[This longish essay was just published at Real World Economics Review Blog. It is addressed to the “heterodox” community, those diverse economists of various schools that are not the dominant neoclassical school, though otherwise it is not particularly technical.]
Much of the current discussion of reforming economics focusses on the need for pluralism, particularly in teaching curricula, and very recently again on RWER. Pluralist teaching is seen as challenging, because heterodox economic ideas are diverse, have little coherence, and are to a significant extent mutually incompatible.
This theme crops up frequently in discussions on RWER. Now Cameron Murray, in the first issue of Inside, published by the Institute for Dynamic Economic Analysis, proposes to identify over-arching themes that can bring out the relationships among the various approaches. This is commendable but it will not, on its own, result in a reformed economics.
[This is a more technical post, addressed to those interested in re-making the field of economics into something relevant, informed and capable of self-improvement.]
Debates about whether economics is or can ever be a science appear frequently on the Real World Economics blog, such as making economics a relevant science. Perhaps more in the subsequent comments than in the articles themselves, there are some recurring confusions and misconceptions, such as whether mathematics should be involved, about what the role of mathematics might be, about “prediction” as a necessary part of a science, about the role of assumptions and approximations, about whether any study involving people can ever be a science and, fundamentally, about what science really is.
I have commented in passing on this topic before, for example here, but in this comment I’d like to offer a more focussed discussion.
My ebook Sack the Economists and Disband their Departments is now available.
Mainstream economists completely failed to anticipate the financial market crash of 2007-8. They then called it an unforeseeable event. This is a clear admission that they don’t understand how economies work. Yet many non-mainstream, marginalised economists gave clear warning of the approaching crash. This book shows how mainstream economics has not one but many fundamental flaws. It is not a science, it is pseudo-science. It lacks scholarly rigour and integrity. Once you understand this, it is not a mystery why the mainstreamers missed the approaching crash, nor why wealth is so unequally distributed, why we are so materialistic and unfulfilled, and why the planet is being destroyed. But modern knowledge and systems ideas reveal market economies to be self-organising systems, and they can be managed to support dignified livelihoods in equitable societies that can survive into the indefinite future, with nature thriving along with them.
See more at the book’s web site, including how to purchase your copy.
[I expanded the introduction to the original post and sent it to Real World Economics Review Blog, where it is now posted.]
The challenge, and reactions to it
Many economists, and more non-economists, agree that economics needs new ideas, given the comprehensive failure of the mainstream to foresee the Global Financial Crisis and its continuing failure to lift the US and Europe out of deep recession or depression.
[In preparing a pitch to some possibly supportive people, I realised I have not spelt out in brief form the argument that economies are complex self-organising systems. There is a straightforward logic, it is not simply a preference pulled out of the air, or the depths of my psyche.]
Many economists, and more non-economists, agree that economics needs new ideas, given the comprehensive failure of the mainstream to foresee the Global Financial Crisis and its continuing failure to lift the US and Europe out of deep recession or depression. Yet few seem to know where to start, and there seems to be little agreement on how much the subject needs to change. When proposals appear that might begin to address fundamental problems, many economists seem to recoil, and others seem simply to fail to recognise that the proposals have any relevance.
[I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, and the September issue of Scientific American finally provoked me. They talk about exceeding our evolutionary limits, living beyond 1oo, manipulating ourselves to be smarter (but no mention of wiser), and so on. So, another long essay.]
The term appropriate technology was popularised after E. F. Schumacher’s pivotal work Small is Beautiful. Schumacher argued against the modern economic pathology of endless physical growth, which of course cannot continue on our finite planet. He argued further that some technology only promotes endless growth, or it distracts us from more important things in life, and is therefore not beneficial. Technology that supports a fulfilling life and is compatible with a steady-state or slowly shrinking physical economy he called appropriate technology.
As for technology, so for science. A common assumption by scientists is that if a challenge is there then it is fair game to address it. In fact it is commonly presumed that freedom of enquiry, a central ingredient of an open democratic society, justifies such an attitude. However we need to recognise that such freedom comes with responsibility. This seems to be recognised regarding human cloning, for example, where strong legal and social restrictions have commonly been imposed.
The long, and slightly modified, version of Eight Elementary Errors of Economics is now on SteveKeen’s Debtwatch. Reblogged on Business Spectator, 22 June and The Bull 23 June. I consolidated two of the previous points and added what is now the final point on emergent wealth of land. See also on Real World Economics Review Blog, 7 June, with long discussion.
Post edited 4 July: the full modified version now follows, so it’s all consolidated here.
The Global Financial Crisis, the extreme inequality of wealth world-wide, the materialism of modern life and the dire state of the planet are not accidents, nor just unavoidable consequences of the nature of things. They are the result of the modern practice of economics, which makes elementary errors of accounting, evidence, perception and theory.