Mainstream economics and the We-Have-To-Do-Something fallacy

17 Nov, 2018 at 15:49 | Posted in Economics | 5 Comments

mirowski_200_170_s_c1Twenty-five years ago Phil Mirowski was invited to give a speech on themes from his book More Heat than Light at my old economics department in Lund, Sweden. All the mainstream professors were there. Their theories were totally mangled and no one — absolutely no one — had anything to say even remotely reminiscent of a defence. Being at a nonplus, one of them, in total desperation, finally asked: “But what shall we do then?”

Yes indeed — what shall they do? Because, sure, they have to do something. Or?

briggsNot all fallacies are what they seem … To avoid fallacy, we always must take the information or evidence supplied as given and concrete, as sacrosanct, even, just as we do in any mathematical problem … Perhaps the worst fallacy is the We-Have-To-Do-Something fallacy. Interest centers around some proposition Y, about which little is known. The suggestion will arise that some inferior, or itself fallacious, method be used to judge Y because action on Y must take place. The inferiority of fallaciousness of the method used to judge Y will then be forgotten. You may think that is rare. It isn’t.


  1. “We have to do something” strikes me as not a bad argument when faced with a severe recession and mass unemployment, even if economists are a long way from agreeing on what the best way of imparting stimulus is. Or do we just sit around doing nothing, hoping that the recession cures itself?

    • “Or do we just sit around doing nothing, hoping that the recession cures itself?”
      That’s the prescription across the spectrum of Classical thought.

  2. Is the infamous insistence that “something” beats nothing, even if “something” is proven wrong, a corollary fallacy of this type?

    • Guess so 🙂

  3. First, do no harm. Stop fetishizing GDP growth as the obvious goal of public policy!
    In the last quotation, Y is output, right? Its measurement is heavily imputed. At least, public policy should stop listening to economists stridently proclaiming society must maximize employment and output. Treat economic advice the same as psychic predictions. Economists can still make money teaching the equivalent of reading the Tarot …

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