Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Feeling the itch just a bit

I find myself feeling the itch to rant just a little bit about what is wrong with economics.

I don't mean the High Theory of salt water v fresh water, or the academic politics of orthodoxy v. heterodoxy.  (Much of that is wrong factually and morally, though I just don't care.)

I mean to find fault with the intuitions of "Econ 101", that all-too-familiar rhetorical framework used in the Media and in political shout-fests about political issues plaguing our "market economy" and as the foundations for neoliberal "there is no alternative" (TINA) preaching.

I created this blog in a brief but ephemeral moment when I was particularly incensed by the way I see people on the internets continually getting sucked into the same fruitless cant-filled "debates".

"Just stop!" I want to say.  "Be quiet for a while, and then try to say something real."

I am not sure that I, myself, have anything "real" to say, beyond the imperative, "Stop!"  But, maybe, I can usefully explain why "Stop" is the right thing to do.

To summarize, many of the meaningless conventions and clichés of economics that we repeat endlessly and which we use to engage in conventional discourse on political issues that turn on economics -- well, those meaningless conventions are meaningless.  That's my whole point in a nutshell.  (cliché)

Using the conventional frameworks and vocabulary of economics, aka Econ 101, doesn't so much connect you with the genuine expertise and deep thinking of the academic profession of economics as it simply neuters your politics with meaninglessness.

So, what is such a convention?  You want an example.  Well, "market economy".  That's a convention.  It is also a Big Lie, a propaganda technique.  As soon as you utter this conventional phrase, your economics IQ plummets into double-digits and there's really no coming back into the realm of normal adult functioning.

A market is a possible economic institution and relation.  You go out to a market and exchange with others on a basis of rough legal equality and to mutual benefit by bidding price and quantity, transacting freely with those willing to agree to transact in accord with a proposed bargain.  Grand really.  But, not the way we live and work.  Not anything like the truth about the way the economy is organized as a system.

Professional economists have used the market system metaphor to organize their "thinking" both formal (analytic, theoretical) and intuitive (informal, ideological) in quite an elaborate way, building up formal analytic models as is their rigorous wont, and also building up a lot of informal intuition which is not rigorous at all mostly by talking repetitively among themselves and selling their apologias for the rich to the rich as a protective ideology, but that investment of over a century in various related ideas all organized around the notion that we live and work in "a market economy" is a pile of stinking crap and its purveyors should be hooted at and humiliated in the streets as frauds and fools.  Imho, of course.

These people, even with the best will in the world -- and some are well-intended and politically liberal enough, though others do not care and are in it for the money and there's plenty of money in defending the interests of the very, very rich -- these people are locked into a big lie.  They become liars even when they intend to be honest and to serve a public good.

Best to free yourself from such myths and give these fools and frauds a wide berth.

Now, we will see if I have anything more to say, both in the way of critiquing the lie "market economy" and about the actual economy.  There's quite a number of useful bits of insight floating about in economics, once you have pried them free of the central, organizing metaphors and away from the conventions that prevent critical thought from prevailing.

Nothing I write either in critique or in highlighting what I regard as worthwhile bits of economic insight is likely to be original in the smallest degree.  Except of course insofar as I may manage to make some original mistakes.  But, in my experience, even my mistakes are not original.  I am not that guy, that genius guy.  I like to think, but I am not strong or brilliant, just persistent in searching for system and mechanism along these few lines.  I've returned in my mind to these themes many times over decades and have trodden this path so many times, parts of my course have been compressed into solid ground.  So, though I will not be original, given that I am ranting and railing against a common, though bankrupt conventional wisdom, I think some might feel they've learned something.

Assuming, of course, that I feel like following up this post with a series.  We shall see.