Can Modern Economics be an Ethical Science?

By Payam Sharifi

The subject and discussion of Ethics for economists is a recent but welcome phenomenon.  The creation of the documentary “Inside Job” highlighted the ethical issues facing economists.   Various outlets, consisting of many from outside the economics profession as well as some inside, have been demanding that economists and economics itself adopt a code of ethics.  Many articles, blogs, and academic papers since that time have been beating the drum for a code to be adopted, as a simple Google search will show.  The recent Reinhart and Rogoff flub has also reinvigorated this debate.  The objective of this exposition is to show why economics (as it exists currently) cannot, and will not, ever be able to adopt that code of ethics.  Well, why not…as I’m sure some of you are asking.  Many other professions have a code of ethics that they adhere to…why is it that economics cannot do the same?  There are in fact many reasons why this is so.  I also advance another approach to economics that has existed for decades, if not longer, in the search to answer the question that forms this essay.  Another, but seemingly unrelated topic that is sometimes debated among mainstream economists is the need for economic theory itself to change.  As we seek to answer the question of whether Modern economics can be an Ethical science, we will find that the question of economic theory is in fact related. 

The first step to understanding why Economics and Ethics mix like oil and water involves the narratives we produce to understand human action, not only for those actions that we see but also to understand how we conduct ourselves.  Human life is understood from the narratives we create about it.  That is, to be a narrative means to understand things from a historical standpoint.  For modern economics to do this is to realize (when describing a narrative of human action through theory) that the theory or theories it uses to describe what it terms “economic action” must necessarily be judged in light of the past and the present.  Yet it isn’t done necessarily for purposes of science itself; rather, it is done out of necessity.  The narratives we use to understand human action define everything we understand about the world.  The narrative and hence the tradition that modern economics continues to carry to this day is that human beings are rational actors seeking to maximize some utility function.  There is a continuous march for humans to do so until they reach some level of equilibrium…and what we understand about the individual agent can then be extrapolated to the economy as a whole.

The question becomes whether that tradition progresses or fails to progress in understanding the world around us, to predict the unexpected, and the ability to not only predict but guide human action.  If not, one is required first to understand why that tradition is failing.  Do modern economists make any attempt to do this?  I and many argue that even if there has been some attempt at realizing that the theory has failed, the laziness and reluctance exhibited by almost all of modern economics towards creating a new narrative i.e. theory has been shockingly bad.  Ethics itself also has a history…that is, ethics without context has no meaning.  Likewise with economics…if modern economics refuses to change its theory (and I’m not referring just to its method of analysis) in light of its failures, then by what standard do we believe economists could be ethical?  What standards does economics hold that could be upheld by an ethical code of conduct?  Is there any meaning in one saying that an old and outdated theoretical construct regarding utility maximization, for example, that has little to no bearing on reality be required to have that code of conduct?  Certainly not in my imagination, and hopefully not by anyone else’s stretch of the imagination.

Mark Thoma, an economist who runs a popular economics blog, recently stated that “too many minds in the profession cannot be changed even when the empirical evidence is relatively clear…the politicization of the profession…plays a large role”.  Could it be that this reflects a crisis in economics, which is a crisis in its method of analysis and even the subject matter itself?  Because we direct our lives through some narrative, there should be no doubt that the doubts with the subject matter of economics are having a direct impact on its practitioners.  That is, the context which currently envelopes our present lives has no room in economic theory, and many practitioners are having a hard time reconciling this with the theory they teach with such devotion in the classroom.  This crisis is also reflected in the minds of many in society.  Theories with no context like the theories we use in economics have driven many to have what was once referred to as “Hume’s Disease”, being unable to reconcile what truth is and driving ourselves insane.  Yet the root of this is the fact that we are distrustful of the narratives we create to understand ourselves.  Science, it is thought, has nothing to do with narrative or history and is simply a search for Absolute Truth, Logic, and Reason.  Small wonder, then, that the search for a code of ethics attached to a pseudoscience that has nothing to do with the lives we live is not only nonsensical, but also confusing for economists.  Who will create that code of ethics, and who will accept it?  If Ethics is the application of absolute moral standards for moral practices that MUST by extension apply to human lives, then that code of ethics applied to economics is no code of ethics at all.

