Economics — the triumph of ideology over science

29 April, 2017 at 11:36 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

Research shows not only that individuals sometimes act differently than standard economic theories predict, but that they do so regularly, systematically, and in ways that can be understood and interpreted through alternative hypotheses, competing with those utilised by orthodox economists.

Senate Banking Subcommittee On Financial Institutions Hearing With StiglitzTo most market participants – and, indeed, ordinary observers – this does not seem like big news … In fact, this irrationality is no news to the economics profession either. John Maynard Keynes long ago described the stock market as based not on rational individuals struggling to uncover market fundamentals, but as a beauty contest in which the winner is the one who guesses best what the judges will say …

Adam Smith’s invisible hand – the idea that free markets lead to efficiency as if guided by unseen forces – is invisible, at least in part, because it is not there …

For more than 20 years, economists were enthralled by so-called “rational expectations” models which assumed that all participants have the same (if not perfect) information and act perfectly rationally, that markets are perfectly efficient, that unemployment never exists (except when caused by greedy unions or government minimum wages), and where there is never any credit rationing.

That such models prevailed, especially in America’s graduate schools, despite evidence to the contrary, bears testimony to a triumph of ideology over science. Unfortunately, students of these graduate programmes now act as policymakers in many countries, and are trying to implement programmes based on the ideas that have come to be called market fundamentalism … Good science recognises its limitations, but the prophets of rational expectations have usually shown no such modesty.

Joseph Stiglitz

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1 Comment

  1. A problem with Stiglitz’s wording is that he seems to assume it is ‘irrational’ to deviate from standard economics’ ‘rationality’. Of course, people aren’t very good at assessing probabilities, and so are often irrational in the economists’ sense and could often do better by assessing probabilities better. But this shouldn’t blind us to the broader situation: as Keynes (and others) have shown there are situations in which being ‘rational’ in that narrow sense is foolhardy.

    It may be ‘rational’ to assume equilibrium, but is it reasonable?


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