February 8, 2020

There are NO crank scientists in economics because economics is NOT a science

Comment on Blair Fix on ‘How do you spot a crank?’


Crank-spotting is a recurrent issue in economics: “A sure sign of a crisis is the prevalence of cranks. It is characteristic of a crisis in theory that cranks get a hearing from the public which orthodoxy is failing to satisfy. In the thirties we had Major Douglas, and social credit ― it can all be done with a fountain pen ― and Warren and Pearson who convinced President Roosevelt that raising the dollar price of gold would raise the price of everything else and bring the slump to an end. The cranks are to be preferred to the orthodox because they see that there is a problem. Nowadays we have plenty of cranks taking up the problems that the economists overlook.” (Joan Robinson, 1972)#1

Blair Fix takes up the issue for our time and clarifies it for himself: “I think about everything I know about neoclassical economics ― its flaws, its absurdities. I reassure myself that I’ve made the right choice. I’m not a crank. I’m a rational critic of an absurd theory.”

Well, that is what all cranks say, so Blair Fix has to go a little deeper: “The only way to judge if someone is a crank is to think rationally for yourself. You must become knowledgeable in the subject matter. You must immerse yourself in the crank’s arguments, and in the counterarguments. You must study the evidence, and if needed, run your own tests. In short, to identify a ‘crank’ you must become a scientist yourself.”

And this brings us immediately to the end of the road: “You likely see the problem with this approach. Few people have the time to become experts in one subject. And no one has the time to become an expert in every subject. So the best way to identify a crank (do science for yourself) is out of most people’s reach.”

Having told lay people that they have no chance of spotting a crank, Blair Fix then turns around and tells them how to spot cranks and how he spotted them in economics, more specifically, in neoclassical economics.

But in the end it amounts again to a big frustration for laypeople: “Philosophers of science have thought for a long time about the ‘crank identification problem’. But they don’t call it this, of course. They call it the ‘demarcation problem’. The demarcation problem is about how to distinguish between ‘science’ and ‘non-science’. It’s a problem that has kept many philosophers up at night. Karl Popper thought he had the solution with ‘falsifiability’. Scientific theories, Popper proposed, make falsifiable predictions. Pseudoscience, in contrast, does not. Many scientists (including me) still think that falsifiability is the bare-bones standard of a good theory.”

Note that Blair Fix has just played a trick on you. By citing philosophers of science he implicitly suggested that economics is a science and he, too, is a scientist: “Many scientists (including me) still think …”. The point is that Blair Fix is a fake scientist who has to be expelled from the scientific community.

The methodological fact of the matter is that economists claim from Adam Smith/Karl Marx onward to the “Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” that they are doing science. They do NOT. 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.”#2

What economics is still missing after 200+ years is the true theory. The major approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism, MMT ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and all got the foundational concept of the subject matter ― profit ― wrong. As a result of the utter scientific incompetence of the representative economist, what has been achieved is the pluralism of provably false theories.

Economics is a failed science. Blair Fix, though, cannot admit that economists are incompetent scientists but pulls the complexity argument out of the top hat#3: “But as we move to more complex systems, theory becomes more difficult to test. And for that reason, knowledge becomes less secure. Chemistry is more complex than physics, and so less secure knowledge. Biology is more complex than chemistry, and so less secure still. And the social sciences? They study impossibly complex systems. So knowledge in the social sciences is orders of magnitude less secure than in the natural sciences.”

It is worth recalling that this lame excuse has already been used by the founding fathers: “There is a property common to almost all the moral sciences, and by which they are distinguished from many of the physical; this is, that it is seldom in our power to make experiments in them. In chemistry and natural philosophy, we can not only observe what happens under all the combinations of circumstances which nature brings together, but we may also try an indefinite number of new combinations. This we can seldom do in ethical, and scarcely ever in political science. We cannot try forms of government and systems of national policy on a diminutive scale in our laboratories, shaping our experiments as we think they may most conduce to the advancement of knowledge. We therefore study nature under circumstances of great disadvantage in these sciences; being confined to the limited number of experiments which take place (if we may so speak) of their own accord, without any preparation or management of ours; in circumstances, moreover, of great complexity, and never perfectly known to us; and with the far greater part of the processes concealed from our observation. (J.S. Mill)#4

Sounds plausible but is completely beside the point because economics is NOT a social science and not a science of human behavior but a systemsm science.

What economists tell the world is that the failure of economics is due to the subject matter and not to the scientific incompetence of economists. On this point, there is unanimity among economists of all schools. The fact of the matter is, though, that economists are even too stupid for the elementary algebra that underlies macroeconomics.#5, #6

Economics is a failed science. Economists are NOT scientists but political agenda pushers, i.e. clowns and useful idiots in the political Circus Maximus.#7 Blair Fix is no exception.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 For the history of crank-spotting see Wikipedia Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science
#2 What is so great about cargo cult science? or, How economists learned to stop worrying about failure
#3 Failed economics: The losers’ long list of lame excuses
#4 Complexity and stupidity
#5 In principle, everybody can check it out for themselves: How the Intelligent Non-Economist Can Refute Every Economist Hands Down
#6 MMT: How mathematical incompetence helps the Kelton-Fraud
#7 Cross-references Political Economics/Stupidity/Corruption

Related 'Complexity, scientific incompetence, and the art of asking the right questions' and 'There is no soft science only soft brains' and 'The problem with economics as a discipline' and 'Microfoundations are dead for 150+ years: high time to move on' and 'Why is economics such a scientific embarrassment?' and 'Economics: The greatest scientific fraud in modern times' and 'Economics: Not a pretty story' and 'Ending the pluralism of provably false economic theories with the long-overdue Paradigm Shift' and 'Your economics is refuted on all counts: here is the real thing'.

Feb 10


Scientific American May 2020
Hermits and Cranks: Lessons from Martin Gardner on Recognizing Pseudoscientists

Source: Scientific American ‡

‡ This has been a test. If you felt the urge to vomit while reading Gardner's text you have good scientific instincts. Scientists prove and refute but never resort to psychologizing. In science, the criterion is true/false with truth well-defined since the ancient Greeks by material/formal consistency. Psychologizing is what Popper called an immunizing stratagem.