Yet there is much more to confirm this idea that Ethics bears no relationship to modern economics.  If all of our lives are created and understood through narrative, then that narrative has an inherent belief or set of beliefs about what the good life consists of.  All narratives have goals.  The goals and aspirations of life should be to achieve happiness, and I don’t believe many could disagree with me here.  What qualities should human life consist of to reach what Aristotle referred to as our telos, or goal which is happiness?  First, like Aristotle, we should understand that human beings are political animals, and that the towns and cities that we live in are a natural development of the human community.  Hence our conceptions, like those conceptions we learn studying economics, cannot be devoid of human goals and aspirations within the context of our particular historical situation.  Ethics as Aristotle understood it should have two kinds of evaluative practice.  Communities need to “recognize and celebrate the qualities of character that help them to meet their goals, and to shun attitudes that are counterproductive” and “determine which courses of action help them to reach their goals, and celebrate these while condemning activities that hinder the pursuit of the common good, including activities that hinder the common good of developing a moral culture that supports the pursuit of the common good”.  Having a moral culture means to have a moral education in “recognizing, knowing, desiring, and choosing actions that make us better as human agents”.

On the other hand, citizens of the modern state as currently characterized (including by modern economic theory) are nothing more than agents who enter society by choice in order to protect his/her own interests.  It’s interesting that Aristotle had something to say about this: that any such citizens that exist are citizens of nowhere, and are barbarians.  So in Aristotle’s mind, how is one best to achieve these ethical standards by which we should live our lives?  To prevent making this a full exposition of Aristotle’s thought, it will suffice to say that he believed that all of the good things that make us human beings can be characterized as the Virtues.  Yet how is one to achieve excellency that defines the Virtues he outlines?  It should be a surprise to many that he does not in fact outline any moral code at all!  Rather, he believes that practical reasoning, that is, the wants and goals of the agent, along with the achievement of that goal, allow one to achieve a moral life.  This can only be done through a practice.  Alisdair MacIntyre defines a practice as
“any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and constitutive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended”.  Success in practices has a moral dimension, “because we cannot succeed in them unless we are able to commit ourselves to excellence in the practice”.

An example of this is that we seek to achieve things not for some external outcome, such as to earn more money or candy, but for the sake of the activity itself.  A child who wishes to become good at chess do not play it for some external reward (like candy), but for the sake of becoming better at it.  From what has been said thus far about modern economics, can anyone legitimately believe that economists are advancing the science, or in other words, doing it for its own sake?   The fact that I’m writing this article on the subject of ethics should lead one to the conclusion that this is not the case at all.  Rather, it seems that economists are not engaged in any practice at all; rather, they are engaged in the race to be the most recognized, well-connected economist (and hence social scientist) that they can be.  Modern mainstream economics as a science, since it must be reiterated, cannot be a practice because it has little to do with achieving excellence and everything to do with gaining power and notoriety.  It has no conception of history, no conception of the communities and history that make us who we are.  And we expect this science to be ethical?  To have a code of ethics?  Communities themselves set and enforce the standards, the OBJECTIVE standards, which help keep us on the right track.  Yet economics has no community, only an economic agent.  Can you tell a utility maximizing economist how to behave?  Reinhart and Rogoff would rather brush you off as an insignificant insect than to listen to your (to them) subjective rules and standards, which is only limiting their freedom to gain fame, glory, and money.  There should be little doubt as to why so many people in society are distrustful of the “science” they are listening to, as what they hear has no bearing on any of their lives.

There’s more to the story.  MacIntyre argues that modern states lack the basis for a political community because they lack “practical agreement on a conception of justice”.  In fact, modern economics often lays out two competing ideas for justice.  Robert Nozick seeks the preservation of property and finds justice in respect for the inalienable rights of individuals, while John Rawls seeks to meet the needs of everyone, having the redistribution of wealth be acceptable.  Yet both of these theories define justice in terms of the individual, and not the political community.  According to the tradition of the virtues as outlined by Aristotle, “what a person deserves can be understood only in the context of a community, but communities have no place in the theories of Nozick and Rawls, who attempt to define justice for individuals prior to their involvement in any community.”  The attempts of Nozick and Rawls to define a conception of justice no doubt sprung from a need to understand the world around us, but without a larger narrative that defines the good life these stories are nothing but rhetoric.  Modern economics uses this rhetoric to state that everything is subjective, and that hence nothing of value exists except for some utility function which is only in the eyes of each individual.  There is no conception of the good life, no conception of community, and hence no conception of ethics or values.

