The Punchbags Of Notre Dame

by Daniel on September 23, 2009

Do you find yourself considering the financial crisis and thinking “well, neoclassical economists have certainly come through this one with their reputations enhanced! Anyone with a world-class heterodox economics department should certainly be thinking about closing it down right now, there’s no interest in that sort of thing!”. Well, if you do, then you’re almost certainly working as an administrator at Notre Dame University (or for that matter, the University of Notre Dame, thanks Ben in comments), because nobody else does.

I mean, what the byOurLady heck do they think they are playing at. Back in April 2008, the decision to place clear fresh water between the nice professional efficient market types in the “Economics and Econometrics” department, and the dirty f**king hippies in “Economics and Policy Analysis” might have made some sort of sense, in that while cynical and not very academic-freedom-y, it would have improved students’ chances of getting into prestigious economics graduate programs where they could write “counterintuitive” and “fascinating” job market papers about penalty shootouts and speed-dating (these being the only remaining social or anthropological questions not thoroughly answered by neoclassical economists, cf “Freakonomics”).

But today? With the whole field blown wide open and all sorts of questions of the role of economic analysis wide open to debate again? With Richard Freaking Posner coming out as a post-Keynesian? I suppose that if you truly believe that it’s impossible to time the market, this is one way to prove it.

{ 94 comments }

1

Ben Alpers 09.23.09 at 1:42 pm

I had somehow missed the whole story of the split economics department at Notre Dame, Daniel. Thanks for posting on it. A few thoughts:

1) Reading the first article that you link, it seems likely that dissolving the heterodox “Economics and Policy Analysis” department was in the works from the time of the split in 2003. From the start, Economics and Policy Analysis was prohibited from admitting new graduate students and it’s never been allowed to fill vacant faculty lines.

2) Despite one commenter at that link who blames those damn heterodox economists for starting the mess (“Had the hetrodox guys not tried to squeeze out the others when they had power, they in turn wouldn’t have been squeezed out when power shifted.”), this doesn’t seem to me to be an entirely local story, let alone a tale of heterodox intransigence. The whole affair speaks volumes about the way the mainstream economics profession in general deals with heterodoxy.

3) It’s the University of Notre Dame, not Notre Dame University.

2

Sean 09.23.09 at 2:15 pm

There is a petition circulating online to save the Department of Economics and Policy Studies. You can find it and sign it here:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/SaveEconomicsND/index.html

3

ogmb 09.23.09 at 2:16 pm

It’s the University of Notre Dame, not Notre Dame University.

Once they start pronouncing [nɔtʁ dam] properly, they can start complaining about that…

4

Barry 09.23.09 at 2:52 pm

I predict that the Chicago School guys are generally going to deal with the crisis by BS and lies; that would be far easier than trying to change mental models and social structures which were solidified fifty years ago. Besides, what incentives do they have to change? They won’t suffer. Their graduate students *might* suffer, but only if the rest of the economics professoriate decides that being right is preferable to being in with the power structure.

5

Russell L. Carter 09.23.09 at 2:52 pm

re: Posner

This makes the motivation for his Atlantic blatherings even harder to understand.

6

Barry 09.23.09 at 4:08 pm

Russell, one of the things that I’ve come to believe about right-wing economists is that they have a limited ability to perceive reality at this point. Their political view has been very good to them (screw the rest of us), and the elites of society reward them. Posner is a classical example; he wrote a book after the financial collapse basically pointing out that stuff is messed up. Now, given some emotional recovery time, he’s back to – not only defending right-wing economics, but lying to do so.

7

Langton 09.23.09 at 6:46 pm

I have to agree that it’s depressing that their heterodox department is being shut down. But to be fair to the other faculty members, I doubt there is anyone there who fits what Krugman described as “saltwater” economists. They just seem to have your garden variety labor, development, theory and petit Levitts. They don’t even appear to have more than 2 tenured macroeconomists.

Misguided as it may be, they just seem to want to be another mainstream economics department. The field is not that discredited (yet) make sense of that move.

8

mds 09.23.09 at 7:28 pm

I predict that the Chicago School guys are generally going to deal with the crisis by BS and lies

Indeed.

9

Colin Danby 09.23.09 at 8:02 pm

To pick up on the part of Langton’s comment that makes sense, it’s true that Krugman’s fresh/salt is a distinction within orthodox or at least mainstream econ (though both are slippery, slipping terms). Krugman thinks in terms of a fresh+salt orthodoxy which keeps him inside the pale that keeps heterodoxy out.

But purges (first the institutionalists, then the marxists, then the post keynesians and austrians…) have their own momentum. You can see in David Levine et al. that tropes used against hets are being turned against Krugman (Krugman!) — he’s not really that mathematical, he’s not up on our literature, he’s a bit of a hack, he won’t accept all our assumptions. There’s some reflection on this in Krugman’s recent NYT magazine plaint, but that doesn’t extend to meditation on his own roles in boundary-maintenance.

ND has a world-class group of heterodox scholars, including well-published macroeconomists like Amitava Dutt and Jaime Ros. They also had, until they were split by their dean in 2003, a fine econ department with a range of orth and het approaches, which is as it should be. So we should push beyond Krugman’s rather crabbed arguments to make the case for an economics in which multiple paradigms flourish.

Please see further discussion here: http://www.heterodoxnews.com/n/htn88.htm

10

Langton 09.23.09 at 8:09 pm

Look, I didn’t have my cup of coffee when I posted that comment :)

11

rea 09.23.09 at 8:20 pm

It’s the University of Notre Dame, not Notre Dame University.

