THOUGHT & ACTIONFALL 2009 87 WHO ARE THESE ECONOMISTS, ANYWAY?87
tive reasoning from first principles, that of David Ricardo over Thomas RobertMalthus. Keynes wrote:
It must have been due to a complex of suitabilities in the doctrine to the envi-ronment into which it was projected. That it reached conclusions quite differentfrom what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect added, I suppose, to itsintellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere andoften unpalatable, lent it virtue. That it was adapted to carry a vast and logicalsuperstructure, gave it beauty. That it could explain much social injustice andapparent cruelty as an inevitable incident in the scheme of progress,and the attempto change such things as likely on the whole to do more harm than good, com-mended it to authority.That it afforded a measure of justification to the free activ-ities of the individual capitalist, attracted to it the support of the dominant socialforce behind authority.
Note that Keynes does not neglect the element of beauty. But he embeds thispoint in a much richer tapestry of opportunism, venality, and apologetics. To thisday, seduction-by-deduction is known, in some corners of economics at least, as“the Ricardian Vice.” Keynes also wrote:
“But although the doctrine itself has remained unquestioned by orthodoxeconomists up to a late date, its signal failure for purposes of scientific predictionhas greatly impaired, in the course of time, the prestige of its practitioners. For pro-fessional economists... were apparently unmoved by the lack of correspondencebetween the results of their theory and the facts of observation;—a discrepancy which the ordinary man has not failed to observe...”
Nothing much changes, and it is interesting to ask, why not?
he reason is not that there has been no recent work into the nature and caus-es of financial collapse. Such work exists. But the lines of discourse that takeup these questions have been marginalized, shunted to the sidelines within aca-demic economics. Articles that discuss these problems are relegated to secondary journals, even to newsletters and blog posts.The scholars who betray their skepti-cism by taking an interest in them are discouraged from academic life—or if they remain, they are sent out into the vast diaspora of lesser state universities and lib-eral arts colleges.There, they can be safely ignored.Let us venture out into the nether wastes of economics, and attempt a brief
To this day, seduction-by-deduction is known,in some corners of economics at least,as ‘the Ricardian Vice.’