All of this returns us to economic theory itself.  Many mainstream economists, for the past four or five years, have stated how economics needs to change.  Yet the ideas they lay out as the basis for change are so abstract and without any reading in philosophy, history, or political economy.  That these economists could make such statements without having done any reading in the above they find not the slightest bit embarrassing.  Even more embarrassing is that an alternative research program (or tradition) has been growing slowly but steadily for the past few decades if not longer, and these mainstream economists know this very well.  In fact, competing programs are the only way for old narratives to die sometimes.  Heterodox economics is a vast area of research whose philosophies and views are as diverse as human life itself.  These economists, through much hardship and hard work, do their best to advance economics as a science, a social science.  They engage in their work and enjoy doing so for the sake of itself, not for the sake of meeting some bogus criteria or for fame and glory.  I know this because I’ve been engaged in studying heterodox economics for three years now, and the poverty of mainstream economics in explaining our lives has never been more apparent than it is now.  In a time of austerity, we preach not how the political community can come together and seek the goals of happiness, but how instead we can take more money out of the economy and hence how we can impoverish more and more people to make their lives more miserable.  Reinhart and Rogoff are a shining example of this approach.

To be clear, heterodox economics shares almost nothing in the way they conduct theory with MODERN economics.  In modern economics, there is no questioning the utility maximizing, rational economic man who, in their quest for maximizing utility, approach an equilibrium for themselves through supply and demand and hence for the economy at large.  Heterodox economics leaves room for theory to flourish, and that theory is only acceptable to many heterodox economists if it’s grounded with evidence.  From pricing to our theories of money and banking, heterodox economics is really a foreign language compared to what one learns in Econ 101.  If any clues are given in the discussion above, it would have to be that heterodox economics is an ethical theory because it’s theories and method of analysis does not exclude society and hence the rest of the social sciences.  Heterodox economics is the study of the social provisioning process, and because it understands and (more importantly) practices economics as a social science, space is left for an ethical approach and even a code of conduct to be formed.  Modern economics can never be an Ethical Science, but if one approaches economics as a social science that one cannot separate from the other social sciences, then Ethics can again play an important part in shaping our lives.

For younger people reading this today and wanting to study economics, I encourage you to leave the old paradigm that treats us and our heterogeneous actions and goals as insignificant and come with me on the journey to bettering the human condition.  To live your life among a community through which you define your life, through practices that you seek to become the master at.  A mainstream economist has nothing but contempt for reality.  They’d rather live in the fake models of reality concocted long ago, and through years of education in pseudoscience they seek to convince you of this as well.  Any advances they make are done outside of the science, like with Paul Krugman, who uses political language but not within the confines of economic theory itself.  If you want to live an ethical life, a life seeking excellency internal to practices, and happiness (ie the good life), then come on the side of heterodox economics…because modern economics, like oil and water, leads one down the path not of ethics, but of the life of a (in the words of Aristotle) barbarian.

One last statement must be made.  In Oedipus Rex some of us may remember the riddle of the sphinx.  It asked what walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at midday, and on three legs in the evening.  Oedipus solved it when he said “man”.  We crawl as an infant, walk as an adult, before hobbling with a cane at old age.  The riddle shows that the independence of healthy adulthood is only one phase in a life marked by dependence in childhood and old age.  The study of ethics, from the analysis I’ve given, is more than simply the study of criteria for the moral decisions of adults, but “a study of the education and care of people who live in human communities that treats the facts of vulnerability and affliction and the related facts of dependence as central to the human condition.”  Until Modern economic theory changes itself to reflect practices that seek these ends, ethics can never exist in the life of an economist or in the study of economics.

16 responses to “Can Modern Economics be an Ethical Science?

  1. Payam Sharifi

    Note, forgot my citation for those reading:
    After Virtue, by Alisdair MacIntyre: 1981
    Further Reading:
    Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative, and the Philosophy of Science, by Alisdair MacIntyre: 1977
    Reading Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, by Christopher Lutz: 2012

  2. NEW does not mean TRUE in economics.

    • Broge, I never said it was true because it was “new”. Heterodox economics (which means everything that is non-orthodox) is actually rather old. It would be useful if you pay attention to the content of the post itself, explaining why heterodox economics has relevance. Of course you’d have to delve into the material, which I encourage you to do if you are interested. Just to make one last comment on your “not everything new is true”: many of the “new” things you hear about is typically just a change in the parameters, using roughly the same model. Heterodox economics is a foreign language in comparison.

