Economists — arrogant and self-congratulatory autists

15 April, 2015 at 15:49 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

Ten years ago, a survey published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that 77 percent of the doctoral candidates in the leading American economics programs agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “economics is the most scientific of the social sciences.”

autistic opinionIn the intervening decade, a massive economic crisis rocked the global economy, and most economists never saw it coming. Nevertheless, little has changed: A new paper from the same publication reveals how economists continue to believe that their science is superior to all other social sciences, such as political science, sociology, anthropology, etc. While there may be budding intentions to appeal to other disciplines in order to enrich their theories (especially psychology and neuroscience), the reality is that economists almost exclusively study—and cite—each other …

The world is still living with the effects of the most recent economic crisis, and the inability of economists to offer solutions with a significant degree of agreement shows how urgently their discipline needs to be disrupted by an injection of new ideas, methods, and assumptions about human behavior. Unfortunately, there are powerful obstacles to this disruption: elite control and lack of gender diversity …

Ten years ago, I suggested that economists would “be well advised to trade in their intellectual haughtiness for a more humble disposition.” That’s advice that has yet to be heeded.

Moisés Naím/The Atlantic

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  1. “The Superiority of Economists-
    by Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion, and Yann Algan
    at Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies.

    Marion Fourcade is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley,
    and associate fellow at the Max Planck Sciences Po Center, Paris.

    Yann Algan is Professor of Economics at Sciences Po, Paris.

    Etienne Ollion is a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, University of Strasbourg.
    and associate fellow at the Max Planck Sciences Po Center, Paris.

    Abstract
    “In this essay, we investigate the dominant position of economics within the network of the social sciences in the United States.
    We begin by documenting the relative insularity of economics, using bibliometric data. Next we analyze the tight management of the
    field from the top down, which gives economics its characteristic hierarchical structure.

    Economists also distinguish themselves from other social scientists through their much better material situation (many teach in business schools, have external consulting activities),
    their more individualist worldviews, and in the confidence they have in their
    discipline’s ability to fix the world’s problems.

    Taken together, these traits constitute what we call the superiority of economists, where economists’ objective supremacy is intimately linked with their subjective sense of authority and entitlement.

    While this superiority has certainly fueled economists’ practical involvement and their considerable influence over the economy, it has also exposed them more to conflicts of interests, political critique, even derision.”
    http://www.maxpo.eu/pub/maxpo_dp/maxpodp14-3.pdf

  2. Science or Circus Maximus?
    Comment on ‘Economists — arrogant and self-congratulatory autists’
    .
    Moisés Naím refers to an article of his in The Atlantic: “Ten years ago, a survey published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that 77 percent of the doctoral candidates in the leading American economics programs agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘economics is the most scientific of the social sciences’.” (See intro)
    .
    He sums up “economists would be well advised to trade in their intellectual haughtiness for a more humble disposition.”
    .
    This ad hominem argument is, of course, characteristic of base level yellow press gossip. Most people have ego problems and arrogance is the key word to pique their wrath.
    .
    From the question of the scientific status of economics Moisés Naím lands after a few paragraphs in the Circus Maximus of cheap emotions, ridiculous moralizing, and sham debate.
    .
    Let us put things straight.
    .
    The first thing to notice is that there is an illegitimate suggestion in this initial statement of the survey ‘economics is the most scientific of the social sciences.’
    .
    It has been noted repeatedly by real scientists that, to begin with, the term social sciences is a misnomer. Feynman, for one, characterized them as follows.
    .
    “I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. … They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. … So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, …” http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/cargocul.htm
    .
    Some economists are well aware of the fact that this applies perfectly to economics.
    “Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, what we presently possess by way of so-called pure economic theory is objectively indistinguishable from what the physicist Richard Feynman, in an unflattering sketch of nonsense ‘science,’ called ‘cargo cult science’.” (Clower, 1994, p. 809)
    .
    So, for a meaningful survey the suggestive initial statement has first to be translated into ‘‘economics is the most cultic of the cargo cult sciences.” The approval rating then should be close to 100 percent.
    .
    The fact of the matter is that the representative economist cannot even tell the difference between income and profit (2015). Therefore, it is not at all exigent that economists become humble but that they learn elementary logic in their programs and at long last get out of the proto-scientific Circus Maximus.
    .
    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke
    .
    References
    Clower, R. W. (1994). Economics as an Inductive Science. Southern Economic
    Journal, 60(4): 805–814.
    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2015). Essentials of Constructive Heterodoxy: Profit. SSRN
    Working Paper Series, 2575110: 1–18. URL http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.
    cfm?abstract_id=2575110.


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