Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics

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The question asked in the title of this post is actually somewhat of a trick. It is a trick because it all depends upon how you define ‘science’. Often when people say that economics is a science what they are doing is defining ‘science’ in such a way that economics fits the bill. They can do this because there is no real, firm definition of ‘science’ that is widely held among philosophers of science, scientists or, most certainly, among economists (who are the most anti-intellectual of the three groups by far).

If we look at Wikipedia, for example, it gives a definition of science that is Popperian — despite the fact that Popper’s falsifiability criteria have been called into question since the 1960s.

Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

By this criteria economics is probably not a science because it cannot undertake repeatable experiments. Even in a weaker form most marginalist proclamations can be tested and falsified in the sense that they can be shown to not hold given the data we hold yet they remain powerful arguments within the discipline and are taught to students.

Let me then give a different definition of science. I am not saying that this is the correct one but it appears to me to be the one that modern economics as a discipline tried to follow when it was being born in the 19th and 20th century. My definition is as such: science is the search for timeless laws.

Here the obvious reference is Newton and his physics. Now, while we know that Newton’s system was imperfect and was completely overturned in the early 20th century the spirit of what he was doing was, I think, what gave rise to the scientific impulse during the Enlightenment out of which economics was born. When you look at a supply and demand graph you are looking at a representation that is trying to copy Newton by giving us timeless laws. This is also how such constructions are taught to students (any concerns are whisked away using the mysterious ‘ceteris paribus‘ clause).

By this criteria I do not believe that economics is science either. Before undertaking such a discussion I will first lay out my underlying criticism which will be long familiar to readers of this blog: economics deals with historical time which is non-homogenous and thus cannot generate timeless laws. Anything that remotely resembles a functional timeless law in economics is in fact an identity and is true only by its tautological construction.

Let us turn to the precursor to classical economics to give a sense of what I am saying. I am speaking, of course, of mercantilism. In this regard it is worth noting a now somewhat obscure work by the Soviet Marxist economist I.I. Rubin entitled A History of Economic Thought. It has been recently made available online and it is well worth a read.

What is so interesting about the work is that it places the older economic theories in their historical contexts. Rubin discusses each theory with respect to the specific circumstances of the historical situation out of which it emerged. What Rubin tried to show was that mercantilist theory and policy was not a simple ‘mistake’ as the later classical economists tried to portray them. Rather the mercantilist period was a phase of development of the young capitalist states that would go on to conquer the world. He writes:

The basic feature of mercantilist policy is that the state actively uses its powers to help implant and develop a young capitalist trade and industry and, through the use of protectionist measures, diligently defends it from foreign competition. (p26)

When economies had finished with this stage of development and had developed sufficient industrial capacity they were then ready to open up to the world and dominate its markets. It was at this stage that the classical economists arrived on the scene with their doctrines of free trade. This accounts for why the free trade dogma was accepted at different times in different countries. The Americans and the Germans rejected it until the late-19th and early-20th century simply because if they had adhered to it in the early and mid-19th century they would have been dominated by British industry.

Seen in this light it becomes clear that it is fruitless to ask whether an economic doctrine is ‘true’ in some timeless sense. That would be like asking whether, say, feudal law is ‘true’. Feudal law is neither true nor false. Rather it is the formalisation of a code by which a certain type of society organised itself. For that particular type of social organisation it was functional. If we tried to transplant it into a modern capitalist democracy it would probably prove dysfunctional.

Thus economics, and with it economists, fall into two categories. On the one hand we have what I opt to call ‘dogmatic economics’. Dogmatic economists are basically ideologues. They think that they have access to timeless truths and are scientists in the Newtonian mold. These economists are probably apt to get most things wrong most of the time. They also likely change their basic discourse over and over again. In the face of an ever-changing history they roll with the times, all the while maintaining the pretense that they have access to timeless truths. Basically the interpret and reinterpret their dogmas in light of new facts. The purpose of the dogmas is not illumination, rather it is to lend what they say authority. Dogmatic economists make up the majority of academic economists and also some very high up policy economists in government and economic institutions.

The other category of economics is what I opt to call ‘reflective economics’. Reflective economists understand that what they do is provide interpretations of a given historical constellation. They understand that there are better and worse interpretations — just like a judge can recognise a better or a worse interpretation of a law — but they do not hold to the idea that there are timeless, Newtonian laws in economics. Much of the sort of theory that they promote might be said to be very loose-fitting in that the tools needed for such interpretation tend to be less precise than those exacting constructions put together by the dogmatists. Reflective economists make up the minority of economists in academia. But the vast majority of serious working economists are in practice reflective economists.

