Economist Julie Nelson Says Much of Economics is a Sham Science

Economist Julie Nelson Says Much of Economics is a Sham Science
Julie Nelson, Evonomics
06.12.16

Most economists, rather than seeing ourselves as studying communities of human beings, pretend to a more physics-like discipline. We model market, national, and international phenomenon using ideas of presumably universal “principles,” “laws,” and “forces.” We consider extreme mathematicization, as well as distance from normative concerns, to be signs of objectivity and rigor. Social research, we think, is for the sociologists. Normative arguments are for philosophers. And this is precisely why serious discussions of ethics in economic research are far, far overdue.

A small crack in this “ethics are not our problem” edifice appeared after the financial crisis in 2008. Media coverage, including the movie Inside Job, revealed cases of, for example, the crass slanting of economic “research” results to fit a funder’s requirements. A very modest amount of self-reflection resulted, resulting in more attention to disclosure of sources of funds. Much bigger ethical issues, however, are yet to be addressed.

The first, and most important, is the way in which certain core economic doctrines have infiltrated, and caused widespread damage to, academic and public discussion. Ideas that originated with economists have “poisoned the well” from which we now draw our ideas of appropriate personal, organizational, and national behavior. This is having severely detrimental effects on human life on the planet. My second, more inward-looking critique, has to do with the sham nature of much of our “science.”

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