Do Economists know anything?

I attended a short lecture with this provocative title and you may guess the answer from the length of this piece….

A more detailed conclusion was really the old one – yes, but more and more about less and less. Everyone was studying such specialist fields that they had lost sight and certainly understanding of what the economy was for.

It is very clear that economists’ desire to keep economics value free – as though it was a real science – is why they concentrate on maths rather than narrative.

You can’t argue with the maths – whereas you can with the narrative.

That is why we have to keep in mind that economics is a social science and the economy is always political.

Mathematical calculations are never the equivalent of political ones.

It really still is, just as John Stuart Mill called it, the political economy.


  1. Bill Hughes -

    It seems that “value free” economics, even if inadvertently, defends the status quo, or worse, even harder pursuit of neo-liberal or extreme “market” based solutions or policies. Holistic thinking does not enter the main stream economists minds. The rigid separation of academic disciplines except perhaps maths is not helpfull for creative thinking and thinking outside traditional boxes. Economics needs to take into account ecological, social and political factors if it is to advance in way that is promoting the common good.

    1. Peter May -

      Agreed. I was shocked at just how specialist and ‘obscure’ academic economists seem to have become. Steve Keen wasn’t exaggerating!

  2. MigT -

    Parse out the equations into natural language, and they’re often anything but ‘value-free’. More like a crafty way of smuggling in loaded and unrealistic assumptions.

  3. Charles Adams -

    “economics is a social science and the economy is always political”. I am okay with that. The point that politicians and economists (although now less so) sometimes miss is that science is always evidence based, it starts with observation and data. I would be happier if we spent more time looking at the data and ignoring those that ingore it.

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