I singhiozzi del progresso

Earw( h) ig: I can’t hear you because your ideas are old by Peter J. Boettke and Peter Leeson

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Problema: le idee dell’uomo avanzano pacificamene verso una conoscenza progressiva della realtà?

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The smooth evolution of economic thought from falsehood to truth that underlies the Whig perspective is complicated by both historical circumstances and the intimate relationship between economics and politics that follows from the attraction of public policy for those who enter the discipline.

TESI

1. Introduction

Critics of the practice of mainstream economics are also united in a desire to see more attention placed on the history of the discipline.

STORIA

The idea that the past could help us today is actually a heretical notion in the modern scientific literature. Modern science is grounded in the idea that the more mature a discipline, the less it pays attention to its past. It is only disciplines such as those in the humanities that look backwards for wisdom and insight; sciences only look forwards. As Alfred North Whitehead (1929, p. 162) argued: ‘A science that hesitates to forget its founders is lost.’ The working hypothesis is that if an idea from the past is any good, it is embodied in the common scientific wisdom that current practitioners have as background when starting their investigation into the new.

PROSPETTIVA WHIG

The smooth evolution of economic thought from falsehood to truth that underlies the Whig perspective is complicated by both historical circumstances and the intimate relationship between economics and politics that follows from the attraction of public policy for those who enter the discipline.

COMPLICAZIONI

2. Does economics have a useful past?

The underlying logic is that the history of ideas is incapable of affecting current scientific progress and modern aspiring economists have too many other important things to learn during their graduate training.

LA STORIA NON CONTA

‘one need not read in the history of economics— that is, past economics— to master present economics’.

SLOGAN

this attitude is self-reinforcing within the economics profession. The incentive system in competitive scientific exploration ensures that the best and brightest analytical minds will steer clear of the history of ideas and focus instead on making contributions to current economic theory and empirical analysis.

APPROCCIO AUTORINFORZANTE

Stigler argues that the history of thought helps us learn how to read and also how to react to what we read. But as we have seen, he argues that this method of learning may be too costly given the benefit;

LA DIFESA MINIMA DI STIGLER. MA NON BASTA.

Samuelson is more pro-active and argues that a programme for Whig history can be fulfilled through rational reconstruction of the best arguments from the past through the analytical lens of modern theory.

LA DIFESA DI SAMUELSON

There is a certain logical consistency to the Samuelson– Stigler position, but it assumes that the market for ideas operates efficiently. But what if Kenneth Boulding (1971) is correct and the market for economic ideas does not operate as smoothly as assumed?

IL PRESUNTO EFFICIENTISMO NEL MERCATO DELLE IDEE.

Economic ideas are prone to momentary political and intellectual fads and fashions. As much as we would like to delude ourselves into believing this, debates are not always determined in economics on the basis of logic and evidence. Sometimes positions are discarded due to their inconvenience for the moment.

TESI BOULDING

Scientists cannot completely ignore philosophy, no matter how hard they would like to. As Daniel Dennett put it in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995, p. 21), ‘Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.’

SCIENZA E FILOSOFIA

If the Duhem– Quine thesis holds for physics, then it certainly holds for economics… All science is human science because only humans practise science

DUHEM E SCIENZE SOCIALI

Michael Polanyi (1962) argues that activity in the ‘republic of science’ is characterised by three forces that judge contributions: (i) the intrinsic interests of the scientific community; (ii) the plausibility of the results; and (iii) the creativity demonstrated by the scientist in posing a new question and providing a new answer or offering a new approach. The first two forces are ‘conservative’; the last is ‘revolutionary’.

POLANYI E LA TEORIA VINCENTE

The tug and pull of science is a lumpy, and not a smooth, process and this lumpiness leaves space for errors.This means that ideas that are thought to be dead may actually have much more to offer,

LUMPY ERROR

The economic consideration of scientific processes is that scientists in physics, chemistry, biology, etc., let alone economics, are human actors; they are rational choosers. We pursue our goals as effectively as we can in our scientific endeavours in the same way as we do in our commercial behaviour. This does not rule out ‘truth seeking’ as a primary motivation in science, but it does mean that we have to recognise that scientists, like other actors we examine with the tools of economic reasoning, are rational choosers who are making choices against a background of constraints.There

SCIENZIATO IN CONFLITTO D’INTERESSE

We don’t just study the evolution of economic ideas to get a better grasp on current theory, as Schumpeter (1954, p. 4) could be interpreted as saying. 9 We certainly don’t study the history of economic thought only as a method of learning how to read and react to economic argument, as Stigler said. And it is an act of extreme hubris to suggest that the only way to treat older thinkers is to find in their work the models that present-day thinkers are working with, as Samuelson suggests. No, in Boulding’s argument we continue to read Adam Smith because Adam Smith’s ideas still have evolutionary potential for our efforts in contemporary theorising.

PERCHÈ STUDIARE LA STORIA DELLE IDEE

3. Does the past have a useful economics?

The bottom line is that there are opportunity costs associated with studying the history of ideas in economics, and it would be foolish for anyone to deny that.

COSTO OPPORTUNITA’

Ideas cannot be treated as disembodied entities to be assessed coldly, but instead should be treated as products of a specific discourse in time and place.

CONTESTUALIZZARE

4. When history and practice collide

You have to have a basic disciplinary competence to assess economic arguments. Great writing, deep historical knowledge and philosophical sophistication, in the end, do not, and cannot, substitute for the ability to understand and work through the logic of an economic argument. Unfortunately, those who possess that skill, Stigler contends, will find that (i) there are no professional rewards for treating the history of ideas seriously and (ii) will most likely be of the same mindset as their peers in the more mature disciplines. There is a problem of self-reinforcing outcome from this intellectual predicament.

CONDIZIONE NECESSARIA: COMPETENZA TECNICA

there is a sort of ‘path dependence’… A more subtle rendering of the problem of the endogenous past occurs when an idea or practice that is not as sound as one might like nevertheless becomes so widely utilised in the discipline and perhaps in the economy that it takes on a new meaning.

DIFFUSIONE E PATH DEPENDENCE

An example of this is the notion of GDP accounting. Simon Kuznets, one of the pioneers of national income accounting, expressed many times his concern with the misuse of this measure in public policy… Economists at the time, such as Mises and Hayek, were highly sceptical of efforts to measure aggregate economic performance with national income statistics… but…

L’ESEMPIO DEL PIL: INEFFICIENTE MA USATISSIMO

Boulding is the only major thinker of professional weight since 1950 to try to counter this self-reinforcing path of professional irrelevance for historians of economic thought… The title of his essay, ‘After Samuelson, Who Needs Adam Smith?’, suggested that he did not shy away from tackling the issue of the endogenous past head-on.

BOULDING E IL PROGRESSO “ENDOGENO

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