Anti-economists

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An alert reader of yesterday’s post regarding David Suzuki’s ongoing confusion over the concept of an “externality” pointed me to an interview with Professor Suzuki in a magazine called Common Ground. Suzuki helpfully clarifies precisely what he thinks “externality” means, so we no longer have to infer from context:

I won’t go into a long critique, but currently nature and nature’s services – cleansing, filtering water, creating the atmosphere, taking carbon out of the air, putting oxygen back in, preventing erosion, pollinating flowering plants – perform dozens of services nature to keep the planet happening. But economists call this an ‘externality.’ What that means is “We don’t give a shit.” It’s not economic. Because they’re so impressed with humans, human productivity and human creativity at the heart of this economic system. Well, you can’t have an economy if you don’t have nature and nature’s services, but economics ignores that. And that’s an unbelievably egregious error.

(emphasis added). I agree someone’s made an “unbelievably egregious error,” and repeated it countless times to countless people.

David Suzuki owes the community of economists, and his audiences, an apology and an unequivocal retraction.

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A reader of this (seemingly defunct, but stay tuned) blog sent me a link to a portion of a movie called Surviving Progress in which Dr. Suzuki gives an even more offensive, ridiculous, and staggeringly ignorant take on economics than those previously discussed on this blog. For the amusement of fellow economists, here’s the video, complete with helpful visuals of a guy in a suit—possibly modeled on Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller—standing in front of a chalkboard with some dull looking stuff that’s not even recognizable as economics. Dr. Suzuki recites his oft-repeated claim that “economics is a form of brain damage” and here adds the allegation that economists “know damn well” that we deliberately deceive people into thinking economics is a science when in fact all we want to do is torch the planet for sweet, sweet cash.

For those interested in what economists actually think about the environment, and what an “externality” actually is, see for example “How do economists really think about the environment?” Or open any Economics 101 textbook.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKg_vp6DvTo]

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Pulled from the comments:

Economists merely regurgitate the patriarchal language of “mathematics” and therefore perpetuate the transmogrification of marginalized classes by heteronormative imperialist forces. Any hermaneutical approach worth its salt will nullify the predation of privileged sectors and work to delegitimize the sanctity of “otherness” while subtextually transcending mythopoetical domination by post-capitalist neophytes. Economics fails to do this.

It’s a fair cop.

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Regarding Ira Basen’s incompetent hatchet job in last week’s Globe and Mail, political activist and former history professor Gerald Caplan announces:

Ira Basen’s very crucial point (although he’s not quite this blunt) is that the entire economics profession is something of a fraud and that mainstream economists often have no idea what they are talking about. Except for some shining exceptions like John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, for over 200 years economists – including the “trained economist” who governs us –have operated on the basis of self-evidently ludicrous premises. Not only ludicrous but relentlessly anti-scientific. As even The New York Times said the other day, the destructive trend toward austerity across the Western world – at least austerity for the most vulnerable – is nothing more than political ideology masquerading as economic policy.

Dismissing an entire discipline you know nothing about in three ideologically-motivated sentences is inarguably anti-intellectual. Anti-intellectualism is unacceptable among educated people, except when it comes to economics, in which case it’s considered unacceptable in some circles to fail to approach the subject in precisely the same manner in which young earth creationists approach evolutionary biology. Much like “biologists are all atheists!” is not only factually incorrect but also an intellectually irrelevant attack on biology, “economists are all right-wing!” is a factually incorrect and intellectually irrelevant attack on economics.

If you (1) don’t know anything about economics and (2) nonetheless hold extremely strong opinions on appropriate methodology in modern economic research, you’re doing it wrong.

This morning’s Globe includes a lengthy, very low quality article by Ira Basen on what’s wrong with modern economic research. It’s yet another repackaging of the same old ideologically-charged and technically incompetent canards, basically reducing all of economic thought to a cartoon version of macroeconomic theory circa 1980, and all economic research to mindless and/or corrupt advocacy of laissez-faire politics.

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David Orrell, a mathematician who works on biological problems, recently published a book called Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong. Economyths is a terrible, willfully ignorant, deeply anti-intellectual book. The characterization of economic thought presented is ridiculous. The level of scholarship is abysmal.

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