"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead"

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead"
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a rant on the specialty of economics  

Posted by howard in nyc in ,

reprinted from a spontaneous rant on the sports frog.

a point about the discipline of economics. as i progressed into my intensive reading program, i focused on the great depression of the 1930s. i read a lot of the descriptions and analyses of this period.

i have read a lot of history. for about a decade i was fixated on the civil war, and i read lots of civil war books. and even 150 years later, there is plenty of informed disagreement over root causes, motives of individuals and large segments of the population, and so forth. you can get a spirited debate among legit lincoln scholars about his true feelings about race and black people, what he really meant to achieve with the emancipation proclamation.

despite these differences of opinion, disagreement over the 'whys' and somethimes the 'hows', historians are readily able to agree on the 'whats'. that lee brought an army of 38,000 to antietam creek on september 17th, 1862, and faced a union force led by mcclelland of 75,000. it may take a few years or decades for the 'whats' of history to be established, but the bare facts are easily discoverable and agreed upon by the experts.

not economics, though.

80 years later, economists don't agree on the whys and hows, they don't even agree on the whats. as a simple example, the standard history i learned and most americans believe is that president hoover was governed by a philosophy of 'laizze faire', and steadfastly avoided government intervention in the capital and labour markets. this 'fact' is repeated in major economic textbooks and by serious, accomplished, even prize winning economists.

and it is absolutely false.

the first time i read an accurate account of hoover's interventions (in his vain attempts to stem the slide into economic depression), i thought it must be bs propaganda. just a few minutes of internet search, even on the wiki, led to primary documentation of the blatantly interventionist (and even keynesian) actions of hoover.

mostly in newspapers.

many ideas, theories, principles, whatever of economics don't even rest upon a foundation of basic historic facts. major schools of economics do not even agree on the simplist events of the past.

economics, as practiced and promoted in recent decades, is incredibly lacking in both scientific and even factual or logical rigor. not only is modern economics far from a hard science, (just cause they use a lot of fancy math, don't be fooled), the field is far behind the social sciences of history, politics, psychology and even sociology.

clausewitz famously described warfare as the continuation of politics by other means. the same can be said for economics; and the cleveing of economics and political philosopy sometime in the 20th century was a disservice to attempting to understand economic behavior of individual humans and large societies and nations.

i prefer a different description. to paraphrase judge roy bean, in this day and age, economics is nothing more than the (soiled, disreputable) handmaiden of politics.

slolz, i'm with you. i really fucking hate this field too. but i am too stubborn to quit trying to understand it. and when i dig deep enough, there is plenty that i don't hate.

eta: like karl marx. i don't think much of his solution, but the dude sure understood capitalism, specially the downsides. his work is brilliant and wonderful. and woefully misunderstood, mangled, and misused.