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Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education


#1

Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education

Steven Singer

I hate to be blunt here, but economists need to shut the heck up.

Never has there been a group more concerned about the value of everything that was more incapable of determining anything’s true worth.

They boil everything down to numbers and data and never realize that the essence has evaporated away.

I’m sorry but every human interaction isn’t reducible to a monetary transaction. Every relationship isn’t an equation.


#2

Fun, on target essay. (Economists of a neo-classical bent aren’t well equipped qua economists to tell us much about the “transfer of wealth,” either, since that issue, they will endlessly repeat, is a political question outside the scope of economics – hence their rejection of Marxian political economy.)


#3

It’s unsurprising that Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University. I just finished reading the brilliant “Democracy in Chains” by Nacy MacLean, who identifies GMU as the epicenter of the radical right’s animus toward the commons—and, indeed, to the common citizen.

“Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education?” These guys don’t know crap about economics, either. They just know what buttons to push to get their lumpen base all resentful and ready to rumble.

Pinochet’s Chile, coming soon to Main St. USA.


#4

To quote Oscar Wilde, economists “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Sadly accurate for virtually every aspect of the US corporate-mediated culture.


#5

Econ 101;

The world economy requires 1.5 Earths. That’s why so many species are going extinct and the extinction rate is accelerating.

The US economy operates at a five Earth rate. If everyone lived like piggy overweight Americans the world economy would require five Earths.

Most economists are working on increasing economic growth. That’s why so many people are convinced that economics is a form of mental illness.


#6

Education isn’t economics. Keep them separate. Besides capitalism is murdering Earth and all her children. Tell children how to survive the coming collapse, you know something that will save lives. Drop the capitalist nonsense, it’s over as a viable system for the future. As soon as possible might help a little but it will get bad in the bad future. Sorry.


#7

That’s O-K — Educators don’t know crap about Economics.  And if Butt-Head DeVos gets her way, they won’t know anything about American History either.


#8

So much damage being done by the quantification addicts. NCLB= crap. My research is on how education narratives disincentivize girls from completing their education. Just interview a few teenage girls about their high school perspectives. It’s an eye opener.


#9

In economics, hope and faith coexist with great scientific pretension and also a deep desire for respectability. John Kenneth Galbraith

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. John Kenneth Galbraith

Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists. John Kenneth Galbraith


#10

Spot on.


#11

Right bleepin’ on! My only beef with Mr. Singer, a genuine educator of the old school of which I had several in the public schools of even Oklahoma (!) in the 1950s and 60s, is that he is far too easy on the economists–my chosen profession, so I have more than a few chosen words to offer on that subject. Far too many, in fact, to boil them down to a readable comment this close to bedtime.

I will hope to return in the morning with a VERY short summary of why he–and you–should not trust anything any economist says, including me. For now I will say only that (1) I consider “mainstream” economics (technically, “neo-classical,” meaning “new-old”) to be perhaps the greatest sham ever perpetrated on the human race, and (b) (sic) Alfred Marshall, one of the two most influential economists no one outside the profession has ever heard of, put forth in 1890 the notion that debates over the nature and origin of value were as of that point moot, declaring money to be the measure of all things (though not, of course, in exactly those words).

Oh–wait: The very title of this significantly enlightened article still understates the case: Most economists don’t know crap about much of anything, including the history of their own profession, less than most MDs know about pharmacology, which as we know is precious little.


#12

Applause to Steven Singer. I believe education is to learn how to learn; Unfortunately for the “economist/corporatists” it is messy; it is colorful; and it can’t be put in a box.


#13

I worked as a Word Processor in the Corporate Headquarters of one of those large banking corporations for a number of years and came away from the experience convinced that economists didn’t really know much of anything about anything. The two fields of knowledge where anyone can make any assertion they like without proof are economics and nutrition.


#14

We could merge economics with ecology and call it Ecolonomics !

Why because Life is Prime Value not Profit.

Namaste


#15

“The oldest exercise in moral philopsophy is the search for a justification for greed.”
–John Kenneth Galbraith


#16

"If you want to measure production and consumption or the transfer of wealth, call an economist."
They can’t even do that with any success. If engineers were as poor at their profession as economists are at theirs we would still be living in caves.


