Traditional epistemological theories have fostered an endless debate on dichotomies characterized by forms of objectivism, on the one hand, and forms of relativism/skepticism on the other. Currently, among the deep global social and cultural challenges, the crisis in epistemology is characterized by a radical questioning of the whole matrix within which such dichotomies have been drawn.

Taking into account the evolution of Economics as a science, the need for a deep epistemological has already been pointed out by outstanding economists.  Joseph Schumpeter, for example,  rejected the kind of economic thought that mainly favours deductive methods of inquiry – based on mathematical reasoning- because this  habit  generates analytical unrealistic results that are irrelevant to solve the real-world economic problems. Also John Maynard Keynes warned that the understanding of the economic phenomena demands not only purely deductive reasoning, but also other methods of inquiry along with the  study of other fields of knowledge- such as History and Philosophy. Today, Schumpeter’s and Keynes’s criticism could be certainly addressed to those economists whose beliefs ultimately privilege the adoption of a nominalist bias because the dialogue between the economic theories and the economic reality turns out to be abandoned not only in academic research but also in the policy making process.

Considering this background, the shift to Complexity in economic thinking can contribute to substantive epistemological insights in order both to face the contemporary theoretical and methodological challenges and to reject the Cartesian theorization of knowledge under an anthropocentric foundational model of rationality, complete order and truth.  Descartes reinforced the analytical-synthetic process of reasoning. Following the deductive method of pure inquiry, human knowledge grows throughout a rigorous chain of ideas. As a consequence, new thoughts arise while the human subject applies deductive reasoning so as to create a chain of ideas that links the most simple to the most complex ones. In this attempt, true knowledge can be obtained. The Cartesian method represents an attempt to extend the mathematical method of inquiry to all of human knowledge in the form of the mathesis universalis.  Indeed, this extension is at the center of the a priori foundations of scientific knowledge in Neoclassical Economics.

Edward Fullbrook, in his  book Narrative Fixation in Economics, also highlights that the Cartesian view of human reality has deeply shaped the way Neoclassical Economics theorizes about the economic and social existence (2016, p. 45). Indeed, while emphasizing the relevance of the pure thought of a disembedded human subject, Neoclassical Economics has reinforced the relevance of the Cartesian method of inquiry that moved the so called scientific (true) knowledge out of the general flux of experience.

Indeed, the dialogue between the economic theories and the economic reality is complex and a dialogical approach should be considered in any attempt to build realistic economic theories, as Keynes warned.

The changing environment of real-world markets through time -that is irreversible- refers to a certain degree of ontological indeterminacy that should be considered in realistic economic theories.  In thruth, a shift to Complexity in economic thinking can favor the adoption of a realist standpoint that relates to

  • A non-anthropocentric approach
  • A social ontology that is rooted in actual experience
  • A new approach to rationality
  • An evolutionary approach based on the coexistence of laws and change
  • Ontological indeterminism
  • Epistemological fallibilism
  • An endogenous approach to norms and ethics

Considering the relevance of this topic in economics education, students should be aware of the consequences of different epistemological approaches. Complexity in Economics is not  just a new label, but represents a  way of rethinking economics as a science.  

 

 

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Bergmann Barbara R The Economists’ Voice, 2007, vol. 4, issue 2, 1-4

Abstract: How do economists know what they know? In a call for a new empiricism Barbara Bergmann asserts that economists mainly make it up.

Summary of article:

The paper starts by explaining how biologists studied bottle-nose dolphins for thousands of hours, in order to arrive at conclusions about their behavior. In contrast, economists do not study firm behavior at all — they just sit in comfortable chairs, and invent the theory from scratch. They just make it up!

Behavioral economists who study actual behavior are not welcome guests at economics departments, because they bring the bad news that theories of economists do not correspond to real world observations. Barbara Bergmann describes how she invited Herbert Simon for a talk at University of Maryland. Her colleagues let her know that his talk about real behavior was a waste of their time — it was not economics!

In general, behavioral economists like Kahnemann and Tversky have recorded several significant conflicts between “rational” behavior prescribed by economic theory, and real human behavior. Vernon Smith, one of pioneers of experimental economics, suggests that the notion of “rationality” as used by economists, needs a reality check. However economists dismiss these conflicts by arguing that the behavior of students in labs motivated by small amounts of money does not represent real world business behavior. To overcome this objection would require behavioral and experimental economists to act like anthropologists, and actually go and live among the businessmen to learn how they actually behave.

