Monday, September 18, 2006

Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? Do They Drop From The Skies?

Have the ideas that mainstream economists teach and apply won out against alternatives in intellectual debate? Perhaps modern economics has been shaped by interventions with a non-cognitive basis.

Academics have one well-established method for writing books. They can try out chapters as articles, thereby seeing what reviewers find convincing and where reviewers think the argument needs strengthening. Maybe Fred Lee is working on a book about the sort of interventions mentioned above and counter-hegemonic movements within academic economics:
  • Lee, Frederick S. (2000a). "Conference of Socialist Economists and the Emergence of Heterodox Economics in Post-War Britain", Capital and Class, V. 75: 15-39
  • Lee, Frederick S. (2000b) "The Organizational History of Post Keynesian Economics in America, 1971-1995", Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, V. 23, N. 1 (Fall): 141-162
  • Lee, Frederick S. (2002). "Mutual Aid and the Making of Heterodox Economics in Postwar America: a Post Keynesian View", History of Economics Review: 45-62
  • Lee, Frederick S. (2004a). "History and Identity: The Case of Radical Economics and Radical Economists, 1945-70", Review of Radical Political Economics, V. 36, N. 2 (Sprong): 177-195
  • Lee, Frederick S. (2004b). "To Be a Heterodox Economist: The Contested Landscape of American Economics, 1960s and 1970s", Journal of Economic Issues, V. XXXVIII, N. 3 (September): 747-763
  • Lee, Frederick S. and Sandra Harley (1998). "Peer Review, the Research Assessment Exercise and the Demise of Non-Mainstream Economics", Capital and Class: 23-51
  • Mata, Tiago and Frederick S. Lee (2006). "Making Visible What is Hidden: The Role of Life Histories in Writing the History of Heterodox Economics", 19th Annual Conference of the History of Economic Thought Society of Australia, Ballarat, Victoria (4-7 July)
  • Tymoigne, Eric and Frederick S. Lee (2003-4). "Post Keynesian Economics Since 1936: A History of a Promise that Bounced?", Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, V. 26, N. 2 (Winter): 273-287


Anonymous said...

«Have the ideas that mainstream economists teach and apply won out against alternatives in intellectual debate?»

Hey, I like your blog but your questions even if they are rhetorical are so innocent.

Of course mainstream economics lost out in the intellectual debate (and even Samuelson admitted that), but that is irrelevant, because it won out massively in the marketplace of ideas.

«Perhaps modern economics has been shaped by interventions with a non-cognitive basis.»

I would not call tenure, endowed chairs and well paid consultancies a «non-cognitive basis» as knowing which side your bread is buttered is very much part of cognition :-).

Just consider as a special example the doctrine of monopoly contestability, and how immensely profitable it is to its practitioners.

For a clear example of how economists get rewarded, get a copy of Ferguson's "High St@kes, No Prisoners" and focus on the appendix on economists (the rest of the book is interesting too, but on a different subject). Or the description in "The Right Nation" by Micklethwait of the support network for mainstream economists.

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks for the reading recommendations.

The institutionalized behavior of mainstream economists is quite sad. For example, Lee and Harley (1998) document that heterodox economists will address both orthodox and heterodox views, while so many mainstream economists just ignorantly and arrogantly pretend so many journals do not exist.

Anonymous said...

Sadly the ignorance is not pretend. I know a fellow that deleted mention of the Sweezy duopoly from Wikipedia because he had specialized in industrial organization and had never heard of it during his studies.

Anonymous said...

while so many mainstream economists just ignorantly and arrogantly pretend so many journals do not exist.

As a self avowed mainstream economist I'd like to point out that I'm not ignoring anything. But of course the reason why I'm a mainstream economist is that I happen to think that at this particular time and in this particular place and at this particular stage of development, "mainstream theory" (whatever that is) has a lot more to offer than any of the alternatives, as far as I can tell from my limited ignorance. Which means that I'm gonna allocate only so much time to alternative theories and the rest is gonna be spend shifting the ol' S and D curves. The maximization of my subjective utility tells me this is the rational thing to do. At the margin.

And impugning malevolent motives to those who disagree with you is generally in bad taste and makes you wonder whether the person really has anything interesting to say at all.

Robert Vienneau said...

Radek should not see anything here directed at him personally. You were not the one, Radek, that wanted to delete a mention of Georgescu-Roegen from the Wikipedia entry on GE with the excuse that nobody was aware of his contributions (e.g., non-substitution theorem) to the subject.

I am not going to pretend on my own blog that sociology of knowledge is not a legitimate topic for discussion. I'm aware that some of the subjects of such investigations (e.g., Paul R. Saulson is a subject for Harry Collins' work) are not always in agreement with all aspects of such studies.

And citation patterns are empirical data that can be explored. Lee has empirical and historical data in the articles that I referenced.

But, Radek, how can you talk about maximizing your utility in the same breath that you complain about assigning motivations to you (which I don't think was done anyways)? One of the widespread complaints about mainstream economists is that they assume that agents are transparent to themselves, that they know their own motivations. This is in tension with the common heritage of almost all non-economist social sciences since Freud. If I could explain your (or my) actions with motivations that you are (or I am) not aware of, would it not be unscientific of me not to try?

I don't know about Blissex, but I'm more than willing to believe any opinions I have about the functional role of economists in Anglo-American countries are not directly applicable to central and eastern Europeans.