Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Miscellaneous Nature of "Economic" Discourse

"Economics is a name which covers a variety of intellectual interests, and it may be doubted whether many of these have anything in common beyond this name. But to centre thought upon a mere name not only will never produce a homogeneous world of ideas, but it will also tend to establish in our minds a pseudo-relationship between sets of ideas which do not and cannot belong together; it will encourage argument to pass inconsequently from one world of ideas to another... Moreover, this is not merely the condition of things we might expect from such a haphazard bringing together of different sets of ideas, it is the actual condition of much economic thought at the present time. Economics, as we find it in the books of many of its most distinguished professors, comprises a meaningless miscellany of scientific, historical and practical ideas and arguments." -- Michael Oakeshott, Experience and Its Modes, p. 220

This paragraph is about the best thing ever written to enable us to sort out why, say, Paul Krugman considers the Austrians totally unscientific, while the Austrians consider him to be the same: neither side has carefully sorted through which of their claims and beliefs are scientific, which are historical, and which practical. This paragraph was, of course, the inspiration for my paper "Economics and Its Modes," which is really just an expansion of the above paragraph that examines just what is in the "variety of intellectual interests" lurking behind the name "economics."

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