Neoclassical economics – visionless and trying to escape responsibility

29 October, 2012 at 09:24 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

Roger Backhouse and Bradley Bateman has a nice piece in New York Times on the lack of perspectives and alternatives shown by mainstream economists when dealing with the systemic crises of modern economies:

Economists do much better when they tackle small, well-defined problems. As John Maynard Keynes put it, economists should become more like dentists: modest people who look at a small part of the body but remove a lot of pain.

However, there are also downsides to approaching economics as a dentist would: above all, the loss of any vision about what the economic system should look like. Even Keynes himself was driven by a powerful vision of capitalism. He believed it was the only system that could create prosperity, but it was also inherently unstable and so in need of constant reform. This vision caught the imagination of a generation that had experienced the Great Depression and World War II and helped drive policy for nearly half a century …

In the 20th century, the main challenge to Keynes’s vision came from economists like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who envisioned an ideal economy involving isolated individuals bargaining with one another in free markets. Government, they contended, usually messes things up. Overtaking a Keynesianism that many found inadequate to the task of tackling the stagflation of the 1970s, this vision fueled neoliberal and free-market conservative agendas of governments around the world.

THAT vision has in turn been undermined by the current crisis. It took extensive government action to prevent another Great Depression, while the enormous rewards received by bankers at the heart of the meltdown have led many to ask whether unfettered capitalism produced an equitable distribution of wealth. We clearly need a new, alternative vision of capitalism. But thanks to decades of academic training in the “dentistry” approach to economics, today’s Keynes or Friedman is nowhere to be found.

And Philip Mirowski has an equally interesting article on opendemocracy.net explaining why neoclassical economists

don’t seem to have suffered one whit for the subsequent sequence of events, a slow-motion train wreck that one might reasonably have expected would have rubbished the credibility of lesser mortals.

Two articles well worth reading!

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1 Comment »

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  1. So, maybe policy leaders should also try to be more like dentists?
    And electorates too?
    (What’s this really say? That populations ask too much, and then listen overmuch, to economists? Isn’t that called abrogation of duty all around?)

    Just stick to operations and adequately diverse operational feedback, and the obvious will always become obvious, just-in-time, just-as-needed? (i.e. JIT/JAN)

    Does the following capture the history of organizational evolution?
    “Continuously expand the distribution of feedback re-sampled from increasingly complex situations, to keep exploring constantly emerging options.”

    This ain’t rocket science, and Nobel Prizes in speculation aren’t as useful as electorates exploring basic operations.

    Maybe we should train Joe/Jane Sixpack to be “dentists” first, and to dabble in theory only as a hobby accessory to operations?


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