"The Professionalization of Economics" (Bosses and Workers) John Emerson of Haquelebac

This article is extracted from a larger essay entitled the "Professionalization of Philosophy." It digs rather deeply into the failings of professionalized intellectual discourse. In effect the article examines the politics of the professionalization of both philosophy and of economics. A close reading of The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions by T. S. Kuhn produces similar conclusions, that "science" progresses by the mortality of the loyalists to specific paradigms, not by the intrusions or innovations of extraordinary science. Emerson goes much deeper than Kuhn ever developed, and Emerson's analysis is much more specific about how the dysfunctions were institutionalized in economics, and a better analysis with regard to reforming this particular discourse. Functional economics becomes an oxymoron under the culture of "professionalization" of the field to serve narrow political patronage, ideologies and agendas. for now, Tadit Anderson

The text below is extracted from http://haquelebac.wordpress.com/attendant-lords/

Economics: A Similar Case
External Influences
The Professionalization of Philosophy
(Bosses and Workers)

The discipline of economics provides another striking case of the paradigm-enforcement described by Preston, which is in fact characteristic of much of the modern university. In 1982 Nobelist Wassily Leontieff wrote “The methods used to maintain intellectual discipline in the country’s most influential economics departments can occasionally remind me of those employed by the marines to maintain discipline on Parris Island.” (q. Redman pp. 158-9: compare Putnam’s quote above.) As in philosophy, the training serves to drive out many or most potentially independent
thinkers: “By the time that students are a couple of years into their studies, both these questions [about rationality of agents and about the validity of modeling] are forgotten. Those students that remain troubled by them have quit the field; those that remain have been socialized and no longer ask about such things” (John Sutton in Coyle, pp. 249-50). In economics, the dominance of the unnamed old boys network (“more club than "profession”, according to Schumpeter: Redman, p. 166) is at least as strangling as in philosophy: “The leading journals are extraordinarily dominant and consequently receive many more submissions than they can publish” (Coyle, p. 250). The power of the old boy networks, in economics as in philosophy, is shown by the fact that their members are never named, not even by their opponents — survival within the profession depends on gaining their approval. Few or none of the critical books I’ve read about
philosophy or economics have ever fingered any specific person as an oppressive influence on the profession.

The orthodoxy enforced in economics is methodological — specifically, mathematical modeling. “The reason why many economists think that Galbraith wasn’t one of us lies in his methodology…. many of us spurn Galbraith because he wasn’t a modeler.” (Coyle, p. 231 ) “Our argument is that modern mainstream economics is open to new approaches, as long as they demonstrate a careful understanding of the strengths of the recent
orthodox approach and are pursued with a methodology acceptable to the mainstream…..our view is that the elite are relatively open-minded when it comes to new ideas but quite closed-minded when it comes to alternative methodologies. If it isn’t modeled, it isn’t economics, no matter how insightful. “(Rosser, p. 11) “[Mainstream economics'] content is not as focused as mainstream researchers would like, but it is connected by its methodology of technical model building…..Those economists who don’t [do highly technical work] are far less likely to influence the mainstream of the profession directly. They may, however do it indirectly by influencing others who then translate their work into more technical and acceptable methods” (Rosser pp. 17-18).

The economic paradigm is backed by a toxic stew of self-serving positivist philosophy. It began with Milton Friedman’s “Preface to Positive Economics”, which claimed that, since Newton used them, counterfactual presuppositions are perfectly acceptable as long as they lead to predictive theories. This idea was never quite right (Keen, pp. 148-164), but it got worse. Following Lakatos, the profession next rejected the very
idea of falsifiability: “Lakatos recommends scientists to select certain of their hypotheses, christen them a ‘hard core’ and decide not to modify or renounce them in the face of empirical difficulties. He tells us little about how such hypotheses are to be selected. As it stands, therefore, his methodology gives carte blanche to any group who want to erect their pet notion into a dogma.” (Redman, pp. 146-7). Finally, it eventually became clear that the predictive powers of economics would always be much less than Friedman had hoped, thus knocking out one of the main legs of his argument and leaving orthodox economics in a dubious position, intellectually speaking, at about the same time when its institutional domination had become almost total.6