What is the relationship between dogmatic and reflective economists in our society? Here there is no firm answer. The dogmatic economists react to the reflective economists in two ways: condescension and deep suspicion/fear. Working economists who do not partake in theoretical debate can be safely condescended to by the dogmatic economists. But the reflective economist who actually tries to engage in theoretical debate will provoke confusion and frustration in the dogmatic economist who is not used to having his or her authority challenged. The main device utilised here is to simply ignore these reflective economists and try to push them out of the debate through social isolation.

The reflective economists also react in two ways to the dogmatic economists. Some build a relationship of what psychotherapists call ‘transference‘ to the dogmatic economists. They assume that the dogmatic economists do in fact have access to timeless truths and that they, the poor working economist, did not make the cut to gain access to these truths. This reinforces the dogmatic economists’ power and social prestige. The other reaction is one of overt hostility. These reflective economists know that the dogmatic economists are Emperors that do not wear any clothes and they make no bones about saying it in public. This makes them quite unpopular with the dogmatic economists who then try to avoid such awkward discussions by isolating the critical reflective economists.

About pilkingtonphil

Philip Pilkington is a London-based economist and member of the Political Economy Research Group (PERG) at Kingston University. You can follow him on Twitter at @pilkingtonphil.
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42 Responses to Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics

  1. NeilW says:

    Sounds exactly like the clash between science and the church.

    Ultimately economics is just a pattern for how a society wants to model itself, and there are lots of different systems that ‘work’ to greater or lesser extents depending upon the various goals of those who run the society.

    Arguably the difference is whether you are doing philosophy or religion. Which is another can of worms.

  2. LK says:

    Yes, excellent post. It raises also sorts of philosophical issues too.

    It reminds me of Keynes’ letter to Roy Harrod (10 July 1938), where Keynes is attacking Tinbergen’s econometrics. The crucial passage is at the end in bold:

    “My point against Tinbergen is a different one. In chemistry and physics and other natural sciences the object of experiment is to fill in the actual values of the various quantities and factors appearing in an equation or a formula; and the work when done is once and for all. In economics that is not the case, and to convert a model into a quantitative formula is to destroy its usefulness as an instrument of thought. Tinbergen endeavours to work out the variable quantities in a particular case, or perhaps in the average of several particular cases, and he then suggests that the quantitative formula so obtained has general validity. Yet in fact, by filling in figures, which one can be quite sure will not apply next time, so far from increasing the value of his instrument, he has destroyed it. All the statisticians tend that way. Colin, for example, has recently persuaded himself that the propensity to consume in terms of money is constant at all phases of the credit cycle. He works out a figure for it and proposes to predict by using the result, regardless of the fact that his own investigations clearly show that it is not constant, in addition to the strong a priori reasons for regarding it as most unlikely that it can be so.

    The point needs emphasising because the art of thinking in terms of models is a difficult – largely because it is an unaccustomed – practice. The pseudo-analogy with the physical sciences leads directly counter to the habit of mind which is most important for an economist proper to acquire.

    I also want to emphasise strongly the point about economics being a moral science. I mentioned before that it deals with introspection and with values. I might have added that it deals with motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogeneous in the same way that the material of the other sciences, in spite of its complexity, is constant and homogeneous. It is as though the fall of the apple to the ground depended on the apple’s motives, on whether it is worth while falling to the ground, and whether the ground wanted the apple to fall, and on mistaken calculations on the part of the apple as to how far it was from the centre of the earth.
    Keynes, J. M. 1938. Letter: J. M. Keynes to Harrod, 10 July
    http://economia.unipv.it/harrod/edition/editionstuff/rfh.34a.htm

  3. LK says:

    Off-topic, but I wonder did you get my last email with the new version of my paper? If it’s a bit much and you’re pressed for time, it’s not a problem, of course.

