by Sandy Ikeda
An article appeared in the Arts section of last Thursday’s New York Times called, “Ivory tower unswayed by crashing economy.” I found three things in particular that were dismaying about it.
The reporter argues that academic economists have been slow to change their minds about the virtues of the free market, in spite of recent events, when she says,
Free market theory, mathematical models and hostility to government regulation still reign in most economics departments at colleges and universities around the country.
So, first, is the common bromide that the free market is primarily responsible for the economic mess we’re in. But what I find almost as disturbing is the way she tacitly equates free-market economics (leave aside for a moment the appropriateness of the term) with mathematical economics and in particular neoclassical mathematical economics. This is something I’ve encountered a lot lately.
Finally, because free-market equals neoclassical mathematical economics, the only alternatives she mentions in the article are naturally those that are anti-market.
There are a handful of departments that have welcomed alternative theorists, like the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; the University of Utah; and the University of Missouri, Kansas City (where the Heterodox Economics Newsletter is published).
Economists during an economic crisis are like weathermen during a hurricane. And like many of my colleagues reading this, I’ve been doing more speaking before public audiences in the past six months. I’ve found, however, that there’s much hostility out there not only to the idea of free markets but to economists in general, and even much skepticism about whether economics is a science.
Fighting the public conflation of Austrian economics with the mainstream whenever the opportunity arises is one thing Austrians can do to help turn the intellectual battle around. This is an instance in which methological issues need to take center stage.