October 01, 2009

Pre-Copernican economics

The astronomer Ptolemy, circa 90-168 AD.

Lately Goat Rope has been looking at some of the flaws of some schools of economic of economic theory, especially those of the market fundamentalist variety with their warped view of humans as organic calculators.

Just as I was about to head once more into the breech, a friend passed on a link to this op-ed from the Washington Post by Harold Meyerson that speaks my mind. Here are the first three paragraphs:

"The worldly philosophers" was economist Robert Heilbroner's term for such great economic thinkers as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. Today's free-market economists, by contrast, aren't merely not philosophers. They're not even worldly.

Has any group of professionals ever been so spectacularly wrong? Pre-Copernican astronomers and cosmologists, I suppose, and for the same reason, really: They had an entire, internally consistent, theoretically rich system that described the universe. They were wrong -- the sun and other celestial bodies save the moon didn't actually revolve around the Earth, as they insisted -- but no matter. It was a thing of beauty, their cosmic order. A vast faith was sustained in part by their pseudo-science, a faith from which such free thinkers as Galileo deviated at their own risk.

As it was with the pre- (or anti-) Copernicans, so it is with today's mainstream economists. Theirs is an elegant system, a thing of beauty in itself, as the New York Times' Paul Krugman has argued. It just fails to jell with reality. And unlike the pre-Copernicans, whose dogma posed a threat to those who challenged it but not, at least directly, to anyone else, their latter-day equivalents in the economic profession pose a clear and present danger to the well-being of damned near everyone.

The rest is here and methinks it's well worth reading.

IT'S NOT OVER YET. Support for a public option in health care reform is high despite Tuesday's vote in the Senate finance committee.


THE OFFICE-CAR is a dangerous place.


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