Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The God who failed?

I'm happy to be able to say that I'm not an economist. I do know something about economics, however, because I had to pass qualifying exams in that subject en route to my Ph.D. Notice I said I know something about economics thanks to those studies, not that I know something about the economy. Asking an economist to explain the economy is like asking a theologian to explain biology. A lot like that, actually. Exactly like that.

Well, this curmudgeon is actually pleased -- yes I am -- to see that some economists are actually coming forward and admitting that yep, their profession is full of crap. Here's Uwe Reinhardt, who is big stuff, here just happening to notice that 99% of economists failed to see the big crackup coming:

If groupthink is the cause, it most likely is anchored in what my former Yale economics professor Richard Nelson (now at Columbia University) has called a ”vested interest in an analytic structure,” the prism through which economists behold the world.

This analytic structure, formally called “neoclassical economics,” depends crucially on certain unquestioned axioms and basic assumptions about the behavior of markets and the human decisions that drive them. After years of arduous study to master the paradigm, these axioms and assumptions simply become part of a professional credo. Indeed, a good part of the scholarly work of modern economists reminds one of the medieval scholastics who followed St. Anselm’s dictum “credo ut intellegam”: “I believe, in order that I may understand.”

Well now isn't that exactly what I have been saying here for years? Unfortunately, Professor Reinhardt doesn't draw the obvious logical inference, which is that universities should stop paying these clowns to indoctrinate students with unmitigated baloney. Economists actually have the audacity to claim that they are the only "hard" social scientists, a distinction which they apparently think they earn because they use a lot of mathematics. In fact, if you start out by assuming a lot of stuff that isn't true, then manipulating those imaginary entities mathematically is not any kind of science, hard, soft, liquid or gaseous. It's masturbation. It is unnecessary to teach college students how to masturbate.

The entire discipline is utterly worthless. Economics departments ought to be abolished and the professors turned out to do useful work, clerking in bookstores or something. They need to start over, with the study of reality, but other people will have to do it, who possess working intellects. As Reinhardt concludes,

As far as diagnoses of economic trends and predictions about the future are concerned, the profession’s preferred analytic structure and the groupthink it begets might work superbly well on planet Vulcan, whence hails the utterly logical Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame.

On Planet Earth, however, that analytic prism can seriously blur one’s vision. It simply cannot accommodate the fact that our entire 21st-century banking sector, managed as it is by graduates of the nation’s top business schools, supported by highly trained financial engineers, and monitored around the clock by thousands of allegedly bright financial analysts, immolated itself with highly toxic assets, purchased with borrowed money, and in the process infected the entire world economy.

And thus the economics profession slept comfortably as Wall Street was imploding. One can only hope that the medical profession would do better, should America ever be struck by a serious epidemic.

Right. Well, incompetent physicians lose their licenses. Think about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Economists are voodoo merchants. The mystery is not that they are, why or how, etc. but that others simply closed, and will continue to close, their eyes and accept hokum, as long as come cash comes in and they have some hope or ripping off the less fortunate.