August 12, 2017

Barkley Rosser, petty scientist

Comment on Barkley Rosser on ‘The Financial Crisis Tenth Anniversary’


Economics is a failed science or what Feynman called a cargo cult science. Needless to emphasize that the general public cannot tell the difference between genuine science and cargo cult science. Feynman defined the latter as follows: “They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. ... But it doesn’t work. ... So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential.” What is missing is scientific competence.

There are some typical identifiers for the cargo cultic economist.

(i) Barkley Rosser, as a prime example, maintains that science is about predicting the future: “As one of those who analyzed what was going on better than most and with better timing, …, which analyzed what had been happening and forecast a full-out crash coming soon, which indeed occurred a bit over two months later.” and “Needless to say, I have praised her [Janet Yellen] forecasting abilities on several occasions, and she was calling the housing bubble from 2005 on.”

As a matter of principle — science is NOT AT ALL in the business of prediction because it is long known among scientists: “The future is unpredictable.” (Feynman)#1 Only charlatans predict the future, and only morons take them seriously.

(ii) Barkley Rosser cannot tell the difference between prophecy and a scientific ‘prediction’. The latter is a conditional proposition which presupposes: (i) the exact knowledge of initial conditions, (ii) the knowledge of one or more universal laws, (iii) the absence of disturbances. (Popper)

Scientific ‘prediction’ presupposes the true theory. Economists, though, lack the true theory. The four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, and materially/formally inconsistent.

For lack of the true theory, economic prediction is an exercise which is in no way different from the poultry entrails reading of the old Roman haruspex.

(iii) Barkley Rosser does not know how the actual market economy works. He does not even know what profit ― the foundational concept of all of economics ― is.#2

(iv) Barkley Rosser represents the wrong type of economics. There are TWO economixes: political economics and theoretical economics. The main differences are: (a) The goal of political economics is to successfully push an agenda, the goal of theoretical economics is to successfully explain how the actual economy works. (b) In political economics anything goes; in theoretical economics, the scientific standards of material and formal consistency are observed.

As a political economist, Barkley Rosser routinely violates scientific standards. His economic policy assessments and proposals do not follow from a valid theory because there is none.

(v) Political economics degenerates quite naturally to proto-scientific inconclusive blather, pure gossip about colleagues, celebrities or political figures, and sitcom reputation management with vacuous euphemism/slander.

The lack of scientific knowledge is compensated for by the hint to piles of hot and exclusive insider knowledge: “There is so much more I have to say about all this, but these are a few items that either were not well known at the time or have been largely forgotten since.”

Political economics is essentially storytelling of the ‘throng of superfluous economists’ (Joan Robinson).#3

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 Scientists do not predict
#2 Economists: scientists or political clowns?
#3 Fact of life: your econ prof is scientifically incompetent

Related 'In search of new economists' and 'Economics and Project Augean Stable'. For details of the bigger picture see cross-references Incompetence and cross-references Political economics.