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  1. #1
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Default Dismal science, economic shit, guide to life?

    Scanning Amazon as I do when I'm not on a forum I saw another undercover economist book has been published, I've always been interested by the undercover economist, I tend to find that his writing boils down to the simple assertion that individuals are always rational, always logical and always maximising their individual self-interest some how, if it doesnt appear so then you got to examine things further and you'll find its the case.

    I know people who really lap up those books and really find it all so amazing, they interest me but I've got to say that at the very least I'm skeptical, I actually prefered a sidelined book called The Undercover Philosopher, even if it seriously rocked a lot of my certainty in spirituality, philosophy and ideology, because it had a much more questioning orientation.

    Anyway, it made me think, I know that for most libertarians the idea is a done deal, economics is more than science, its uber science, no doubts will be brooked and where they exist its all the lies and scheming of the detested poor or maniacal, conceited socialists. What about everyone else?

    The romantics detested political economy at its inception as "the dismal science", they thought it was reductive and simplistic, while early conservatives, the sort that attacked "the machine age" not the present day aberrations, thought it was simply the ideology of industrialists and shopkeepers, while Marx called it the "economic shit" (sometimes translated as "filth" but one of his best biographers Francis Wheen has said it was literally shit, he hated economics, shared the conservative critiques of it and prefered journalism, correspondence and the literary assaults of novelists like Balzac on illusions about social class to anything else) and JS Mill had an early life crisis when he realised the limits of markets and the other institutions he fought so hard to defend.

    What's your view? Does economics have a big impact on your world view or reckoning? Is it something you accept or are skeptical about? Is it art or science? Does it play second fiddle to politics either on the grandscale or micro-social-personal? For instance would you contribute to an office whip round when really you cant afford it because you feel group politik demands you do?

    If you hate economics altogether what's your alternative?

  2. #2
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Smile Economics and the New Age

    Before Adam Smith, the Scottish economist and moral philosopher and son the Enlightenment, published, "The Wealth of Nations", in 1776, our economics was based on ideas of Usury.

    But with the counter-intuitive, "The Wealth of Nations", we discovered that private greed led to public prosperity. And so modern economics was born.

    And most of us find modern economics hard to understand because it is counter-intuitive, just as General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are counter-intuitive.

    In other words, we find it hard to imagine modern economics, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

    And interestingly we find it hard to imagine Statistics, for Statistics is also counter-intuitive.

    However we do find it easy to imagine the nostrums of the New Age because they are intuitive.

    And so we find it easy to imagine the nostrum of MBTI simply because it is intuitive and easy to imagine.

    So the New Age and MBTI are intuitive reactions to the counter-intuitive Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

    But who can blame us? Our imaginations have failed us in the modern world and in reaction we turn to the New Age.
    Last edited by Mole; 07-23-2010 at 07:33 PM.

  3. #3
    Superwoman Red Herring's Avatar
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    Funny you should mention it, since I am currently reading "The Logic of Life", Tim Harford´s sequel to The Undercover Economist. It´s not as good as Freakonomics (funnier and more insightful, since it also included sociological factors that went beyond purely economic observations), but a nice read.

    What do I think of economics? An interesting tool to understand some of the mechanisms behind what is going on in the world when used correctly (that is rigorously using scientific method under the exclusion of ideological bias when doing empirical research and these books are focusing on the empirical side sometimes successfully, sometimes failing). A pseudoscientific ideology and a cheap excuse for a white upper middle class only child to justify why he´d rather spend his inheritance on a sports car than pay taxes if abused (and boy is there an abuse going on).

    It is interesting to note that Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist and defender of rationality in almost every action distances himself from the classic concept of homo oeconomicus which he considers outdated.
    The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life. - Bertrand Russell
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Lucas's Avatar
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    I don't really have an opinion on economics. I accept it as a science, and think that it is far too often assumed to mean "capitalism", when it just refers to the study of how goods and services move through a given system.

