"I admit that my criteria of falsifiability does not lead to an unambiguous classification. Indeed, it is impossible to decide, by analyzing its logical form, whether a system of statements is a conventional system of irrefutable implicit definitions, or whether it is a system which is empirical in my sense; that is, a refutable system. Yet this only shows that my criterion of demarcation cannot be applied immediately to a system of statements - a fact I have already pointed out... The question whether a given system should as such be regarded as a conventionalist or an empirical one is therefore misconceived. Only with reference to the methods applied to a theoretical system is it at all possible to ask whether we are dealing with a conventionalist or an empirical theory. The only way to avoid conventionalism is by taking a decision: the decision not to apply its methods. We decide that if our system is threatened we will never save it by any kind of conventionalist stratagem." - Karl Popper (1968): 81-82
John Davis (2009) distinguished between two ways of dividing economists up: based on the content of their theories and based on more sociological criteria of citation networks, conference attendance, professional society membership, textbooks, etc. I think Davis' taxonomy remains of interest even if one does not agree with his views on trend in the economics profession.
Davis distinguishes between orthodox and heterodox economics on the basis of the substances of their theories. In the last column of Table 1, I have listed some distinguishing precepts of orthodox economics. The last three precepts roughly correspond to the opposite of the distinguishing features, according to Davis, of heterodox economics around 1980. I think one could also call orthodox economics "neoclassical". Heterodox economics rejects some combination of the precepts of orthodox economics. For Davis, mainstream economics is a sociological category. The first two columns of Table list some examples. Mainstream heterodox economics may become orthodox in time, with game theory perhaps already having succeeded, at least partially. At any rate, mainstream heterodox economists have access to the leading journals, a presence in the graduate schools generally rated to be the top, and so on.
Both mainstream and non-mainstream heterodox economics can be broken down further. This can be seen in the table. The first two columns each contain more than one school of thought as an exemplar of that category. Davis makes further schematic distinctions. One is between an inward or outward orientation of heterodox economists. Another is among differents ways schools of economists can become heterodox. With these distinctions, Davis argues that the content and understanding of mainstream, non-mainstream, orthodox, and heterodox economics has been evolving over time.
Davis argues that non-mainstream economists should work harder to engage mainstream heterodox economists and that mainstream economists are more open to theoretical innovation than some non-mainstream economists claim. Without such engagement, he thinks, mainstream economists might be excessively conservative, with consequences that mainstream economists will continue to fail to incorporate worthwhile insights of non-mainstream heterodox economists. In the present historical conjuncture, I think, the odds of mainstream economics being suddenly swept away have increased. If so, Davis's strategy might be unnecessary, though I am not very optimistic either way.
By the way, I could have cited previous work by Davis for this post. I wanted to mention that Davis's is the second essay I've read in Fullbrook (2009). McFarling (2009), which is at least a stretch for me, is the first essay I read in this book. So far, I find in the little I've read in this book a broad agreement that heterodox economists reject the orthodox overemphasis on social explanations from atomistic, non-socially embedded individuals.
- John B. Davis (2009) "The Nature of Heterodox Economics", in Fullbrook (2009)
- Edward Fullbrook (editor) (2009) Ontology and Economics: Tony Lawson and His Critics, Routledge
- Bruce R. McFarling (2009) "Finding a Critical Pragmatism in Reorienting Economics", in Fullbrook (2009)
- Karl R. Popper (1968) The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Revised edition, Harper