Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Conversation

I thought this was interesting and I don't think there's anything terribly problematic contained below, but I did post this without checking with the parties involved, well, one party, first. So, I ask forgiveness in advance.

Prof. Deneen: I'm sure you loved my article in The Hoya today.

FLG: I actually haven't had a chance to read it. What's it about?

Prof. Deneen: The economics department. Well, actually, economics in general. I'm attacking Homo Economicus, the rational utility maximizer. And I argue that a more holistic view of economics should be offered at Georgetown, perhaps even one informed by its Catholic tradition. I included a great quote from Paul Krugman. “The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty — clad in impressive-looking mathematics — for truth.”

FLG: There's something to that. Economists have largely become applied mathematicians. That's given us some very powerful and useful tools, but it reminds me of a story.

In one of my macroeconomics classed, the professor, a newly minted Georgetown PhD, said to the class, "We talk about the Social Planner, but what is wrong with the concept of the Social Planner in reality?" I responded, "Well, Hayak argued that the Planner simply wouldn't have enough information to adequately run an economy."

"Who?" said the professor.

"F.A. Hayek."

"I don't know them, but you're correct. It's about lack of information."

Prof. Deneen: They don't even know the history of their discipline.

FLG: Sadly, it's too often about equations.

I still think there's a lot in favor of keeping economics as a empirical, scientific endeavor to study what is. You start bringing in oughts and it gets messy. Better to have tools to determine with some degree of precision or probability what effects oughts will have than to integrate moral and ethical dimensions into the tools themselves.

But for goodness' sake I do expect Econ PhDs to know Hayek. And even be familiar with Aristotle's conception of economics, which in turn influenced Aquinas, among others, and in turn the doctrine of the Church today. As Deneen rightly pointed out to me once, Smith, Ricardo, etc were political philosophers.


Hilarius Bookbinder said...

"Economists have largely become applied mathematicians."

I know a few mathematics PhDs who would plotz if they read that.

Bill Flanigen said...

Wait. Did he really think that Hayek was a "them"?


FLG said...

Yes, they said "them," but in this case I think the "them" was used as a non-gendered pronoun because they didn't know if Hayek was he or she.

I'm of mixed mind on pluralization to degender pronouns, but it is what it is.

Bill Flanigen said...

Ahh, my gender bias is showing. I see now that I assumed, without reason, that the econ professor was a male.

As to pluralizing to cover up gender ambiguity, I think that just using the economist's proper name is better (e.g., "I don't know of F.A. Hayek, but you're correct"), though "them" is obviously preferable to the abominable "him or her" or the presumptuous "that economist."

dance said...

I once appeared to never have heard of a major primary source in my field--a book I had read/skimmed in the original French as well as the English translation--because I didn't recognize the pronunciation.

I also sometimes forget that Dan and Dan have the same name, because what I think of when I say "Dan" (v1) is not the same thing I think when I say "Dan" (v2).

All of which is to say, it's entirely possible that the brain works in ways such that this prof may know Hayek but didn't recognize it in this context (cited by an undergrad) and chose to move on quickly and focus on the essential point they wanted the class to understand.

FLG said...


It's possible, and I understand what you are saying, but I'm 99% sure she had no idea what I was talking about.

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