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Mathematical Modelling and Ideology in the Economics Academy: competing explanations of the failings of the modern discipline?

Tony Lawson

Abstract

The widespread and long-lived failings of academic economics are due to an over-reliance on largely inappropriate mathematical methods of analysis. This is an assessment I have long maintained. Many heterodox economists, however, appear to hold instead that the central problem is a form of political-economic ideology. Specifically, it is widely contended in heterodox circles that the discipline goes astray just because so many economists are committed to a portrayal of the market economy as a smoothly or efficiently functioning system or some such, a portrayal that, whether sincerely held or otherwise, is inconsistent with the workings of social reality. Here I critically examine the contention that a form of political-economic ideology of this sort is the primary problem and assess its explanatory power. I conclude that the contention does not fare very well. I do not, though, deny that ideology of some sort has a major impact on the output of the modern economics academy. However it is of a different nature to the form typically discussed, and works in somewhat indirect and complex ways. Having raised the question of the impact of ideology I take the opportunity to explore its play in the economics academy more generally.

Published on 17 Jul 2012 in Economic Thought Vol 1, No 1, 2012