  3. –then Ethics can again play an important part in shaping our lives–

    Not only Economics but also all the branches of knowledge be coordinted in such a manner that maximum benefit is achieved for the common good of human beings. In case there is no ethics then there is no humanity. This dependency seems to be the law of nature.

  4. The author gives a childish view of economics, ethics and political philosophy. The errors are numerous and sad. The author presents a straw man, and in turn produces vacuous claims in the end.

    Think about it. The author makes broad claims about an enormous group of people, and then says he/she has studied outside of the mainstream. So the question becomes, how the heck does the author know anything about “mainstream” economists? Come to think of it, most of the mathematical theorems are practically useful, and have become abstract thought for the sake of abstract thought. Sure, R&R were unethical and should find punishment, but the problems of tenure and academic promotion are not the fault of the economics profession – blame the institutional arrangements of higher education.

    Unwittingly, and more ironically, the author adopts the economics profession’s version of ethics – utilitarianism – when the author says,

    “The goals and aspirations of life should be to achieve happiness, and I don’t believe many could disagree with me here”.

    Hello Jeremy Bentham!!! Ironically, Nozick and Rawls were both responding to Utilitarian philosophy as a criterion for justice – they weren’t seeking to provide justifications for Neoclassical price theory. Obviously, the author hasn’t read Nozick or Rawls, or Smith (1759) or Amartya Sen, or Buchanan, or Michael Sandel, or Martha Nussbaum. So much for “breadth” of scholarship.

    Plus, the argument against “mainstream” theory as unethical by definition is childish. Neoclassical economists study the virtue of Prudence. Sure, we can hope other virtues like Justice – the foundational virtue, as Adam Smith said (1759) – take an equal stage as prudence, but let’s at least understand what we’re talking about. There is nothing stopping mainstream economists from publishing data from their studies for replication, as one example. Because Neoclassical economists study the behavior of individuals doesn’t mean, by definition, ethics can’t exist.

    And, the fact that economists analyze individual action doesn’t preclude groups – take a look at Public Choice, or the Property Rights paradigm a la Alchian, Demsetz, Cheung, Williamson etc. Or, to look even further, pick up anything by Elinor Ostrom.

    The author presents a story that was told to him/her by a professor with no first hand knowledge of any of the great works of Neoclassical economics. I want the author to legitimately claim Robert Solow, Amartya Sen, Deirdre McCloskey, or Ronald Coase, (or even the late Armen Alchian and James Buchanan) are incapable of – by definition – creating a code of ethics.

    Physicists for example don’t practice “social sciences”, but have a code of ethics, as do chemists, medical doctors, etc etc. The claims are weak, and don’t add value to the heterodox project. Codes of ethics are a choice, and the authors claims are comical.

    Maybe heterodox economist should put their money where their mouth is, because last I knew, heterodox economists don’t have a code of ethics.

    * As an aside, maybe the author should read Aristotle’s work on Rhetoric, where there is no adjective ‘mere’ in front of it.

    • Just two comments: That is not the adoption of utilitarianism when I say the goal of human life is happiness. That is very different.
      Also, many heterodox economists have been the ones pushing for that code of ethics, and not just for themselves but for the whole profession. This commentary was actually also a message to them to stop wasting their time with mainstream economists, who will as a profession never agree to a set of standards, especially ones adopted by economists who think and study the economy in a different way. Heterodox economists should simply have their own code of conduct and forget that the mainstream exists, just as it does when it adopts theory.
      I’ll let the rest of your claims stand as I must thank you for offering such a big response to my post anywhere.

