the journey (Hegire), both physical and spiritual, from the West to the East. In this essay, we consider the analogous journey from Western to Eastern conceptions of development. This involves switching from viewing humans as producers of wealth, to viewing wealth as a producer of human development. To start with the Western conceptions, both Adam Smith and Karl Marx defined economic growth as the process of accumulation of wealth. The range of diversity of Western thought is bounded by the Left-Right spectrum. Ideas on which both extremes agree command widespread consensus in the West. Consequently, a core concept of modern economic theory is that wealth is the means and ends of the process of economic development. Unfortunately, due to the dominance and influence of Western paradigms, this concept has been widely accepted and adopted in the East today.

Mahbubul Haq was indoctrinated into the Western development paradigm which gives primacy to wealth at leading universities, Yale and Harvard. He got the chance to apply these economic models as the chief economist in Pakistan during the ’60s. However, because of his Eastern upbringing and heritage, he was able to see the murderous message at the heart the cold mathematics of the Solow-Swan growth models. These models focus on savings, created by reducing present levels of consumption, as the only route to the accumulation of greater future wealth.  read more

Meta-theory and pluralism in the methodology of Polanyi

May 6, 2017 9 comments

from Asad Zaman

Currently, I am teaching a course in Advanced Microeconomics where I have started with the premise that conventional economic theory, both Micro and Macro are fundamentally wrong. The number of ways in which they are wrong cannot even be counted. Instead of enumerating errors, the course is devoted to providing a constructive alternative. A lot of the early lectures deal with the basic concepts of optimization and equilibrium, the fundamental building blocks of conventional courses, and explain how these are wrong. I also explain how economists are using a wrong methodology, and how they misunderstand the concept of a theoretical model, and the relations between models and reality. The video-taped lectures, PPT slides, and some supporting materials, are available from my website:

Originally, I had not planned to teach Karl Polanyi because his theories are significantly more complex than those of Karl Marx and Adam Smith. However, because the class has been very receptive, and has understood the what I have been teaching, I have decided to explain his ideas. We have already started discussing his ideas starting from Lecture 13, and have finished Part I of the Great Transformation in Lecture 16. In order to prepare for the complexities of Part II, I have distributed the following handout to the class, to explain the complex general methodological framework which underlies Polanyi’s analysis.  Read More

Economics is a form of brain damage

April 30, 2017 20 comments

from Asad Zaman

Environmentalist David Suzuki hits the nail on the head. The number of ways that economic theory systematically blinds you to the realities of the world we live in is almost uncountable. When Henry George’s land tax became widely popular, economists “disappeared” land as a factor of production from economic theories, merging it illegitimately with capital. Money is made to “disappear” by using the quantity theory of money to claim that money is veil. This makes it impossible to understand how the mechanisms of creation of money ensure that the wealthy can get rich at the expense of the rest of us. The parasitical nature of the finance industry has been covered up by the idea of “wealth creation” — when wild speculation doubles the price of stocks, financiers have created wealth, which is a socially valuable activity, instead of a fraud and deception. The ideas of cut-throat competition, survival of fittest, and social darwinism have been used to justify a large number of free market activities which harm the masses to make profits for the wealthy. There is no doubt that believing all of the textbook economic theories leads to serious brain damage, as I myself have experienced — the process of unlearning has been slow and painful. Here is the 2 minute video by David Suzuki:

We cannot understand social theories (like economics) outside the historical context.

April 25, 2017 6 comments

from Assad Zaman

Based on ideas derived from my study of the methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation, I have come to the conclusion that history and social theories are entangled — they co-evolve in time. We cannot understand social theories (like economics) outside the historical context, just as we cannot understand history without understanding the social theories in use by different groups to try to interpret events in ways that would lead to policy actions in their favor. It is only in context of the struggle of groups with competing interests to impose favorable interpretations upon historical events that we can understand the emergence of theories like comparative advantage. We cannot understand them from the standard “scientific” point-of-view based on the binary of True/False. This dominant mode of understanding will leave us forever confused as to why theories so dramatically at variance with facts can come to dominate, and be widely taught and believed by people who are, by all appearances, perfectly intelligent.