Friday, 25 October 2013

Detecting crank economics

It's sometimes hard for the intelligent layperson to tell the difference between economics and crank economics. Chris Auld provides some helpful hints.
Every mainstream science which touches on political or religious ideology attracts more than its fair share of deniers: the anti-vaccine crowd v mainstream medicine, GMO fearmongers v geneticists, creationists v biologists, global warming deniers v climatologists. Economics is no different, but economics cranks differ in that they typically make false claims about the content of economics itself, as opposed, or as a prelude, to false claims about the way the world works. That target sometimes making it hard for non-economists to differentiate crankery from solid criticism.
He provides a list of symptoms of bad critiques of economics. Here are a few that may be particularly helpful, but do read his whole list:
2. Frames critique in terms of politics, most commonly the claim that economists are market fundamentalists.
3. Uses "neoclassical" as if it refers to a political philosophy, set of policy prescriptions, or actual economies. Bonus: spells it "neo-classical" or "Neo-classical."
6. Uses the word "neoliberal" for any reason.
8. Claims economists think people are always rational.
16. Claims economists ignore the environment. Variant: claims economics falters on point that "infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible."
18. Cites Debunking Economics.
But do read the whole list.

It is schizophrenic to complain about climate-deniers, or anti-vaccine weirdos, or anti-fluoride nutters, while readily accepting crank critiques of economics.

Note: Today's post is cross-posted from the Dismal Science feed over at SciBlogs. I usually there pull selected content from Offsetting, TVHE, Anti-Dismal, Groping Towards Bethlehem, and Fair Play and Forward Passes. This one, I posted there directly before copying it here. 

I'd also add a 19th to Chris's list: cites David Suzuki. Implicit in #16, but worth noting directly. 


  1. Great (cross) post. For my money - I would put use of 'neoliberal' at the top of my most disliked usages. Was recently reading another article (I forget where) stating that economic commentary was subject to Gresham's law, with the poor crowding out the good. Keep up the good work.

  2. Okay, I'll bite. Why is "neo-classical" one word and not hyphenated?

  3. Try this google insights chart:

    Neo-classical has spikes around times of financial crisis; neoclassical is more constant. This suggests, but does not prove, that it's more commonly used in cranky commentary.