Economics vs. the Humanities
In a recent post, I noticed certain parallels between the role of fancy math in economics and “cultural theory” in the humanities: both are based on highly questionable assumptions that smart young people nevertheless come to embrace due to the tremendous investment of time and intellectual energy demanded by graduate programs.
Yet if Mike Rorty’s experience auditing a grad-level course is at all indicative of broader trends, it appears that economics has even more of an indoctrinating effect than my former discipline of literary studies. Here’s Rorty:
And speaking as someone who has taken graduate coursework in “continental philosophy”, and been walked through the big hits of structural anthropology, Hegelian marxism and Freudian feminism, that graduate macroeconomics class was by far the most ideologically indoctrinating class I’ve ever seen. By a mile. There was like two weeks where the class just copied equations that said, if you speak math, “unemployment insurance makes people weak and slothful” over and over again. Hijacking poor Richard Bellman, the defining metaphor was that observation that if something is on an optimal path any subsection is also an optimal path, so government just needs to get out of the way as the macroeconomy is optimal absent absurdly defined shocks and our 9.6% unemployment is clearly optimal.
To put the quote in context, Rorty is arguing (contra Kartik Athreya) that much of the current debate over fiscal policy has to do with issues addressed in Econ 101, and that bloggers therefore may have as much of value to say as PhDs. If anything, Rorty contends, it is the econ professors — John Cochrane, Eugene Fama, and others — who have been saying “bizarre and dumb things.”
Into a megaphone, I might add. Say what you will about English professors, but at least they are not taken seriously.