Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Mark Thoma has put up a couple of posts defending mainstream economics from critics. Or, perhaps, he is writing about methodology. It's all at a very abstract level of generality.

My favorite commentator in these threads is "piglet". But then I've described myself on occasion as a "bear of very little brain".


Anonymous said...

I think my favourite comment was:

"The thing is, the people, who study queues are pretty clear about how they judge if a model works well enough or not. They respect the necessary and sufficient conditions for the systems they are trying to understand. As far as I know, no queuing theorist takes money from right-wing foundations to bloviate about how the natural rate of standing in line, or makes speeches in front of the Chamber of Commerce declaring their passion for fighting the unnecessary shortening of lines."

Which sums up the difference pretty well. Marx put it well, I think, when he contrasted the classical economists (Smith, Ricardo, JS Mill) with their followers. The former were scientists, the latter apologists for the system. Why? Because the class struggle had reached a stage were it could not be ignored.

Not much has changed. How else to explain the insane models and assumptions used? The ignoring of empirical evidence? The use of debunked concepts (like marginal productivity theory)? Then there is the strange coincidence that all the problems of capitalism are caused by workers (e.g., unemployment is sue to wages being too high, as is inflation). I think Proudhon put it well:

"Political economy -- that is, proprietary despotism -- can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat." (System of Economical Contradictions)

As the conclusions of economics has serious socio-economic consequences, it is doubtful it can ever be a real science under a class system. Too many vested interests seeking justifications for their actions.

Economics could be a science, of course, and many economists do good work in making it so but as long as the facts have an anti-capitalist bias then it will never be one -- and the good scientific economists will remain on the sidelines.


h.e. said...

When I read these kinds of threads, I tend to think an article by Arnsperger and Varoufakis ("What is Neoclassical Economics?") Post-Autistic Economic Review, issue 38), in which they write:

There is nothing more frustrating for critics of neoclassical economics than the argument that neoclassical economics is a figment of their imagination; that, simply, there is scientific economics and there is speculative hand-waiving (by those who have never really grasped the finer points of mainstream economic theory). In this sense, neoclassicism resembles racism: while ever present and dominant, no one claims to be guided by it. Critics must find a clear definition of neoclassicism if only in order to liberate neoclassical economists from the temptation to barricade themselves behind infantile arguments viz. the non-existence of their school of thought. Then, the good debate may begin.

Robert Vienneau said...

Iain and H.E. thanks for the comments.

I see the point about defining neoclassical economics. A general complaint can be met with a response that the complaint is based on a vague and misguided notion of mainstream economics. Specific complaints are met with the objection that sophisticated mainstream economists have transcended the complaint.

It seems to me that some of Mark Thoma's commentators, on all sides, have not done their homework. I don't think one can easily see from Thoma's post where to find the strongest objections to mainstream economics.