Heterodox Economics Newsletter
In confined days like these, opportunities for good academic discussions are rare. Against this backdrop, I was happy to join a discussion at the Virtual Plenary of INET's Young Scholars Initiative dedicated to assessing the state of the sub-field of "Philosophy & Economics". As some of you might know (or might have guessed), I consider myself to be an occasional contributor to said field and it was quite refreshing to engage with a series of young and talented scholars debating possible future outlooks for the field. In preparation, I had been asked by the organizers what, in my view, the field should be (more) concerned with in the future.
In a nutshell, my answer to that question was to focus on four core issues:
(1) critical discussions of economic models on the level of textbooks as well as current research. The core aim should be to carefully evaluate important issues such as consistency (both within and across models), how models deal with the differentiation of ‚law-like‘ and ‚auxiliary‘ assumptions (which also pertains to the question to which cases a given model actually does apply) or the role of normativity in basic assumptions as well as with regard to main outcomes (examples for doing so can be found here, here or here).
(2) connecting findings of economic sociology with philosophy of science, for example by asking how economists practice inclusion and exclusion or by assessing how influential groups in economics shape the discipline by inventing new strands of modeling, new empirical approaches or new ways of justifying how things are done (useful starting points could be here, here or here).
(3) contribute more strongly to the solution of the problem of socio-historical specificity – what mechanisms and theories do hold under exactly what conditions and how is this related to the role of auxiliary hypotheses in specific models? Can pluralism contribute anything here?
(4) the critical reflection of new trends and findings in econometrics. The field should be concerned with issues like p-value hacking, publication bias, preference falsification and replication crisis. It should critically examine recent trends in „econometrics without the con“, e.g. by asking for the validity of identifying assumptions, exclusions restrictions and the like (laudable examples can be found here, here or here).
While I hope you share some of my views on this issue, I also wanted to point out that given current calamities related to Corona, the climate et al., the issue of normativity in economic thought probably is most pressing. I am always surprised to see how many standard economists out there still think that economics is a largely 'value-free' endeavor, where normative judgements matter only when deciding on research questions, while in reality the typical economists' use of the concept of efficiency is highly value-loaden.
Let me be clear on that last one: while it is theoretically possible to have a purely instrumental understanding of efficiency as the simplest ways to achieve a given, clearly defined end, it is also possible that 'efficiency' becomes an end in itself or that it affects related concepts or measurements in a normative way.* An example for the first case – efficiency becoming an end in itself – is given by the advocacy of a majority of economists for free trade on the grounds that is welfare-enhancing, i.e. 'more efficient'. While it is sometimes acknowledged that economic openness might have adverse distributional effects (in most cases by referencing this theorem), this insight never turns the table since the preference for efficiency imposes that a greater pie is always to be preferred to a more equally distributed one.
Similarly, efficiency has an imprint on other concepts used that are supposedly 'value-free': it can affect the way we conceptualize (e.g. GDP resembles a quantitative 'more is better' approach to welfare) or employ (e.g. interpreting the wage share as the 'relative contribution of labor') economic measures and it shapes our understanding of related theoretical variables. In both contexts, normative aspects can play a key role. Key examples related to current crises are how to economically represent human lives to conceptualize ill-suited 'trade-offs' between saving lives and saving employment (Corona) or how to adequately discount future states in economic modeling (climate). Regarding the latter, for instance, economists have declared that human impatience is a relevant normative foundation to be factored in to finally arrive at an estimate for an 'optimal', i.e. efficient, degree of global warming. Such modeling decisions are obviously highly value-loaden and contestable – and they are closely related to a specific understanding of efficiency that prevails in standard economics. In this framework any assumption about preferences can be potentially normative – and discounting is just an example for one that is heavily so.
Hope to not have bored you with my current philosophical concerns. In any case, I hope you enjoy this issue of the Newsletter!
