July 18, 2015

Knowledge vs. Belief

Comment on Asad Zaman on ‘The marginalisation of morality’


This blog [RWER] distinguishes itself from all the rest by its title Real-World Economics Review Blog. The key word is economics. Now, everybody understands that (i) the economy is but one aspect of the real world, and (ii), that economics is the science that tries to find out how the economy works. Hence economics is restricted with respect to its subject matter and committed to the scientific method.

Since its beginnings economics has overstepped its narrow limits. The simple reason is that authors and teachers and ideologues and politicians have consistently tried to intrumentalize economics for other purposes. This gave us political economics in the widest sense whereby the term political embraces all belief-systems including, of course, religions (Nelson, 2006).

To the extent that theoretical economics has been hijacked by political economics it has to regain its full independence. That part of economics that has been political from Smith, to Marx, to Hayek, to Keynes, and on to the actual orthodox and heterodox activists has to be clearly separated from science and eventually thrown out.

Theoretical economics is about the world economy. It is not about the Greece or European or US economy. And it is certainly not at all about the problems of the American educational system. It is the task of American citizens to organize the education of their children. And no economist has any legitimacy of telling anybody how this could or should be done.

Most belief-systems are expansionary and rely on the time-tested experience that the best way to propagate belief is to hijack the educational system, including of course, the universities.

Now, science is about knowledge and this is the exact opposite of belief. Science restricts itself to things that can be known, belief-systems second-guess about things that cannot be known. Science has its own moral standard that is not derived from any belief-system. What is most important, though, is that humanity has learned in the course of history that moral is a fundamental human trait that comes before religion or politics. Non-religious people have moral standards that are on the average higher than those of religious people who have, again on the average, unthinkingly adapted to their rather specific cultural environments.

We may agree with Assad Zaman that morality is at a low ebb in the USA and the world at large. We do certainly not agree that this is due to a lack of religious education.

As economists we have a problem that has nothing at all to do with morals and belief-systems. It is a fact that the scientific level of economics is at a low ebb in the USA and the world at large. As a result, we have no economic theory that satisfies the scientific standards of material and formal consistency. And here moral comes in again. By propagating refuted or irrefutable theories or belief-systems the representative economist violates scientific ethics.

To do some sociology about the deplorable state of American universities is not real-world economics. It is the proper task of Heterodox economics to emancipate economics from all belief-systems and to make it a real science that after 200 years of groping in the dark eventually finds out how the actual economy works.*

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Nelson, R. H. (2006). Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond. Pennsylvania, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

* For a start see the new belief-free heterodox curriculum