28 July 2010

Engaging Conservative Economics

The inspiration for this post came from a recent exchange on the list serve of graduate students in the economics department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (many of whom also blog, a list of these blogs can be found HERE).

I will not summarize the email thread for reasons that should become clear in the following post.

I feel that far to much effort on the part of so called "heterodox economists" is spent criticizing what is often referred to as "mainstream" or "neoclassical" economics.

I do not dispute that critical analysis of the mainstream is an important part of our task as radical economists. The very nature of the terms mainstream and radical (or heterodox) imply that their theories are more commonly accepted than ours, and thus are more widely taught, and unfortunately accepted.

The flip side of this which is commonly ignored by many of my colleagues is that the very process of criticism legitimizes neoclassical economic theories as being worth our time. The process of criticism relies on the implicit assumption that these theories are worth the time to think about.

A person presenting a theory that human civilization started on jupiter and migrated to earth when jupiter was full would find their basic intelligence criticized, not aspects within the theory that they are presenting (such as how people traveled through the solar system). This big picture approach needs to find a larger role withing radical economics. By accepting assumptions of the mainstream economic theories we are wasting valuable resources (time) that could (and I argue should) be spent further developing weak points in our own theories of the workings of the economy instead of implicitly validating equilibrium based nonsense.