#17

OK, time to take another whack at these creeps.

I recommend the first two comments in this thread, those by Socratizer and GuildF312S, and also the interview below with old Marxian economist Richard Wolff. His concept of socialism (worker ownership, period) is stuck in the nineteenth century, and his understanding of the cooperative movement is very limited. (Worker coops and WOEs are only a part of the solution, as they generally treat end users of what is produced, i.e., “consumers,” as passive actors in the same way that capitalism does.) But he has a lot to offer to people new to serious study of modern alternatives to capitalism, as does Gar Alperovitz and his “Next System Project.”

My background is “STEM,” and when I stumbled upon formal economics 25 years ago in my late 40s I thought it looked like pseudo-science, with concepts that were vague or simply bogus and intentionally obscure. I spent the next decade earning two graduate degrees in it trying to figure out what they were actually saying. Once I found out that I am far from alone in that assessment, despite the feckless refusal of the MSM even to mention alternatives, I concluded that I was right the first time.

Recently I came across a book by “barefoot economist” Manfred Max-Neef and physicist Philip Smith with the tabloid-esque title Economics Unmasked, which turned out to be a scathing attack from a novel direction. Smith and Max-Neef build a strong case that the “political economy” of Adam Smith and his predecessors (a full century of them) was never even intended as a scientific analysis of how the economy works, but as an apologia for the rising bourgeoisie, whose rapidly increasing wealth and influence was not covered by the Divine Right of Kings, to shield them from attacks by the working classes.

I am convinced that they are at least partly correct, and I recommend their book. In addition, for an excellent and wide-ranging but readable account of how academic economics developed, I recommend Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers. For an even more readable version, with superb graphic-non-fiction illustrations by Dan E. Burr AND a no-prisoners take on the present and possibly future at the end, I recommend Michael Goodwin’s Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work). The title is a 3-way pun.


#18

We sometimes reflexively sell Adam Smith short, but he had this right: the “free market” is only free when all parties to any transaction have access to all the relevant information. I wonder what he’d have to say about the 40 pages of fine print we wearily agree to when we update our cell phone software?

And thanks for the like.


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#19

“Bryan Caplan’s approach would be well suited to the decades long trend of transferring all wealth and income upwards.

The few could get a good professional education and the rest of us could be trained to be desperate serfs, for pennies gratefully serving up extravagances for the blood-sucking parasites at the economic top. Isn’t that the end goal of their God Reagan’s trickle down economics?


#20

Not at all: Your early comment was one of the best informed in an unusually high-grade thread. Amen to all of that. I happen to live in Durham so got to hear Professor MacLean make her case in person at the local indy book shop. As you may know, Buchanan and Caplan are typical of the econ faculty at GMU. Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, both at GMU, have one of the most unabashedly reactionary introductory econ textbooks on the market. Take a look at Tabarrok’s home page there.

Quite right that “access to all the relevant information” is a fundamental assumption of neoclassical market “theory.” Joe Stiglitz shared the Nobel about 15 years ago for showing that it is rare and that the consequences of its lack are quite significant.

My one really big beef with Smith is what might today be called his “irrational exuberance” in ignoring completely the teachings of the sages through the ages and declaring (in the famous passage about the “invisible hand,” a throwaway line that appears once in 900 pages) that he had never seen the common interest advanced by a person attempting to do so directly, and often seen it diminished by such attempts.

Aside from that, I think he and most of his contemporaries (+/- a century) seriously believed that they were doing science in the same vein as Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, and the greats of the 19th century. They were blissfully unaware of the complexity of their subject matter, and of the very existence of non-Newtonian systems, and thus unaware that what they were actually doing was pure speculative philosophy in the absence of the ability even to make relevant observations. There was virtually no effort to introduce quantitative measurement until the late 19th century, and when it was attempted they got it wrong in several ways.

I hope you will see this late response to your astute comments. You seem to have some knowledge of the subject, what I call the “classical claptrap.”