Joan Robinson: Solutions offered by economists are no less delusory than those of the theologians

From Economic Sociology blog. How stalwarts of economics questioned the value of economics:

The brilliant Joan Robinson concludes her insightful book Economic Philosophy:

“The neo-classical heritage still has a great influence, not only on the teaching of economics but in forming public opinion generally, or at least in providing public opinion with its slogans. But when it comes to an actual issue, it has nothing concrete to say. Its latter-day practitioners take refuge in building up more and more elaborate mathematical manipulations and get more and more annoyed at anyone asking them what it is that they are supposed to be manipulating.


In so far as economic doctrines have an influence on the choice of objectives for national policy, on the whole it is obscurantist rather than helpful. (p. 122)


Social life will always present mankind with a choice of evils. No metaphysical solution that can ever be formulated will seem satisfactory for long. The solutions offered by economists were no less delusory than those of the theologians they displaced.

All the same we must not abandon the hope that economics can make an advance towards science, or the faith that enlightenment is not useless. It is necessary  to clear the decaying remnants of obsolete metaphysics out of the way before we can go forward.

The first essential for economists, arguing among themselves, is to ‘try very seriously’, as Professor Popper says that natural scientists do, ‘to avoid talking at cross purposes’ and, addressing the world, reading their own doctrines aright, to combat, not foster, the ideology which pretends that values which can be measured in terms of money are the only ones that ought to count.“

Superb stuff. Though most students are just taught the opposite. They wouldn’t even know any such talk from likes of Robinson as we hardly read history of economic thought. Moreover, this is quoted from her book on philosophy which is even a bigger no…

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2 Responses to “Joan Robinson: Solutions offered by economists are no less delusory than those of the theologians”

  1. Jim Rose Says:

    She ended her life as a bit of an embarrassment lauding china, north Korea and Cuba wearing a mao cap.

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