, 27 tweets, 15 min read Read on Twitter
1/Last week’s lecture was on “Is Economics Ideological?”

here’s my attempt to tame ubiquitous, elusive & oft negatively defined (as absence of … neutrality/value-freedom/objectivity) term

Goal is not to tell a story but to use history to provide map to navigate these debates
2/ For a long time, economists' uses of ideology referred either precisely or vaguely to Marx/Engel’s mid-XIXth century use of term as set of ruling ideas economists, because they participate into the economies they study, are embedded in
3/ idea was data & theory production are subordinated to social structure scientific workers are part of

That topics/methods/scientific truth are socially conditioned is something econ had long struggled w/ (see Schumpeter’s 48 AEA presidential address bev.berkeley.edu/ipe/Schumpeter… )
4/As important as Marx, though ≠ in nature, was how Weber outlined tension b/w Wertfreiheit (value-freedom), aka scientific ideal below & Wertbeziehung (value ladeness), aka fact that being part of world you study makes your outlook inescapably subjective archive.org/stream/maxwebe…
5/ Both collective aspects of ideology (econ as a discipline is biased toward specific political system) & researcher’s individual emancipation from values have been discussed in econ throughout XXth century, the 1st in response to outside suspicion, 2nd to inside method debates
6/ Working with “values” was initially perfectly legit, as seen in J. Neville Keynes’s 1890 famous mapping of the realm of econ as positive, normative & art of econ, itself underpinned by is /ought and policy ends vs means (art) distinctions: socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3…
7/beginning in 1930s, econ experienced a positivist turn. Ensuing quantification & mathematization shifted notion of objectivity from researcher’s characteristic (impartiality or even-handedness for Smith to Weber) to characteristic of research process (press.princeton.edu/titles/5653.ht…)
8/ Popperian influence was also seen in Robbins’ 1932 famous indictment of welfare econ (in particular interpersonal comparison of utility) as dealing w/ values rather than facts, therefore non science mises.org/sites/default/…

Indictment created dilemma for postwar economists:
9/ how to do policy relevant work in Cold War without values embodying policy ends, they wondered. How to define welfare? US econs like Samuelson & Bergson rejected Robbins & endorsed use of social welfare function, cost-benefit, advocated consensus springerprofessional.de/economists-int…
10/ Individual dilemmas reinforced by public suspicion that econ discipline was biased toward socialism. McCarthysm brought dismissal of many Keynesians:

@yannbgiraud relates how Samuelson’s textbook was called 'un-American' & “subversive” by MIT trustees papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf…
11/But the 1960s brought social unrest...and a postmodernist turn.

Kuhn renewed idea that scientists are socially situated & disciplinary matrixes mix theoretical commitments, instruments, beliefs & metaphysics.

Putnam later argued disentangling facts & values was impossible
12/ this resulted in a rift within econ. Mainstream econs remained rather immune to postmodernist turn, while critical approaches embraced it, from radical econ to social choice critique of welfarism & utilitarism (definition of welfare as weighted sum of utilities), to feminism
13/By 90s, @julie_nelson & others articulated criticism of econ’s assumptions (self-interest, rationality, competition as masculine notions) & methods
Objectivity has gone from value-free to value-less, yet there are alternatives, Nelson recently reminded
14/ early signs of rift encapsulated in famous 1970 exchange b/w Heilbroner & Solow in Public Interest. Heilbroner drew on Marx/Kuhn mix to argue econ is ideological in that it is incapable to offer critique of capitalism system nationalaffairs.com/storage/app/up…
15/Solow’s response is representative of how most econs would defend themselves today: total value-freedom impossible, but it’s not an either/or.

Quantification & modeling neutralize subjectivity, & remaining biases are flushed by peer-review process
16/ But 2008 crisis has brought another round of ideology suspicion. Economics is seen by public & intellectuals alike as beset by conflict of interests, brought by private interests, and as an intellectual defense of neoliberalism
17/ the relation between economics & neoliberalism is further muddled by the fact that proponents like Friedman have historically endorsed the word, but as a set of means rather than ends – hence as technical rather than political/ideological issue (below is Friedman in 1951)
18/Econs’ response show interesting tensions: They argue:

1)empirical turn is taking political biases out of economics, ensures individual integrity

2)resulting in econs exhibiting professional (collective) consensus in spite of various political beliefs (IGM econ expert panel)
19/ This has led econs like Gordon and Dahl to argue, on the basis of empirical analysis, that no systematic political bias is found in econ research papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cf…

But 3 types of problems quickly appeared with this stance:
20/ First, economist's defense of value-freedom crumbles as soon as they discuss other economists’ work. Ideology is never a characteristic of your work, but of you opponent (see exemples from Krugman’s NYT column & Romer’s mathiness paper)
21/ Second, other empirical studies have shown that language patterns from economic article predict economists' political ideology as proxied by signing petitions and contributing to political campaigns tuvalu.santafe.edu/~snaidu/papers…. See also onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.11…
22/ Third, emancipation from econ’s *own* values has never been only issue. Another one is how to pick policy ends to drive research, or cope w/ conflicting ends. Econs often rely on " consensus” on “weak values” (excerpt from Mankiw today: nytimes.com/2019/04/11/bus… )
23/ Another instance is how Jean Tirole proposes to set up goals for the many policies he discusses in latest book: Rawlsian veil of ignorance will bring consensus. Econs are still reluctant to acknowledge they need to work with values, even if not theirs beatricecherrier.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/not…
24/ Tension in how econs discuss ideology displayed in recent @rodrikdani/ @gabriel_zucman/ @snaidunl brief arguing that bostonreview.net/forum/suresh-n…

1) econ & neoliberalism in principle distinct, though often conflated b/c of bad uses of econ analysis by part of profession & patrons
25/ But

2)“systematic empirical evidence is a disciplining device against ideological policy prescriptions”, so it seems possible to produce non (less?) ideological economic analysis

Brief has sparked huge conversation, one that it will be interesting to follow closely

interesting disagreement on empirical research and objectivity
Another interesting take on ideology in economics, a radical one
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