The outcome of all this was a hermetically sealed science impervious to the external world (albeit a hermetically-sealed science with enormous worldly power). The presuppositions could be as implausible as the economist wished, the “hard core” was invulnerable to criticism, and no realism was required as long as the modeling was sophisticated. The profession has a bias against anyone who tries to communicate with a
nonspecialist audience (Rosser p. 21; Coyle p. 247) and often ignores economic realities even when they burst into the room: “….the willingness of the mainstream to accept these [new] ideas has varied with time. Sometimes it takes external events for work at the edge to be considered. For example, the more than 20 percent decline of the U.S. stock market on October 19, 1987 for no obvious reason led many economists to be more open to models that allowed such an aberration to occur (the standard models
did not)” (Rosser p. 19, my emphasis).

To which I can only ask: Why was it “many” and not “all”? And for an economist, what is “external” about an stock market collapse? Isn’t a stock market collapse a kind of data? Given the feeble response of the economics profession to the 1987 crash, and the 2000 crash, can we hope that economics will learn anything form the most recent crash of our recession-proof economy?7

There are many who believe that economics, despite its self-serving methodological principles, is corrigible. This belief strikes me as wishful: like some of the nobility of the French ancien regime, some of the old boys might be nice people, and selectively open to new ideas if approached deferentially enough, but with economics as with philosophy, we’re dealing with sociology, not ideas. Personal reputations, networks of friendships, career competition, and (in contrast to philosophy) political
power and wealth are at stake, and we cannot be sure that the old boys will not succeed in cloning themselves when they die off. (Redman’s book ends on a hopeful note, but twenty years later Coyle, Colander, Holt, and Rosser are still hoping).

The advice Colander, Holt, and Rosser give to economists hoping to do original work tells them how to approach the always-nameless old boy network: “The dynamic approach to change that we are introducing here involves stealth changes….The change, however, is so gradual that the profession often does not notice that it has occurred (Rosser, p. 5) ….Heterodox economists are highly unlikely to get funding through normal channels such as the National Science foundation….(Rosser, p. 9) “Whether that work at the edge is considered heterodox or mainstream is primarily a matter of the individual’s proclivity to fit within the existing mainstream and the degree to which he or she directly attacks rather than softly criticizes…. Working at the edge has its problems, especially for those whose proclivity is toward attacking, rather than working within,
the existing field and hence finding themselves in heterodoxy….. economists considered heterodox often find it difficult to gain funding for their work, and they likely will be squeezed out of the decision-making process in their universities”. (Rosser, p. 14)

Even the progress that is made doesn’t filter down; besides being an old-boy network, economics is scholastic. Since the main product of the econ biz is Econ 101 students, this is very significant, or at least it would be if economists cared about the human world. In point of fact, Econ 101 tends to lead beginning students toward a fallacious, antiquated form of free market dogma, and even the reformers don’t expect this to change. “This process from conception of an idea to graduate textbooks can take up to ten years. Intermediate and upper-level undergraduate textbooks usually
take another five to ten years to include the idea…. Principles books take another five to ten years to actually incorporate the idea as a central element….. The more central the idea, the less likely it is to be included in a central way in the texts….. Such major changes are unlikely to show up even with the long lags discussed.” (Rosser, pp. 12-13) “[M]ost of the work discussed in this book has been done by the leading economists, many of them winners of the Nobel memorial prize, and by no means all of this work has reached current textbooks even at the graduate level” (Coyle, p. 5). 8

External Influences

An extensive, well-developed literature on the political factors in the development of the American university exists, and I don’t intend to summarize it. My general conclusion, which I will develop below, is that methodologization, paridigmatization, enforced value neutrality, enforced objectivity, positivism, scientism, etc., have made American scholars, in their depoliticized scholarly work, into passive supporters and advocates of corporate administrative liberalism: politically timid, null, and (above all) reluctant to address the public.