While no one has actually done this, a few surveys of business behavior have been made,. In 1939, R. L. Hall and C. J. Hitch survey found that managers were unfamiliar with the concepts of marginal cost and marginal revenue, and that they did not use them when setting prices and output. Rather, they made an estimate of cost per unit at what they took to be some plausible level of sales, and then tacked on an amount for profit. “Professional economists received this  news with pained condescension and have succeeded in forgetting it.”  [[ Indeed, it was the need to defend economics from repeated observations of the stark contradictions between observed empirical realities and theoretical assertions that led Friedman to create his F-twisted methodology — see Friedman’s Methodology: A Stake through the Heart of Reason]]

Alan Blinder revived the survey method to study price-setting by business, and found more bad news. Almost 90% of firms set prices for their products, and hence the supply and demand model, which requires price taking behavior, does not apply to such firms!  Similarly, empirical tests have been made of discrimination by sending out matched pairs of candidates for job vacancies. These experiments provide strong evidence for discrimination by race and gender, conflicting with Gary Becker’s idea that profit maximization would lead to elimination of discrimination. Even though empirical evidence strongly supports existence of discrimination, Larry Summers used Becker’s theories to argue that there are very few women at Harvard because of genetic deficiencies in women, rather than discrimination at Harvard. After all, if Harvard discriminated, then it would lose the luster of its name, and be out-competed by Podunk University, which gave jobs to blacks and women!.

Empirical data show that in recessions, wages do not go down — rather, they remain fixed at pre-recession levels. Truman Bewley did a survey of 300 business establishments, to ask them why, and found a simple unanimous answer: it would adversely affect worker morale. However, economists disdain empirical evidence and have invented 25 different theories (listed by Bewley) as to why wages are sticky, without examining any empirical evidence.

Research on actual behavior in business settings is in its infancy. If we had more information about how businesses set prices, we could have better theories of why and how prices increase — i.e. inflation. [[ In this connection, see Daniel Tarullo: Monetary policy without a working theory of inflation]] Similarly, studying business investment and employment decisions would lead to substantially greater clarity on these sources of economic growth.

Barbara Bergmann argues that there is no doubt that the theories and policies advocated favor the rich and powerful, but that knowledge of ground realities of business behavior is likely to curb and counteract these tendencies. “For example, I submit that the idea that lowering taxes for the rich is the best way to stimulate production and employment
would be unlikely to survive a realistic accounting of consumer and business behavior.” She notes that while behavioral and experimental fields have made some progress in an an adverse environment, the prognosis for further progress does not seem favorable: “A
few years ago I had occasion to ask Truman Bewley whether he was training students at Yale to carry on research like that he did on wages. His answer, I am sorry to report, was, “No, that would ruin their careers.”

— See my related post on   Methodology of Modern Economics   for more evidence about how economists completely disregard empirical and observational evidence conflicting with armchair theories regarding an imaginary world which exists only in the minds of economists.

After the Global Financial Crisis, there has been a lot of re-thinking about Monetary Policy, as one might expect. In fact, in light of the magnitude of the failure, re-thinking efforts have been much less than proportional. There are many, many, different strands of thought, and personally, I do not have clarity on what needs to be done. Furthermore, the situation is rapidly changing, so that a solution for today would not be a solution for tomorrow.  The fundamental problem is private sector creation of money, and nobody wants to discuss this elephant-in-the-room. But there may be a good reason for this unwillingness — with the financial sector is firmly in control of the US Government, and the Euro area, it does not seem politically feasible to think about radical alternatives. The goal of this post is just to summarize a paper of Stiglitz expressing his post-GFC thoughts on Monetary Policy — without much in the way of comments and discussion. The full paper itself is linked at the bottom of the post.

Summary of Joseph Stiglitz paper on monetary policy:

  1. In response to GFC 2007-8, massive programs of QE (quantitative easing) have been launched all over the world. While these actions may have prevented another Great Depression, economic growth and employment has not been restored to pre-crisis levels.

