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archive: the need for non-mathematical economics as the bottom line

July 18th, 2017 · No Comments

The need for non-mathematical economics as the bottom line
September 9th, 2012 ·

The previous post has a passage I meant to discuss:

Therefore the understanding of history begins from how production is carried out by the mass of people, not the doings of kings, queens and generals.

This was the essence of Marx’s “materialism” developed in opposition to the dominant “idealist” view. Idealism, the philosophical view that ideas are the main driving force in history, is the standpoint of ruling classes and their associated intellectuals.

I think a basic fallacy lurks in this perspective. Why is this ‘materialist’ view superior to the ‘idealist’ view? To say the ruling classes are all idealists, while the proletariat is or should be ‘materialist’ is nonsense, and a disservice to the proletariat. If anything the material obsessions of the ruling classes are what have caused the whole problem.
Marx lived in a brief interval of a rapidly moving philosophic scene that suddenly froze in the Age of Positvism, and the coming of scientism, and Marx’s thinking reflects this transition, complete with its vestigial Hegelian dialectics.
To force anti-idealism on the proletariat is one of the muddles of that period, and could simply be shelved. Who cares at this point? To say that idealism is the idea that ideas drive history is so fallacious on many points as to be entirely confusing. Economic contexts (I won’t say material forces) and combinations of ideas both cause historical change. And idealism is a constant of human life, as is materialism. And Kantian idealism is one of the greatest phases of human achievement, and quite different from Hegel’s brand. An endless debate between the two, idealism and materialism, is a waste of time. But a history of the age of Kant onward will put these issues in context, and hopefully the flatfooted outcome of the positivist age will cease to be the reigning dogma. Somehow the idea that the proletariat shouldn’t or doesn’t have ideas is insulting. The whole false dichotomy is a millstone around the necks of marxists.

Another issue is that of mathematical economics, which came up yesterday. Marxists are relatively free of these confusions, but tend to suffer from the comparative mystique of bourgeois economics. And marginalism, based on ‘cute’ calculus methods applied to economics, swept the field, with a false rigor.
I am exploring this issue again, after a lapse, viz. books such as: How Economics Became a Mathematical Science

I once embarked on marginalist economics math as a study, but lost interest, one reason being the fraudulence of the subject, as pointed out many times by many critics. Is it really all a fraud? Perhaps not, for the future. But the subject of mathematical economics, with important exceptions has encased the whole subject in a mystification of false expertise: It echoes the glories of Newtonian dynamics, and statics, but the comparisons fail. But a mirage of mathematics can stun amateurs in their tracks, and is a first-class way to impose control on the unsuspecting.
I realized in early study that economics is not physics and cannot be resolved with the mathematical methods used in physics. There is a famous book on this by Mirowski. The use of differential equations is one thing as a research exploration, but as set of ideas understood by ‘experts’ who routinely confuse the issues with claims of scientific rigor here is fraudulent, or confused, and is routinely causing bad policy.
It is not knownothingism to suggest the whole field of mathematical economics be sidelined so that practical intuitions about economies can take their place, and no doubt promptly get their ass kicked. But the theorists have done no better.
The reason is not to hard to understand: the whole field, unlike the simpler physics, is wildly non-linear, and never leads to any kind of clarity. You enter this jungle and never get further than a half mile. People of high intelligence enter the field and outsmart themselves with fallacious reasoning.
We should be wary here: learning the hard way is inevitable. But in the nonce, non-mathematical intuitions must reign. And considerations of human values. I think that all science is hard at the beginning, and this situation is typical of that: we should applaud explorers, and yet not be so ‘snowed’ by the BS routine dressed in math that has gained a predominant place. And the climax of this controlled madness is the now notorious neo-classical equilibrium theory which is, let’s say, a fraud in the place of vaunted science. It is the ruling paradigm, and it is bullshit.
The solution is for a reasoned, non-mathematical intuition about real activities, in real time, and decisions, experimental perhaps (like Popper’s injunctions for applied action in place of theory), by people with practical talents, and probably not the wizard level of IQ that has tempted ‘smart’ people to enter the quagmire of a non-linear labyrinth where theory is still a long way off, and the nostrums have finally sunk whole economies at a single stroke.
There are exceptions to this, and I think empirical models, often cyclical, of economic systems (which look like mathematical economics as theory, but aren’t) are far more valuable, and enforce the discipline of being wary of false predictive methods made mathematical. Many will protest this, but all in all the mathematical treatment of economies is not the bottom line. Most of the basics of economic activity is non-theoretical in any case. There is no true reason why the questions of economies should have been surrendered to mathematical sophistry. Very smart people are smart enough to apply mathematics to the simple cases of physics. But the same is not true of economics.

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