  4. A theoretical approach can be described as “science” as long as it satisfies two conditions:
    1) It uses “reasonableness” (causality or “rationalism”- as is defined in epistemology)
    2) theorems/propositions/”laws” can be proved in this world (provability) by using “rationalism” (as mentioned in (1))
    (eg no metaphysical explanations, divine forces, magic, etc)

    In other words, {Science} is a special subset of the superset {Theory} with the above two characteristics. Not all theories are sciences but a special type of theory can be classified as science as long as it can produce coherent, demonstrable and systematic knowledge about a mundane (or “material”) phenomenon.
    After this clarification, I’d argue that what is widely called “economics” is the scientific study of the general laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production. It should not surprise the fact that “economics” (or more properly, “political economy”) emerged as an independent(self-sufficient) science (replacing philosophy on that aspect) only when the capitalist mode of production replaced feudalism; it was the first time that economic phenomena split-up from social and political phenomena. So, I’d argue that there are scientific and non-scientific schools of economic thought (eg mercantilism vs classical approach) as well as scientific and non scientific aspects of what is widely (and falsely) called “economics” (eg macroeconomics vs management or microeconomics vs accounting)

    PS A comment on the very common misunderstanding about experiment. Political economy (and economics) does not use (in general) the experimental method because it is not appropriate for social phenomena. It uses deduction and quantitative methods. That does not violate the definition as given above.

  5. JJ Wayne says:

    I think your defination of science of searching for timeless laws.

    But timeless laws are already found. Therefore it is a settled question.

    There is no doubt that economics is a science. It is a branch of quantum physics!

    Economics does have immutable laws: physics laws of social science. Please check out
    http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/47811.htm

    Economics does have a universal mathematical framework like Maxwell’s Equations for
    electromagnetism: a fundamental equation of economics. Please check out
    http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/50695.htm

  6. JJ Wayne says:

    The first sentence is:

    I like your defination of science as searching for timeless laws.

    A well-known physicist Richard Feynman used the same definition. He said social science was a pseudo-science because it has no timeless laws.

  7. “The Americans and the Germans rejected it until the late-19th and early-20th century simply because if they had adhered to it in the early and mid-19th century they would have been dominated by British industry.”
    It’s true for majority of world population that lives dominated for US-UK-Germany-Japan industries and their extensions on Asia, if a politic in one of these regions promotes proper development is reprimed and suffers reject and jail. Economic system is a unity directed for dominant interests and in no case is a aggregated of several units.

  8. Ed Seedhouse says:

    Newton’s gravitational law was not “completely overthrown”, and in fact is in use to this day. Einstein did not “overthrow” Newton but corrected him. The Einstein equations are more difficult to use than Newton’s and except in extremely rare situations Newton’s formula is perfectly good and much easier to compute.

    Other than that an excellent article.

  9. Usman nasir usman says:

    Yes ofcourse its a science but a social one that study human behaviour as a relationship between end and scarce means which has alternative uses.

  10. bernard says:

    dear author, please fix the incorrect singular «criteria»; it’s all over the place

  11. kayplantes says:

    Well done. Wish I had read this before I started and completed my MIT PhD in economics in 70s! One comment: There are tests – macro cross-sectional analysis when different policy options are advanced (e.g., minimum wage increases in US) and behavior economics are creating welcomes tests in micro.

    • Yes, I am very familiar with them. Unfortunately they tend to worsen some of the problems highlighted. You can basically prove any theory using these tests. Because we are not dealing with repeatable experiments we cannot replicate science. The original econometricians hoped that all the dogma would disappear once their methods were adopted. In fact, it got worse. And if you study the techniques it soon becomes obvious why.

      • kayplantes says:

        I learned doing my thesis and manipulating a large data base that different configurations of variables in a regression analysis yielded different results. And yes, correlation is not causation although there have been improvements in econometric methods. So the macro cross sections have their issues. But I think it is unfair to reject behavioral economists, especially the work being done @ MIT to look at how to reduce poverty. All that said, I am glad I am a practicing and not an academic economist. The systems thinking skills I learned in my training have been very useful in my work helping businesses with their core strategy decisions.

  12. RimArem says:

    Good, I guess I fit to the ‘dogmatic economists’ category but I’m not sure about ‘economists’ because I studied computer programming and advanced mathematics and in my free time I’m interesting in theoretical physics and philosophy. A funny story led me to game theory and an attempt to fix its contradiction came out a new theory which I presented to some professors now in review…
    So from my point of view there is what you call ‘timeless laws’!

  13. Pingback: Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics.. | Mostly Economics

  14. Max says:

    Was this posted on FB and then taken down?

  15. zielonygrzyb says:

    Reblogged this on The Sceptical Economist and commented:
    A thought-provoking text that is somewhat complementary to my last post on the “monolith of economic theory”.