History of Evolution of Thinking at Central Banks

  1. Monetary policy had been based on the quantity theory of money (QTM) MV=PQ, which posits a stable relationship between the quantity of money, and the GNP. However, starting in the 1980’s this equation became unstable – Velocity fluctuated erratically, and none of the measures of money showed any stable relationship to important real and nominal variables like the GNP, and even the interest rate.
  2. This failure of QTM should have prompted a deeper investigation of monetary theory, and reasons for its failure, but it did not. [Stiglitz is unaware of the research of Richard Werner, which explains the failure, and provides and alternative: The Quantity Theory of Credit]
  3. Instead of investigating WHY the quantity of money failed to have stable relationships with macroeconomic variables, Central Banks shifted to the use of interest rates as the main instrument for monetary policy.
  4. Post Crisis experience has led the problem that interest rates have hit 0%, but the economy has not responded in the manner expected – cheap credit should have led to borrowing for investments, stimulating production, and borrowing for consumption, stimulating demand and lifted the economy out of the recession. However this has not happened.
  5. In light of this experience, current thinking is that monetary policy has become ineffective because we have hit a liquidity trap at 0% interest rate. We cannot take it down further. Some efforts are being made to create negative interest rate policy in the hopes of breaking through the liquidity trap.

Stiglitz’s proposed solutions:

  1. The key variable which drives the economy is the supply of credit to investors and consumers. This supply, provided by private banks, does not respond in a systematic or mechanical way to either the quantity of money produced by the central bank, or the interest rates. This problem does not have much to do with 0% interest rate floor. What we need to do is to target the flow of credit directly, if we want to have an effective monetary policy.

Errors of conventional theories, models, and policies.

  1. Conventional macro models assume perfect information and liquidity, which makes banks unnecessary. Using a more realistic model with liquidity constraints, credit rationing and asymmetric information, Greenwald & Stiglitz (G&S) show that credit provision by banks depends on their net worth, perceptions of risk, and the regulatory framework.
  2. In abnormal situations like post-GFC, these other factors which affect the provision of credit by banks, can overwhelm the normal channels by which monetary policy operates, rendering it ineffective. To restore effectiveness, Central Banks must go outside the conventional channels, and utilize macro and micro prudential regulations.
  3. Even if Central Banks succeed in increasing supply of credit provided by private banks, this may fail to have desired effects of stimulating production and consumption. This happens when credit is provided for non-productive activities like lands and stocks, which increases their prices without creation production or consumption. Cheaply available money can flow to harmful speculative activities, instead of productive investment.
  4. Lowering interest rates to fight recession creates a jobless recovery (as observed in USA). Lower costs of capital lead firms to substitute machines for labor.

The problem is that we are asking too much from a single instrument. But most governments have eschewed using this broader set of instruments.

  1. Using aggregated macroeconomic models hides the distributional effects of monetary policy. Stimulus using monetary policy hurts the poor and the laborers, and enriches the wealthy, leading to increasing inequality.

CONCLUSIONS FOR PART 1:

  1. Conventional theories of how money works, which are the basis of monetary policy today, have been discredited. The transmission channel for conventional tools – interest rates, Open Market Operations, Reserve requirements – is very weak, and can be interrupted or disrupted by outside factors.
  2. Managing a complex economic system requires as many tools as one can manage; the single minded focus on short term interest rates as the instrument and inflation as the target substantially limits the possibilities for effective interventions by the Central Bank.

PART 2: Creation of a RADICAL New System which circumvents all of these problems.

  1. The total amount of credit creation should be directly under government control. This credit can then be allocated or auctioned to banks – banks can no longer create credit, unless they acquire/purchase the right from the government. In turn, the government can put conditions on allocating credit to banks to ensure that it is lent out for productive investments only, and not for speculation. Electronic money can ensure that the system works, since all money and credit creation can be monitored.
  2. In open economies, fluctuations in the exchange rates and in balance of payments create tremendous costs. These can be managed by a trading chit system which stabilizes the trade deficit or surplus at a pre-determined level. Every exporter is issues a trading chit equal in value to his exports. Every importer must acquire trading chits in order to be able to import. Since the value of export chits necessarily equals the value of import chits, this system will have exactly balanced trade with no surplus or deficit. If economic conditions dictate running a deficit, the government can issue 20% extra chits, over and above export earnings – this would stabilize the trade deficit, and hence also the exchange rates. This is of tremendous value in stabilizing the economy.

