D. McCloskey’s own shallow and misleading rhetoric

7 Jun, 2019 at 17:23 | Posted in Economics | 1 Comment

This is not new to most of you of course. You are already steeped in McCloskey’s Rhetoric. Or you ought to be. After all economists are simply telling stories about the economy. Sometimes we are taken in. Sometimes we are not.

spin-meme-generator-dont-say-capitalism-replace-it-with-either-economic-freedom-or-free-market-3ba401Unfortunately McCloskey herself gets a little too caught up in her stories. As in her explanation as to how she can be both a feminist and a free market economist:

“The market is the great liberator of women; it has not been the state, which is after all an instrument of patriarchy … The market is the way out of enslavement from your dad, your husband, or your sons. … The enrichment that has come through allowing markets to operate has been a tremendous part of the learned freedom of the modern women” …

Notice the binary nature of the world in this story. There are only the market (yea!) and the state (boo!). There are no other institutions. Whole swathes of society vanish or are flattened into insignificance. The state is viewed as a villain that the market heroically battles against to advance us all.

It is a ripping tale.

It is shallow and utterly misleading.

Peter Radford

1 Comment

  1. The Chicago School tells its main stories about an imaginary and counterfactual economy organized by and around markets. Those stories are about an ideal, so not surprisingly these stories are idealized. This ideal economy works and works perfectly, by definition. The original intellectual purpose in constructing a theory of economics out of a thorough analysis of market price was to define and motivate basic economic concepts — cost, efficiency, welfare, etc — and the relations of those concepts to one another. The odd bit in the narrative construction involves the relation of the ideal to the actual, particular institutional economy.
    The Chicago economist is trained to understand that the actual economy is necessarily messier than the ideal. But no method attaches to the explication of this messiness. All the deviations from the platonic ideal of the competitive market economy are expected in the same sense that the butler expects tarnish on the silver. The rhetoric of narrative analysis reflects this tension between the ideal concept and the corrupted reality. The messiness can be dismissed as inevitable but unimportant or as a reason to polish reality to make the actual economy more like the ideal conception.
    What does not happen is the examination of actual mechanism and the quantitative measurement of the “messiness”. The institutional economy is an instrumental social system. It has a practical function in our affairs and we ought to be interested in what about the design affects its performance for society. McCloskey, bless her black Chicago heart, has been fairly eloquent in arguing a case for such practical and quantitative examination. Which makes the ideological cant being criticized by Radford somewhat odd by contrast. The ideal is seductive and beloved apparently.
    The Chicago ideal cannot survive a field trip by an honest and open-eyed observer to even such a mundane site as a shopping mall. There are no markets — or at least very few — in the wild. This ought to be more concerning than whether economists are politically correct in their rhetoric.

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