    • Actually, let me respond just a little more to you, Mr. Gosset, or should I say Ms. McCloskey.
      I wish I was at UMKC when you were there, I really wanted to attend the lectures you gave.
      What I have outlined here was from my own reading, not from my professors, just to be clear.
      I never said certain neoclassical economists are not capable of creating a code of ethics, whether for themselves or for the community of economists which make them up. They can be SOME rules that can be plastered on some board that everyone will accept. The problem is that economics as a profession will fail to adopt the rules that matter. Furthermore, what kind of code of ethics is it when the theory you teach and the way you approach economics has nothing to do with the community you study? Ethics upholds the ideas and theory itself within the profession. If the theory that we’re rational utility maximizers is accepted by the economics community (even if it’s within certain bounds, ie behaviorists saying otherwise), then what you are stating is that the code of ethics they can adopt is in fact OPPOSITE of what they study. And that’s ridiculous.

      This is the code of ethics you say economists should be able to adopt and disproves what I’m saying : 1) Thou shalt publish thy dataset. 2) Thou shalt share your conflicts of interests.

      is this the code of ethics you think disproves what I’m saying? Again, my point was that ethics is usually connected to what you’re studying and upholding those standards. Economics doesn’t have standards that relate to a COMMUNITY. I’m not sure why you bring up public choice theory, which only extends the “we’re all self-interested” nonsense. Mainstream economics is a study of barbarianism. If you want to be a barbarian and want to cherish it, then study neoclassical economics.

      • Lucky for you, I’m not Deirdre McCloskey, but student suffices.

        At any rate, nice trice at a rebuttal, I appreciate you reinforcing my beliefs. Ironically, you glibly ask why I mentioned Public Choice, but your understanding of Public Choice theory is unsophisticated (something I previously noticed). You allude to a ‘tragedy of the commons’- that no rational actor would would adopt ethical standards; all would defect, or free ride. (Obviously you’ve never read Ostrom).

        But first, you still don’t understand the analysis of prudence (rational Max U, whatever). Lets take a remedial example. When you go to the store, do you buy items out of the charity of your heart? Of course you don’t. You buy goods to suit YOUR (or Family’s) needs, and the benefit of trade is the grocer is paid another day. Sure, you don’t instantaneously compute relative prices in your head- but the strict mathematical proof isn’t necessary to believe individuals behave in a ‘rational’ way. And, as I said above, prudence isn’t the only virtue – economists should consider them all – but to believe individuals never act prudently is to speak incoherently. Take another example – if the price of gas quadruples overnight, will you consume the same amount of gas and everything else; or will you adjust? Assuming people are never prudent is absurd. And, unless individuals aren’t part of the “community”, your criticism fails. (enough of the straw men)

        The exercises in the budget line and demand are besides the point (I’m just highlighting the lack of understanding). The point is simple: so called ‘rational’ actors organize collectively all the time (Again, read anything by Ostrom (Elinor or Vincent)), which is the point of Public Choice theory. Public Choice tries to understand which RULES (ethical or otherwise) would be best when analyzed from the prudential/rational view (read Buchanan).

        So even if we believe the vast majority of economists are nasty people – a fairly unwarranted assertion – they are still capable of creating a code of ethics which MATTER. The success of the code of ethics depends on how well the rules are enforced, the costs of enforcing the rules, and the punishment for breaking the rules. There is no reason to believe ‘selfish’ people could not create and enforce a code of ethics which doesn’t elevate the benefits of ethical behavior over the costs of unethical behavior. And, as I said before, don’t blame the structure of promotion and tenure on the economics department.

        And, the example of publishing data is one of many examples of future rules(the tone you adopt is comical). Plus, equating Neoclassical economics and ‘barbarianism’ demonstrates how little you understand Neoclassical economics (Should I say studying Marx is an exercise in stupidity; and if you want to be stupid and cherish stupidity, study Marxism? Of course not.). You’re not even open to understanding. Is that an ethical position?

        I’m glad a ‘heterodox’ economist refuses to understand subjects which are “forbidden”. A well rounded scholar studies (and understands) all things, not just the texts which are deemed sacred.

        (And, if you can predict the future -“The problem is that economics as a profession will fail to adopt the rules that matter. ” – you should open a hedge fund to reap the benefits of such clairvoyance. (But, doesn’t such prediction violate the non-ergodic world??) Then again, there is no such thing as a free lunch.)