POSTSCRIPT: At the time I wrote this, I was not aware of Richard Koo’s work on balance sheet recessions. This issue, heavy debt liabilities, seems of central importance, and has been completely ignored by Stiglitz, and many other authors (though not Mian & Sufi: House of Debt). See the 10m Video: Koo: Balance Sheet Recessions or read the RWER paper by Koo: The World in Balance Sheet Recession

 

 

Introduction of my article Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum: Creating Challengers and Change.”  Chapter 2 of edited volume: “Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum” editors Maria Alejandra Madi and Jack Reardon

Introduction:

How does it happen that we have given our quiet assent to a situation where the richest 85 individuals have more money than the bottom 3.5 billion? Where vultures wait for starving children to die, while others eat luxurious meals on private resort islands? Where horrendous military and commercial crimes leading to deaths, misery, and deprivations of millions are routinely committed by highly educated men with multimillion dollar salaries in luxury corporate suites and government offices?

A core component of the answer to these critical questions is that we have been educated to believe that this is a normal state of affairs, which comes about through the operation of iron laws of economics. Economic theories currently being taught in universities all over the world are an essential pillar which sustains the economic system currently in operation.  These theories state that we (human beings) are cold, callous, and calculating. Microeconomic theory says rational individuals are concerned only with their own consumption. They are callous; completely indifferent to the needs of others. They maximize, calculating personal benefits to the last penny. They are cold – their decisions are not swayed by emotions of any kind. All this theorizing is not without power – it creates the world we live in, and the rules we live by.

We have even been taught that laissez-faire automatically brings about the best possible outcomes. We are told that the rich are efficient wealth producers and deserve their wealth, just as the poor deserve their poverty. To create a labor market to sustain capitalist production processes, we have been trained to believe that our lives are for sale to the highest bidder.

Besides, we have been educated to believe that we are powerless to change things. We have been trained to laugh at the idea that human lives are infinitely precious. We have been made to forget that each moment of our lives is unique – each moment contains potentials which never existed before, and will never come into being again. Only by re-defining what is worth living for, and what is worth dying for, can we strike at the heart of the capitalist process of production.

When we talk about curriculum change, we are talking about creating new theoretical foundations to observe and intervene in the world we live in. This is not a project for the faint-of-heart, especially because the rich and powerful spend huge amounts of wealth and energy in preserving this status-quo, and resist efforts to change these social realities with all their might. The project of speaking truth to power is severely handicapped by our education which conditions our vision of the truth.Our theories of knowledge state that good and evil do not exist. We have been taught rules of intellectual discourse which forbid appeals to the heart and soul. We have thereby been deprived of our most powerful weapons in the eternal battle against evil. Modern education has turned us into soulless zombies, consumption and sex machines, human resources, and inputs into the production function for wealth. The vast majority of the populace has been paralyzed with poisonous ways of thinking, and the small minority which retains the capacity for thought and action has also been badly damaged by these same poisons.

Before talking about curriculum change, we must redeem our souls. How can this be done?The first step in curriculum change requires the creation of teachers who have a clear understanding of the challenge that we face. These teachers must de-program themselves to cleanse their hearts. Given that we battle against overwhelming odds, our teachers must be rocks of courage, fortitude, and stamina. Also essential is a sense of humor to enable us to laugh at the massive forces arrayed against us – without this, we would die of despair. Also required is a deep commitment to the cause, which is giving hope to and enriching the lives of billions living, entirely un-necessarily, in abject conditions. Our hearts must be full of compassion, and feel the sharp pangs of the pain felt by the parents who have to choose between buying expensive medicines for the sick child, or food for the family. We have to empower ourselves, and believe that we can make a difference.

The world we live in is constructed from structures of thought that we have internalized, far more than bricks and concrete. Unfortunately, many of these dominant structures are poisonous to our own happiness as well as general welfare of mankind. Changing our ways of thinking is not just a matter of reading and understanding. Rather, the process involves acquiring new ways of looking at the world and new tools for manipulating reality – eerily parallel to the taking of a reality pill in a popular movie. Healing ourselves requires time, effort and cooperation of like minded friends.  A first step in creating a new curriculum must be detoxification of our own minds and hearts. In terms of the Gandhian precept, we have to  ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’  This requires analyzing the nature of the toxins we have ingested, and their removal. Some of the broad areas which require work are listed below:

