My blog is travelling today

In case you are wondering what is going on with my blog today – the answer is nothing!

I have been travelling to Europe most of today and blogs for the next week might appear at strange times during that period – given the time difference and my other commitments.

In the next 24 hours or so I will have limited capacity to respond to E-mails and moderate any comments. I moderate all comments which contain links so if it is sitting in the queue for some time you will understand why.

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4 Responses to My blog is travelling today

  1. larry says:

    Bill I take issue with a point that you and Connors make in your paper, Framing MMT. Let me quote:

    “The Great Depression taught us that the economy should be understood as our creation, designed to deliver benefits to us, not an abstract entity that distributes rewards or punishments according to a moral framework. The government is therefore not a moral arbiter but a functional entity serving our needs.”

    I don’t think the second sentence follows from the first, nor is the first entirely descriptive in character. If economics is viewed as a descriptive enterprise, as MMT does, then almost all of its propositions will be of the form, if p, then q. Whether p ought to be done, or whether q is a benefit or not, are ethical matters, not descriptive ones.

    There is a long debate whether any social science can be value-free, as you know. I will assume here that it can, and that any ethical issues one wishes to attach to the descriptive theory demand additional substantive propositions to be added to the descriptive set detailing how the actually system works. Whether it works as intended or should are ethical issues that lie outside a strictly descriptive theory.

    There is a an area that may be considered by some to be rather grey. And this concerns the functional working of the system. Let us assume we have a system E with mechanisms, e, designed to bring about results, r. Can we restrict ourselves to a completely descriptive language to describe the states, good or ill, of the working of the system? Can we can contend that a failure to bring about some result, r, is simply due to a faulty or badly implemented e without straying into ethical discourse?

    If we can thus restrict our discourse, then we can have a strictly descriptive theory. However, if we can’t, then no economic theory of this type can be value-free and, hence, must involve ethically based value judgments. If this is so, then the first sentence of the quote above has to be interpreted as conflating two modes of discourse and the second one as not being strictly true, that is, a government will be ineluctably involved in ethical decision-making when formulating and carrying out economic policies because the theory it is using to guide its actions essentially involves such ethical considerations in its very construction.

    It is obvious that one can elide from one type of discourse to another without skipping a beat. And it is difficult not to. No one but Whitehead ever considered the “feelings” of an elementary particle. In social science, it is difficult to get away from doing this. I am not arguing that it can not be done, only that if a theory is to be considered to be strictly descriptive, there must be no intrusion of ethically loaded terminology. And this is what I think has taken place in the quote above.

  2. larry says:

    Let me make a brief comment on Lakoff’s contention that all abstract concepts are metaphorical. In what respect, therefore, is the abstract concept of a set in set theory metaphorical? Or the concept of infinite sets after the work of Cantor? Or the concept of infinitesimals after the work of Abraham Robinson’s Non-Standard Analysis?

    While I think it is true that a number of abstract concepts function metaphorically in a number of fields, it seems to me to be a wild over-generalization to claim that they all are.

  3. Tom Hickey says:

    Language is based on metaphor as its origin. Look at the etymology of almost any English work in the OED and it will trace the roots back to primitive metaphors that are used to build complex languages. Math is a formal language that uses arbitrary symbols like numbers but the words for numbers go back to counting on fingers. “Digit” and “digital” are from Latin digitus meaning a finger or toee. “Addition” is from Latin ad meaning “to” and the root it meaning “walk”. We tend to think of words are arbitrarily chosen tokens, and some are, but the bulk are taken from roots involving metaphors based on experience, even made-up words such as “tele-vision,” tele meaning “far away” in Greek.

    For Lakoff’s explanation of metaphor, see George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen Metaphors we live
    by. London
    : The University of Chicago press (2003).
    http://shu.bg/tadmin/upload/storage/161.pdf

  4. Tom Hickey says:

    There is a long debate whether any social science can be value-free, as you know. I will assume here that it can, and that any ethical issues one wishes to attach to the descriptive theory demand additional substantive propositions to be added to the descriptive set detailing how the actually system works. Whether it works as intended or should are ethical issues that lie outside a strictly descriptive theory.

    This is a methodological assumption of conventional neoclassical-based economics and Austrian economics based on methodological atomism, which the heterodox world rejects are unrealistic, therefore, models built on it will be limited in their capacity to represent the real world of behavior, which is environmentally, culturally, and institutional determined much more than individualistically in the atomistic sense of a rational agent free to choose to and with a natural propensity to maximize economic utility. This assumption is put into question if not contradicted by social sciences and psychology. In addition, the social sphere is complex, emergent and reflexive in contrast to the natural, which is ergodic.

    In addition, as you say, the positive-normative dichotomy is controversial. See The Positive-Normative Dichotomy and Economics by D. Wade Hands for a summary.
    http://www.fea.usp.br/feaecon//media/fck/File/P7_Hands_Positive_Normative_Dichotomy.pdf

    As you are likely aware, Keynes called economics a moral science. Why? Because assumptions determine outcomes and assumptions are ideological, especially macro, which is more appropriately named political economy since it is a policy science and policy is based on norms and values. But political choices are not arbitrarily based on values in that policy has consequences and in the view of Keynes it is possible to argue about the effectiveness of outcomes objectively based on criteria that can also be argued for rationally and based on evidence. For example, pursuing so-called efficiency of capital under some assumptions leads to inefficiency of labor as evidenced by permanent idle resources in the form of chronic unemployment, resulting in a huge level of economic waste in addition to social dysfunction.

    See the work of, e.g., Philip Mirowski. Against Mechanism (1988) is a good place to start wrt to economic methodology.

    In addition, the social sphere is complex, emergent and reflexive in contrast to the natural, which is ergodic. S the work of Tony Lawson.

    Moreover, recent studies in cognitive science show that evidenced-based “reason” and subjective “passion” are not separable into positive and normative as previously assumed. It’s not the way the brain functions. See Antonio Damasio, Descartes’s; Error: Emotion, Reason and The Human Brain. Damasio was the keynote speaker at the Institute for New Economic Thinking 2012 conference.

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