        -Student-

        • Payam Sharifi

          No, if you’re going to use someone else’ pseudonym, then you will be called by that person’s name: Mr. Gosset.
          The common tactic of the neoclassical economist is to state that the critic knows nothing about neoclassical theory. First of all, do you think I came from another planet? Heterodox economists used to be known as only critics without having a constructive theory (think institutional economists, the OLD type not the new). So now that I point the way forward for people to join the new constructive theory, you go to the old tactic of attacking my credentials, since I’m not directly criticizing neoclassical economics methods. If you’d like, I’ll bring up every single criticism you want from institutional theory (positivism/methodological individualism), to marxist theory, to more modern critiques. And I was of course trained as an undergraduate in orthodox economics, and it’s finance variant in my learning of finance.
          I will mention one of those critiques: how when critiques of neoclassical economics is brought up, you add an epicycle to say I’m wrong, like the ptolemaic system of old. In this case you’re saying I haven’t read PARTICULAR authors that show my critiques don’t apply to ALL of neoclassical economics. Of course my argument has been against the theory that’s taught in classrooms, not the theories that are rough around the edges and are only kept to minor discussion if at all. To say I haven’t read Sen, for example, is just another example of this (though it’s true I’ve only read about, and not directly read Ostrom).

          of course you don’t want to tackle the more poignant critique that neoclassical economics has nothing to do with the real world. The old argument always raised by neoclassicals is that you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sorry pal: there is an alternative price theory, an alternative theory of money, macroeconomics, etc etc etc. And they stand up to scrutiny. Of course this post was not directed at you…though I’ll admit, I am a bit of a troll and was trying to bait a few neoclassicals like yourself…mission accomplished. but I stand by all my points, even if I may have gone too far once or twice the way I used language. If you want to throw names at me, I’ll start throwing every heterodox name at you…the names you wish rather didn’t exist because they’re inconvenient for you.

  5. Mark Robertson

    Can Modern Economics be an Ethical Science?

    No. It cannot be ethical, nor a science. Reason: economics is, by its very nature, political. Ethics and science are irrelevant. The only question is who has power. The rulers dictate the narrative. Most economists only say what the rich tell them to say. Most economists are professional liars. They are mere toadies for the rich. It has always been this way, and perhaps always will be.

    Contrary to the article above, most economists do not make “flubs.” They do not make “failed theories.” Austerity, for example, has not “failed.” On the contrary, it has succeeded in its purpose, which is to widen the wealth gap.

    As for Reinhart and Rogoff, we all know they intentionally lied. They are just two more piglets feeding at the Pete Peterson trough.

    Even the rebuttal of R & R by the Univ of Mass Amhurst paper favors austerity (i.e. a reduced federal deficit). The authors merely say that R & R’s debt threshold of 90% is not correct. The authors do not admit that for Monetarily Sovereign governments, the “national debt” is trivial, and the debt-to-GDP ratio is meaningless. They do not admit that the government’s deficit is society’s surplus.

    This is understandable, since lies are like narcotics. Once you get your victims hooked, they will always beg you for more. And the more your narcotic kills them, the louder they beg.

    Ultimately it is not economics that “needs to change.” (Can bullsh*t have a “need”?) What needs to change is mankind.

  6. Very good essay. Glad you drove home the point about the mainstream’s complete detachment from the other social sciences, and thus science as a whole. After all, ethics is a scientific pursuit- we just live in a culture that has not yet escaped medieval methods of reasoning about human well-being.

  7. Here is an interesting article:

    The Great Divorce: Economics and Philosophy

    http://www.cadmusjournal.org/article/issue-2/great-divorce-economics-philosophy

    “Economic systems are man-made and, as such, can always be modified and improved. Writing at the very dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Smith understood that economic systems are not ends in themselves, but rather means for enhancing human welfare and security and that they are capable of continuous evolution and improvement. Unlike the laws and principles that govern physical and chemical processes, the laws of economics are man-made. They reflect the values, aspirations, knowledge, attitudes and culture of the human beings who fashion and utilize them. Unlike the physical laws of nature, which remain constant over eons, society and its systems are capable of continuous and rapid evolutionary progress. They are not governed by infallible and unfailing laws of Nature to which we are forced to adapt.

    To rely on free markets or any other economic mechanism as the final arbiters of human welfare is no more scientific than the belief that drought and pestilence are God’s punishment for human indiscretion. Yet to a large extent this is what has occurred. Thus, we resign ourselves to the fact that tens of millions of today’s youth are unable to find gainful employment and more than three billion people still live in poverty, struggling for survival from one day to the next without a modicum of human security, while a small but growing number accumulate unimaginable wealth beyond any possible need or capacity to utilize it.”

