Do Economists Have a Country?
We do, but many of us, particularly ofÂ the orthodox persuasion, do our best to hide it in our work. Where we live is “content” but the models we use, we insist, are universal. But that begs the question of where the models, which do not fall from the sky, come from. The answer is that they come from particular places in particular times. Which means they do have a nationality.
But we all know, if we bother to think about it, that most economics comesÂ from a very small number of countries who happen to run the world. The great economists ofÂ the 19th century into the mid-20th were British. Since then they have been American.
Look at how most Nobelists in economics – more so than in science or medicine and certainly than in literature – are Americans. Is it because they have all the good ideas orÂ because they get to define what is a good idea?Â And if you’re not lucky enough to have been born there, then move there; Robert Mundell was born in Canada but won his Nobel byÂ rarely being here.
There is manifestly a deep symbiosis between economic thought and power, and power lies not with nations in general but with imperial powers in particular. Does this explain why economics today, in contrast to political economy, is so insistently apolitical because we would sooner not face up to who we emulate and serve?
We should not be surprised when we read Marion Fourcade’sÂ Â Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain, and France 1890s to 1990s, to learn that in the U.S. there have been close ties between the econonics profession and business schools since the 1920s and that disproportionately American Nobelist are affiliated with a business school.
Business schools need economics because without it, she says, they lack an intellectual core but, it seems to me, economics, already too imbedded with power, needs business schools like a hole in the head.
Fourcade is a sociologist of knowledge at Berkeley with a thorough grasp of economics; her book was published last year by Princeton University Press. It is highly recommended. Someone here with similar credentials should do the Canadian discipline as a case study.
SinceÂ World War II, she writes, “economic growthmanship was coupled with different political projects across countries, the most salient of which were the building of industrial power in France, redistribution in England, and militay and economic supremacy in the United States.”Â
Canada? Â How about “tightening economic integration with the United States”? A neo-colonial Â branch-plant-kind-of project. Oh, and add “federalism” which has kept so many of us gainfullyemployed over the years.
Fourcade’s choice of countries is fascinating in their own right and justÂ happen to be the relevant imperial centres for Canada over the centuries. I’n old enough to have been introduced to econmics at the University of Toronto by Brits, with the advantage, that I hadn’t realized till I read Fourcade, ofÂ having imbibed a touch of Fabianism which has served me well.
Quebec economists have retained links with France. To read Fourcade is to sense that economics in FranceÂ has a heterodox flavour that has has its attractions to those ofÂ the progressive persuasion. In the 19th century, in contrast to Britain, French economists “held on to a conception of political economy as a moral science.” Â It is in France in 2000 that economics students railthed against “overuse of mathematics, hegemony ofÂ neo-classical theory” in the name of autisme-economie.
Fourcade repeatedly tells us that it is to our U.S. colleagues that we owe the discipline’s obsession with markets, to the point where even the public sector is judged by market-based concepts of efficiency. So totally is the political drained out of what began as political economy that the corporation’s existence can be “explained” as an understandable alternative to the market, as by Coase and Hymer, but then ignored as an institution with market influence, to say nothing of political influnce.
Indeed, the imperfect competition revolution of the 1930s has been, with a little help from game theory and its rivalries, swept under the rug.Â Hence the utter rejection of Galbraith, who could see the U.S. military-industrial complex, by American economists, whether Keynesian or Chicago School.
WritingÂ before the present economic crisis cast doubt on what we economists know and do not know, Fourcade tells us that “The imperialism of American economicss is rooted in a deep moral beliefÂ thatÂ no-one stands outside of economic rationality…”Â But the financial crisis has cast the most serious doubts on the meaning of rationaity even within markets. The new behavioral economics, too new to be noted by Fourcade, with its links to psychology, is a breath of fresh air that is potentially deeply subversive of orthodoxy. But this writer fears that behavioral science, with its individualist bias, is a regression from social science, notwithstanding all of its limitations, and is hard put to believe that there will be a real revolution in economics until the political is put back in through the front door.Â There is no evidence that is about to happen.