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Economics and ideology


The following blog by Lars Syll [1] has been extracted from a paper by Mohsen Javdani and Ha-Joon Chang [2].

“ Mainstream (neoclassical) economics has always put a strong emphasis on the positivist conception of the discipline, characterizing economists and their views as objective, unbiased, and non-ideological …

“ Acknowledging that ideology resides quite comfortably in our economics departments would have huge intellectual implications, both theoretical and practical. In spite (or because?) of that, the matter has never been directly subjected to empirical scrutiny.

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“ In a recent study, we do just that. Using a well-known experimental ‘deception’ technique embedded in an online survey that involves just over 2400 economists from 19 countries, we fictitiously attribute the source of 15 quotations to famous economists of different leanings. In other words, all participants received identical statements to agree or disagree with, but source attribution was randomly changed without the participants’ knowledge. The experiment provides clear evidence that ideological bias strongly influences the ideas and judgements of economists. More specifically, we found that changing source attributions from main- stream to less-/non-mainstream figures significantly reduces the respondents’ reported agreement with statements.

Interestingly, this contradicts the image economists have of themselves, with 82% of participants reporting that in evaluating a statement one should only pay attention to its content and not to the views of its author …

“ Economics education, through which economic discourses are disseminated to students and future economists, is an important channel. It affects the way in which students process information, identify problems, and approach these problems in their research. Not surprisingly, this training may also affect the policies they favour and the ideologies they adhere to. In fact, there already exists strong evidence that, compared to various other disciplines, students in economics stand out in terms of views associated with greed, corruption, selfishness, and willingness to free-ride …

“ We find evidence of a strong ideological bias among economists … For example, when a statement criticizing “symbolic pseudo-mathematical methods of formalizing a system of economic analysis” is attributed to its real source, John Maynard Keynes, instead of its fictitious source, Kenneth Arrow, the agreement level among economists drops by 11.6%. Similarly, when a statement criticizing intellectual monopoly (patent, copyright) is attributed to Richard Wolff, the U.S. Marxian economist at Massachusetts University, instead of its real source David Levine, professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis – the agreement level drops by 6.6%. ”

Mainstream economists – in many ways separated from the lives of ordinary people – are with their ‘the model is the message’ thinking particularly inclined to confuse the things of logic with the logic of things. They have a tendency to get enthralled by their theories and models and to forget that behind the figures and abstractions there is a real world with real people. Real people that have to pay dearly for their fundamentally flawed ideological doctrines and recommendations.



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