Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science..

One of my Profs always says Blame the Swedes for all the mess in economics. First, having created the prize for economics from thin air and then each year giving it to scholars from select Universities, they have just ignored contributions of so many others. Moreover, it has fostered hubris and enormous amount of belief that the subject is indeed a science. The Prize afterall is in Economics Sciences..

Business as usual. That will be the implicit message when the Sveriges Riksbank announces this year’s winner of the “Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, to give it its full title. Seven years ago this autumn, practically the entire mainstream economics profession was caught off guard by the global financial crash and the “worst panic since the 1930s” that followed. And yet on Monday the glorification of economics as a scientific field on a par with physics, chemistry and medicine will continue
The problem is not so much that there is a Nobel prize in economics, but that there are no equivalent prizes in psychology, sociology, anthropology. Economics, this seems to say, is not a social science but an exact one, like physics or chemistry – a distinction that not only encourages hubris among economists but also changes the way we think about the economy.
A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modelling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths.

He says the Prize should instead be for social sciences:

Think of how frequently the Nobel prize for literature elevates little-known writers or poets to the global stage, or how the peace prize stirs up a vital global conversation: Naguib Mahfouz’s Nobel introduced Arab literature to a mass audience, while last year’s prize for Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai put the right of all children to an education on the agenda. Nobel prizes in economics, meanwhile, go to “contributions to methods of analysing economic time series with time-varying volatility” (2003) or the “analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity” (2008).

A revamped social science Nobel prize could play a similar role, feeding the global conversation with new discoveries and insights from across the social sciences, while always emphasising the need for humility in treating knowledge by humans about humans. One good candidate would be the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, whose writing on the “liquid modernity” of post-utopian capitalism deserves the largest audience possible. Richard Sennett and his work on the “corrosion of character” among workers in today’s economies would be another. Will economists volunteer to share their prestigious prize out of their own acccord? Their own mainstream economic assumptions about human selfishness suggest they will not.

I hardly know anything about these scholars. And am sure they have more to teach about the world than the several econs put together..

 

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