Annals of Economic Illiteracy

I have in previous posts lamented the trend of economics to turn increasingly toward a math-exclusive quantitative discipline, in which old fashioned instruction in political economy—the kind of inquiry that produced economists like Hayek, Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, etc—was being abandoned to our detriment. On top of which, I have also noted, many economics departments in major universities are moving to reclassify themselves as STEM fields, for a variety of reasons—the most important being that it is a way to disassociate themselves from the weaker and more directly politicized social sciences.

But I am hesitating for a moment, and am beginning to wonder whether these trends might not save economics from going down the drain. Consider an article in Nature magazine a few days ago which laments that “post-crash economics” isn’t “pluralist, critical and relevant to society.” What can that phrase mean? I’m sure you can guess, but I’ll let the author, Maeve Cohen (director of Rethinking Economics in Manchester, described as “a non-profit group devoted to improving economics education”), explain it directly:

Students should learn mainstream economics, but it should be juxtaposed with the myriad other schools of economic thought, such as ecological economics (which embeds the economy in the environment, rather than thinking of it as an externality), feminist economics (in which gender relations, and unpaid domestic labour, are integral to how the economy functions) or post-Keynesian economics (which proposes, among other things, that the size of an economy is determined by what people are able to buy, rather than by what they produce).

Oh goody.

Cohen gives away the real game in the last pargraph:

If we are to move beyond the dead hand of antiquated economics, we must create rewards, grants and accolades for training undergraduates better.

In other words, we want money! Hand it over. I guess the whole “competition” thing central to economics is one of those obsolete concepts we need to move beyond.

One lingering question. Cohen writes that “Few would argue that economics is now, or ever will be, on the same level as the natural sciences.” Then what’s this article doing in Nature magazine, which is ostensibly dedicated to scientific precision in the natural sciences? The liberal editors of Nature have no idea that eventually the leftist mob is going to come for them, too. Do they really think the politicization of the sciences will stop with just the social sciences?

But wait! There’s more. In the academic journal Communication and the Public (I’ve never heard of it either) there appears an article entitled “The Neoliberal Conquest of the Supreme Court.” Academic readers will know that being called a “neoliberal” on campus these days is second only to being called a racist in the hierarchy of leftist evils. Take in the first two sentences of the abstract:

Neoliberalism is an anti-democratic ideology. It takes decisions about the allocation of scarce resources out of the hands of public institutions and places them in the hands of private actors.

Yes indeed, having “public institutions” (sometimes known as “commissars”) allocate resources has worked so well everywhere it has been tried. It is well nigh impossible to point out to the uncommitted (in the clinical sense) left that decentralizing decisions about resource use by means of private transactions between consenting adults is the most democratic form of economics imaginable.

The entire article is really just a primal scream about the slow, steady triumph of the law and economics movement, to which the left has decided that if you can’t beat them in a substantive argument, just deploy the “neoliberal” label and scream “social justice!”

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