Realism and critique in economics: an interview with Lars P. Syll

10 Jul, 2019 at 23:45 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

Jamie Morgan: To a member of the public it must seem weird that it is possible to state, as you do, such fundamental criticism of an entire field of study. The perplexing issue from a third party point of view is how do we reconcile good intention (or at least legitimate sense of self as a scholar), and power and influence in the world with error, failure and falsity in some primary sense; given that the primary problem is methodological, the issues seem to extend in different ways from Milton Friedman to Robert Lucas Jr, from Paul Krugman to Joseph Stiglitz. Do such observations give you pause? My question (invitation) I suppose, is how does one reconcile (explain or account for) the direction of travel of mainstream economics: the degree of commonality identified in relation to its otherwise diverse parts, the glaring problems of that commonality – as identified and stated by you and many other critics?

LPS2Lars P. Syll: When politically “radical” economists like Krugman, Wren-Lewis or Stiglitz confront the critique of mainstream economics from people like me, they usually have the attitude that if the critique isn’t formulated in a well-specified mathematical model it isn’t worth taking seriously. To me that only shows that, despite all their radical rhetoric, these economists – just like Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas Jr or Greg Mankiw – are nothing but die-hard defenders of mainstream economics. The only economic analysis acceptable to these people is the one that takes place within the analytic-formalistic modelling strategy that makes up the core of mainstream economics. Models and theories that do not live up to the precepts of the mainstream methodological canon are considered “cheap talk”. If you do not follow this particular mathematical-deductive analytical formalism you’re not even considered to be doing economics …

The kind of “diversity” you asked me about, is perhaps even better to get a perspective on, by considering someone like Dani Rodrik, who a couple of years ago wrote a book on economics and its modelling strategies – Economics Rules (2015) – that attracted much attention among economists in the academic world. Just like Krugman and the other politically “radical” mainstream economists, Rodrik shares the view that there is nothing basically wrong with standard theory. As long as policymakers and economists stick to standard economic analysis everything is fine. Economics is just a method that makes us “think straight” and “reach correct answers”. Similar to Krugman, Rodrik likes to present himself as a kind of pluralist anti-establishment economics iconoclast, but when it really counts, he shows what he is – a mainstream economist fanatically defending the relevance of standard economic modelling strategies. In other words – no heterodoxy where it would really count. In my view, this isn’t pluralism. It’s a methodological reductionist strait-jacket.

Real-World Economics Review

2 Comments

  1. If you reject ergodicity shouldn’t you deny the value of GDP as a public policy goal? Are not ensemble inflation, unemployment, and interest rate statistics irrelevant to individuals? Shouldn’t public policy be about individual happiness, not haphazard ensemble averages?

  2. Give them Lars! 🙂 !En malmöpåg viker sig ej!!, Vet la du 🙂 !


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.