Question: Good Economics

Out of curiosity, what would be the eldraeic critique of the idea of “Good Economics” as expounded on in the Book of Life, particularly as contrasted with Classical Economics?


It’s a category error, plain and simple. Ironically, a lot of the things they complain about are examples of the exact same category error.

Economics, saith the Academician, is a science. It is to the laws governing utility, value, and exchange-value as physics is to the laws governing gravity, electromagnetism, color, and flavor. It’s a purely descriptive discipline, which is eo ipso amoral, in the same way that while how you use electricity or gravity may involve ethical choices, neither Newton’s nor Faraday’s laws have any ethical significance per se. Is, not ought.

What they’re talking about, with regard to making judgments of worth and dignity and so forth, with regard to what people want, what people want to want, what people ought to want, and what people ought to want, is the province of various other fields, like ethics, and aesthetics, with a side order of culture and religion, and whole bunch of bare-assed personal preferences on the side… exactly none of which goal-driven behaviors are economics, any more than all the ways sophonts have found to move mass and charge around to useful ends are physics, because neither of them talk about goals. They’re about how, not about what.

…and the irony is that when they talk like this:

But if next year, the wrestling society spends a record 11 billion, it is cause for praise: demand is growing, which is always good, irrespective of what it is actually demand for.

“Work is regarded only with respect to its financial status.”

Profit is, too, assessed only in terms of quantity. So long as one stays within the law, classical economics is neutral on the issue of how it is produced. To make profit from running a casino is no more or less admirable, no better or worse, than to make it by designing and constructing  beautiful streets of small houses.

The classical view is neutral about GDP. A society as a whole is assumed to be doing well so long as GDP is growing irrespective of the kinds of activity that lead this to happen. People might be working endless hours, the beauty of the countryside might be despoiled, but all that counts is whether the financial numbers are going up; anything else is irrelevant.

…this is the same category error ascribed to the “classical” side, in which people are assigning ethical and aesthetic qualities to phenomena which no more have them than gravity does. To say that increased demand for X or the greater profitability of Y is good or bad or better or worse in an ethical or aesthetic sense (vis-à-vis a limited utilitarian sense) is the same kind of damn nonsense as saying “more things falling down is (morally) better”.

(Of course, we have the whole mess called normative economics, which an Imperial economist would consider nonsense on stilts.

To such extent as it is merely a discussion of what one ought to want, it isn’t economics, as above. To such extent as it isn’t, it makes about as much sense as writing down your idea for how gravity ought to work and expecting results. You don’t get to have normative views on natural laws unless you’re in the reality-construction business, and if anything, the laws of economics are probably less tractable than those of physics that way.)


3 thoughts on “Question: Good Economics

  1. On the one hand, from the purely definitional standpoint, this makes a certain amount of sense.

    On the other hand, getting at a deeper issue: Does the fact that economics itself is an objective science mean that a good economists ought to suspend their own sense of moral judgement when making prescriptive recommendations rather than descriptive analyses? Or should the ideal economist (and, by extension, the ideal scientist) be required to refrain from making prescriptions at all, and just “shut up and Science”?

    • You can have whatever ethical (or other opinions) you like, and make choices based on that when choosing which Initiatives to contract with and how to guide (persuasively) projects you’re involved in. You just can’t pass them off as economics when you’re doing it, because that’s improperly using the imprimatur of your professional reputation and your profession’s reputation to validate statements made outside of it – and that manages to violate professional ethics, the social conventions of well-managed valëssef, and the Technarch’s Code all at the same time.

      So you can be as prescriptive as you want inside your field (say, in terms of the economically optimal way to achieve end X within constraints Y; or the purely economic reaction to action Z), but if you want to venture outside of it in the field of prescriptions, you have to be clear that you aren’t talking as an economist.

      (Or whatever other field you happen to be in, obviously.)

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