  16. zielonygrzyb says:

    A nice post. As a trained economist, I’ve always asked myself whether economics is science. I doubt it. Of course, as you rightly point out, there is no coherent, agreed upon definition of economics available. But economics likey doesn’t fit any reasonable definition well. However, the question is: does this matter? The answer is, I would propose, as usual: it depends. When you have to do with dogmatic economists (I like the distinction proposed above very much), it does matter. Economics can be useful and provide answers to some questions, unless it dogmatically claims to provide THE answer. And that essentially is what dogmatic economists do. Reflective economists, on the other hand, are aware of the limitations of their own discipline – the answers they provide can indeed be useful. Of course, there is also the problem of how economics is perceived in the public. Many laypeople, so is my impression at least, take economists’ claims about how economy and society work for granted and implicitly grant them the status of scientific correct theories/models. That’s a problem for us reflective economists, too, as we have difficulties to convey the message that our models and theories are “right” only under some very specific conditions and should not be interpreted as perennial laws.

    In the end, the German speaking economists (the Austrians and the German Historical School) were likely right in their scepticism towards the ambitions of both classical and neoclassical economics. Too bad they are not really well-known and lacking from most university curricula.

  17. Dare I say that for many economists, as well as for many economies, it is true that “Our karma ran over our dogma.” Very nice post, as usual. Lots of cud to chew on.

  18. Pingback: Editors’ Picks – 28th September 2014 | Economics Student Society of Australia (ESSA)

  19. Darius1295 says:

    “This accounts for why the free trade dogma was accepted at different times in different countries. The Americans and the Germans rejected it until the late-19th and early-20th century simply because if they had adhered to it in the early and mid-19th century they would have been dominated by British industry.”
    There’s nothing bad about being ‘dominated’ by British industry, is there? No-one would honestly say that we should protect an isolated village from being ‘dominated’ by foreign industry within the country.

    • Really? I certainly WOULD make that case and many other historians have made that case before me. Take the Indians in the 19th century, for example. They saw their domestic cotton industry demolished by British import penetration and this was a major setback for the country for over a century. British colonial trade policies, enforced by the brutal East Indian Trade Company, are still remembered in India today as they struggle to industrialise. Meanwhile, countries like the US, who placed tariffs on British goods, have outpaced the old empire in economic terms.

      Some familiarity with economic history, please!

      • Darius1295 says:

        “They saw their domestic cotton industry demolished by British import penetration and this was a major setback for the country for over a century.”
        The key word here is COTTON. What is bad for the cotton industry is not necessarily bad for the economy as a whole. To think otherwise is to commit the fallacy of composition. (What is rather ironic is that I’m currently reading Elementary Lessons in Logic by W. Stanley Jevons which uses protectionism as an example in his explanation of the fallacy of composition:
        “It is by a fallacy of Composition that protective duties are still sometimes upheld. Because any one or any few trades which enjoy protective duties are benefited thereby, it is supposed that all trades at once might be benefited similarly; but this is impossible, because the protection of one trade by raising prices injures all others”.)

        “British colonial trade policies, enforced by the brutal East Indian Trade Company, are still remembered in India today as they struggle to industrialise.”
        India struggles to develop because of the interventionist policies of Nehru et al. Hong Kong, on the other hand, pursued the free trade route and is now RICHER than Great Britain.

        “Meanwhile, countries like the US, who placed tariffs on British goods, have outpaced the old empire in economic terms.”
        That argument is post hoc ergo propter hoc, see http://www.fallacyfiles.org/posthocf.html

      • Yawm. Those are the arguments of a sophomore.

        As every economic historian knows if you destroy a key industry in a developing country other industries will have a hard time developing. This is because key industries like cotton allow a technological base to develop together with the social developments that lead to investments in human capital. Even the mainstream are taking account of these factors in their endogenous growth theory models. Catch up. You are using arguments that only undergrads are taught and only idiots believe.

        Finally, on post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments in economics, if you had any statistical training you would know that all we work with in economics are correlations. We literally cannot make any other empirical arguments because we cannot run controlled experiments. Even causality tests rely on lagged variables leading other variables (which would fall under your criteria for post hoc ergo propter hoc — I suppose that means that Clive Granger should have his Nobel Prize revoked by your criteria!). We have good evidence that countries that engaged in protectionism during their industrial infancy succeeded (the US, Germany, South Korea etc.) where those that did not failed (Portugal, India etc.).

        You need to do more serious study if you’re going to have these debates.

        Oh and it should probably be noted: Nehru wasn’t even BORN in the early-to-mid 19th century which is what I was discussing with regards to India! Lol!

      • Darius1295 says:

        Just to use a further example of the fallacy of composition, if I went from growing my own food to buying food at the supermarket, my food production would obviously plummet as a result of my personal decision to further participate in free trade, but that would not imply in any way that I would be worse off.