And don’t forget the “du lac” part, which to my mind makes the place sound more Arthurian than Catholic, but that’s what they named it . . .

12

Glen Tomkins 09.23.09 at 9:55 pm

In character

The response of the most holy and universal church to the Reformation wasn’t to reconsider its theological rigidity, it was to double down on rigidity. You can be foregiven for imagining that Notre Dame was a university, a center of learning. It mostly acts like one. But, at the end of the day, it’s run by Cossacks, all of whom work for the Czar. They pitch for the other team, and their perfectly rational and totally expected response to a challenge to an orthodoxy that is now far more central to their position in this world than the difference between consubstanstiation and transubstantiation ever was, is to double down on the capitalist fundamentalist orthodoxy that is so crucial to their allies and co-religionists, the worshippers of Mammon.

13

Kenny Easwaran 09.24.09 at 12:13 am

“du Lac”? No wonder they want freshwater types!

14

noen 09.24.09 at 12:24 am

“I predict that the Chicago School guys are generally going to deal with the crisis by BS and lies”

Generally, ideological structures needs to be burned down to the ground and the land tilled and salted before people will abandon them. Never underestimate the power of delusion as mds’ link to Delong shows.

15

nickhayw 09.24.09 at 12:51 am

Really is a brilliant tactic. My Fine Antipodean Institution has done almost exactly the same thing to purge itself of those silly heterodox types. First, the department was split in two, half permitted to grow and the other half permitted to languish (administrative ‘setbacks’ / advertising ban meant lack of awareness among the student body that an alternative department existed, course offerings pared back, new hires not permitted, funding dropped, and dropped again).

Then the heterodox guys are dissolved altogether (‘sorry, you don’t have an undergrad major any more’) and sequestered off in ‘development studies’ or ‘public policy’ or ‘methodology in the social sciences’, i.e. departments where they will have

a) zero influence over the legions of undergrads being taught the same old rubbish,

b) zero collective bargaining power, and

c) the capacity to produce graduates with zero credibility.

…certainly aren’t any students who care enough to protest. What do you do?

16

Colin Danby 09.24.09 at 2:34 am

Posner’s Keynes piece is surprisingly perceptive given his other recent output, and the forthcoming Skidelsky book should be interesting.

This is not about capitalism pro or con, despite Glen’s spirited intervention. If there really were a unified capitalist interest, and if said interest informed academic decisions, Keynesians and Post Keynesians would be way more prominent than they are. Who played a more heroic role in pulling capitalism’s chestnuts out of the fire, and in setting up a pro-market postwar order, than JMK? Skidelsky does an especially good job on Keynes’ conservatism.

17

Robert 09.24.09 at 6:33 am

A number of rigorously peer reviewed journals CJE, FE, JEI, JPKE, ROPE, RRPE apparently don’t count in citations when mainstream economists are doing the counting. Rating departments on a citation count, rather than by reading the scholarship produced by a department, arguably has something to do with running an university along business lines. It’s an institutionalized bureaucratic mechanism appropriate for a capitalism with large corporations and professional managers.

Why don’t some journals count? It has something to do with the whole heterodox/orthodox or non-mainstream/mainstream splits. That split seems to start in the late 1960s and 1970s when the heterodox at the time were purged at, say, Harvard and the heterodox decided they could find informed audiences for their scholarship by forming their own professional societies and journals.

You might see this potted history as reflecting in the economics profession the whole 1960s movements and then backlash movement. And the backlash is funded by extremely rich, crazed capitalists. This funding, along with thinktanks and other institutions actually predates the 1960s.

So this arguable threat to academic freedom in economics at Notre Dame perhaps does have something to do with the evolution of capitalism outside its gates. But, as far as I can see, it is not as direct as getting alumni to contribute to its endowment.

18

dsquared 09.24.09 at 8:42 am

If there really were a unified capitalist interest, and if said interest informed academic decisions, Keynesians and Post Keynesians would be way more prominent than they are. Who played a more heroic role in pulling capitalism’s chestnuts out of the fire, and in setting up a pro-market postwar order, than JMK?

It was JKG rather than JMK who noted that “People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage”.

19

chicagoboy 09.24.09 at 8:54 am

sir,

for better and for worse please do not confuse mr. levitt’s mickey mouse economics with the larger stigler/becker tradition at UofC nor confuse the latter with the department itself.

both are huge mistakes that only display utter ignorance about history of ecconomic thought in general and the history of the chicago school in particular.

regards
v

20

DanH 09.24.09 at 10:42 am

Robert – I can’t find the relevant post now, but ISTR that Barkley Rosser (I think it may have been in a comment at Brad DeLong’s blog) suggested that part of the motivation behind the initial UND split was in fact as direct as that a major benefactor of the university had proposed it. It certainly wouldn’t be anything new; The Coming of Keynesianism to America (I think I actually got the recommendation from your blog, actually), particularly, IIRC, the account by Lorie Tarshis, suggests similar things were going on in the 30s.

21

alex 09.24.09 at 10:46 am

“People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage”. With the corollary that, for people of privilege, being seen to surrender any material part of their advantage may be an invitation to their complete destruction. Cf. ‘revolution of rising expectations’, European history, passim.

22

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 11:19 am

“Had the hetrodox guys not tried to squeeze out the others when they had power, they in turn wouldn’t have been squeezed out when power shifted.”)</i

Sadly, people only remember the Nazis, and have forgotten the Czech and Polish atrocities that forced them to invade. History is written by the winners.

