Economists and the Nonsense at the heart of the Academy

Roger Bootle  writes an interesting piece in the Business Section of the Daily Telegraph on April 25, in which he exposes the sham of much modern ‘mathematical’ economics. He has dipped his toe into one small corner of the world of academic obscurantism. Since the depths of the world economic crisis the economists have ‘slipped away into the night’ and well they might. Having played a major part in causing the economic crisis, who knows what follies they might concoct in the future. Hardly any academic economists saw the financial crisis coming. In fact most of them were looking in completely the wrong direction, as were our government and Prime Minister. Mathematicians and computer modellers have taken control of academic economics with the result that the data is tortured into submission by ever more complex mathematical modellers and econometricians. The great Keynes was a mathematicion, who laid aside maths in the interest of more common sense conclusions, based on a deep knowledge of society, institutions, history, humanity and good judgement.

According to Bootle, himself an economist, what emerges from modern economics is mostly banal and useless and often incomprehensible. ‘Those who profess to know about economics in practice often know nothing. And they are so obsessed with the mathematical complexity of what they produce that they pay insufficient attention to the ideology that creeps, insidiously, into what they say and write’, he says. These thoughts make one think of another shaky area of modern science – climate science – which is in the grip of computer modellers and the Global Warming ideology, but that is another story of science getting too close to policy-makers.

Casting our thoughts wider, we can see that nonsense has always found a sympathetic hearing in parts of the academy, but over recent decades it has grown into an epidemic of fortified stupidity. The central tenets of the current ‘post-modern’ orthodoxies virtually guarantee a large helping of idiocy.

Following Nietzsche, ‘Post Modernism’ has decreed, as its foundational principle, that there are no truths, only interpretations. Is this true? A moment’s thought will tell us that it is only true if there are no truths, in which case it is false… if you get my drift.

Current generations of students are struggling with a frontal attack on the sovereignty of truth, without which our academic and public discourse becomes  meaningless. Without the concept of truth, we cannot make mistakes or tell lies.

Maybe economics (and climate science?) are far too important to be left to the academics.