[For the full article, see pre-publication draft Chapter 2: Creating Challengers & Change of edited volume: “Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum” editors Maria Alejandra Madi and Jack Reardon]

Table of Contents (Section Headings:)

  1. Rethinking the human being: Redeeming the Heart and Soul 3
  2. Rethinking the Nature of Human Knowledge 5
  3. Goals and perspectives for human existence 6
  4. Rescuing Morality in Economics 7
  5. Overcoming Market Mentality 8
  6. The Metaphor of the Machine 10
  7. Conclusions 11

Scientific epistemology is a serious business in economics—as it is in any science. Not surprisingly, therefore, discussions about value-ladeness tend to focus on theoretical and methodological issues within the discipline, while the question of the social consequences of science is approached with more reservation. And for many good reasons, one may say, because it is not entirely up to scientists how will the scientific product be disseminated and interpreted in society, or how will it be used by policy makers. Or, that’s not the job of the scientist, one could reason, to determine and be ready for all possible applicative scenarios.

Since the last few decades, research practices have undergone a far-reaching transformation at the interface between science, policy and society. It involves an increased engagement of science in problem solving and policy advice, and the enhancing role of participatory research methods in problem-based approaches. The social consequences of science become therefore more readily visible, opening up new perspectives on debates about facts and values dichotomy, or the relationship between knowledge, truth, and values (cf. Kitcher, 2001). One way of looking at the transformation of scientific practices focuses on the criteria of scientific rationality with regard to scientific knowledge and the very process of knowledge production, echoing a Weberian contrast between instrumental and axiological rationality of social action (Weber 1968). Specifically, the scientific rationality criteria have been extended in the process from purely (i) internal rationality, that can be defined as a conventional scientific rationality approach focused on disciplinary epistemology and methodology, to (ii) external rationality that pertains to axiological, ethical, and societal elements of knowledge and its production (Kiepas, 2006). 

There are many reasons for including external rationality in scientific practices. For one thing, all applied sciences can be considered as value-laden in virtue of their goal-oriented values (Pullin, 2002). Furthermore, many contemporary problems, as subjects of research, are radically complex. They are laden with systemic uncertainties, meaning that “the problem is concerned not only with the discovery of a particular fact (as in traditional research), but with the comprehension or management of a reality that has irreducible complexities or uncertainties” (see more in Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1994, p. 1882). They also pose future incalculable risks in an unprecedented scope. For example, in the context of complex, adaptive problems such as climate change, uncertainty in science follows (Brown, 2013). Scientific uncertainty regarding the severity and scope of the problem fuels general disagreement about the appropriate actions to undertake. Attempts to accurately assess all the possible climate change impacts and to exhaustingly assign an economic value to alternative courses of action are bound to fail (Jamieson, 2010). That being the case, the policy-relevance of standard economic analysis as the sole knowledge-base for environmental decision making is limited.

In case of economics, the shift in approaches to rationality can be seen in debates about reflexivity in economics, bounded rationality, or performativity of economic models, to name a few topics. But for the most part, ethical- and value-neutrality continue to feature much of economic research, such as in standard normative theories of decision making under uncertainty and risk. The burgeoning of economics as a separate discipline, accompanied by distancing from philosophy, build up strong methodological foundations to prevent any extra-scientific elements to interfere in its analysis (cf. Hausman, 1992).

The classic conceptualisation of uncertainty and risk in economics is very specific and differs from the above-mentioned, sociologically incrusted understanding. Following the paradigmatic distinction formulated by Knight (1921), uncertainty refers to situations of radical uncertainty that cannot be expressed as sets of probabilities, whereas risk is related to situations in which actions do not lead with certitude to specific outcomes, but the alternative outcomes and their probabilities can be discerned. 

The categories of uncertainty and risk, as considered here, lend themselves to complexity of many policy issues, and are associated with the transformation of postmodern societies due to technology, consequences of globalisation, and environmental crises that follow (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1990). These circumstances, “external” to standard methodological practices, motivate the extension of scientific rationality criteria and rethinking the role of science by researchers themselves. An example of this transformative process is the so-called advocacy science for environmental justice. It represents a socially engaged, multidisciplinary research approach that emerged in response to environmental toxicity movements, and developed an alternative epidemiological paradigm based on participatory research methods (see, e.g., Ottinger & Cohen, 2011).