23

ejh 09.24.09 at 11:28 am

Ding! Godwin violation. Two-minute penalty.

24

Kevin Donoghue 09.24.09 at 11:42 am

“People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.”

But Richard F. Posner obviously doesn’t see that he is surrendering anything much by writing kind words about Keynes. I don’t think we can explain opposition to heterodoxy in terms of preserving privilege of the sort Galbraith refers to. It’s an aesthetic thing. What bothers the likes of Robert Lucas about Keynes is his dismissal of the kind of analysis that Lucas appreciates. Among economists there’s a correlation between conservatism and taste for neat neoclassical models, but it’s not surprising that a lawyer would feel differently. Lawyerly conservatism is a different kind of conservatism, willing to receive messy ideas as long as the mess has a deeply traditional, Burkean quality to it – which Keynes’s writing certainly does.

25

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 11:43 am

I can only add that times are good for us economics nihilists. Krugman is trying to build a firewall around the Chicago School, which might be a good thing if it serves to destroy that school utterly, but there are really a lot of others who need firm discipline.

For decades there have been people writing about the intellectual authoritarianism of paradigm-enforcing academic disciplines for decades, and these people have been ignored for decades. Paradigm-enforcement is especially toxic when the Friedman Principle (that counterfactual assumptions are perfectly wonderful) is dogma.

Paradigm enforcement is not limited to economics. I am a bright, studious fellow with no credentials because, starting in 1966 or so (my undergrad junior year), I continually found that my career progress depended on my acceptance of paradigms which I was not allowed to question, and with which I did not agree. If had had run into just one tolerable paradigm at that time I’d be a much more successful and happier man (or woman, of course. Person, I mean).

Jeff Schmidt’s “Disciplined Minds”, Mirowski’s “Machine Dreams”, Preston’s “Analytic Philosophy: History of an illusion”, Redman’s “Economics and the Philosophy of Science”, McCumber’s “Time in the Ditch”, Reisch’s “How the Cold War transformed Philosophy” and many other books tell the history of paradigm-enforcement, which was associated with the increased integration of government and the university, often initially under military auspices during WWII.

Mirowski of Notre Dame’s “The Road from Mount Pelerin” tells about the rise of neo-liberalism, including but not limited to the Chicago School. The Chicago school had a political agenda from the beginning.

26

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 11:58 am

To clarify, “economic nihilists” means me. DeLong claims that the nihilists are the Chicago School, but he lies. Just when I start to see a little acceptance, people start trying to credit someone else.

27

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 12:04 pm

Only peripherally related, at my link: “Animal Spirits and The Confidence Man“. Herman Melville didn’t predict the recent crashes, but he analyzed its causes. “Irrational exuberance” describes American culture in toto.

28

deliasmith 09.24.09 at 12:32 pm

ejh – think you failed to notice a tongue in a cheek there …
dsquared – surely you have heard that Galbraith senior was not an economist, or at least not a good one:
http://groups.google.co.uk/group/alt.obituaries/browse_thread/thread/3d229bd28b60fc62

The Victoria University of Manchester split its Philosophy department forty or so years ago, sending all the politics people (and 90 per cent of the juice) off to form the Department of Government (hence, among other consequences, Norman Geras).

A little later they did something similar with the Department of Social Anthropology, (—> Sociology and Anthropology) except that this time nearly the juice got lost in the transaction.

29

Old-Timer 09.24.09 at 1:58 pm

“If had had run into just one tolerable paradigm at that time I’d be a much more successful and happier man (or woman, of course. Person, I mean).”

Or if, like most of us, you had realized that sometimes, in the service of higher goals (such as making a living) a certain amount of hypocrisy is called for.

30

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 2:10 pm

Well, I did make a living, of sorts, in varied hospital jobs.

I no longer believe that the free-lance-philosopher career path is a viable one. Oddly, the professional-philosopher career path still seems just as bad as ever. What to do? What to do?

31

Phil 09.24.09 at 2:27 pm

A little later they did something similar with the Department of Social Anthropology, (—> Sociology and Anthropology) except that this time nearly the juice got lost in the transaction.

Not sure if this is this the same thing, but I applied for a job in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at the about-to-be-merged Manchester University (which I’ve never heard anybody call the Victoria University of Manchester). By the time I took it up, I was working in the School of Law at the just-merged University of Manchester; the political-systems people went to the School of Social Science, the number-crunchers went to the Centre for Census and Survey Research (a.k.a. the Cathie Marsh Centre) and the criminologists and “sociology of deviance” types went to Criminology, which for some reason didn’t stay in SoSS but went to Law. Criminology going to Law means that I can work with people who study criminal law and policing as well as people who study domestic violence and youth offending, so that’s good. On the other hand, if DASS had carried on I could have worked with people who study social movements and contentious politics, which is what I actually know about. But either way it’s a living, of sorts. What was the question again?

32

Aulus Gellius 09.24.09 at 2:39 pm

To focus on what strikes me as the most important question raised by this post: since when does d2 use the word “freaking”? Is there some subtle irony that I’m missing here? Or has he given up profanity for the High Holidays?

33

Hidari 09.24.09 at 3:17 pm

‘Jeff Schmidt’s “Disciplined Minds”, Mirowski’s “Machine Dreams”, Preston’s “Analytic Philosophy: History of an illusion”, Redman’s “Economics and the Philosophy of Science”, McCumber’s “Time in the Ditch”, Reisch’s “How the Cold War transformed Philosophy” and many other books tell the history of paradigm-enforcement, which was associated with the increased integration of government and the university, often initially under military auspices during WWII.’