    Because of this, I don't really understand why people attack it because it is not a prescriptive system. It does not say how people should act, just tries to describe how they do. It is only when combined with politics that economics becomes prescriptive.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Herring View Post
    Funny you should mention it, since I am currently reading "The Logic of Life", Tim Harford´s sequel to The Undercover Economist. It´s not as good as Freakonomics (funnier and more insightful, since it also included sociological factors that went beyond purely economic observations), but a nice read.

    What do I think of economics? An interesting tool to understand some of the mechanisms behind what is going on in the world when used correctly (that is rigorously using scientific method under the exclusion of ideological bias when doing empirical research and these books are focusing on the empirical side sometimes successfully, sometimes failing). A pseudoscientific ideology and a cheap excuse for a white upper middle class only child to justify why he´d rather spend his inheritance on a sports car than pay taxes if abused (and boy is there an abuse going on).

    It is interesting to note that Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist and defender of rationality in almost every action distances himself from the classic concept of homo oeconomicus which he considers outdated.
    I've got but havent read undercover economist, I've read logic of life and its part of the reason I posted this thread, it is a good read. I absolutely hated Freakonomics and couldnt finish it (until I decided to review it and then I had to), neither could I read the sequel, its an entire book pretty much built around externalities or quirky factoids which bugged me.

    I tend to think that in literary terms the sociologists who wrote Gang Leader For A Day (in response to a survey about what it was like to be poor and black that he felt was pointless) or Brothel (about nevada brothels written during the commissioning of a health research project) where better, I even think Reefer Madness was a more interesting book but it wasnt exactly anything besides pop journalism, maybe.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Feops's Avatar
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    I'm not sure how one could "reject" economics. That sounds like rejecting the notion of gravity. People trade, wealth flows, and as humans are involved the science of economics is at least partially owing to behavioral traits. Politics are most certainly a major factor as they affect the flow of wealth in a material way via taxes, tariffs, shipping costs, bans, trade agreements, etc.

    Modern theory usually takes the notion of an efficient market and rational investors. I accept this as true in theory, but the problem as I see it is that there are just too many factors to take into account. It seems impossible to get enough ducks in a row to really predict how a given action will impact things in the long run, outside very general cause and effect. For example, the USA injected many billions of dollars into the economy in an attempt to stimulate it, but the impact of doing so was generally summed as "we think it'll do more good than harm". Even in hindsight it's nearly impossible to determine how that cash injection helped (or hurt) things given we can't wind the clock back and try it again to compare.

    Without clear cause and effect, I must accept that it is at least to some degree an art on a macro scale.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Its possible to reject it in the same sense it would be possible to reject, say nineteenth century social darwinism or eugenics, those are theories which there's evidence to suggest where more like ideologies, serving particular classes than objective theories.

    The paradigms change, this is true, behavioural economics has sort of subverted the earlier homo economicus stereotype and most of modern research into consumerism would say it has more in common with studies of addiction, habituation etc. than utility maximising rational calculation.

    So I can see, since its not a doctrine or shouldnt be if it aspires to being a science, how it would seem difficult but it would be possible to reject it and say that some alternative paradigm made more sense, ie psychology, sociology.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Feops's Avatar
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    Oh. Well, I've never really considered "economics" to be a theory, just a very complicated subject that acts as sort of a blend of very-rational math and semi-rational human behavior. This blend strikes me as unique so would seem to justify its existance as an independent concept rather than just as aspect of say, sociology.

    An economic theory may crafted from an ideology I guess, given the human element preventing a clear mathematical breakdown, but I really think major economic theories are attempts to understand the behavior and not goals onto themselves.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    I dont think that economics can fail to be simultaneously descriptive and prescriptive, how it describes things will also be subject to biases and filters too, people are just like that but I think it is a see-saw between objectivity and ideology most of the time and with most of the social science.

  10. #10
    Dreaming the life onemoretime's Avatar
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    Most of economics is simply the attempt of ideological prophets to give their pontifications the air of scientific authority. The rest of it is as Lark says, a hodgepodge of psychology, game theory and sociology.

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