      • From this comment we have clear evidence that you do not understand the meaning of the term “fallacy of composition”.

      • Darius1295 says:

        “As every economic historian knows if you destroy a key industry in a developing country other industries will have a hard time developing.”
        It depends on the context. If you destroy a key industry ceteris paribus then yes, that is bad for the country as a whole. If, on the other hand a key industry is destroyed but the same goods can be purchased at a cheaper price, that is a NET GAIN to the economy in the long run since resources are freed up from that industry and go to other industries with a higher comparative advantage. However I do concede that a sudden increase in free trade would be damaging in the short run.

        “This is because key industries like cotton allow a technological base to develop together with the social developments that lead to investments in human capital.”
        I cannot understand this argument. Please explain in more detail.

        “Catch up. You are using arguments that only undergrads are taught and only idiots believe.”
        Name calling. How mature of you.

        “Finally, on post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments in economics, if you had any statistical training you would know that all we work with in economics are correlations. We literally cannot make any other empirical arguments because we cannot run controlled experiments.”
        I do have statistical training, thank you very much. And saying that using post hoc ergo propter hoc is acceptable because experiment can’t be carried out in economics is like saying it is acceptable to cure a disease with quack medicine because there aren’t any experimentally verified medicines for this particular disease. Often the quack medicine, just like the quack post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments used by Keynesian economists, do much more harm than good.
        Moreover, using the same post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, I could just as well say that the US is richer than the UK because the US adopted a welfare state over two decades after the UK or because the US has generally had freer markets than the UK. In fact, it is pretty easy to prove almost anything you want this way.

      • Darius1295 says:

        “Even causality tests rely on lagged variables leading other variables (which would fall under your criteria for post hoc ergo propter hoc — I suppose that means that Clive Granger should have his Nobel Prize revoked by your criteria!).”
        So what? In the same way that Richard Feynman had no qualms about criticising the educational and psychological establishment in his famous Cargo Cult Science speech, I have no qualms about criticising the economics establishment. Macroeconomics also fits Feynman’s definition of a cargo cult science.

        “You need to do more serious study if you’re going to have these debates.”
        I love the irony of that argument:
        “What is the relationship between dogmatic and reflective economists in our society? Here there is no firm answer. The dogmatic economists react to the reflective economists in two ways: condescension and deep suspicion/fear. Working economists who do not partake in theoretical debate can be safely condescended to by the dogmatic economists. But the reflective economist who actually tries to engage in theoretical debate will provoke confusion and frustration in the dogmatic economist who is not used to having his or her authority challenged. The main device utilised here is to simply ignore these reflective economists and try to push them out of the debate through social isolation.”

        “Oh and it should probably be noted: Nehru wasn’t even BORN in the early-to-mid 19th century which is what I was discussing with regards to India! Lol!”
        Please read your original reply:
        “…are still remembered in India TODAY AS THEY struggle to industrialise.”

        “From this comment we have clear evidence that you do not understand the meaning of the term “fallacy of composition”.”
        Yes I do: “The fallacy of composition arises when one implies that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition . Even W. Stanley Jevons, who was an expert in the field of logic, used protectionism as an example. In this case, my food production has decreased, yet my total production has not decreased; either my production of leisure has increased (if I choose to use the time saved to relax) or my production of other goods has increased (if I choose to use the time saved to work longer hours).

      • Your example was not a fallacy of composition, at least not in the phrasing that you cast it in. If you had said something like “if I stop producing corn that does not necessarily mean that the nation’s wealth would go down” you might have a case. But you didn’t.

        The comment addressed India in the 19th century. I then said that they remember this today. That was all. Then you started ranting unprovoked about Nehru (bee in your bonnet much?).

        Finally, both macro and microeconomics use empirical methods that you would consider post hoc ergo propter hoc. You have thus concluded that ALL economic theory is either (a) non-empirical or (b) post hoc ergo propter hoc in its empirical methods. I see no point in discussing the truth or falsehood of empirical statements that I made about economics in the post if your position is one of nihilism. That would be pointless. I can only conclude that you hold some weird Misean a priorist view of economic theory. I don’t deal with people like that. They are quite obviously cultists.

      • Darius1295 says:

        Finally, you have yet to explain why Hong Kong is so successful, despite having had a policy of free trade.

      • I never said that free trade = bad. I said that import penetration to destroy an industrial base typically resulted in poor industrial development.

