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The drivel of 33 Theses For An Economic Revolution

Summary:
We have a lovely little list of things wrong with economics which should be corrected. 33 of them, issued on the anniversary of Luther's list about the Catholic Church and so on. There's a problem with this little list. It's drivel. Rather than go through each, piece by piece, something important to note about the series of complaints.There are entire libraries discussing the pros and cons of each of their specific complaints. Their first, for example, is that society gets to decide what it wants. Sure, that's one of the first things you're taught in economics, it's a positive, not normative, subject. It doesn't say "should," rather, "if, then." Markets are shaped by custom, law and culture? Sure, what does anyone think Wealth of Nations is about? Institutions shape markets? Don't we have

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We have a lovely little list of things wrong with economics which should be corrected. 33 of them, issued on the anniversary of Luther's list about the Catholic Church and so on. There's a problem with this little list. 

It's drivel. Rather than go through each, piece by piece, something important to note about the series of complaints.

There are entire libraries discussing the pros and cons of each of their specific complaints. Their first, for example, is that society gets to decide what it wants. Sure, that's one of the first things you're taught in economics, it's a positive, not normative, subject. It doesn't say "should," rather, "if, then." 

Markets are shaped by custom, law and culture? Sure, what does anyone think Wealth of Nations is about? 

Institutions shape markets? Don't we have an entire subject, institutional economics? 

One can go on through the list in such a manner. But to move up a level of complaint:

First, within economics, an unhealthy intellectual monopoly has developed. The neoclassical perspective

What they are complaining about is something much loser to "neoliberal" economics here. Neoclassical just isn't the correct target at all. For those entire libraries discussing all of the things they claim are ignored have used the neoclassical toolkit to explore them. In fact, pretty much anyone studying the economy at the margin is using that neoclassical toolkit.

But then to move up one more level of complaint to something so ludicrous that it's amazing that actual adults will make this mistake:

Economics must recognise that the availability of non-renewable energy and resources is not infinite, and the use of these stocks to access the energy they contain alters the planet’s aggregate energy balances, creating consequences such as climatic upheaval.

Excellent, the Stern Review, the work of William Nordhaus, the economic models of the IPCC, Marty Weizman, Sir Partha Dasgupta,  the very work that shows we've a problem, should do something about it (a carbon tax!) and so on all used that standard neoclassical toolkit to get to that answer.

But now to the real biggie - what is the basic contention of economics? Resources are scarce therefore we need to study their allocation. What is their contention? That the very science of the allocation of scarce resources ignores the fact that resources are scarce.

This is drivel.

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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