All these books deal with economics or philosophy. And yet, clearly, all the social sciences have been influenced by the context of the Cold War (read, American Imperialism) . The so-called ‘Cognitive Revolution’ for example, in psychology, was clearly an attempt to turn psychology into a ‘cyborg science’: technocratic, mathematical, deterministic, reductionistic, with aims that fitted in with specific American military goals (the key sponsors of Artificial Intelligence) and ‘management science’ (cf Newell and Simon). There were also attempts to influence sociology/anthropology (cf Project Camelot): given the lacklustre and depoliticised nature of much modern sociology and anthropology these attempts were obviously successful. Have any books been written about this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Camelot

34

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 3:26 pm

All these books deal with economics or philosophy.

About which I am obsessive. But you run into enforced paradigms everywhere.

The methodologization and paradigmatization of the university took on a life of its own and came loose from the military models. Postmodernists enforce paradigms too.

35

typewritten 09.24.09 at 3:39 pm

We want a Phil Mirowski stand-up talk on this NOW. Hellooo!!??

36

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 3:43 pm

He’s unemployed, so we probably won’t have to pay him much.

37

Salient 09.24.09 at 3:54 pm

To focus on what strikes me as the most important question raised by this post: since when does d2 use the word “freaking”?

It’s the adjective back-formation of Freakonomics. Or if it’s not, then it should be.^1^ But I’m not sure what that has to do with Richard Posner. :(

^1^Just as “to freak” should mean “to identify a scenario which can be interpreted as a natural experiment that sounds to the layperson like a compelling verification of your point, but doesn’t all by itself satisfactorily refute the null hypothesis, which is probably nonetheless okay insofar as your goal is to shake up conventional wisdom about correlations and is not to prove a contrary correlation.”

38

Rabbi 09.24.09 at 4:51 pm

“He’s unemployed, so we probably won’t have to pay him much.”?!!

His web site at Notre Dame is still active and I found him via the ND site. Why do you say he’s unemployed?

39

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 5:17 pm

His branch of ND economics is doomed. They have tenure, so they can’t be fired, but they’re being retrained for custodial duties and maintenance tasks.

40

soullite 09.24.09 at 6:20 pm

Despite the manifest superiority of Socialiology and Psychology when it comes to both predicting and altering human behavior, one has to assume that the only reason Economists even exist anymore is because they tell the wealthy and powerful what they want to hear.

41

Colin Danby 09.24.09 at 6:30 pm

You can make an argument that freshwater econ favors a pro-rentier, anti-labor interest. But as Schumpeter and many others have noted Marx had a far better story about the progressiveness of capitalism than orthodoxy, and for my money the Austrian theory of the entrepreneur is a closer description of reality and a more interesting defense of capitalism than anything neoclassical.

As an econ grad student I sat in in some school of management courses. If anyone was a tool of the capitalists it was these guys, right? And yet they were uninterested in paradigm-enforcement, contemptuous of most neoclassical theory, institutionalist in their practice, and open to post keynesian and austrian ideas.

Tony Lawson has argued that mathematical formalization is the core to econ orthodoxy; there is certainly an interest in being an immaculate, deductive science with no history, cut loose from the messiness of human societies.

Good to see John back around the place.

42

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 6:59 pm

Sociology and psychology consider factors that economics brackets out. Economics brilliantly predicts the behavior of simplified creatures of its own imagining.

Milton Friedman justified his counterfactual assumption by the supposed predictive power of the theories he constructed, but fewer claims are being made about predictivity any more.

Some level of prediction is possible even for unaided common sense. Predictivity means nothing unless it is dramatically more precise and certain than the predictivity common sense. When I eavesdrop on economists talking shop, for example ad Brad DeLong’s, it’s more like listening to a bunch of premodern craftsmen talking shop than it’s like listening to physicists solving a problem. (If, that is, — and it’s a big if — they’re talking about actuality. Pure model builders do a fair imitation of physics.)

43

mpowell 09.24.09 at 7:20 pm

40: I think you’re just misunderstanding how these things will manifest in reality. The business school types, as capitalist tools, aren’t concerned with the state of their academy. They are interested in how to make money as a capitalist. So they need useful information. Their is no propaganda needed. Economists serve an all-together different purpose and paradigm enforcement is very important. Of course, the individual economists may not be aware of the role they are playing. But the field has been shaped by its funding sources to represent their interests suitably and it turns out that people with an affection for useless but elegant simple models and an enthusiasm for paradigm-enforcement are best for that role.

44

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 7:25 pm

Economics: a true science, a pure science, a science of truth. A science for those who don’t need so-called “useful information”.

45

Peter 09.24.09 at 7:45 pm

I think all this gets resolved easily by understanding that ‘economics’ is not about economics. Nor is it about capitalism. I have yet to meet a CEO who runs their business with anything remotely like neo-classical models/methods in mind. They all seem to love central planning of varying degrees. My experience in business suggests that capitalists are far more pragmatic and much more attuned with apostates like Marx and Keynes than they are with anything that has emerged from the mind of someone like Lucas. His economics seems to be designed to describe his own mood rather than anything outside imagination.
I also agree that Krugman has pulled his punches, he wants dissension of a very gentlemanly kind. Sorry Paul: time to take to the streets and burn it all down.

46

Chris 09.24.09 at 7:48 pm

There’s nothing wrong with economists policing their ranks per se, but the problem is that the faction whose views are *refuted* by observation is nevertheless winning the civil war. This is not an outcome likely to make economics more like a science, enhance its predictive power, or earn it the respect that comes with that predictive power.

