INITブログが、経済学者の役割についての自己認識と社会の認識を問う「Experts on Trial」という討論シリーズを企画している*1。その中でジャワハルラール・ネルー大学名誉教授のAmit Bhaduriが、表題のブログ記事(原題は「Against False Arrogance of Economic Knowledge」)を書いている(H/T Mostly Economics)。

The problem of any branch of knowledge is to systematize a set of particular observations in a more coherent form, called hypothesis or ‘theory.’ Two problems must be resolved by those attempting to develop theory: (1) finding agreement on what has been observed; (2) finding agreement on how to systematize those observations.
In economics, there would be more agreement on the second point than on the first. ...If one is dealing with questions of general interest that arise in macroeconomics, one has to first agree on ‘robust’ so-called ‘stylized’ facts based on observation: for example, we can agree that business cycles occur; that total output grows as a long term trend; that unemployment and financial crisis are recurring problems, and so on.
In the view of the economic world now dominant in major universities in the United States — with its ripple effect around the world — is these are transient states, aberrations from a perfectly functioning equilibrium system.


This exclusion of alternative views is not merely a question of vested interest and the ideological view that we live in the best of all possible worlds where optimum equilibria rule, except during transient moments. It stems, also, from a misplaced notion of the aesthetics of good theory: Good theory is assumed to be a closed axiomatic system. Its axioms can, at best, be challenged empirically — e.g. testing the axiom of individual rationality by setting up experimental devices — but such challenges hardly add up to any workable alternative way of doing macro-economics.
There is however an alternative way, or, rather, there are alternative ways. We must learn to accept that when undeniable facts stare us in the face and shake up our political universe — e.g. growing unemployment is a problem, and money and finance have roles beyond medium of payment in an uncertain world shaken by financial crises — they are not transient problems; they are a part of the system we are meant to study. It is no good saying my axiomatic system does not have room for them. Instead, the alternative way is to take each problem and devise the best ways in which we are able to handle them analytically. Physicist Feynman (economist Dow (1995) made a similar distinction) had made a distinction between the Greek way of doing mathematics axiomatically, and the Babylonian way, which used separate known results (theorems) without necessarily knowing the link among them. We must accept this Babylonian approach to deal with macro-economic problems, without pretending that it must follow from some grand axiom.
Awareness of history must enter economic theory by showing that concepts such as cost, profit, wage, rent, and even commercial rationality have anthropological dimensions specific to social systems. The humility to accept that economic propositions cannot be universal would save us from self-defeating arrogance.