* On a more general level the notion of 'efficiency becoming an end itself' is a basic topos of many dystopian storylines, from classics like "Brave New World" or "We" up to these nice guys, who, like economists, always strive for "peak efficiency";-)
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Table of contents
- Call for Papers
- 42nd Annual Meeting of the Association for Institutional Thought (Online, April 2021)
- 56th International Conference of Labour and Social History: "Migration Worldwide: Left-wing Strategies, Migrant Actors and Capitalist Interests from the Sixteenth Century to the Present" (Linz, September 2021)
- Call for Book Proposals: "Political Economies of Capitalism, 1650-1850"
- Call for Policy-Briefs: "State, Democracy, Society and Economy in the 21st Century: challenges and prospects"
- Capital as Power: Essay Contest 2021
- Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics: Special Issue on "The Philosophy and Economics of Pandemics"
- Ergodicity Economics 2021 Conference (Online, January 2021)
- French Association for Political Economy (FAPE/AFEP) Conference (Toulouse, June-July 2021)
- Journal for Business, Economics and Ethics: Special Issue on "Objects, Conditions, and Possibilities of Ideology Critique in and of Economics"
- Max Planck Online Workshop in Comparative Political Economy
- One Earth: Special Issue on "The Pandemic, Sustainability, and the Global South"
- Science as Culture: Special Forum on "Big Tech"
- URPE@Conference of the Eastern Economics Association (New York, February 2021)
- Workshop on "Leveraging Chinese dreams and capital: State power dynamics and sub-national industrial manoeuvres" (Online, April 2021)
- Workshop on "Reading Economics as Political Theory" (Paris, June 2021)
- Call for Participants
- ASSA Meeting 2021 (online, Jan. 2021)
- Conference: From Cooperativism to Commoning. Historical and Contemporary Forms of the Institutions of the Common (Online, Nov. 2020)
- Distinguished Professor Bob Jessop celebration event (Online, Oct. 2020)
- JHET Online Writing Workshop Session 7 (Online, Nov. 2020)
- WINIR: Mini Online Workshop Series on "Corruption, Rent-Seeking Behaviour and Informal Practices in Institutional Contexts" (Online, Nov. 2020)
- Conference Papers, Reports, and Podcasts
- Report: „From Niche to Norm - First Scientific Workshop of the German Network for Pluralism in Economics“ (Oct. 2020, Germany)
- Job Postings
- ASTRA Project, Various Countries
- Aalborg University, Denmark
- Danish Institute for International Studies, Denmark
- Radboud Universiteit, Netherlands
- University of Helsinki, Norway
- University of Toronto, Canada
- Call for Nominations: European Society for the History of Economic Thought Awards 2021
- Call for Nominations: Joseph J. Sprenger Book Prize
- Call for Nominations: The Craufurd Goodwin Best Article in the History of Economics Prize
- Winner Announcement: 2020 ESHET Awards
- Brazilian Journal of Political Economy 40 (4)
- Ecological Economics 179
- Historical Materialism 28 (3)
- Journal of Contextual Economics, 138 (3-4): Special Issue on "Socio-Economics and its Methodology: German Political Economy, 1896-1938”
- Journal of Evolutionary Economics 30 (4)
- Journal of Post Keynesian Economics 43 (4)
- Review of Keynesian Economics 8 (4)
- Review of Political Economy 32 (3)
- The Review of Austrian Economics 33 (4)
- Books and Book Series
- Growth and Distribution
- Has It Come to This? - The Promises and Perils of Geoengineering on the Brink
- Heterodox Challenges in Economics - Theoretical Issues and the Crisis of the Eurozone
- International Development and the Washington Consensus: A Pluralist Perspective
- Reinventing the Welfare State: Digital Platforms and Public Policies
- Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: The Political Economy of Money and Trade (Vol. 38, Part C)
- The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution
- The Future of the State: Philosophy and Politics
- The Inequality Crisis
- Heterodox Graduate Programs, Scholarships and Grants
- Duke Center for the History of Political Economy: Call for Fellowship Applications
- History of Economics Society (HES): New Initiatives Fund
- Association for Social Economics Newsletter: Fall 2020
- economic sociology - the european electronic newsletter 22 (1)
- For Your Information
- African Review of Economics and Finance is seeking Associate Editors
- Announcement: IIPPE Conference 2021 (Sept. 2021)