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October 22, 2007

What Makes An Economist?

David Kennedy, reviewing Paul Krugman's book, framed his essay with an old quote from Francis Amasa Walker:

maybe Krugman is not really an economist — at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who wrote that laissez-faire “was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.”

Sadly, particularly for a historian who later accuses Krugman of getting his history wrong, Kennedy botches it. Walker was mocking that view, asserting its hollowness and bankruptcy, just as Krugman does. But Krugman/Kennedy contretemps aside, the Walker speech is worth excerpting, and marveling at how current it sounds for an address given in 1888:

Yet, while Laissez-Faire was asserted, in great breadth, in England, the writers for the reviews exaggerating the utterances of the professors in the universities, that doctrine was carefully qualified by some economists, and was by none held with such strictness as was given to it in the United States. Here it was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all. I don't think that I exaggerate when I say that, among those who deemed themselves the guardians of the true faith, it was considered far better that a man should know nothing about economic literature, and have no interest whatever in the subject, than that, with any amount of learning and any degree of holiest purpose, he should have adopted views varying from the standard that was set up....

The abandonment of Laissaz-Faire, as a principle of universal application, however strongly individuals may still maintain it as a general rule of conduct, at once makes communion and cooperation, not merely possible. but desirable among economists. When it is confessed that exceptions, not few or small, are to be admitted, every thinking man has a part to take in the discussion; every interested and intelligent person becomes a possible contributor; every class of men, whether divided from others by social or by industrial lines, have something to say on this subject, which no other class can say for them, and which no other class can afford not to hear from them. The characteristic institutions of every nation, the experiences of eyery distinct coinmunity not only become pertinent to the subject, but constitute a proper part of the evidence which is to be gathered, sifted and weighed.

October 22, 2007 in Economics | Permalink


On topic, mayhap...
"Some of the great framing we're seeing today is the sell of 'natural'.

For example:
There is nothing particularly 'natural' about (the implied validation of) the 'free market'...except in the unnatural? framing.

Juxtapose that framing to governance and you get...
"Governance is inherently artifice while the market (however obscenely loosed) is natural and free".
Like that.
[I don't need to remind anybody that 'artifice' as a word is akin to 'phony' or 'lie' or...cetera]

There is nothing wholly 'artificial' in any governance.
Neither governance nor market are really natural nor entirely artifice.
And governance is altogether as natural as the vaunted 'free' market claims to be.

Well regulated markets and good or optimal governance
are better seen not as oppositional entities but more as obverse faces of the same casting...yin and yangish, if you will.
[Courtesy Geo. Carlin] Or twining rails of a double helix, cross-link'd as they rise.

BOTH are happening systems doing best for all with lots of bottom-up active and encouraged.

And it is thus that the convinced or ?conniving work to convince others
(the unwashed..us).
And as we come better to understand their machinations develop resistance..antibodies to their noxious antigen.
We just need to see many more of us properly vaccinated."
[previously posted elsewhere]

Posted by: has_te | Oct 22, 2007 12:22:57 PM

That bizarre means to define Krugman as an "anti-economist", after some boilerplate acknowledgement of PK's credentials, struck me as total idiocy.

If you took a hundred-year old reference to define any other practicitioner in any other field, say for instance geology where you'd be missing out plate tectonics, you'd look a fool.

The last few decades have seen revolutions in econ, like experimental econ, that have refined understandings of markets and their failings and quirks, the human behavioral psychological aspect of markets, and the absurdity of assumptions like rationality.

A blanket statment of markets = perfection probably wasn't even the thought a century ago, with monopoly, monopsony, etc being well understood after the robber baron era.

What a fucking tool.

Posted by: Chris | Oct 22, 2007 1:32:05 PM

Well, does this mean we can define Kennedy as an Anti-historian - one who doesn't have a clue about the historical record?

Posted by: roger | Oct 22, 2007 4:12:10 PM

Historians have always been smarter than economists.
Just ask that pedophile Xenophon.

Posted by: Herodotus | Oct 22, 2007 10:22:23 PM

Hmm, ok, you cite DeLong, but shouldn't you give him a hat tip, too, for finding this, Ezra? Would be good style...

Posted by: Gray | Oct 23, 2007 4:03:33 AM

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