March 12, 2018

Behavioral economics ― forever stuck at the proto-scientific level

Comment on Tom Hickey on ‘Nicolas Geeraert ― How knowledge about different cultures is shaking the foundations of psychology’


Psychology/Sociology 2018: “Experimental psychologists typically study behaviour in a small group of people, with the assumption that this can be generalised to the wider human population. If the population is considered to be homogeneous, then such inferences can indeed be made from a random sample. However, this isn’t the case. Psychologists have long disproportionately relied on undergraduate students to carry out their studies, simply because they are readily available to researchers at universities. More dramatically still, more than 90% of participants in psychological studies come from countries that are Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic (W.E.I.R.D).”

J. S. Mill 1874: “Just in the same manner does Political Economy presuppose an arbitrary definition of man, as a being who invariably does that by which he may obtain the greatest amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, with the smallest quantity of labour and physical self-denial with which they can be obtained in the existing state of knowledge.” And “Not that any political economist was ever so absurd as to suppose that mankind are really thus constituted, but because this is the mode in which science must necessarily proceed.”

“In political economy for instance, empirical laws of human nature are tacitly assumed by English thinkers, which are calculated only for Great Britain and the United States.”

The subject matter of economics is the behavior of the economic system and NOT the behavior of humans or a tiny part thereof.#1 Science deals with invariances/universal laws. There is no such thing as a universal behavioral law. Because of this, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a ‘social science’.#2 Economics is a systems science but economists have not realized it to this day.#3

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 For details of the big picture see cross-references Not a Science of Behavior
#2 What is so great about cargo cult science? or, How economists learned to stop worrying about failure
#3 Redefining economics