Economics — still in the land of Mordor

30 January, 2016 at 12:00 | Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

When it comes to my economics training, I’m a late bloomer. My primary training is in evolutionary theory, which I have used as a navigational guide to study many human-related topics, such as religion. But I didn’t tackle economics until 2008 …

At the time I had no way to answer this question. Economic jargon mystified me—an embarrassing confession, since I am fully at home with mathematical and computer simulation models. Economists were very smart, very powerful, and they spoke a language that I didn’t understand. They won Nobel Prizes.

Nevertheless, I had faith that evolution could say something important about the regulatory systems that economists preside over, even if I did not yet know the details …

Fortunately, I had a Fellowship of the Ring to rely upon … Some of my closest colleagues are highly respected economists, Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, and Ernst Fehr …

I already knew from their work that the main body of modern economics, called neoclassical economics, was being challenged by a new school of thought called experimental and behavioural economics …

63139459I was disappointed. My colleagues such as Herb, Sam, and Ernst confirmed my own impression: They appreciated the relevance of evolution but were a tiny minority among behavioral and experimental economists, who in turn were a tiny minority among neoclassical economists …

The more I learned about economics, the more I discovered a landscape that is surpassingly strange. Like the land of Mordor, it is dominated by a single theoretical edifice that arose like a volcano early in the 20th century and still dominates the landscape. The edifice is based upon a conception of human nature that is profoundly false, defying the dictates of common sense, before we even get to the more refined dictates of psychology and evolutionary theory. Yet, efforts to move the theory in the direction of common sense are stubbornly resisted.

David Sloan Wilson

[h/t Tom Hickey]

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