October 31, 2015

Getting out of mumbonomics

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘Postmodern discourse mumbo jumbo’

Blog-Reference

Above, Jan Milch quotes Chomsky with what can be taken here as definition of Postmodernism: “... a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts ..., argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial ... or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish.”

According to this definition economists literally invented Postmodernism: “The currently prevailing pattern of economic theorizing exhibits the following three characteristics: (1) a syncopated style of argument fluctuating back and forth between literary and symbolic modes of expression, (2) naive translation, or the loose paraphrasing of formulae into sentences, and (3) loose verbal reasoning for certain aspects of theoretical argumentation where explicit symbolic formulation is lacking.” (Dennis, 1982, p. 698)

What Dennis meant with “loose verbal reasoning” is the same as Chomsky’s “plain gibberish”, and this is the realm where, as Keynes said, “nothing is clear and everything is possible” (1973, p. 292). This vast realm between true and false is traditionally occupied and vigilantly defended by the Cambridge School of Loose Verbal Reasoning: “Another danger is that you may ‘precise everything away’ and be left with only a comparative poverty of meaning. ... Such a problem was avoided, said Keynes, by Marshall who used loose definitions but allowed the reader to infer his meaning from ‘the richness of context’.” (Coates, 2007, p. 87)

Keynes’s postmodern methodology — each reader is free to impute his meaning or to guess what Keynes/Marshall meant — became the postkeynesianic gospel: “For Keynes as for Post Keynesians the guiding motto is ‘it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong!’” (Davidson, 1984, p. 574)

This allows us now to precisely position economics in general and Postkeynesianism in particular: “More recently, Walter Truett Anderson described postmodernism as belonging to one of four typological world views, which he identifies as either (a) Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed, (b) Scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry, (c) Social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of ... civilization, or (d) Neo-romantic, in which truth is found through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.” (Wikipedia)

Postmodern economics is anything except (b), i.e., methodical, disciplined inquiry, but in fact, as Dow nicely put it ‘Babylonian incoherent babble’ (2005, p. 385).

Since Senior’s first attempt of a ‘methodical, disciplined inquiry’ economists have consistently failed to get out of mumbonomics.

“To Senior belongs the signal honor of having been the first to make the attempt to state, consciously and explicitly, the postulates that are necessary and sufficient in order to build up … that little analytic apparatus commonly known as economic theory, or to put it differently, to provide for it an axiomatic basis.” (Schumpeter, 1994, p. 575)

There is no such thing as a scientifically valid economic theory because Orthodoxy got the axiomatic foundations wrong and Heterodoxy has none at all.*

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke


References
Coates, J. (2007). The Claims of Common Sense. Moore, Wittgenstein, Keynes and the Social Sciences. Cambridge, New York, NY, etc.: Cambridge University Press.
Davidson, P. (1984). Reviving Keynes’s Revolution. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 6(4): 561–575. URL
Dennis, K. (1982). Economic Theory and the Problem of Translation (I). Journal of Economic Issues, 16(3): 691–712. URL
Dow, S. C. (2005). Axioms and Babylonian Thought: A Reply. Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, 27(3): 385–391. URL
Keynes, J. M. (1973). The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes Vol. VII. London, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Schumpeter, J. A. (1994). History of Economic Analysis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

* But see for Constructive Heterodoxy


Related to 'Stop knowing nothing, start knowing something' and 'Moronomics'