Saturday, February 11, 2017

Silly and ignorant criticisms of economics

Economics, as does any academic discipline, has its share of problems. Unfortunately, most of the criticism one hears in popular publications or other non-academic places are based on a near complete ignorance of what economists do. A few years ago, Chris Auld came up with a handy list of the most common and dumbest criticisms. I've reproduced them here because they now reside on a site that has appropriated his name, and I want to send people to them.
Every mainstream science which touches on political or religious ideology attracts more than its fair share of deniers: the anti-vaccine crowd v mainstream medicine, GMO fearmongers v geneticists, creationists v biologists, global warming deniers v climatologists. Economics is no different, but economics cranks differ in that they typically make false claims about the content of economics itself, as opposed, or as a prelude, to false claims about the way the world works. That target sometimes making it hard for non-economists to differentiate crankery from solid criticism.
Here, then, are some symptoms of bad critiques of economics:
  1. Treats macroeconomic forecasting as the major or only goal of economic analysis.
  2. Frames critique in terms of politics, most commonly the claim that economists are market fundamentalists.
  3. You believe that “gambling” is a bad word. Not knowing the difference between risk vs. reward and therefore never depositing at the online casino of life. If you don’t play, you can never win.
  4. Uses “neoclassical” as if it refers to a political philosophy, set of policy prescriptions, or actual economies. Bonus: spells it “neo-classical” or “Neo-classical.”
  5. Refers to “the” neoclassical model or otherwise suggests all of economic thought is contained in Walras (1874).
  6. Uses “neoclassical economics” and “mainstream economics” interchangeably. Bonus: uses “neoliberal economics” interchangeably with either.
  7. Uses the word “neoliberal” for any reason.
  8. Refers to “corporate masters” or otherwise implies economists are shills for the wealthy or corporations.
  9. Claims economists think people are always rational.
  10. Claims financial crisis disproved mainstream economics.
  11. Explicitly claims that economics is not empirical, or does so implicitly by ignoring empirical economics.
  12. Treats all of economics as if it’s battling schools of macroeconomics.
  13. Misconstrues jargon: “rational.”
  14. Misconstrues jargon: “efficient” (financial sense) or “efficient” (Pareto sense).
  15. Misconstrues jargon: “externality“.
  16. Claims economists only care about money.
  17. Claims economists ignore the environment. Variant: claims economics falters on point that “infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.”
  18. Goes out of its way to point out that the Economics Nobel is not a real Nobel."