Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mainstream Economics Marred By False Consciousness?

"In 1966, if not 1985, a reasonable person not prone to excessive optimism would have expected the state of economics to be better in 2000 than it turned out to be; that is to say, with the mainstream less in thrall to marginalism than previously, not more acquiescent. The actual outcome is definitely a failure of some kind... is it always to be that an intellectual discipline so intimately involved with material interests will be marred by false consciousness? One might point to Ricardo as evidence for the possibility of non-mystifying economics. Or was a David Ricardo only possible in a time before economic analysis became an institutionalized element of the structure of social goverance?" -- Tony Aspromourgos, "Sraffian Research Programmes and Unorthodox Economics", Review of Political Economy, April 2004
As I understand it, Tony Aspromourgos recently gave a presentation at a conference on Social Structures of Accumulation. (It will be a long while before I have read these proceedings.)


Michael Greinecker said...

What exactly is he trying to say? Marginalism is much less important now than it was back then on every sensible account.

Robert Vienneau said...

Do the orthodox, in practical applications, reach conclusions that need marginalism for their justification (whether or not they give that justification)? What is in the textbooks? How about in macroeconomics, where many seem to accept long-run money neutrality and the idea that the labor market would ultimately clear except for short run wage and price stickiness, asymmetric information, etc.?

Looking at the Cambridge controversy in the early 1970s, one might have expected the state of the debate in the leading mainstream journals to have had more of an impact on what is taught than is the case. Furthermore, Sraffa's open approach to the theory of value and distribution has certainly not been adopted in the leading research journals.

Anyways, one should be aware that quotes along lines about mainstream economics not working as science, but serving as ideological mystication, are easy to find. Looking at much of what is said about economics, I think people with such views have a point.

Michael Greinecker said...

But these are all pretty much new microeconomic developments. There is some regress in macro, but I think it's just a temporary negative productivity shock. ;-)

Mainstream economics is mostly science but sometimes used to mystify ideological positions. But that's true with sociobiology and even quantum mechanics too. Don't drop the baby with the bath-water.

Anonymous said...

Letting aside the fact that there exists different schools of thought inside economics, I would like to ask from Robert what ideological content has for example choice-theoretic structure of economics (in Robbinsian sense)?

Do you think it's right to say that the theory of distribution of income is main point of disagreement between Neo-Classical orthodoxy (be it Paretian or Neo-Walrasian) and Neo-Ricardians?

Robert Vienneau said...

Adi, thanks for the comments. I don't think I have enough room in a comment to work out what I think is the ideological content of Lionel Robbins' approach to economics. Just as Michael wanted me to clarify what Aspromourgos means by "marginalism", I think the definition of "Neo-Classical orthodoxy" can take lots of explanation. Nevertheless, I'll say something about income distribution.

The theory of income distribution is a major point of contention in the Cambridge capital controversy. Sraffa himself did not propose another theory. He had an open model which could be used to critique varieties of neoclassicalism. One can extend Sraffa's model in various ways. (Here's one.) But I think Sraffa's point was to reject mechanistic theorizing and to suggest an open economics in which other social science approaches (e.g., anthropology, sociology) could easily penetrate. One would not end up with a single mathematical model, good for all countries and times.