Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New President Of American Economics Association Challenges Orthodoxy

A new book by the new head of the AEA attacks the dominant assumption of academic orthodoxy.  That is, the idea that human beings are rational optimizers.  That assumption, which is the underpinning of the rational expectations school of economics, that is centered at the University of Chicago, is being challenged by an academic from Chicago's Booth School of Business.  His research has shown that human decision making is far from rational.  Rational expectation theorists attempt to escape from this problem by using the concept of "bounded rationality".  Their models assume a typical agent who attempts to be as rational as possible.  Economists cling to this assumption because it enables the use of mathematical models which distinguish economics from other social sciences.  That is, it is more like physics than other social sciences.  In other words, he accuses the economics profession of "scientism".  That is, a pretense of being scientific by mimicking the surface characteristics of the physical sciences.  It also excludes ethical considerations and morality from its analyses by assuming that economics is a positive science which has no interest in making normative judgements.

The book is also critical of the use of cost-benefit analysis by business professionals and many economists.  For example, if we can measure the cost of reducing carbon emissions in dollars, and we can measure the benefits that are derived from the reduction of carbon emissions, we can make a rational decision about whether or not we should undertake a reduction in carbon emissions.  The root of cost-benefit analysis is in utilitarian philosophies which are not commonly used by modern philosophers.  Its not possible to calculate the utility of avoiding species extinction and other benefits that might be derived from reducing carbon emissions.

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