Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Bowles Taxonomy For Economists

Katzner, Bowles, and Resnick on UMass Amherst

Shortly after about 32:30 minutes, Sam Bowles, to laughter, draws a Venn diagram on the board. This is a light talk, and Bowles is explicitly describing economics from his own experience at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Bowles places various economists in various subsets. I have varied the names a bit in my reproduction below.

Bowles' Taxonomy

I take the universe to be the set of all economists. Or, maybe, given Bowles includes John Rawls, it is a set of academics concerned with topics Bowles thinks economists should be concerned with. I take it that this taxonomy is not to apply to all time and space, but maybe only to academics from about 1970 to now. I explicitly added Kenneth Arrow, Milton Friedman, and Paul Samuelson as examples of economists that do not fall into any of the three numbered subsets. One might think Arrow extended the domain of economics to include voting, social choice, and health economics. So he illustrates my point about this taxonomy being time-bound. For all its originality, I do not think Samuelson's work on revealed preferences, the Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson model of international trade, or a model of overlapping generations, for example, can be said to have extended the domain of topics covered by economics.

Anyways, the three sets are those economists:

  1. Who are critical of neoclassical economics.
  2. Who want to extend the fields or topics to which economics applies.
  3. Who are critical of capitalism.

Bowles talks about the intersection of the three sets as "us". I expanded that to label the intersection of four who I think exemplify radical political economics, as developed at UMass. In the talk, Bowles names more for some of the intersections, and, of course, the UMass economics department included more radicals.

By the way, I think the contrast about what they have to say in these talks at UMass about (Neo) Walrasian General Equilibrium Theory (GET) with what John Eatwell has to say of interest. Bowles and Resnick say that economists have now rid themselves of GET, but they have replaced it with "nothing". Mainstream economics, in some sense, have nothing to say nowadays about how the system works as a whole. And they continue to teach the old, outdated stuff to students.

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