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The History of Economics from 1974 to 2014

Victor Aguilar

posted on 09 February 2015

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Economics students have a rather fantastic view of the history of their science.  Their professors have taught them hate for “mainstream” economics, which does not make sense.  Obviously, mainstream is (by definition) what is being taught to undergraduates.  The purpose of this paper is to make clear exactly what is now and has been for forty years the mainstream of economic science. 

Discussion

I received this comment on my paper at another forum:

 

“The problem with relying on ‘axioms’ is that they are the closest thing in economics to religion.  You take something as self evident, such as ‘homo economicus’, which is what Austrians ascribe to and from there logically deduce an entire axiomatic method from it.  But if the axiom isn't really accurate or factual, then the entire logical deduction becomes inaccurate.”

 

Note that this fellow is hating on Gerard Debreu but says “Austrian,” probably because he heard that Ludwig Mises attempted to use the axiomatic method and he is unaware that it is possible for two men to be using two different sets of axioms.  Since I have my own axiom set and thus am neither a follower of Debreu nor of Mises, he managed to flame three distinct schools of thought with his comparison of the axiomatic method to religious faith.

 

This is a perfect example of a sophomore economics student who has been taught hate but has only the vaguest idea of who exactly he hates.  Like showing the queen of diamonds to Sergeant Shaw (a character in The Manchurian Candidate), these sophomores go into full-on hate mode at the mere mention of the axiomatic method, but then they just lash out at whoever happens to be nearby.

 

I should hope that any economics professors on this forum feel embarrassed by the behavior of their sophomore students.

Sophomores are not stupid.

 

In particular, they understand that every Econ 101 class is identical.  A dozen are offered every semester at their college and they all use the same paperback textbook and are taught by lecturers – not full professors – who have no decision-making role regarding the curriculum.  For that matter, at the sophomore level it does not matter if one is attending a prestigious Ivy League college or an agricultural college with academic pretensions.  It is all the same.

 

Thus, to tell these kids that mainstream economics is all wrong and that they personally are going to be led by the hand right up to the cutting edge of new research is absurd.  They know very well that what they are learning IS the mainstream and that this is all that they are expected to get out of the class.  Also, a Google search reveals many blogs written by full professors with titles like “Axiomatic Economics – Total Horseshit” that identify Debreu with the axiomatic method as though he invented it; nobody in the comments section is defending him/it.  The kids are like, “If Debreu represents mainstream economics, then why are there exactly zero people on the internet defending him?” 

 

Nineteen out of twenty sophomores just roll their eyes when their lecturer tells them that mainstream economics is all wrong; they continue taking notes on what they know to be the mainstream.  But one in twenty – like the fellow quoted in the previous comment – are so arrogant that they actually believe this line of bull.  In what other field can a nineteen-year-old find himself at the cutting edge of new research?  And maintaining one’s newfound and lofty position is remarkably easy.  All one has to do is make snarky comments about the axiomatic method and – Presto! – cutting edge!

 

Indeed, one’s snarky comments about the axiomatic method do not even have to be original.  Marcelo Negri Soares certainly believes himself to be cutting edge, but I caught him plagiarizing – word for word – his snark attack about the axiomatic method in economics on a thread at Research Gate.  Observe:

 

http://www.researchgate.net/post/What_has_become_of_the_Axiomatic_method_of_economics

 

Marcelo Negri Soares expresses no shame.  Apparently, making snarky comments is such a knee-jerk reaction to seeing the words “axiomatic method” in print that it never occurred to Marcelo Negri Soares that I might peg him as a plagiarist.