How to make the economics profession socially useful? (A reaction to George Soros’ lectures and INET’s activities)
The profession of economics does not fulfill its social function to provide people a correct understanding of economic phenomena. In other words, the institution of economics does not work properly. George Soros makes this conclusion in his lectures at the Central European University (Soros, 2010). He sponsored the creation of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) with the objective to change this situation in economics. However activities of the INET are not oriented to change the institution of economics and most of participants in its activities are mainstream economists. This short paper summarizes my ideas in what way it is necessary to change the institution of economics. First, in order to make the profession of economists socially useful, it is necessary to reconsider the methodology and history of economics. At present the former leads the profession in a wrong way and the latter to a great extent justifies this wrong way. Secondly, it is necessary to reform the institution of economics. I define the notion of institution in the following way: an institution is a set of formal and informal rules, and also beliefs, that stand behind these rules, that orient the behaviour of members of a certain community. The rules of the institution of economics relate to the community of university professors and students of economics. These rules provide a framework for developing curricula and syllabi, as well as for the organization of examinations. They define the procedures and directions of economic research, and the criteria for publication of articles in academic economic journals. These rules include formal and informal rules of functioning of professional organizations of economists, such as the American Economic Association. Beliefs that underlie the rules of functioning of the community of academic economists are expressed in different answers to such questions as: What does it mean to undertake economic research? What is the purpose of economic research? What should economists study? How should they carry out the study? In what form should the results of the study be presented? What does it mean to teach economics? What kind of economics should we teach? The answers to these questions, along with formal and informal rules of behaviour based on the answers, together constitute the institutional knowledge of professional economists. Candidates for admission to the profession acquire most of this knowledge during the preparation and defense of PhD dissertations that many do in the framework of post-graduate studies. If someone becomes a member of the profession and does not have this knowledge, or refuses to follow its instructions, then sooner or later she/he will be rejected by the profession. To reform the profession of economists means to reform the institution of economics, i.e. to change their rules and beliefs. I think that the only way for economics to become a socially useful science is the transformation of economics from a kind of applied mathematics (mainstream economics) or social philosophy (heterodox economics) to something similar to social anthropology with its ethnographic method justified in the framework of the constructivist discursive methodology. The methodology that I prone can be expressed very shortly in the following way. The social-economic regularities result from the fact that people behave according to certain socially-constructed rules, and these rules are explained, justified, and kept in mind by telling themselves and others some stories. Taking this statement into consideration, we must agree with the fact that for the identification of social-economic regularities, we must explore and analyse these stories. Modern economics does not study the discourses of economic actors and thereby deprive itself of the ability to understand and predict economic phenomena. The study of discourse is not a deviation from the academic standards which are built into natural sciences, but rather an approximation to it, since almost all social interactions are mediated by language.
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- Mirowski, Philip, 2007. "Naturalizing the market on the road to revisionism: Bruce Caldwell's Hayek's challenge and the challenge of Hayek interpretation," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 3(03), pages 351-372, December.
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