Friday, May 20, 2011

The trouble with Bill Mitchell

From the Billy Blog, 16 May 2011: principle concern when it comes to economics is how we can keep unemployment and underemployment low. That was the reason I became an economist in the late 1970s, when unemployment sky-rocketed in Australia and has been relatively high ever since. So when I read commentary which I know would worsen unemployment (levels or duration) if the opinion was influential I feel the need to contest it. That has been my motivation in economics all my career.

Approach economics with an agenda, and the agenda will interfere with the science.


Liminal Hack said...

Economics is not a science.

Calgacus said...

This is as silly as saying that if one approaches medicine with an anti-disease agenda, the agenda will interfere with the science.

The fact that most of what is taught nowadays as economics at the supposedly "better" universities and accepted in the supposedly "important" journals is pseudomathematical nonsense does not make economics "not a science".

The Arthurian said...

Silly? Maybe. The post was a knee-jerk reaction to the Mitchell quote, and I went with it.

On the other hand, maybe Mitchell's evil twin's primary concern is how to keep inflation low. Is that also a valid reason to become an economist?

I think both Mitchell's concern and the twin's are incomplete. Silly me :)

Calgacus said...

Motivations and agendas are different from theories. The important question is whether a theory is true or not, not what motivates the theorist. Unemployment is a particular theoretical concern because the newly resurrected brain-dead theories of the past 30-40 years essentially deny the existence of unemployment.

If there were equally crazy theories denying the existence of inflation, there would be an equally pressing theoretical need to get rid of them, although the practical need to theoretically deal with unemployment is greater, as it is a much more serious problem.

jbmoore said...

Paul Craig Robert's has some biting commentary on American Economic Policy: .

Here's a slightly different take from Taibbi:

Economics is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. It is a tool to allocate resources and labor efficiently to benefit society, not to enrich the few and impoverish a society. Yet, that is what we see before us. It is a social science. Economics can promote social injustice just like any other human entity can, and perhaps, it is more insidious as well, because economists can promote a political agenda masquerading as a science when it is not.

The Arthurian said...

Hey, Moore. Good to see you. How's the new job? Still "new"?

"It is a tool to allocate resources and labor efficiently to benefit society, not to enrich the few and impoverish a society."

I agree with your goals, JB. But I do not hesitate to assert that you have identified goals.

Nor do I hesitate to stand apart from goals when I try to understand the economy. Otherwise, as you say, it is far too easy to mistake a political agenda for economics. The economy may forgive such mistakes for 30 years or so, but will not forgive them forever.

Calgacus said...

Did not mean to be too critical, so I type out below the beginning of the preface to Abba Lerner's Economics of Employment, which I think fits well with both your and Mitchell's thoughts.

"Whenever I mentioned, while working on this book, that I was writing on the economics of employment, the first question, three times out of four, was "Did you say the economics of unemployment?" or "Do you mean the economics of full employment?" Nevertheless, the title of the book is exactly as it appears on the title page.

The refusal of my friends to believe that they had heard aright is, I think, significant of just the kind of attitude that this book hopes in slight measure to correct. I was expected to write a book devoted to attacking the evil of unemployment or to write a book indicating how one could achieve the desirable state of full employment. I think I have done both of these things, but neither can be done properly if primary attention is directed at what we want to avoid or what we want to achieve. Primary attention must be directed at understanding and explaining the way things work. Understanding comes first. Only when we understand the nature of the machinery that determines any level of employment can we hope to be able to avoid what we do not like and achieve what we do like...."

The Arthurian said...

Thank you Calgacus, the quote is perfect.

A little secret: If I thought Bill Mitchell was wrong wrong wrong, I would not bother to quote him. I unfailingly find myself agreeing with the openings of his posts, just as I unfailingly get lost before he gets finished.:)

Anonymous said...

I am a student under Bill Mitchell at Newcastle, and i can say that the courses which he presides over are full of ideological bias to the left, and I totally agree with this post that what we are being taught is done because of an agenda - not because it is sound economics - in fact much of it is bunk and they do not accept any of the real world, historical facts which prove their theories wrong. All in the name of this agenda, many young students are receiving a poor education at Newcastle.

Anonymous said...

On June 7, 2011 8:58 AM ANONYMOUS SAID:
"I am a student under Bill Mitchell at Newcastle, and i can say that the courses which he presides over are full of ideological bias to the left".

That must be a total lie because as I understand it Professor Bill Mitchell does not take any courses at the University of Newcastle.

He holds the position of research professor and hasn't taught at the university for some years.