Economics as inevitably political

“The many supporters of neoclassical economics present it as “value free” in the sense that it encapsulates eternal truths of economic behaviour and natural law that are as independent of human perception and will as the law of gravity. The truth is that economics has always been a highly political discipline, and twenty-first century mainstream theory no less so than economics in the past. Recognizing that neoclassical theory is heavily laden with ideology does not invalidate its insights, but it does require a serious attempt to distinguish that part of the theory that is scientific and that which is essentially propaganda. One example demonstrates the distinction: the hypothesis that there exists a rate of unemployment in the aggregate for which the rate of change of the price level would be zero (and that this relationship is stable) is a scientific proposition in that it can be derived theoretically and empirically verified or rejected. Calling such a rate of unemployment “natural” and associating it with full employment is propaganda, placing theory in the service of ideology.”

John Weeks (2012), The Irreconcilable Inconsistencies of Neoclassical Macroeconomics

While I reckon that humanity remains part of nature in the end, despite our ability to modify (and often damage) the natural world, I think that Weeks makes a helpful distinction here. He uses an example of so-called “natural” concepts in economics, such as the natural rate of unemployment, interest, output etc. Paying attention to the language used in arguments as creating a particular symbolism and a presupposed ideology can be important to an effective critique.


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