Post-Autistic Economics Network
from post-autistic economics newsletter :
issue no. 7, July, 2001
Have No Ears
Steve Keen (University of Western Sydney, Australia)
Kuhn once famously described textbooks as the vehicle by which students learn
how to do 'normal science' in an academic discipline. Economic textbooks
this function, but the pity is that what passes for 'normal' in economics
the appellation 'science'.
Most introductory economics textbooks present a sanitised, uncritical
conventional economic theory, and the courses in which these textbooks are
little to counter this mendacious presentation. Students might learn, for
'externalities' reduce the efficiency of the market mechanism. However, they
will not learn
that the 'proof' that markets are efficient is itself flawed.
Since this textbook rendition of economics is also profoundly boring, the
majority of those
exposed to introductory course in economics do no more than this, and instead
go on to
careers in accountancy, finance or management - in which, nonetheless, many
harbour the simplistic notions they were taught many years earlier.
The minority which continues on to further academic training is taught the
techniques of economic analysis, with little to no discussion of whether
are actually intellectually valid. The enormous critical literature is simply
left out of
advanced courses, while glaring logical shortcomings are glossed over with
assumptions. However, most students accept these assumptions because their
leaves them both insufficiently literate and insufficiently numerate.
Most modern-day economics students are insufficiently literate because
education eschews the study of the history of economic thought. Even a
acquaintance with this literature exposes the reader to critical perspectives
conventional economic theory - but students today receive no such exposure.
They are insufficiently numerate because the material which establishes the
weaknesses of economics is complex. Understanding this literature in its raw
requires an appreciation of some quite difficult areas of
require up to two years of undergraduate mathematical training to understand.
Curiously, though economists like to intimidate other social scientists with
mathematical rigour of their discipline, most economists do not have this
mathematical education. Though economics students do attend numerous courses
mathematics, these are normally given by other economists. The argument for
approach - the partially sighted leading the partially sighted - is that
courses don't teach the concepts needed to understand mathematical economics
economic version of statistics, known as econometrics). As any student of
knows, this is quite often true. However, it has the side effect that
persevered with mathematical methods which professional mathematicians have
transcended. This dated version of mathematics shields students from new
in mathematics that, incidentally, undermine much of neoclassical economic
One example of this is the way economists have reacted to 'chaos theory'.
economists think that chaos theory has had little or no impact-which is
generally true in
economics, but not at all true in most other sciences. This is partially
understand chaos theory, you have to understand an area of mathematics known
'ordinary differential equations'. Yet this topic is taught in very few
economics - and where it is taught, it is not covered in sufficient depth.
Students may learn some of the basic techniques for handling linear
differential equations, but chaos and complexity only begin to manifest
non-linear difference and differential equations'. A student in a
methods in economics' subject will thus acquire the prejudices that 'dynamics
uninteresting', which is largely true of the behaviour of linear dynamical
systems, but not
at all true of non-linear systems. This prejudice then isolates the student
from much of
what is new and interesting in mathematical theory and practice, let alone
scientists in other sciences are doing.
Economics students therefore graduate from Masters and PhD programs with an
effectively vacuous understanding of economics, no appreciation of the
of their discipline, and an approach to mathematics which hobbles both their
understanding of economics, and their ability to appreciate the latest
mathematics and other sciences.
A minority of these ill-informed students themselves go on to be academic
and then repeat the process. Ignorance is perpetuated.
The attempt to conduct a critical dialogue within the profession of academic
has therefore failed, not because economics has no flaws, but because -
speaking - conventional economists have no ears. So then, 'No More Mr Nice
If economists can't be trusted to follow the Queensberry Rules of
then we critics have to step out of the boxing ring and into the streets.
Hence my book
'Debunking Economics', which describes the many formal academic critiques of
neoclassical economics in a manner which - I hope - is accessible to a the
non-economist and non-mathematical readership. But it should also prove very
those who have come to regard conventional economic theory as autistic, since
and simply explains the source of this endemic autism.
Steve Keen (2001) “Economists Have No Ears”,
post-autistic economics newsletter : issue no. 7, July, article