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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Ditching The Nonsense Analysis In Politics And Econ

This is typical of the mainstream media's confusion about how politics works from Jack Shafer writing in Politico

Immune to the standard laws of politics, Trump has continued to rise in the polls, replacing the manageable disorder of a presidential politics with his chaos.


[Trump's success] has already diminished—temporarily, perhaps—the wisdom that money is all that matters in politics, as he has flattened better-financed campaigns like that of Jeb Bush. It’s also cheapened the value of ideology within the Republican Party, something that nobody would have predicted, given the endless internal fights over who and what a Republican is. The party's conservatives have traditionally battled the moderates who they called Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs. Now along comes Trump, who doesn’t even bother to pretend he's a Republican of any kind, and he easily outpolls the rest.

 Oh, really? No one could have predicted? "Ideology Is No Longer A Useful Tool For Understanding American Politics", April 14, 2014. 

Or how about this. 

Jack Balkin can explain today's politics w/o declaring that political laws don't apply to Trump (Jack Shafer) and w/o resort to obvious epicycles like "symbolic conservative but operational liberals" (Political Science). I think his terminology is confusing, but "populist Repblicans" below is his label for Trump supporters. Their existence doesn't break any laws. Rather, 

Back in 1995, I described a related split in terms of the opposition between populism and progressivism. In this context, "progressivism" stands for embrace of expertise, elite culture, and elite values--and not necessarily for left-wing or progressive social policies. Hence there are populist and "progressive" wings in both major political parties. Even though there are few liberal Republicans left, you have plenty of highly-educated elites and intellectuals in the Republican Party who believe in expertise and embrace elite values. They just disagree with the experts and elites on the left. The conservative counter-establishment, which includes conservative think tanks, policy organs, media organizations like National Review, and conservative academia-- is their natural home.

Meanwhile, in economics, my view is that:

Politicians like Bill Clinton didn’t want to embrace orthodox economics. He almost certainly had no desire on the issue, one way or the other. Politicians are lawyers. They ask the expert witnesses. There is a wonk gap, as Krugman explains, but he’s the epitome of the gap. He draws liberal policy preferences from neoliberal axioms b/c there is no connection between economics and reality. Don’t blame lawyers for having nowhere to turn.

Blame heterodox economists. Why? Because 200 years of wrong does not happen in the face of a valid critique. Therefore, something is wrong with the critique.

What is wrong? I think heterodox economists give the game away once they buy into the idea that the subset of human social organization can be visualizes using Newtonian/Cartesian metaphors.

Once you draw an x axis and a y axis you have turned your back on Darwin, and therefore every useful science of living things. Are humans alive? Then stop drawing curves and start thinking about trees!

So much of the critique is from folks trained in Marxism, and Marx is explicitly Newtonian as he imagines the mechanical interactions of large clumps of human beings that he calls "labor and capitalists" or "the proletariat and the bourgeois".


Over at the Real World Economics Blog,  Asad Zaman agrees that the heterodox embraces the same fundamental errors as the orthodox, and therefore fails to move economics toward reality, but he locates the shared error in the embrace of the logical positivist understanding of science. 

Frederic Lee & Steve Keen remarked in the introduction to their article on the “The incoherent emperor: a heterodox critique of neoclassical microeconomic theory” that heterodox economists often come to the defense of conventional economics, because they are ignorant of the vast range of devastating critiques against these theories. To create a revolution, we must change from lukewarm heterodoxy (a partial rejection combined with a partial acceptance of the errors of conventional theories) to a genuinely radical approach requiring a complete rejection. When the errors of the conventional approach become as obvious as the error in “2+2=5”, we will not waste time coming up with new proofs that this is a fallacious calculation.


Thus, in order to make plausible the idea that massive amounts of effort are being poured into completely fallacious theories, one must study the story of the rise and fall of logical positivism. This is the key to understanding why current economic theories are so seriously defective, and also how we can avoid making the same errors which led to this disaster. Instead of answers, I pose the following questions which we must learn the answers to, in order to understand HOW an intellectual tradition became corrupted by logical positivism.

What is the theory of logical positivism? More importantly, why did it become so wildly popular? How is it that some of the most intelligent people in the twentieth century came to believe in its central propositions? It must be the case that the defect in logical positivism is a subtle one, to take in so many innocents into its trap. Interestingly, a recent survey by Hands, cited in my paper on Normative Foundations of Scarcity, shows that most economists continue to believe in some the key propositions of logical positivism, even though it has been thoroughly refuted by philosophers. Here is the key to the failure of heterodoxy: most heterodox economists also continue to believe in some key propositions of logical positivism. As a consequence, it is impossible for them to construct a sound alternative to conventional economic theories.

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