The Future of Everything

May 21, 2014

Response to Chris Auld’s review of Economyths

Filed under: Economics, Reviews — Tags: , — David @ 4:58 pm

My book Economyths has received a number of reviews, from publications ranging from Handelsblatt to the International Journal of Social Economics. Most were quite generous, but an exception was the one penned by Christopher Auld, a health economist from the University of Victoria in Canada. According to Auld, Economyths is “a terrible, willfully ignorant, deeply anti-intellectual book. The characterization of economic thought presented is ridiculous. The level of scholarship is abysmal.”

Hmm. For context, compare this with the description of the book from former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada William White, who cited it as a Bloomberg Best Book of 2013: “Lists 10 crucial assumptions (the economy is simple, fair, stable, etc.) and argues both entertainingly and convincingly that each one is totally at odds with reality.”

Of course, it is normal for different readers to come to different conclusions about a book, but this seems extreme. So what is going on?

Feedback is always useful. But Auld’s article isn’t a review – it’s a rant.

Throughout his piece he makes numerous exaggerated, inaccurate, and misleading statements. For example, this academic economist writes that I spend “several chapters discussing the scandalous fact that economists oppose any and all government intervention to protect the environment.” Even if that were my position, which it isn’t, I wouldn’t spend several chapters discussing it (especially since the book only has ten chapters).

Auld quotes me as saying that “senior economists are ‘part of a giant global conspiracy – an attempt to distract us from the real game that is being played behind the scenes.’ (I am not making this up.)” Actually, he is making that up: the full quote is a question, and the answer is negative. He leaves out the question mark.

Auld writes that “I don’t think there’s a single sentence about what economists believe in Economyths with which I agree.” But the book’s assertions are based on or backed by quotes and papers from economists, and the book has been endorsed by leading economists such as White, and Norbert Häring, and Thomas Sedlacek, to name a few.

I was alerted to the post by a reader of my column from World Finance who engaged Auld in the comments section of his post. Those comments have since been removed. You can still read them on the original version on the internet archive of the post from November 2012 (19 comments).

Compare with e.g. this later one from January 2014 (all comments removed). This seems to be deliberate since all the other posts still have comments. Maybe it’s because Auld in a long exchange in the comments section proves himself utterly incapable of defending his position against a third-year economics student.

In one of those comments Auld accused me of being “full of venom and accusation” towards the “entire community of economists.” He meanwhile maintains a list of “anti-economists” on his site, who are described as vitriolic, spectacularly wrong, technically incompetent, butchering economics, etc. The list includes, besides me, the environmentalist David Suzuki, the economist Steve Keen, and the biologist David Sloan Wilson – all people from outside the mainstream economics establishment who have questioned the basic assumptions of economics.

Auld is far from being an isolated case – indeed other mainstream economists seem to find him something of an inspiration. For example, after Suzuki equated economists’ use of the word “externality” as meaning “we don’t give a shit” in an obviously over-the-top remark, Auld described Suzuki’s take on economics as “offensive, ridiculous, and staggeringly ignorant,” and called for “an apology and an unequivocal retraction.” Citing Auld, economist Stephen Gordon accused Suzuki in Maclean’s magazine of conducting a “smear campaign” against economists; while Mike Moffatt wrote a similar Globe and Mail article in which he repeated Auld’s claim that Suzuki “owes economists an apology.” Moffatt then did an interview for the right-wing Sun News Network, in which he mocked Suzuki’s understanding of economics, and explained how it really works: “What happens is when companies log for instance they replant trees so they can have more wood to use in the future.” Of course this all fit perfectly with the Sun News campaign to discredit environmentalists. And Auld thinks Economyths (which only says economists tend to downplay or ignore environmental problems) misrepresents economists’ attitude towards the environment?

In another post, Auld provides a list of “18 signs you’re reading bad criticism of economics” which includes everything from “Goes out of its way to point out that the Economics Nobel is not a real Nobel” (ref Nassim Taleb) to “Cites Debunking Economics” (ref Steve Keen). Taleb and Keen, together with White, are among the few people credited with giving advance warning of the financial crisis. Silence those voices, and what hope is there to predict the next one?

In recent years, there have been growing calls from students and others to change the way economists work and teach. As Cambridge University economists Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred note, their subject “is the only academic discipline in which a significant and increasing number of students are in an open revolt against the content of their degree courses.” A common complaint is that economists need to be more open to a range of ideas from outside their fields.

A first step would be for economists like Auld to get out of book-burning mode.

Full archived version of Auld’s post before comments deleted

Update:

Related post on Moffatt and Suzuki by Fil Salustri: Mike Moffatt needs an ethics refresher course

Related article for World Finance: Economics’ big bipolar problem

The “third-year economics student” who engaged Auld was Cahal Moran, who went on to co-found the Post-Crash Economics Society and co-author the widely lauded book The Econocracy: On the Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts (not sure if this explains why his comments were removed)

A revised version of Economyths is out in 2017.

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May 19, 2014

World Finance: Unconditional basic income

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — David @ 7:05 pm

Discussing basic income with Green Party’s Natalie Bennett

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