        Remember that fallacy of composition thing? Yeah, it applies here: just because I said that some potential results of free trade policies might be bad that does not mean that free trade will always and everywhere have bad outcomes.

      • Darius1295 says:

        “Your example was not a fallacy of composition, at least not in the phrasing that you cast it in. If you had said something like “if I stop producing corn that does not necessarily mean that the nation’s wealth would go down” you might have a case. But you didn’t.”
        I said that decreasing my production in food does not imply that I have to increase my OVERALL production. That’s it, simple.

        “The comment addressed India in the 19th century. I then said that they remember this today. That was all. Then you started ranting unprovoked about Nehru (bee in your bonnet much?).”
        You said “today AS THEY STRUGGLE to industrialise.”
        That’s present tense, not past tense. My point is that India’s interventionist policies, which were championed by Nehru and his followers, are the cause of India’s lack of development. Again, a very simple point. Also, saying I have a bee in my bonnet is a bit rich coming from you!

        “Finally, both macro and microeconomics use empirical methods that you would consider post hoc ergo propter hoc. You have thus concluded that ALL economic theory is either (a) non-empirical or (b) post hoc ergo propter hoc in its empirical methods. I see no point in discussing the truth or falsehood of empirical statements that I made about economics in the post if your position is one of nihilism.”
        Not necessarily. You can always compare samples of many different countries, which would be half-way between experimental and post hoc ergo propter hoc, like for example Marcus Nune’s comparison of government spending and growth rates in different countries: http://thefaintofheart.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/keep-it-simple/ , which is a VAST improvement over looking at the time series of a single country’s growth.
        Moreover, you can use common sense and think of how much of an effect each variable is likely to have on the outcome of an economy. It is obviously stupid to say, for example, that if an economy grew very well in a particular year and there were a large number of thunderstorms in that year that thunderstorms cause economic growth. On the other hand, it would make sense to attribute China’s recent growth to economic liberalisation since a) the increase in growth was HUGE and b) the change in China’s economic policy was one of the biggest changes in the Chinese economy as a whole.

      • You write:

        “You can always compare samples of many different countries…”

        I wrote:

        “We have good evidence that countries that engaged in protectionism during their industrial infancy succeeded (the US, Germany, South Korea etc.) where those that did not failed (Portugal, India etc.).”

        Get serious or get out of here… You’re just arguing like a person on the internet. The goal is not reasonable discussion, it is oneupmanship.

      • Darius1295 says:

        “I see no point in discussing the truth or falsehood of empirical statements that I made about economics in the post if your position is one of nihilism. That would be pointless. I can only conclude that you hold some weird Misean a priorist view of economic theory. I don’t deal with people like that. They are quite obviously cultists.”
        Calling other people cultists is a bit rich coming from someone who uses insults instead of actual arguments! Moreover, a priori arguments can easily be used to point out the absurdity of protectionist arguments. Using the exact same arguments, I could argue that tariffs are needed to protect the infant industries of one city from ‘unfair competition’ from another city. Or better yet, why not argue for the introduction of tariffs to protect the infant industry of one district against ‘unfair competition’ from another district. What if the north part of a certain town has an infant restaurant industry, but then cheaper, better restaurants start cropping up in the south part, turning customers away from the northern restaurants and making the close down?

        “I never said that free trade = bad. I said that import penetration to destroy an industrial base typically resulted in poor industrial development.”
        You still haven’t provided a reasonably coherent theory explaining why this supposedly true.

        “Remember that fallacy of composition thing? Yeah, it applies here: just because I said that some potential results of free trade policies might be bad that does not mean that free trade will always and everywhere have bad outcomes.”
        My argument still holds. There is absolutely no doubt that the economy of Hong Kong today, which is a very rich 1st world country, barely resembles the Hong Kong of 1950, which was still a third world country. Anyone continuing to use third world production techniques would have obviously been crushed by market forces, just like how many industries were completely destroyed in Britain during the industrial revolution, such as the old clothing industry with the introduction of the power loom.

      • Now you’re just talking to yourself about the wonders of Hong Kong (which I never mentioned nor denied that free trade might have worked there). Dogmatic economists are apt to do that… talk to themselves.

        I also never suggested inter-regional protectionism. Just because protectionism might work in some cases does not mean it will work in all. You seem to have a problem with this. You keep engaging in a fallacy of composition. “Phil says that protectionism might work in case x, therefore he logically must think it works in cases a, b, cn“. That’s a fallacy of composition. If you get nothing else out of this conversation (I suspect you won’t) at least you’ll be clear on the meaning of that phrase.

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