With regard to the interface between science, policy, and society and the extra-scientific aspects of uncertainty and risk, one can note that the assessment and acceptance of risk are not purely a matter of data analysis or applying the “right” indicators. The perception and interpretation of uncertainty and risk are influenced by a mixture of social, political, and scientific processes that interact with each other. Consider the relationship between environmental pollution and risk. While pollution appears to be solely as a matter of scientific measures, the question of what is an acceptable level of pollution and its risk for a given society, and whether there are cases of unacceptable risks, involves our pre-conceptions and assumptions about what constitutes a good quality of life, wellbeing, and sustainable development (cf. Evernden, 1999).

Why would an individual economist care about the science-policy interface, or about considering extra-scientific elements of her research practice? There are several reasons to seriously reflect on this question. For one thing, transparency about the value content of specific research programs may translate into more careful and accountable approach to complex problems of public policy and the remedying capacity of science and technological progress. Furthermore, Söderbaum (2000) argues that economics should be more properly approached as political economics to make clear the fact that each scientist, as the discipline itself, has an ideological orientation (in the sense of means-ends philosophy) that plays out in the problem-framing, and reflects on the performative features of economic expertise. To the latter point, the analyst’s conclusion that reduces the extra-monetary aspects of a given problem to monetary ones is not without policy consequences; it suggests certain framings and solution-imageries to economic agents and decision makers. Besides, academia itself is not free of subjective interests and rent seeking. But—I haste to add—this does not undermine the value of scientific expertise per se. Neither does it suggest that citizens and policy makers are passive or unreflective recipients of scientific knowledge. It rather suggests a double-edge approach to science that recognises the subjective, cultural, and societal components in scientific practices on the one hand, and the aspiration of scientific community to reach objectivity (understood broadly as a normative objective) on the other hand. Although scientific practices are saturated with theoretical pre-conceptions and cultural perspectives, it does not immediately follow that science has nothing to do with truth and objectivity (a subject that deserves a separate discussion). 

The double-edge approach to science calls for more explicit discussions about the social consequences of science and scientific literacy in society:

  • Concerns about the role of science and scientific expertise in society may facilitate disciplinary reflexivity. It may also feed into methodological approaches. In case of economics, instead of focusing only on expanding the standard framework of economic analysis onto new subjects, concerns about the social consequences of science create a platform for a more direct consideration of methodological alternatives. Especially for contexts in which standard economic tools of analysis display some limits (e.g., cost-benefit analysis in sustainable development planning), alternative approaches that directly accommodate non-monetary impacts and justice concerns are needed (Brown et al., 2017). 
  • According to a political scientist Frank Fischer, in face of technical and social complexity that characterises most of policy issues, citizens and politicians need to display a good level of competence (2009, 1). In this context, an urgent question arises: how to democratise science on the one hand, and how to prevent populism and the spread of fake facts to take the provenience of science (as a source of information about the world) on the other hand? While the aspiration of science to be the absolute truth holder has been widely challenged, it does not immediately follow that there is nothing to scientific knowledge that would make it somehow different from other forms of knowledge. No differentiation at all can give way to anti-science of dangerous kind, in which “facts” are matters of preferences or interests. A caveat here is in order: such differentiation does not imply that scientific knowledge is inherently better than any other form of knowledge.

Certainly there are many challenges to balancing the double-edge approach to science both within and outside of the scientific community, as there are multiple philosophical framings of the role and status of scientific expertise in society. To be continued!

References

Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

Brown, J. Söderbaum, P. & Dereniowska, M. (2017). Positional Analysis for Sustainable Development: Reconsidering Policy, Economics and Accounting. London: Routledge. 

Evernden, N. (1992). The Social Creation of Nature. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.

Hasuman, D. M. (1992). The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fischer, Frank (2009). Democracy & Expertise. Reorienting Policy Inquiry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Funtowicz, S. O. & Ravetz, J. R. (1994). Uncertainty, Complexity and Post-normal Science. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 13(2), 1881-1885. 

Jamieson, D. (2010). Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming. In S. M. Gardiner, S. Caney, D. Jamieson & Henry Shoue (Eds), Climate Ethics. Essential Readings (pp. 77-86). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kiepas, A. (2006). Ethics as the Eco-development Factor in Science and Technology. Problems of Eco-development 1(2), 77–86.

Kitcher, P. (2001). Science, Truth, and Democracy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York. 