47

Barry 09.24.09 at 8:01 pm

Adding on to #42, in reply to #40 – think of a bunch of neoconmen, performing a media campaign for the latest war. They’ll talk a bunch of pseudo-historical shite, throw a bunch of moral BS in peoples’ faces, and produce faux academic analyses.

The actual military part of fighting such a war doesn’t need that type of crap; Ph.D.’s need to be brought in to lecture Marine units.

48

Barry 09.24.09 at 8:01 pm

drat – “Ph.D.’s do not need to be brought in….”

49

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 8:18 pm

Paradigm-enforcement is problematic even if the enforced paradigm has not yet been refuted. Basically it consists of, without adequate justification, enforcing one specific research program, methodology and set of heuristic fictions at the expense of all others and putting its basic principles out of question.

50

Chris 09.24.09 at 9:01 pm

Well of course if you put “without adequate justification” into the definition, then anything that fits that definition is unjustified.

Would you call it “paradigm enforcement” to cast out creationism, alchemy, or a flat Earth? Presumably you would say that dismissing those doctrines (in favor of the methodology and basic principles of empiricism, say) is adequately justified.

But burying a value judgment in your definition makes it hard to apply. The precise question at issue is which, if any, schools of economics are refuted by data thoroughly enough that they deserve the same kind of contempt as creationism.

IMO, when you start elevating your armchair speculative models above observed data, you are no longer practicing science and should be called out as such.

51

John Emerson 09.24.09 at 9:33 pm

Excluding flat earthers, creationists, and alchemists from science is paradigm enforcement only under the most perverse definition of the term. None of them can argue their case in a scientific context. Paradigm enforcement is the arbitrary establishment of an approach without adequate grounds, and it’s something that happens in many or most academic graduate departments.

According to Redmond, Lakatos came close to saying that a paradigm (or a research program, his term) cannot possibly be refuted. A paradigm isn’t a truth but an approach. So you can’t really say that the Chicago paradigm was refuted, but it certainly became infinitely less persuasive and appealing in recent months — though that apparently hasn’t reduced the rigor of the enforcement.

Since 1950 or so what’s called mainstream, orthodox, or neoclassical economics has been very successful in suppressing everything else, especially Marxist and Austrian economics, but also the old Keynesian, old institutionalist, and German historical schools. (Within the mainstream the Chicago school has been especially aggressive, and they’ve seemingly been more successful than the others in representing economics to the general public).

Most of the triumphant economists believe and loudly claim that their opponents are the equivalent of creationists, alchemist, or flat Earthers. That’s their predictable standard justification of their paradigm enforcement, but it begs the question of who is right. They never really made their case, and recent events have destroyed it.

52

peter 09.24.09 at 10:42 pm

Colin Danby 09.24.09 at 6:30 pm @40:

“As an econ grad student I sat in in some school of management courses. If anyone was a tool of the capitalists it was these guys, right? And yet they were uninterested in paradigm-enforcement, contemptuous of most neoclassical theory, institutionalist in their practice, and open to post keynesian and austrian ideas.”

There is an old joke among marketers that marketing only exists to the extent that (neoclassical) economics is false: In real markets, there are no such things as commodities, as perfect competition, as rational consumers, always-downward-sloping demand curves, etc, etc, etc. For instance, if you find perfectly-substitutable products in some market category, you are not witnessing a commodity, but instead seeing evidence that one or more marketing managers are not doing their job.

53

Colin Danby 09.24.09 at 11:58 pm

42, 45: surely you can see that you’re bending analysis to fit whatever facts come up. I don’t think neoclassicals are very good propagandists.

Superstructure can get loose from base in all kinds of ways. John at #49 is right, and Philip Mirowski is teh roxxor.

I’d also argue, against most on this thread, that there is plenty of interesting and useful stuff going on in neoclassical economics. It’s hardly a swindle or a ruse. They should be encouraged to do what they do, they just shouldn’t have hegemony.

54

noen 09.25.09 at 1:41 am

Emerson:
“you run into enforced paradigms everywhere”

Go forth and create your own.

55

Philip Rothman 09.25.09 at 2:52 am

I would expect this hoped for ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom’ campaign to be as successful as it was in 1956-57 in the PRC.

56

eli Rabett 09.25.09 at 4:35 am

Freaking Freakazoid

Glad to help answer that one.

57

Jamie Cohen-Cole 09.25.09 at 5:09 am

re 32 The so-called ‘Cognitive Revolution’ for example, in psychology, was clearly an attempt to turn psychology into a ‘cyborg science’: technocratic, mathematical, deterministic, reductionistic, with aims that fitted in with specific American military goals

Which part of Noam Chomsky’s work falls into this category?

58

Jamie Cohen-Cole 09.25.09 at 5:13 am

Amending the last: Apologies…I read too fast and skipped the “in psychology” modifier. Nevertheless, Chomsky had a role in the cognitive revolution and it is hard to see, on the surface at least, what he has to do with militarism.

59

Zamfir 09.25.09 at 8:55 am

Amending the last: Apologies…I read too fast and skipped the “in psychology” modifier. Nevertheless, Chomsky had a role in the cognitive revolution and it is hard to see, on the surface at least, what he has to do with militarism. Chomsky was way useful for imperialists. If you were a reasonable person who thought the Russians love their children too, even though you actually never met a Russian and couldn’t understand them either, then Chomsky was there as an English-speaking Actual Human to irritate the hell out of you until you chose whatever he says you shouldn’t.

