Friday, October 08, 2010

Stephen Williamson, Again Is He A Fool Or A Knave?

Stephen Williamson writes some ignorant balderdash about heterodox economics. At least two of his commentators recognize the quality of his remarks.

If Williamson had a clue, he would know some scholars distinguish between the heterodox/orthodox distinction and the mainstream/nonmainstream distinction. Following Davis's taxonomy, I would classify North and new institutionalist economics as "mainstream heterodox". I do not think of either Paul Krugman or James Tobin as non-mainstream.

Non-mainstream heterodox economics do not all reject or dislike mathematics. Williamson doesn't seem to know about the existence of sraffians. Of course, he doesn't list feminist economics as a target of his ill-informed calumny. I think most heterodox economists would agree that one can make true and insightful statements about economics without using mathematics. One capable of a moment's reflection can see that that doesn't imply no mathematics can be be useful for economics. Williamson seems to think that the point of using mathematics is to seperate oneself from the hoi polloi. It is no legimate criticism of a paper that a graduate student can write out the model in twenty minutes. The questions one should ask oneself, in this case, are "Does this paper provide empirical and policy guidance for understanding some aspect of Japan's economy?" and "Is this paper original?"

Consider such journals as the American Economics Review or the Journal of Political Economy. And consider the Cambridge Journal of Economics, Metroeconomica, or the Review of Political Economy. The first set contains examples of mainstream economics. The second set of journals publish non-mainstream heterodox economists. An outsider will find journals in both set contain a mixture of natural language and mathematics. They both have both theoretical and empirical papers. The academics are not all from one university, they argue with one another, and they seem to have a variety of sources of funding. Clearly, non-mainstream heterodox economists are not "fringe" in the same sense that most are who argue for astrology, creationism, or a flat earth theory.

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