Knight, F. H. (1921). Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ottinger, G. & Cohen, B. R. (Eds). (2011). Technoscience and Environmental Justice. Expert Cultures in Grassroots Movement. Cambridge: the MIT Press.

Pullin, A. S. (2002). Conservation Biology. Cambridge & New York; Cambridge University Press. 

Söderbaum, P. (2000). Ecological Economics. A Political Economics Approach to Environment and Development. London: Earthscan/Routledge.

Weber, M. (1968). Economy and Society. New York: Bedminster Press.

My paper is a survey of the huge amount of solid empirical evidence against the utility maximization hypothesis that is at the core of all microeconomics currently being taught today in Economics textbooks at universities all over the world. It is obviously important, because if what it says is true, the entire field of microeconomics needs to be re-constructed from scratch. Nonetheless, it was summarily rejected by a large number of top journals, before being eventually published by Jack Reardon as: ” The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Review of the Literature,”  in International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2012, pp. 366-414.   Speaking metaphorically, my paper documents the solid evidence that the earth is a round sphere in world where educational institutions teach the widely held belief that the earth is flat. Readers of RWER blog will recall that when challenged on the failure of macroeconomics after the Global Financial Crisis, economists retreated to the position that while macro theory may be in a bad shape, at least Microeconomics is solidly grounded. My paper blows this claim out of the water. As a result, nothing is left of Micro and Micro, and of economics as whole. This supports my earlier claim that a Radical Paradigm Shift is required to make progress — patching up existing theories cannot work.

None of the several leading journals that I sent the paper to made any comments about any mistakes in my arguments. There were two main reasons which were stated for rejections. One was that the paper was “not appropriate” for the journal. This seems ridiculous; how can a paper which challenges the foundations of the subject be “inappropriate” (however, an explanation will be provided later). Two was that the results of the paper were well-known. I also sent the paper for comments to many leading economists. Kenneth Arrow, who was once a teacher of mine at Stanford, responded as follows “Thank you for the very complete and well-argued critique of the utility-maximization theory. Of course, the remaining question is, what should take the place of that theory?”.  This is just to document that the paper itself provides solid and irrefutable evidence against modern microeconomic theory. Given that the vast majority of economists continue to teach microeconomics based on utility maximization, and that this theory is widely believed by students of economics throughout the world, it would seem of great importance to document the empirical evidence against it and use it as a springboard for developing alternative theories, more consistent with empirical observations of human behavior. However, none of the mainstream journals displayed any interest in publishing this paper.

This leads to a puzzle, which requires some thought. As famous theoretical physicist Richard Feynman put it: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with the experiment, it’s wrong.”  The experimental result — corresponding to the empirical evidence — is all important in physics, which is why there has been tremendous progress in physics. On the other hand, the economists display no interest in empirical evidence at all. This indifference of economists to empirical evidence which contradicts their theories has been noted by many; see previous post on “Quotes Critical of Economics” for the full quote briefly cited here:

Read More

This is an assorted collection of quotes I have found useful from time to time in different contexts. I am putting them all together for my own reference, as well as for the benefit of others who may find them similarly useful to make points.

JM Keynes Quotes (mostly from General Theory GT):

The composition of this book has been for the author a long struggle of escape, and so must the reading of it be for most readers if the author’s assault upon them is to be successful,— a struggle of escape from habitual modes of thought and expression. The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds. (GT)

It is an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in bedlam. (GT)

It is astonishing what foolish things one can temporarily believe if one thinks too long alone, particularly in economics (along with the other moral sciences), where it is often impossible to bring one’s ideas to a conclusive test either formal or experimental. (GT)

For if orthodox economics is at fault, the error is to be found not in the superstructure, which has been erected with great care for logical consistency, but in a lack of clearness and of generality in the premises – (GT)

For professional economists, after Malthus, were apparently unmoved by the lack of correspondence between the results of their theory and the facts of observation;— a discrepancy which the ordinary man has not failed to observe, with the result of his growing unwillingness to accord to economists that measure of respect which he gives to other groups of scientists whose theoretical results are confirmed by observation when they are applied to the facts. (GT)

The classical theorists resemble Euclidean geometers in a non-Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet, in truth, there is no remedy except to throw over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non-Euclidean geometry. Something similar is required today in economics. (GT)

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