Pain in the Economics Discipline

face of a prisoner

The economics profession has not reformed despite painful failings. For example, much formal econometric work has no influence outside of the economics discipline. Such work has continued despite a sensational declaration of this failing at an important economics conference in 1987. Moreover, economic theory and empirical evidence indicate that leading economic journals have been frequently publishing invalid results. Across about two decades, this knowledge has produced little change in publication practices. A third example: in 1991, a Commission on Graduate Education in Economic, whose members were prominent professors within the discipline, reported that coursework was not encouraging creativity and failing to develop communication skills. The economics discipline essentially has not responded to these failings.

Some aspects of work within the economics discipline have changed significantly. In leading economic journals, the average page size of articles, the number of references, and the lag between submission and acceptance have all roughly doubled over the last quarter of the twentieth century. Economic theory and plausible empirical explanations do not easily or well explain these changes in disciplinary practices.^ These changes do not appear to have increased the average quality of papers. They have made publishing papers a more time-consuming and less enjoyable ordeal.^

It was as if they were in a cage whose door was wide open without their being able to escape. Nothing outside the cage had any importance, because nothing else existed any more. They stayed in the cage, estranged from everything except the cage, without even a flicker of desire for anything outside the bars.^

The communications problem in economics is being registered through surprising channels. In 2004 at a public conference in Washington, DC, Ronald Coase, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, declared:

They {economists} don’t study the economic system, they study other economists’ writings. The economic literature consists of a discussion of discussions and so it could go on. And it’s not really dealing with what happens in the real world, it’s dealing with this imaginary world that is economics.^

Economics students in France have engaged in protests, formed an alternate economics collective, and issued public demands:

If serious reform does not take place rapidly, the risk is great that economics students, whose numbers are already decreasing, will abandon the field in mass, not because they have lost interest, but because they have been cut off from the realities and debates of the contemporary world.

We no longer want to have this autistic science imposed on us.^

On March 11, 2004, terrorists in Madrid detonated bombs that killed 191 innocent persons and wounded about 1800 others. Terrorist acts are dramatic, evil forms of mass symbolic communication. One of the leaders of the terrorists came to Madrid to study on an economics scholarship.^ He apparently did not appreciate the usefulness and joy of seeking true economic knowledge and sharing it with others through peaceful communication.

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