November 16, 2019

Economics, philosophy, and the crapification of science

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘Why philosophy and methodology matter for economics’


Tom Hickey, the philosopher in the econblogosphere recently drew the sum of his insights: “All of us have a world view. World views differ, perhaps slightly but perhaps a great deal. We affiliate based on shared world views. If one beings to groups that don’t share a common world view. this creates some double binds and cognitive dissonance, or role-playing, These world views are ‘programed’ into the brain functioning. At the social level this results in group think and conflict within and among groups.”

Well, this is known since time immemorial: “There are always many different opinions and conventions concerning any one problem or subject-matter (such as the gods). This shows that they are not all true. For if they conflict, then at best only one of them can be true. Thus it appears that Parmenides … was the first to distinguish clearly between truth or reality on the one hand, and convention or conventional opinion (hearsay, plausible myth) on the other …” (Popper)

Most people are satisfied with the pluralism of opinions and only want tolerance for their own. The ambition of the genuine scientist/philosopher, though, is to advance from doxa = opinion to episteme = knowledge: “That the settlement of opinion is the sole end of inquiry is a very important proposition.” (Peirce)

The guiding principle for establishing knowledge is the distinction between true and false. Scientific truth is well-defined: “Research is, in fact, a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant)

The problem with economics is that it is NOT a science to this day. The major approaches — Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism, etc. — are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and all got the foundational economic concept of profit wrong.

Economics is what Feynman called cargo cult science: “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.”

Some economists frankly admit that economics does not satisfy scientific standards but point out that it is influential nonetheless: “… the great economists pursued an inquiry as exciting — and as dangerous — as any the world has ever known. The ideas they dealt with, unlike the ideas of the great philosophers, did not make little difference to our daily working lives; the experiments they urged could not, like the scientists’, be carried out in the isolation of a laboratory. The notions of the great economists were world-shaking, and their mistakes were nothing short of calamitous. ‘The ideas of economists and political philosophers,’ wrote Lord Keynes, himself a great economist, ‘both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.’” (Heilbroner The Worldly Philosophers)

All this is historically correct but entirely beside the point. To recall, the criterion of science is true/false and NOT influential/ineffective. The latter is the chief criterion of propaganda. Propaganda, though, has NOTHING to do with episteme = knowledge. What we know from history and the content of so-called holy books is that people accept/believe/ defend any intellectual/moral perversion. The history of ideas is the history of scientifically worthless follower-generating opinions.

This holds also for the history of economic thought. There are political economics and theoretical economics. The main differences are: (i) The goal of political economics is to successfully push an agenda, and the goal of theoretical economics is to successfully explain how the actual economy works. (ii) In political economics anything goes; in theoretical economics, the scientific standards of material and formal consistency are observed.

The fact is that theoretical economics (= science) had been hijacked from the very beginning by political economists (= agenda pushers). Political economics has produced NOTHING of scientific value in the last 200+ years. Economics is fake science. Worse, economics is a political fraud.

True: “All of us have a world view”. True, this “world view” informs our actions. True, “world views” count in the political realm. However, “world views” count for NOTHING in the scientific realm.

To call economists worldly philosophers is a silly euphemism. Economics is neither science nor philosophy but political agenda-pushing. Economists are neither scientists nor worldly philosophers but clowns and useful idiots in the political Circus Maximus.

There is no such thing as an economist who works for the welfare or enlightenment of humanity. According to their own behavioral axiom, economists maximize their individual utility, which means — more often than not — that they are directly or indirectly on the payroll of the incumbent Oligarchy.

Economists have corrupted science and therefore have to be expelled from the scientific community.#1-#14

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 Economics: Poor philosophy, poor psychology, poor science
#2 Economics, philosophy, and mathematics
#3 Economics is NOT about what Happiness is but about what Profit is
#4 Economists: scientists or political clowns?
#5 Overreach: Economists have their fingers in every pie except real economics
#6 The irrelevance of economics
#7 Economics is NOT a social science
#8 Economics as storytelling and entertainment for the masses
#9 What is so great about cargo cult science? or, How economists learned to stop worrying about failure
#10 The economist as storyteller
#11 Circus Maximus: Economics as entertainment, personality gossip, virtue signaling, and lifestyle promotion
#12 Econogenics: economists pose a hazard to their fellow citizens
#13 Macroeconomics and the fake History of Economic Thought
#14 What it takes to become a great economist

REPLY to Ikonoclast on Nov 19

You say: “Lars Syll is correct. Philosophy and methodology (the study of methods) do matter for economics.”

It is pretty obvious that philosophy and methodology have NOT helped Lars Syll much to advance economics. Lacking any understanding of elementary mathematics he still has not realized that Keynes messed up macroeconomics 80+ years ago.#1

Worse, Lars Syll constantly violates the first practical rule of philosophy, that is, Be Honest, which includes (i) NOT manipulating debate and suppressing critique#2, (ii) exclusively applying logical/empirical refutation and NOT political insinuation, (iii) to openly admit having been refuted, (iv) to accept the consequences of scientific failure and to retire from academia.

#1 Keynesianism is broken: Get over it!
#2 Cryptoeconomics ― the best of Lars Syll’s spam folder

REPLY to Ken Zimmerman on Nov 20

You say: “People make economies and explain what they make. Talk with them, Observe their daily actions. And be respectful. They have the answers for which we search.”

No. That is NOT how science works. And this is known for 2300+ years.

“People fancied they saw the sun rise and set, the stars revolve in circles round the pole. We now know that they saw no such thing; what they really saw was a set of appearances, equally reconcileable with the theory they held and with a totally different one. It seems strange that such an instance as this, ... , should not have opened the eyes of the bigots of common sense, and inspired them with a more modest distrust of the competency of mere ignorance to judge the conclusions of cultivated thought.” (J. S. Mill)

“It [Political Economy] is an abstract science which labours under a special hardship. Those who are conversant with its abstractions are usually without a true contact with its facts; those who are in contact with its facts have usually little sympathy with and little cognisance of its abstractions. Literary men who write about it are constantly using what a great teacher calls ‘unreal words,’ — that is, they are using expressions with which they have no complete vivid picture to correspond. They are like physiologists who have never dissected; like astronomers who have never seen the stars; and, in consequence, just when they seem to be reasoning at their best, their knowledge of the facts falls short. Their primitive picture fails them, and their deduction altogether misses the mark — sometimes, indeed, goes astray so far, that those who live and move among the facts boldly say that they cannot comprehend ‘how any one can talk such nonsense.’ Yet, on the other hand, these people who live and move among the facts often, or mostly, cannot of themselves put together any precise reasonings about them." (Bagehot)

The very characteristic of science is to TRANSCEND the common sense of “people who live and move among the facts”. Economic methodology has suffered since Adam Smith from the Fallacy of Insufficient Abstraction.

Related 'How Heterodoxy got lost in the methodological woods' and 'Wikipedia, economics, scientific knowledge, or political agenda pushing?'.

Nov 21


Twitter May 10, 2021 The economics of philosophy

Twitter Jan 13, 2023 Economists are neither scientists nor philosophers but agenda pushers/useful idiots/clowns in the political Circus Maximus

Twitter/X Feb, 8, 2024 It looks like the intellectual quality problem is not confined to economics but there is a general trend