60

Hidari 09.25.09 at 9:23 am

‘Amending the last: Apologies…I read too fast and skipped the “in psychology” modifier. Nevertheless, Chomsky had a role in the cognitive revolution and it is hard to see, on the surface at least, what he has to do with militarism.’

At the risk of offending Chomsky-ites, I should merely point out the (well known) fact that Chomsky’s early work was sponsored by the American military (if you get hold of the original works, they have the army/Pentagon sponsorship reference numbers on the inside covers).

This is NOT to say that Chomskyan linguistics is ‘fascist’ or ‘imperialist’ or anything like that. But it does indicate that the military were interested in it, for the obvious reason that they were interested in military applications of artificial intelligence (and they thought Chomsky’s linguistics would help with that) and also Universal Translation Device (for soldiers in the field, and spies), and they thought that Chomskyan linguistics might be able to help with that.

http://archives.evergreen.edu/TESCWriters/AlumniWriters/Price/PriceColdWar.html

Of course, while this was going on, few people knew much about Chomsky’s politics, which didn’t become public knowledge till the late ‘sixties.

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Scott Martens 09.25.09 at 12:22 pm

“Chomsky’s early work was sponsored by the American military”

And Chomsky occasionally notes it with some amusement. The Sound Pattern of English was published in 1959, and the logic of military spending in academia at the time was that of Vannevar Bush more than anything else: fund it all, wait and see what pops out that might be useful. There were instances of the US government funding humanities with specific political goals in mind – I don’t deny that – but considering that Chomsky’s famous early work was in phonology and came 30 years before the first inklings of speech recognition, I’m inclined to accept Chomsky’s account that he was funded by the military because everything at MIT in the 50s was funded by the military, including – in his words – the music department. AI and machine translation plays no explicit part in any of Chomsky’s work. In fact, applications of any kind play practically no part in Chomsky’s work, even implicitly.

I’m as anti-Chomskyan as it gets. (Yes, I am a linguist working in government funded artificial intelligence work with significant, if distant, potential military applications.) The crimes he’s actually guilty of are bad enough. No need to put on him ones he’s not really involved in.

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Ingrid Robeyns 09.25.09 at 12:29 pm

They should be encouraged to do what they do, they just shouldn’t have hegemony.

Exactly.

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Hidari 09.25.09 at 1:09 pm

‘The crimes he’s actually guilty of are bad enough. No need to put on him ones he’s not really involved in.’

Just to be absolutely and completely clear: I wasn’t accusing Chomsky of anything.

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Salient 09.25.09 at 1:22 pm

The crimes he’s actually guilty of are bad enough.

Wait, what?

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engels 09.25.09 at 1:26 pm

Scott, you have done well in denouncing the technocratic rationalist enemy of the people Chomsky but you are still a technocratic, mathematical, deterministic, reductionistic cyborg scientist, I’m afraid.

After the revolution numbers will be replaced with words. All scientific paradigms will be permanently dissolved and researchers will just ‘go with the flow’. Anyone who espouses bourgeois doctrines like ‘calculus’ or ‘logic’ will be blacklisted from academic posts concerning the social sciences, which will henceforth be carried out by means of internet flame wars between rival coalitions of wikipedia-reading humanists.

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engels 09.25.09 at 1:28 pm

(I’ll get my coat.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 09.25.09 at 1:36 pm

Chomsky is become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 1:42 pm

Emerson:
“you run into enforced paradigms everywhere”
Go forth and create your own.

I’ve actually done that, but I have no enforcement powers.

First-year graduate students are normally presented with a very limited range of permissible options for a study plan, with some of them clearly more advantageous than others (especially when future employment is a consideration). Usually it’s on a take-it-or-leave it, we talk you listen basis. The ones who like what they’re offered or who are ambitious enough to suppress their own thinking continue. Those who don’t and aren’t usually leave the field. (Freedom comes only with tenure, and not even then for those who are tenured at a lower-levelk school than they’re willing to accept).

In case there’s confusion, that’s what I mean by paradigm-enforcement. My guess is that it’s more common in the higher-ranking schools which can have their pick of students and can place them in career-track jobs.

ANy paradigm-enforcing school can always point to the diversity within the enforced paradigm (analytic philosophers and mainstream economists do that all the time), but the test is in the exclusions.

In some cases paradigm-enforcement is quite explicitly arbitrary and tactical, and in a sense less harmful. In other very common cases, students are allowed or encouraged to wrongly believe that the excluded paradigms have been excluded because they’ve been refuted.

Thus, something conventionally accepted as a heuristic fiction in 1950 will, if the paradigm is successful in colonizing university departments, be learned by grad students in 2000, after two or three generations of teaching, as indubitable truths, without ever having been put to the test. And in fact, often enough the elder statesmen of a discipline, the ones who established the conventions, will be relative moderates, and the third-generation students will be the fanatics.

The test of paradigm enforcement, as opposed to the normal exclusion of refuted science, is whether then paradigm enforced has been made authoritative without testing, and especially whether it has been taken off the table and made undiscussable.

I recommend Aaron Preston’s “Analytic Philosophy: History of an Illusion” for a great discussion of this. Or go to my URL.

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engels 09.25.09 at 1:46 pm

The ones who like what they’re offered or who are ambitious enough to suppress their own thinking continue. Those who don’t and aren’t usually leave the field.

What about those who have strong reservations about the ‘paradigm’ they have the opportunity to study but feel that it is worth learning about things before you try to criticise them?

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 1:55 pm

Chomsky was right to perceive the militarization of the university and was not unaware of his own part in that. The point is not to blame individuals for the far effects of their work, or the auspices, but to know what happened.

