3 jun. 2011

Bullshit Fields (9)

Economics.

I don't actually know enough about economics to know what percentage of it is bullshit. It seems like its predictive power is often pretty poor, that economists often disagree with one another not based on evidence, but on interpretation and ideology, that it is plagued by zombie ideas and prone to popular simplifications. I know that is often serves nefarious interests, as a discipline. That it is too influenced by the recent past. Keynesian economics seemed dead after the stagflation of the 70s, and now Chicago school economics seems on the defensive, with a return to Keynesian regulation. It does use mathematical models, but that in and of itself doesn't mean much. There are intellectually brilliant economists too, but that doesn't mean much if they aren't good at predicting things. Economists are also notorious for professional deformation, wanting to reduce everything to an economic question. If their field is not on solid ground, then they shouldn't be going around trying to explain other things in economic terms.

So the question is not whether it is a bullshit field. A lot of fields have some component of bullshit, even ones I like and practice myself, such as literary criticism and theory. The question is if it is fifty / fifity // eighty / twenty, etc... in its relative ratio of bullshit to validity. Once again, I have no idea, and the critique I've offered here is merely a bunch of clichés one hears denigrating the dismal science.

10 comentarios:

Professor Zero dijo...

Aren't you talking more about the kind of propaganda that passes for economics on the business pages of US newspapers than about the actual academic discipline?

Jonathan dijo...

You tell me. Doesn't this propaganda come from the discipline too?

Vance Maverick dijo...

Here is a critique of a major academic economist who seems to be thinking just like the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Not that I can adjudicate, but it's an example of the blurriness of the boundary.

Vance Maverick dijo...

(s/thinking/talking/)

John dijo...

Any discipline that fails to recognize the recurrence of a major historical pattern when in the middle of one is . . . bullshit.

Example: the recent housing bubble. A handful of prominent economists recognized it while it was occurring, but most of the most famous economists did not.

Professor Zero dijo...

Econ is the major I'd have changed to had I not been halfway to the PhD in something else by the time I figured it out. It's done so badly, or in such a corrupt way in the US, it seems that competent people are urgently needed. I'm interested in this guy's work, for one: http://www.econ.berkeley.edu/econ/faculty/saez_e.shtml

I haven't taken more Econ than Econ 1 at UCB, taught badly, but people are a lot more lucid about it elsewhere and I learned a fair amount reading the Folha de S. Paulo as it used to be, when really fancy USP professors were writing the opinion pages. And I have a lot of LAS students who are really in Econ, and they've got fascinating projects.

I mean, the whole field is fascinating -- consider the prospect of studying the way money informs things and the history of this, and what it does as it flows around the globe, and what makes economies shrink and grow and what that may or may not mean, and how corruption contributes to the economy, and what black markets do, and why the drug economy is necessary, etc., etc. These are real issues and they need real study!!!

Professor Zero dijo...

@Vance, your comment just appeared. That's what I mean. More people have got to do it right, start alternative journals, go on tv and refute these guys. "Intellectual giant," that is insane!

Vance Maverick dijo...

I read about Lucas's outburst of partisan rhetoric dressed up as economic thinking on Krugman's blog, then on DeLong's. Prof. K is doing great work, but one can sense weariness in his prose style.

Clarissa dijo...

Being married to somebody who has a PhD in financial statistics, I am very sorry to report that that is a BS field, too. The reason is that financial statisticians could predict how things would developed only if the playing field was clean. It obviously isn't, so what they do ends up divorced from reality.

Professor Zero dijo...

...but that is where the research area lies: describe and explain the discrepancy.