Rightwing McCarthyist attacks on the university are a well-recognized part of this story. From June 22, 1941 to September 2, 1945 the US was allied to the USSR, and some liberals and Democrats also had had friendly relations with Communists during the pre-war New Deal era. When the Truman Administration switched from an anti-fascist crusade in alliance with Communists to an anti-Communist crusade in alliance with fascists (“We have always been at war with Eastasia”), many American liberals found themselves in a delicate situation, and simultaneously, anti-Communist Americans (some of them pre-WWII isolationists) turned mean. The new Democratic anti-Communism turned out not to be vicious enough, and free-lance anti-Communists started attacking the university, where many of the refugee Communists, indigenous Communists, and not-anti-Communist-enough liberals were employed. Almost all university administrations cooperated with these investigations and purges, and while no one was killed and only a few were jailed, a fair number of careers were ended, university radicals were rather quickly silenced, and the university was pacified — remaining hostile to the far right, but unwilling to involve itself in anything leftist. Academics still tended to be Democrats and liberals, but the Democratic Party had lost both its left wing and its populist wing to become a centrist administrative-liberal party.9

There’s also another, much less familiar side to the story, however, as seen in Mirowski and Hargittai, and this side is more important to my argument. During the Roosevelt Administration, and above all during World War II, academic experts and the university did very well for themselves: “Scientists don’t cause war, but war causes scientists”. The university became more closely tied to government than it ever had been before, and government money helped many fields flourish — not just nuclear physics
(as told in Hargittai and also Schmitt) but linguistics, foreign languages, anthropology, psychology, economics, and even philosophy and English10. (The pacifist Kenneth Rexroth called this “the gravy train of human blood”). This governmental intrusion in the university was not completely new and was easily justifiable on national defense grounds, and it was welcomed because it brought cash, but along with the money came bureaucratization, hierarchy, and interference from external (non-scientific) players — often military men. Furthermore, a lot of the non-government money going into the university from non-profits such as the Ford Foundation or the Cowles Foundation was driven by wartime needs or other political agendas and came with strings attached. Philosophers and economists with the right style found themselves getting grants and jobs, and philosophers and economists with the wrong style found
themselves doing much less well.11

According to Reisch (p 350) Quine, Tarski, Carnap, Davidson, and Reichenbach among the philosophers were all employed at some point by the RAND Corporation, a military consulting group. (Note that this is not a left-right question, and at least one of those named was a Communist: during WWII and before McCarthy, radical views were not necessarily a problem — at that time J. Edgar Hoover was looking for Nazis, not Communists). The best description of how the university was penetrated by the state and the military is in Mirowski (2001), who tells how, under the direction of the Cowles Foundation and others, economics was transformed by the combined forces of systems theory, game theory, operations research, strategic planning, and strategically distributed funding to produce a formalistic, disembedded, acultural, psychologically impossible, value-neutral form of mad-dog rationality12.

The story in analytic philosophy is known in less detail, but the outcomes were similar and some of what we know about the processes leading up to them also is similar.13 With the McCarthyist purges of the university, which struck philosophy harder than almost any other department, the political engagement disappeared while the scientistic, formalistic, ethically-neutral aspects remained, and philosophy became dominated by its politically null specializations: metaphysics, philosophy of mind,
philosophy of language, analytic ethics (Healy, “Specialization and Status in Philosophy”).

