Monday, April 9, 2007

Why the History of Economic Thought Matters! (amv)

I like to provoke some 'displeasure' with my never-ending insistence on the importance of the history of economic thought for sound theorizing. I have further the unpleasant attitude to be impatient with ideas (and unfortunately also with those, who express them), which are proven wrong (or, at least, problematic) over a hundred years ago, but which resurrect in contemporary thinking as the new (or neo, new-neo or whatever) approach of some ahistorical beancounter-economists, who hardly know anything about the history of their own profession - of course, beyond some catchwords like 'Keynsian Revolution', 'Clower Constraint' or 'neo-Walrasian analysis.' However, my fellows are hardly persuadable that economics does not bow to the 'growth of knowledge'-theory of the Whig-tradition. This approach claims that scientific progress ensures that everything written later is ipso facto superior to the earlier writings. New theories, so the fairy-tale goes, emerge from the identification of past errors in old theories and thus exibit progress simply by being new. Oh, were it only that easy! The unpleasant truth is that there is not even a generally accepted, timeless and objective truth-standard in economics and thus not even a definition of 'growth in knowledge' at hand. All this 'pragmatic' and 'unideological' demeanour of contemporary economics is only make-up. There is no way to avoid making assumptions about the real world! It is impossible to refrain from all ideological minefields in human history. It is impossible to act and not to choose! Daniel Klein gives a good introduction to what other standards than Truth (yes, with a capital-T) may be decisive for new theories to become established. I think, everything is better than that!