Politically, Chomsky has been right about some things and wrong about others, but I see no reason to call him a criminal. He’s called a criminal because he disagreed with American foreign policy.

If there’s anyone here who’s baffled by the fact that America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have attained immortality and will not be questioned, knee-jerk Chomsky-hating by Democrats is part of the reason. The US has one and a half war parties, and we’ll be at war forever. Bush planned a two-decade-plus war in 2001, and Obama hasn’t deviated from that.

And thanks for the hyperbole, Engels. It’s always nice to have some mud in the water.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 2:00 pm

What about those who have strong reservations about the ‘paradigm’ they have the opportunity to study but feel that it is worth learning about things before you try to criticise them?

You mean wonderful people like yourself?

Some people have the patience to slog through grad school while keeping their own counsel about their reservations and disagreements, but that’s hard to do, and the more orthodox and more competitive a department is the harder it is. (At the U of Chicago bright young things compete to be more that way, not less.)

It’s not generally true that you have to eat the whole egg to decide whether it’s bad.

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Bill Benzon 09.25.09 at 2:01 pm

@Scott Martens, #61

The Sound Pattern of English was 1968, co-authored with Morris Halle; Chomsky’s early work was in syntax. It was Syntactic Structures (1957) that put him on the map. I’m not sure what qualifies as the first “inklings” of speech recognition, but ARPA sponsored a major speech understanding project in the mid-1970s, with three major research groups at BBN in Boston, Carnegie-Mellon, and, I believe, USC. Speech recognition was necessarily a component of this effort. Of course, this was before the breakthrough statistical techniques that made speech recognition practical.

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Robert 09.25.09 at 2:03 pm

The journals I mentioned in 17 contain decades of research in non-mainstream paradigms. (These include, for example, Colin Danby’s infusion of feminism into Post Keynesian economics.) Mainstream economists do not refute these non-mainstream paradigms or demonstrate theirs are superior in any sense. They just ignore their existence. Mainstream economists are socialized to be anti-intellectual and to conform to standards that would not be acceptable in any field with scholarly standards.

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engels 09.25.09 at 2:34 pm

It’s not generally true that you have to eat the whole egg to decide whether it’s bad.

True, but academic disciplines are not eggs. If you want to credibly criticise some technique or body of theory you need to show you are adequately conversant with it first. If that were not true then the whole edifice of contemporary Anglophone philosophy and social science would have collapsed under the assault of anonymous comments posted on Crooked Timber by now.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 3:04 pm

I’m neither anonymous nor pseudonymous, “Engels”. Please direct your digs more accurately.

Chicago school economics has been sharply and accurately criticized by people who are completely familiar with it, and it hasn’t collapsed. It isn’t even weakened, and may still be gaining strength despite what Krugman and DeLong say. Once a paradigm is institutionalized it’s hard to shake. (Look how long scholasticism lasted.)

In any case, beginning grad students should not be required to master a paradigm or refute it before choosing to study something else. My claim (based on Mirowski and Redman) is that economics, like other fields, has been wrongly narrowed by academic and bureaucratic politics (in many cases under outside, non-academic pressure), and that valid forms of investigation have been marginalized, and that good people have been driven from the field, and that this was a bad thing and not necessary either. Do you disagree?

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engels 09.25.09 at 3:13 pm

I’m neither anonymous nor pseudonymous, “Engels”. Please direct your digs more accurately.

I know, I wasn’t referring to you there.

My claim (based on Mirowski and Redman) is that economics, like other fields, has been wrongly narrowed by academic and bureaucratic politics (in many cases under outside, non-academic pressure), and that valid forms of investigation have been marginalized, and that good people have been driven from the field, and that this was a bad thing and not necessary either. Do you disagree?

No, I don’t. I do disagree, as I said, with a number of other things you said.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 3:20 pm

Alchemy and astrology were difficult and subtle disciplines that laid the foundations of chemistry and astronomy (and classical physics) but at any point along the way it was valid to say, without mastering these disciplines, that mercury the element and Mercury the planet have nothing much to do with one another, and the present location of Mercury in the star chart has nothing to do with anything.

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engels 09.25.09 at 3:54 pm

Well, I did say ‘adequately conversant’ (and perhaps that seems weaselly…) I didn’t want to try to specify what competence or knowledge one needs to have (and it’s true that it varies according to the field concerned and the nature of the criticism). Critique can fail when it does not show an adequate understanding of its object. In my opinion that is regularly the case with the extremely sweeping (often unargued) judgements of whole areas of study that are posted in comments here, usually anonymously.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 3:56 pm

OK, but I thought I was the target, because I do more of that stuff than anyone else here.

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Walt 09.25.09 at 3:59 pm

The question of whether there is something of value in neoclassical economics and the question of whether there is paradigm enforcement that unfairly silences valuable alternative views are completely unrelated.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 4:10 pm

To cite the author of this thread:

The tragedy of this is that there is, within the bloated corpus of economics, a perfectly nice slimmed-down little science struggling to get out…..What economics needs to lose is a lot of metaphysical baggage, plus a lot of needy f-type personalities.

I would support a salvage operation on neoclassical economics, but to the neoclassical economists themselves, the necessary salvage operation would look like the sack of Rome.

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engels 09.25.09 at 4:46 pm

Without being completely clear what you mean by it, I can believe ‘paradigm enforcement’ goes on, in all disciplines and especially in economics, and that it is a bad thing. I’m not sure what steps you think should be taken to combat it or what your picture of healthy research is like. In some places it sounds like you are unhappy that research paradigms exist at all and when you say

beginning grad students should not be required to master a paradigm or refute it before choosing to study something else

I wonder how you think they should be educated.

