I’ve been slacking…I read Krugman’s piece in the Times mag about 10 days ago, when it was previewed, and I’ve been wanting to post since, but haven’t. I thought Ruccio did a good job yeseterday discussing the article, as well as two other pieces that have come out recently, by Barry Eichengreen and Patricia Cohen. Ruccio writes,
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Professors Eichengreen and Krugman. Perhaps that makes their indictments even more compelling for the mainstream, in the sense that neither of them even deigns to recognize the existence of heterodox economics or of departments where such theories are taught and practiced. What this means is the alternatives they offer are narrowly circumscribed by the pendulum swings that have long characterized mainstream economics—between (for Eichengreen) more rationalist and more empiricist approaches and (for Krugman) more neoclassical/”freshwater” and more Keynesian/”saltwater” approaches.
It’s sort of hard to disagree with that. There was some discussion here and elsewhere about whether heterodox economists did any better, but ignoring them is certainly off-base. Duncan Cameron (h/t Thoma), a political scientist, makes a similar argument to Ruccio’s in an article last week:
What Krugman writes deserves to be well known, but he misses the main problem, which is with economics itself. As taught in the U.S., and, unhelpfully, widely in Canada, the discipline is ahistorical…Today, conventional economists are so little in the world they have again been well depicted as creators of autistic economics.
Economic history is the basis of social science, but is not taught in economics departments. There is no place either for the history of economic thought. If you believe there is only one economics, then you only have to know about its latest ideas.
In fact there are many economics, it is a pluralist discipline. Krugman could have talked about the economics of Marx, or the marvelous Karl Polanyi. Development economists, including Canadians such as Kari Levitt were never taken in by conventional neo-classical economics.
What economics has to offer is rich and varied. What has to be avoided at all costs is what did in the American profession, and is always a threat to any academic pursuits: conformity to prevailing norms. To get along, you go along, following the lead of others, and not questioning the big picture. As Heilbroner, pointed out, deliciously, mathematics gave economics rigor, but also, alas, mortis.
The problem with economics is that the most prized of academic qualities, independent thought was not allowed to roam freely. The free market was fine, except in ideas.
This sort of discussion feels even more pertinent in the wake of the ECOP closing at Notre Dame. My primary frustration, and what I wanted to blog about re: Krugman’s article, is that Krugman has made arguments that are very similar to what post-Keynesians, Marxians, and radical political economists have made about the crisis. I know I’ve seen it on his blog (and I’m too lazy to link, sue me). There is a broad understanding at the left of the mainstream that rising inequality played an important part in the crisis.
For the aforementioned groups of heterodox economists, acknowledging this aspect is utterly essential to predicting the crisis; thus, any discipline-wide introspection must deal with it. For Krugman (and others like him, I’m guessing), this argument seems to be left at the door when judging the discipline. Is it because they don’t want to admit that using a class lens or social structure of accumulation lens actually works? I don’t get it. I remain frustrated. Does the sociology of the profession really limit the relevant toolbox to that degree? If so, maybe I shouldn’t become an economist (or maybe I’m just pissed about my alma mater getting screwed by the refs today; the game tape plays like the Zapruder film).