Mainstream economics — an emperor turned out to be naked

15 May, 2017 at 23:41 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments

The main reason why the teaching of microeconomics (or of “ micro foundations” of macroeconomics) has been called “autistic” is because it is increasingly impossible to discuss real-world economic questions with microeconomists – and with almost all neoclassical theorists. They are trapped in their system, and don’t in fact care about the outside world any more. If you consult any microeconomic textbook, it is full of maths (e.g. Kreps or Mas-Colell, Whinston and Green) or of “tales” (e.g. Varian or Schotter), without real data (occasionally you find “examples”, or “applications”, with numerical examples – but they are purely fictitious, invented by the authors).

an-inconvenient-truth1At first, French students got quite a lot of support from teachers and professors: hundreds of teachers signed petitions backing their movement – specially pleading for “pluralism” in teaching the different ways of approaching economics. But when the students proposed a precise program of studies … almost all teachers refused, considering that is was “too much” because “students must learn all these things, even with some mathematical details”. When you ask them “why?”, the answer usually goes something like this: “Well, even if we, personally, never use the kind of ‘theory’ or ‘tools’ taught in micoreconomics Courses … surely there are people who do ‘use’ and ‘apply’ them, even if it is in an ‘unrealistic’, or ‘excessive’ way”.

But when you ask those scholars who do “use these tools”, especially those who do a lot of econometrics with “representative agent” models, they answer (if you insist quite a bit): “OK, I agree with you that it is nonsense to represent the whole economy by the (intertemporal) choice of one agent –- consumer and producer — or by a unique household that owns a unique firm; but if you don’t do that, you don’t do anything !”

Bernard Guerrien

Yes indeed — “you don’t do anything!”

Twenty years ago Phil Mirowski was invited to give a speech on themes from his book More Heat than Light at my economics department in Lund, Sweden. All the mainstream neoclassical professors were there. Their theories were totally mangled and no one — absolutely no one — had anything to say even remotely reminiscent of a defense. Being at a nonplus, one of them, in total desperation, finally asked “But what shall we do then?”

Yes indeed — what shall they do? The emperor turned out to be naked.

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3 Comments

  1. In 2002, William Krehm, one of the founders of COMER — Committee On Monetary and Economic Reform in 1988, wrote a book Towards a Non-Autistic Economy — A place at the table for society. Bill is now 103 years old and not writing but what he did write is still worthy of a read.

  2. What shall they do? Less harm. Let them sit around getting stoned all day playing video games, they would at least then not be propagating grossly flawed models under the mantle of academic authority backed by grades and grant awards.

  3. Very few people are able to see that “the emperor is naked”. So those who can see it should make this knowledge better known AND give him some real clothing.


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