The recent debate over deficits vs. stimulus spending has drawn attention to the role of economics as an agent of intellectual authority in our country. After due consideration, I have concluded that Economics as an academic subject is not the scientific discipline its proponents would have you believe it is. Explanations follow.
A scientist friend of mine is fond of saying that science is a set of tools one uses to make sure you aren’t fooling yourself. This is probably the most accessible definition of science that I have heard. I resist the temptation to limit science only to what can be proved experimentally, since good old fashioned observation does its share of assembling data for consideration. You don’t need to run an experiment to know when a volcano is erupting or when you see something that merits closer inspection.
One of those tools my friend referred to is the idea that once something is proven, you continue to accept it as fact until you come across evidence that disproves its standing as fact. By the same token, something proven to be false should not be accepted as if it were true, especially in order to prove some other hypothesis. Science is not a democracy, nor does it value diversity of opinion for its own sake. Anyone in the scientific community who willfully, stubbornly refuses to accept the weight of overwhelming or even nominally persuasive evidence are eased out to pasture at best, ridiculed and no longer taken seriously at worst. This is as it should be. Nature does not give a damn about any person or group’s politics, expectations, or cherished personal beliefs. She is the final arbiter and you ignore her laws at your peril.
Readers who have been reading Krugman or Stiglitz will probably have guessed where I am going with this, but this post is as much vent as exposition, so bear with me. The rest of you, keep up.
We are seeing Economics applied to problems of the economy, as they should be, but there is something truly baffling going on. We have been here before; the current economic situation is a depression, caused by certain things that were allowed back into play after they were taken out of play for causing another depression a couple of generations ago. The cause and effect relationship is well understood. The Great Depression has been analyzed to death by experts with no stake in the know-nothing ideology now seeking frantically to re-write history. They seek not only absolve those who brought us this current disaster, but to perpetuate those same abuses in the name of both ideology and the deliberate decision that the plundering of the lower 99% of the population shall continue.
As I noted above, the relationship between government spending to stimulate an economy when business cannot is well understood. It is also known to objective economists and anyone who looks objectively at the data that tax cuts do not stimulate an economy or create jobs. Even those pinkos over at Moodys Analytics understand that tax cuts at their very best give you about as much as you put in; in other words, they’re a wash (scroll down in the link to find a handy chart that breaks this out). George W. Bush’s orgy of tax cuts for the wealthy resulted in eight years of zero net jobs created. Zero. His famous tax cuts got us $0.32 for every dollar invested; a 68% loss. And yet today the country’s economic policies are routinely distorted and even hijacked by those who think these tax cuts were a great success. They are economic equivalent of physicians who reject germ theory.
Astronomers accept that the universe is expanding, that the sun is the center of the solar system. Biologists accept evolution for the fact that it is. Geologists no longer believe that most geologic phenomena was caused by the Great Flood of Genesis, and that the Earth is billions of years old. Economics, however, seems incapable of standing on the shoulders of their giants, or advancing their body of knowledge in a way that weeds out the spurious and fallacious. Science expands and refines its knowledge as it goes. Economics does not and by that fact alone, cannot be called science, dismal or otherwise.