January 9, 2016

Soap opera economics

Comment on ‘5 things I would like economics majors to know before they graduate’


David Hemenway tells us: “I have been teaching microeconomics for more than four decades, and over the past months I have been seriously thinking about this question ...”

How mind-boggling is this? After 40 years of teaching David Hemenway starts thinking? Is this not a bit late? Should it not have been the other way round?

What is the result a student of economics arrives at with logical necessity at the end of his studies? “It may be distasteful for recently trained economists to admit that there is a lot of silly philosophy underlying ordinary neoclassical economics, but I think such is the case.” (Boland, 1992, p. 203)

A student of economics who is exposed the first time to silly supply-demand-equilibrium and accepts this as an explanation of how the market economy works unwittingly flunks an intelligence test.

Economics is a science and the only criterion of science is true/false. This is not the criterion of politics, of course, the criterion of politics is instead good/bad or like/dislike. Science appeals to logic, politics appeals to emotions. Science is about knowledge, politics is about opinion.

Why do presidential candidates kiss babies and why do TV news invariably take the picture of a dead baby as epitome of a humanitarian catastrophe? This, obviously, triggers a direct emotional good/bad reflex.

In his argument, David Hemenway applies this reflex “there are lots of children and adolescents in the world (though few in economic textbooks).” This is obviously true but, equally evident, an abuse of emotionality in a debate about whether standard economics is true or false.

After 40 years of unthinkingly teaching the scientific junk of microeconomics David Hemenway arrives at the triviality ‘there are lots of children and adolescents in the world’. Let this sink in. Do customers not sue industry for selling crappy products? Does David Hemenway not fear to be sued by his former students for crappy teaching?

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Boland, L. A. (1992). The Principles of Economics. Some Lies my Teacher Told Me. London, New York, NY: Routledge.

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