Friday, March 12, 2010

Anti-Intellectualism Among Mainstream Economists

I find these comments to be anti-intellectual:
  • John Quiggin rejects the Austrian school of economics on the ground that partisans of that school discuss political philosophy and the epistemology and methodology of economics.
  • Roberto Perotti critizes Post Keynesians and neo-Ricardians on the grounds that they don't spend their time exclusively constructing formal models and estimating correlations. (I used Google's translation feature. Sergio Cesaratto answers from a Sraffian perspective.)
  • Commentators at Mark Thoma reject discussions about what Adam Smith wrote.
I thought the point of scholarship was to attempt to make true statements. If somebody makes an untrue statement about what Keynes or Adam Smith said, one should correct them. This is not to say that that the fact that Keynes or Smith advocated something or other is a justification for policy. I think a historically accurate representation of an old text entails quite a bit of contextualization in terms of its time. To apply policy conclusions to our time would require recontextualization in contemporary terms, as well as empirical work.

I would think different scholars, even within a discipline, would find different questions of interest. Some economists argue for a supposed freedom to choose. Shouldn't some then be legitimately allowed to explore old texts or methodology or whatever? If Thomas Kuhn was somewhat correct, wouldn't one expect more discussion about methodology when the defining paradigm in a field has so obviously broken down, as today among mainstream economists?

1 comment:

John Quiggin said...

To be clear, my objection isn't that some Austrian economists focus on methodology and so on. It's that not enough of them focus on actual economics.