Sunday, February 15, 2015


"To analyze the world in this way requires, in effect, the redefinition of human experience into a special language. That language must have a vocabulary limited to those concepts that can be dealt with inside the model. To accept these restrictions is to be an economist. Any refusal to shed the larger perspective--a stubborn insistence on bringing a broader set of facts or a different range of theory to bear--identifies one as 'not an economist.' In this way, the economists need only talk to one another. Enclosed carefully in their monastery, they can speak their code, establish their status, rankings, and hierarchies, and persuade themselves and one another of their intellectual and professional merit.

A community and a line of argument constructed in such a manner are unlikely to be well prepared for an event like the Great Financial Crisis."

-James K. Galbraith, "The End of Normal," 2014 p64

"Economists using mathematical expressions to decorate arguments about the perfection of market systems may believe that their work is beautiful. Outsiders see instantly that it isn't. Quite apart from the messy problems and ugly realities of the economic world (capitalist or otherwise), no one with a sense of aesthetics would take the clumsy algebra of a typical professional economics article as a work of beauty. The main purpose of the math is not to clarify, or to charm, but to intimidate. And the tactic is effective. An idea that would come across as simpleminded in English can be made 'impressive looking' with a sufficient string of Greek symbols. A complaint about the argument can be deflected, most easily, on the ground the complainer must not understand the math."

-ibid, p67

This is not to say that the field of economics is without value. It, like the press, has GREAT value. The real problem, to regular people like you and me, is figuring out which economic theories, which economists, are intellectually honest and reasonable, and which aren't. This isn't an easy task, especially when considering that economists, like journalists, tend to think in packs, and may be both right and wrong in the same paragraph they've written--economists, also like journalists, tend to be employed by corporations and the very, very wealthy, which makes the tendency toward bias all the more acute.

The upside is that a whole lot of economics doesn't even come close to rocket science, and is penetrable by most people who are willing to do some reading. But you've got to do the reading.