I don’t share the belief that you have to some extent successfully popularised here among people who haven’t studied philosophy that the situation in philosophy is comparable to that in economics. You sometimes seem to just assume that aspects of mainstream philosophy which you personally dislike must be serving some sort of large-scale politically repressive function. And you seem determined to ignore departments and individuals whose approach you might find more congenial.

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John Emerson 09.25.09 at 5:03 pm

I wonder how you think they should be educated.

They should not be treated as neutral raw material to be banged into shape. The apparent assumption is that when they show up at grad school with no knowledge of anything, and that for that reason they should take no part in the direction of their education, but just follow orders.

I’m not familiar with every Anglophone philosophy department that there is, and mostly know about American rather than British school, but from what I can tell, most departments are pretty null, and teach methods which seem to preclude the possibility of productive thought about politics. Several trips to the library to look at journals, including those declared by Leiter to be most influential, haven’t given me any reason to change my mind.

Politically the problem with analytic philosophy isn’t rightism, or the political opinions of the philosophers themselves, but the disabling effects of analytic methods and the crowding-out of other kinds of philosophy.

The political sin of analytic phil

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djw 09.25.09 at 5:48 pm

Apparently Leiter got to him before he could finish that fateful sentence. (Holbo probably gave away his location, and now feels horrible about it…)

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Sam C 09.25.09 at 6:15 pm

‘First-year graduate students are normally presented with a very limited range of permissible options for a study plan…’

I don’t know whether this is true in economics, but it’s not true of any philosophy department I’m familiar with.

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Colin Danby 09.25.09 at 10:57 pm

Hold the phone: Paul K mentioned fundamental uncertainty.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/30/keynes-return-master-robert-skidelsky

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Hidari 09.26.09 at 10:21 am

‘The political sin of analytic phil’

Did the Dark Powers of Analyticisism finally manage to kill John Emerson while he was half way through writing that sentence?

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John Emerson 09.26.09 at 11:27 am

I think tht everyone is tired of the philosophy argument, even me. The economics argument is timeley because of the collapse of Western Civilization, but analytic philosophy does not have that power, and no one really cares.

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engels 09.27.09 at 1:13 am

Well, I guess that’s the last we’ll hear of it.

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peter 09.27.09 at 3:00 pm

engels @74 said:

“True, but academic disciplines are not eggs. If you want to credibly criticise some technique or body of theory you need to show you are adequately conversant with it first. “

Credible to whom? I suspect you imagine that neo-classical economists are amenable to reason, are willing to countenance alternative views, and even to change their minds on occasion. Recent events provide no evidence of this.

Part of the problem here is that many of the strongest criticisms of neoclassical economics involve meta-level criticims of the discipline and its approach, not the mere contents of the theory. Milton Friedman, in a famous article in 1953, argued that the only valid test of an economic model was its predictive powers, and, in particular, a criticism that a theory’s assumptions were not realistic was not a valid criticism. In my view, this statement is manifest nonsense for any research endeavour which claims to EXPLAIN social phenomena, since a black-box model explains nothing. Even a black-box model with perfect 100% predictive accuracy explains nothing. Such models really have no part (in my view) of any discipline calling itself a social science.

But this response to Friedman is a criticism of his (and neo-classical economics’) whole way of doing business, starting with their assumption that economic actors are “rational” (in the very narrow and tendentious sense of rationality they use). Such a criticism of the neo-classical paradigm is valid whether or not I have first shown that I am conversant with the techniques used under the paradigm.

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engels 09.27.09 at 3:33 pm

Milton Friedman, in a famous article in 1953, argued that the only valid test of an economic model was its predictive powers, and, in particular, a criticism that a theory’s assumptions were not realistic was not a valid criticism. In my view, this statement is manifest nonsense

Isn’t it just American pragmatism? (Iirc an Emerson-approved doctrine.)

Analogies with rotten eggs aren’t a good to think about how to go about intervening in intellectual controversies. ‘Knowing’ that a theory is bad doesn’t give you the resources to undermine its authority in the eyes of others (trolling academic blogs aside). There are several means of doing the latter and not all of them require knowledge of the theory (eg. contributing to a competing theory). But criticism is one such means and it does. To criticse foundations might not require knowledge of the rest of the structure but it requires knowledge of the foundations.

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engels 09.27.09 at 3:49 pm

Anyway, my original point seems have got lost now which was simply that

[First-year graduate students] who like what they’re offered or who are ambitious enough to suppress their own thinking continue. Those who don’t and aren’t usually leave the field.

is pretty clearly a false dichotomy

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peter 09.27.09 at 4:17 pm

” ‘Knowing’ that a theory is bad doesn’t give you the resources to undermine its authority in the eyes of others (trolling academic blogs aside). There are several means of doing the latter and not all of them require knowledge of the theory (eg. contributing to a competing theory). But criticism is one such means and it does. To criticse foundations might not require knowledge of the rest of the structure but it requires knowledge of the foundations.”

I (and many others before me) are not claiming to “know” that a theory is bad. We are claiming that a theory which purports to describe some social phenomenon cannot rest on unrealistic or unfalsifiable assumptions about the entities (economic actors) in the domain of study. Milton Friedman and his acolytes claim that it can. This is an argument about the appropriate means of doing economics and about the nature of economic modeling.

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engels 09.27.09 at 4:37 pm

And lest it be forgotten the context of my original remark was philosophy not economics.

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