  8. You’re right Broge. But the new in economics could be shaped for achieving something that is lost in the old model.

  9. I don’t believe that mankind can change its fundamentally ambivalent human nature because Nature is carefully constructed to utilize ambivalence. What we can do is better understand our ambivalence and its uses in order to better balance it. The ambivalence is that we operate on the basis of “self-interest” and “other-interest” usually switching between the two.

    The classic example of our difficulty in achieving balance is the story of Galileo and the Catholic Church. Galileo attempted to pursue his own rational thinking process, in particular that the Earth orbited the Sun, and for his pains was placed under house arrest by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was attempting to pursue its rationality on behalf of the idea that human beings must place “other-interest” first for the welfare and harmony of mankind. It used two ideas to reinforce this ideal. God was the fountainhead of Love and human beings had the only special relationship with God and subsequently Earth was the center of the Universe for God as God was for us. Of course, for example, we all now benefit from Galileo’s pursuit of self-interest with orbiting satellite communication systems that helps bring us closer together and pursue “other-interest.” The Catholic Church eventually understood its error in attempting to block Galileo’s “narrative” and admitted that its judgment was wrong.

    In the last few decades sociobiology has enabled us to understand that we are a fairly rare eusocial species but in being so the potential for this always existed in Nature. Eusocialty of course has enabled us to “build out” our capacity for “other-interest” to the point that we now dominant our planet. In the same way that Galileo helped mankind to better understand how the Universe actually works MMT is better helping us to understand how a modern money system works and as such I don’t think you can declare the former is science and the latter not. The widespread adoption of MMT would not finally resolve the problem of finding the balance between “self-interest” and “other-interest” but it does help us in better finding the balance between the two, to better express our Conditional Reciprocity with each other.

  10. This is a poor attempt at keeping the foot in both camps…the author is “whishing” an ethical approach on the basis of pseudo-philosophical concepts instead of openly comdemning mainstream. He is completely missing the evidence that it is not possibile to divide ethics from economics: if you do, IT’S CRIME not bad economics! You should stop to call them “collegues” or “professors”. This academic regard sounds like complicity.

    I can’t imagine anything with a deeper impact on human beings’ life than economics. Not even medicine! because people needs cures only when they’re sick, while they need “economics” every single day of their life: must feed themselves, sleep in a bed, have a house, get a job. Yet doctors take the Hippocratic Oath “PRIMUM NON NOCERE”… Why shouldn’t economists do the same?? Shame on those that don’t get this and punishments for the lives they wreck. No excuses are allowed, like “it is not a science” or “it is a social science but everyone can have his own opinion about common good and the means to reach happiness”…bullshit……their damned “theories” affect real politics and they must be accountable for that…Reihnhart & Rogoff must pay…Come down from the ivory tower…economists are not dealing with music and poetry and literature, but with OUR LIVES.

    THE MORAL ISSUE IS NOT NEGOTIABLE IN ANY WAY. Economists, all the economists, have to stop to find rhetorical escapes to their duty. And to blame their failures on politicians. It’s you who gave them the qualified justification for their crimes. Exactly like in past centuries some “scientists” gave qualified justification to racism through specious theories and studies: de facto they allowed massive slaughters in the colonies.

    Are you afraid of such a moral burden? If you don’t like responsibility and you are not ready to face the consequences of your theories, please leave your seat to someone else. And please, stop talking about “happiness”…what do you know about happiness? fly low, my dear economists, stop your pindaric and rethorical trips…happiness is something that is far away from your targets…read more philosophy in your leasure time, and DO just your JOB in working time…try to ensure jobs, food, education, healthcare…happiness, and “spiritual” evolution will come (perhaps) after that…your aim is to become important like “dentists”…read Keynes
    We need better academics desperately.

  11. Of tempests and tea cups …
    Has the language degenerated so far as to produce these pseudo-essays?
    Science is the observation and accounting of phenomenon. Economic relationships are phenomenon, ergo ….
    Morality is nothing more than the enforcement of beliefs as Ethics is nothing more than the enforcement of custom, or legality is the enforcement of magisterium.
    Using these meanings, the above post reads as incoherent babble. Neither belief or custom is an economic factor although either can be the result of economic relationships.
    /critique