December 31, 2014

Politics vs. Science

Comment on Peter Radford on 'Economics and civil society'


First of all one has to distinguish between theoretical and political economics. The goal of political economics is to push an agenda, the goal of theoretical economics is to explain how the actual economy works. From the viewpoint of science political economics as a whole is a no-go. The first problem of economics is that many economists are not scientists but agenda pushers of one sort or another. This, and not the peculiarities of the subject matter, explains the secular stagnation of economics in comparison to the real sciences.

Currently, economists do not understand how the economy works.

“As Joan Robinson said, our essential object in economics is "to understand how the economic system works"; or, putting the emphasis differently, as did Keynes, "Is the economic system self-adjusting?" Sadly, we economists have so far done little to address, much less provide satisfying answers to the issues posed by Newcomb, Robinson, and Keynes. ... we know little more now about "how the economy works," or about the modus operandi of the invisible hand than we knew in 1790, after Adam Smith completed the last revision of The Wealth of Nations.” (Clower, 1999, p. 401)

Science is a trial-and-error process: ignorance is the starting point, great insights are few and far between. Economics is, in its present condition, a failed science. This, however, does not hinder economists to give policy advice. And this is not only ridiculous but illegitimate. Mill had stated clearly the distinction between positive and normative economics.

“A scientific observer or reasoner, merely as such, is not an adviser for practice. His part is only to show that certain consequences follow from certain causes, and that to obtain certain ends, certain means are the most effectual. Whether the ends themselves are such as ought to be pursued, and if so, in what cases and to how great a length, it is no part of his business as a cultivator of science to decide, and science alone will never qualify him for the decision.” (Mill, 2006, p. 950)

To recall, it were the ancient Greeks who first introduced the distinction between doxa and episteme, opinion and knowledge. And then they drew the line of demarcation between non-science and science.

Clearly, Smith and Mill were agenda pushers against feudalism. Marx and Keynes were agenda pushers and so were Hayek and Friedman. However, all these economists insisted that they were doing science.

It is not the question whether the one or the other of the above mentioned fought for the good or the evil cause. All abused science for their agenda pushing. As economists they have to be judged according to their scientific merits. As far as economics is concerned, Hayek and Friedman have to be criticized for zero scientific content, not for their political commitment, and Keynes has to be praised for his attempted paradigm shift but not for his political commitment.

Economists are expected to deliver the true economic theory and not to save the world. Up to the present, they have not accomplished their primary task. In order to become a science, economics has to get rid of agenda pushers of all sorts. This is the theoretical economist's most valuable and the only legitimate political contribution to a civil society.

Never allow any economist to advertise poor theory as a contribution to the betterment of the world we live in.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Clower, R. W. (1999). Post-Keynes Monetary and Financial Theory. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 21(3): 399–414. URL
Mill, J. S. (2006). A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive. Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, volume 8 of Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.