October 8, 2016

Economics and scientific foolishness

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘The main problem with mainstream economics’

Blog-Reference and Blog-Reference on Oct 12

Lars Syll quotes Feynman approvingly: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” Unfortunately, Lars Syll does not apply this insight to himself and to the Malmö branch of Heterodoxy.*

Malmö Heterodoxy methodologically follows the Cambridge School of Loose Verbal Reasoning with Keynes as authoritative spokesperson: “It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong!”

It is just the other way round as Feynman made clear: “By having a vague theory it is possible to get either result. ... It is usually said when this is pointed out, ‘When you are dealing with psychological matters things can’t be defined so precisely’. Yes, but then you cannot claim to know anything about it.” (1992, p. 159)

While Malmö Heterodoxy regards economics as a social science, Feynman identified the social sciences as cargo cult sciences: “So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.” (1974, p. 11)

Whoever looks into orthodox and heterodox theories finds that BOTH do not fit the criteria of science which are well-defined as material and formal consistency. Malmö Heterodoxy simply resorts to Keynesian new-speak which consists in creating a paradox out of thin air: “Formalization of even a part of what goes into our common sense understanding of society would be, as he [Keynes] said ‘prolix and complicated to the point of obscurity.’ Theories constructed with vague concepts paradoxically can maximize precision and economy.” (Coates, 2007, p. 8)

This is a fine example of Keynesians fooling themselves. Vague concepts are scientifically worthless, have always been and will always be (2011).

While Malmö Heterodoxy never gets tired of accusing Orthodoxy of applying math, Feynman knew how to properly use its inexplicable but proven effectiveness: “I find it quite amazing that it is possible to predict what will happen by mathematics, which is simply following rules which really have nothing to do with what is going on in the original thing.” (1992, p. 171)

This, of course is not a justification of mathiness, which is the misapplication of math within the framework of a cargo cult science.**

Malmö Heterodoxy, which has not produced much of scientific value, proposes the abolition of the axiomatic-deductive method: “So ― if we want to develop a new and better economics we have to give up on the deductivist straitjacket methodology.”

Feynman, who has produced much of scientific value, predicts just the opposite: “Some day, when physics is complete and we know all the laws, we may be able to start with some axioms, and no doubt somebody will figure out a particular way of doing it so that everything else can be deduced.” (1992, p. 50)

While Malmö Heterodoxy is satisfied with reiterating “the main problem with mainstream economics” Feynman made it clear that critique is not the main task of the scientist: “The problem is not just to say that something might be wrong, but to replace it by something ― and that is not so easy.” (1992, p. 161)

We know that it has been TOO HARD for traditional Heterodoxy. Neither Orthodoxy nor Heterodoxy ever got above the proto-scientific level. It is indeed foolish from cargo cult scientists to quote genuine scientists on methodology. But then, this is exactly what is to be expected from fools.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

Coates, J. (2007). The Claims of Common Sense. Moore, Wittgenstein, Keynes and the Social Sciences. Cambridge, New York, NY, etc.: Cambridge University Press.
Feynman, R. P. (1974). Cargo Cult Science. Engineering and Science, 37(7): 10–13. URL
Feynman, R. P. (1992). The Character of Physical Law. London: Penguin.
Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2011). Why Post Keynesianism is Not Yet a Science. SSRN Working Paper Series, 1966438: 1–20. URL

* For details see post ‘Economics as fool’s paradise
** For details see Barzilai