Detecting crank economics

By Eric Crampton 24/10/2013 5

It’s sometimes hard for the intelligent layperson to tell the difference between economics and crank economics. Chris Auld provides some helpful hints.

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.

He provides a list of symptoms of bad critiques of economics. Here are a few that may be particularly helpful, but do read his whole list:

2. Frames critique in terms of politics, most commonly the claim that economists are market fundamentalists.

3. 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.”

6. Uses the word “neoliberal” for any reason.

8. Claims economists think people are always rational.

16. Claims economists ignore the environment. Variant: claims economics falters on point that “infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible.”

18. Cites Debunking Economics.

But do read the whole list.

It is schizophrenic to complain about climate-deniers, or anti-vaccine weirdos, or anti-fluoride nutters, while readily accepting crank critiques of economics.

5 Responses to “Detecting crank economics”

  • Nice. So if we use neolib, a term neolibs use about themselves, we’re cranks. And that after a mawkish plea to have economics regarded as a proper hard science (it ought to be; sometimes, to its credit, it wants to be. But it isn’t. Yet.). This post is a rejection of any criticism at all! Ironically it confirms just what Neokeynseians (for the sake of a label) have been saying.

  • No, it means that there has to be some critique of substance rather than just saying “neoliberal”.

    I don’t know what you mean by “neokeynesian”. New Keynesian is part of standard macroeconomic models (with some emphasis on wage stickiness as mechanism).

  • Miles. Nowhere in the list is there a plea for economics to be regarded as a science–proper, hard, or otherwise. What there is is a plea for criticisms to be based on what actual economic research says, not some grotesque caricature. And you won’t find economists using the term neoliberal to describe their research.

  • Miles, the post is absolutely not “a rejection of any criticism at all.” Nor should the symptoms I list be construed as certainly indicating an argument is poor: it’s possible to display a symptom but not have the disease.

    “Neoliberal” is ill-defined, pejorative, and refers to politics, not economics. I was actually sat down to write a post about how “neoliberal” is the new “socialist”—a word used to shut down any debate rather than as part of reasoned discourse—but then I found that piece has already been written (link, point #6).

  • Chris:

    “Neoliberal” is ill-defined, pejorative, and refers to politics, not economics.

    this seems to get to the heart of many items on your list – it treats economists as if they were politicians, and in many cases as if economists were identical to the politicians they advise.