In philosophy, the nullity is the message: analytic philosophy’s role is mostly to preempt other forms of philosophy. (By contrast, economics has an actual positive function in the greater world). Analytic philosophy’s compulsive-obsessive insistence on rigorous argument, combined with its antinomian laxness about hypotheticals and arbitrary methodological stipulations, unsuit it for participation in persuasive, “normative” and constructive discourse. As Inwagen says (The Problem of Evil, Oxford,
2006, p. 55), analytic argument never convinces anyone — indeed, analytic philosophy has renounced persuasion, which is intrinsic to political and ethical discourse, and basically wants every debate to last forever. Bertrand Russell’s solution (which disgusted Wittgenstein) was to divide his work into unphilosophical political journalism and apolitical philosophy, and given the analytic methodology he had helped create, he
really had no other choice.14

The Professionalization of Philosophy

Decades ago when I worked for McDonald’s we were told about the importance of professionalism, which meant appropriate grooming, dress, and behavior toward customers. It wasn’t enough to get the hamburgers cooked and sold; while on the job, each employee had to represent McDonald’s to the rest of the world. Since our training period was half an hour and we were paid minimum wage, I didn’t then understand how we could be expected to act as professionals, but two recent publications on professional training answer my questions. Professionalism means the suppression of personal
preferences in the service of an institution.

Duncan Kennedy’s “Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy” (in Kairys’ The Politics of Law) and Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds describe professional education in law and physics respectively. Both take a left, somewhat Marxist point of view, but their points are relevant to any professional (right, left, or center) who is trying to understand the relationships between professional behavior, personal commitments,
citizenship, and participation in the human community. Professionals are still thought to be more autonomous than laborers, and images of the gentlemanly small town lawyer or doctor still lurk in the professional’s subconscious, but most professionals nowadays are cogs in a wheel. They spend their time negotiating the differences between their professional responsibilities and the demands of their employers, with their own
political or other views hardly being a factor at all during their work life.

The difference between laborers and professionals, according to Schmidt, is just that (in contrast to workers) professionals are self-supervising: their intensive training has restructured their personalities to the extent that whenever they’re in a situation where improvisation, choice, or creativity is required, they can be counted upon to act professionally with an eye to the needs of their institution. In the pursuit of success
and professional status, trainees turn themselves into different persons and jettison their own previous attitudes about large areas of reality in order to “think like a lawyer / economist / philosopher / etc.”15

Professionals work in hierarchies and perform assigned tasks. They have autonomy in performing these tasks only to the extent that they follow professional standards and meet the employer’s needs. (If both can’t be done, the professional faces a major career choice: unprofessional or unethical behavior may or may not have negative long-term consequences, but fighting management usually has immediate negative consequences). The professional’s own personal (“subjective”) ideas are completely
irrelevant, and the “big picture” is not the business of the professional,
but of management. The managers might also have be professionals originally, but often enough they weren’t. Managers are fundamentally different than professionals: they’re in charge of the big picture. The manager-professional relationship is a version of the boss-worker relationship.16

Neither Kennedy nor Schmidt discusses the history of professionalism much, but the transformation of most professionals into docile bureaucrats is rather recent — though the case with academics is somewhat different, since academics always did work for large organizations and once were entirely at the mercy of boards of regents and state legislatures. For academics, professionalization initially had the effect of protecting them from extra-professional interference and increasing their autonomy. At the same time, individual academics became subject to professional standards — a process which could be, and was, abused in a way constricting the range of permissible thought. (The purging of Arendt et. al. mentioned above and the purging of pragmatism discussed by McCumber and Rorty are two cases.) Furthermore, as Schrecker and McCarthy have shown, when the chips were down during the McCarthy era, by and large the professional organizations failed to protect the professionals under attack, but instead remained
passive and deferential in the face of power.

The professionalization of academia began decades earlier and has been described in part by Rorty, but during WWII the process was escalated. Academics working in the war effort or for foundation grants ended up working on team projects, often directed by non-academic managers, and according to Schmidt physics still is organized in a quasi-military manner and responsive to military needs. In professionalized academia, including philosophy, “subjective personal opinions” are excluded and “politics” has
become a dirty word, but the reasons why politics became a dirty word were blatantly political.

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