Economics — an academic discipline gone badly wrong — LARS P. SYLL

Three economics graduates have savaged the way the subject is taught at many universities. Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins are all, they write in The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts, “of the generation that came of age in the maelstrom of the 2008 global financial crisis” and embarked on […]

via Economics — an academic discipline gone badly wrong — LARS P. SYLL


6 thoughts on “Economics — an academic discipline gone badly wrong — LARS P. SYLL

  1. When I was studying economics at university, back in the early 14th century, I remember being bombarded by the same kind of complaints; everyone among the teachers felt they were a critical minority, fighting a lonely fight against the mainstream. Why have all these efforts at resistance and valiant pioneering never come to fruition, in the sense of giving rise to a new economic paradigm?

    I suppose, complaining about the mainstream is good enough to stabilise the competing theological schools in economics. Viel Feind, viel Ehr’, as the German saying goes: the more formidable my enemy, the grander my own cause.

    Also, students of economics like to appear to one another and the rest of the world as being scientists, and among the paraphernalia of mainstream economics there is a lot of technical stuff that gives you a chance to maintain that appearance (econometrics etc.). This (really) pseudo-scientific ambition lends much stability to the subject.

    Studying economics has a socialising and signalling function: it signals a competence for which people are prepared to pay a lot of money – you do not want to destroy that bonus by emphasising the theological and rather uncertain nature of economics. As far as socialising goes, irrespective of how close your particular affiliation/school/theological variant of economics may or may not be to the mainstream, most of us want to be taken seriously as economists after many years dedicated to the study of economics, even though the subject may not deserve to be taken quite that seriously.

    This inherent conservatism of “economics” may give us a common language helping us express and expedite significant alterations and even revolutions every once in a while, as Keynes did, who left the neoclassical apparatus of economics largely intact, while attacking it in certain strategic places vehemently.

    In a world that is free by historical standards, I suspect we will never arrive at a common corpus of economics that is beyond doubt and scorn. Economics is too much suffused with values (whose meaning and consequences we tend to interpret differently) to be able to ever attain the objectivity whose accomplishment is the claim of all the varieties in which it presents itself.

  2. From time to time I am shocked by the fact how economists can pursue professional careers by emphasizing how they are completely unable to understand the aim of the main stream…. I cannot but think they should read some elementary text in economics. Lars Syll seems to be one of them.

    • Thank you for your comment. I admit that I have not read the book that Syll is promoting, as it has only recently been published. However I support the Rethinking Economics project which produced the book. Their aims are the encouragement of pluralism in economic teaching and making the subject more accessible to the general public, which are surely laudable.

      • Yes, pluralism in economics is something we should encourage, I agree. My problem concerns some of the critics of the main stream. Lars Syll is one of them. His arguments are ill-organized and all of them are bolstered by his ignorance of some of the elementary texts written in the theory and methodology of mainstream economics. He is an excellent example of professionals who take the more comfortable path. It is very easy to make complaints about something one failed to understand… Time and again I feel tempted to recommend him some basic texts.

  3. Incidentally, I have found Syll always inspiring; and I feel that (not only many of his) criticisms of mainstream economics are justified and much needed.

    My point above is that whatever school of economics takes the place of (relative) preponderance over others, the subject remains a form of theology, since too many factors implied or explicitly used in economic reasoning are vague, ill-defined or subject to differing interpretation and weighting, plus its subject-matter being considerably more complex than the physical world which we are able to capture with models far too simple to be able to do justice to the human universe. All the more important is the quality of the discourse in economics, and thus the pluralism that Nick Johnson talks about in his comment.

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