Conservative Argument Against Economics as Science

Speaking of economics, here is a longish article at Imaginative Conservative that argues against a scientific model of economics. I find it thought provoking.  Insofar as they are trying to make room for human ethics in economic thinking, this is helpful.

This is not the first time I’ve been astonished to like something at that site. I don’t much care for most people’s views that are called “conservative” these days, so I am suspicious as to where this argument leads, of course. Does anyone know whether this article is code for oligarchic tendencies somehow? What am I missing between the lines?



  1. That's fun. I'm particularly taken by his arguing that the empirical evidence clearly demonstrates a scientific approach to economics doesn't work. "The Austrian School also has been proven right in its warnings..." I'm all for criticising 'scientism' (dressing up in science garb to catch some reflected glory), but you either reject testing through empirical evidence or you don't.

    Hayekian-style Austrian economics is a sort of weirdly evangelical conservativism, and venerates the price system: "by a process which men did not understand, their activities have produced an order much more extensive and comprehensive than anything they could have comprehended, but on the functioning of which we have become utterly dependent." (Hayek 1983, p.19 quoted in Gamble 1996, p.38)

    So, we're just ants who happened to stumble across this system - what Hayek calls the Catallaxy. So, by definition, any attempt to really comprehend, steer or control it is beyond us. Hayek gets especially worked up about 'social justice' and, of course, socialism. In a sense, the critique of 'scientific' economics and socialism stem from the same place: to quote from Gamble paraphrasing Hayek, socialism "encourages two moral instincts, solidarity and altruism, which Hayek argues are the two great obstacles to the development of the modern economy... the pursuit of a common purpose for the whole of society is an illusion, and a dangerous one at that. In an extended order, the practice of altruism is impossible." [28] (Sound familiar?)

    So that's where all the 'road to serfdom' stuff comes from. The best line I've read on it: Austrian economists (and Hayek especially) "merely invokes the magic words the price system without examining its entrails. It is as if correctly sensing the importance of sunlight for life on earth, we were to merely worship the sun rather than study astronomy or photosynthesis" (Desai 1994, p.47).

    So to be clear: we should be actively restrained from attempting to use our intelligence to interfere with the emergent order we've created, 'an order much more extensive and comprehensive than anything [we] could have comprehended' - because our tiny minds are simply cognitively incapable of grasping the super-intelligence of the price system. The aversion to 'scientific' economics is a natural extension of that.

    The link notes Hayek criticising science generally, and it's appeared in climate skeptic circles quite a lot. Here's an example, where Hayek thinks "it is well known that particularly the scientists and engineers, who had so loudly claimed to be the leaders on the march to a new and better world, submitted more readily than almost any other class to the new tyranny."

    So beware, weak-minded scientists and engineers...

    I suspect Austrian economists see 'scientific' economists as little more than another form of wannabe social engineer: fiddlers who should learn instead to become restrainers.

    This isn't very popular with all conservatives, despite Hayek trying to claim the mantle of Burke. Oakeshott in particular saw Austrian thinking as a mirror image of socialist rationalism: "a plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics."

  2. A blog "in the tradition of Russell Kirk, T.S. Eliot, Edmund Burke, Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, Wilhelm Roepke, Robert Nisbet, M.E. Bradford, Eric Voegelin, Christopher Dawson and other leaders of Imaginative Conservatism."

    As long as one keeps this in mind I opine its fairly decent. Just don't fall for the Hayek nonsense. Do what he did, not what he said: social security, medicare, ...

    The essay is fine criticism but fails to offer any criticism of the Austrian school. The Austrian school fails by being only a form of history without offering the slightest guide to cooperative (read governmental) action. They fail to understand that there is no invisbile hand stab ilizing the market, completely ignoring not only tulipmania and the south sea bubble but also the other highly undesirable consequences of unregulated capitalism. It might be better to say they are uncaring about such conseequences. They mimic naturalists rather than epidemiologists. Using that analogy the so-called mainstream economics attempts to be like biologists and epidemiologists combined.

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