Saturday, January 24, 2015

Economists "Dominate". Is That Beneficial?

It could be, but everyone has a long way to go before this dominance makes a crucial difference. Why so? Presently, economists continue to methodically work within the institutional paradigms which other social sciences have been captured by, in their turn. As a result, economics - as a discipline - could miss the fact too many lines are presently being drawn in the sand, around populations as a whole. It is not enough to say the future is bright so long as it improves locations X and Y and oh...nevermind about the other regions or nations for they're "beyond hope".

Nevertheless, Justin Wolfers is reasonably proud of the growing dominance of economists. And while he didn't mention it in the NYT article "How Economists Came to Dominate the Conversation", much of the educational focus for economics majors is in macroeconomics, as well. Alas, I can't locate an earlier link which "backs" the macroeconomic dominance! Wolfers writes:
Two hundred years ago, the field of economics barely existed. Today it is arguably the queen of the social sciences. 
Through a process of extracting article mentions from the New York Times, he noted the rise (particularly from the Great Depression forward) of economists in the social sciences as compared to historians, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and demographers.

In particular, economics contrasts institutional contributions through mathematical and statistical comparison. Prior to this focus, history captured details in illustrative form, a relevance which only shifted after the monetary difficulties which led to the Great Depression. However, it is the rise of dispersed information which led to greater emphasis on the the "big picture". If there is one crucial difference between earlier economic calamities and the potential calamities of the present, it would be that a lot more people are paying attention.

Still, important events and details are being neglected for the important information they hold. Most important among these is a growing inability for people to remain civil to one another, in multiple circumstance. In its defense, economics is certainly not the only discipline to neglect larger implications in this regard. Sociology - in particular - never presented useful material for me, because of its insistent focus on activities within institutions, rather than the (rapidly disappearing) activities among individuals in everyday life.

Even microeconomics has missed some broader implications in this regard, for it takes a passive approach to what could be productive applications in numerous settings. It particularly disappoints me that psychology has missed part of its calling, which leaves its practitioners ill equipped to help those who suffer from lack of economic access. Even though economics (still) continues to fall somewhat short, many individuals such as myself have turned to economics for solutions. At the very least, economics touches on the importance of the individual in economic life, and could do so to a greater degree.

Psychology is also in an unfortunate position, given the fact that - as Wolfers mentioned - there are approximately 3.4 million psychology majors in comparison to 1.5 million economics majors. This tells quite a story what matters to people, which remains to be connected to ongoing realities. If only these psychology hopefuls could be matched up with the millions of individuals who would benefit from their desire to help! When knowledge use remains indirectly compensated, time investment remains a lottery ticket - for there are too few local marketplaces which allow productive time use to take place. No discipline is truly stable, if it cannot provide settings for ongoing participation at local levels.

Indeed, today's school systems were a result of the most recent enclosure movement. As the new school guilds captured and defined knowledge components, knowledge came to be associated less with applied use, and more with consumption. As education became associated with institutions instead of individuals, a limited number of cities took on the primary role of knowledge use, in spite of the new ability for knowledge to disperse to all corners of the world.

As Ivan Illich wrote so eloquently in "Deschooling Society", formalized education separates individuals from the economic and social processes which play vital roles in personal productivity. And all too often, formal schooling encourages individuals to conclude that they have little control over the trajectory of their lives. Even though this book was published in 1971, the premise is as vital as ever - as is the need to address its concerns.

While it is understandable that governments seek control over economic circumstance, by doing so they take great chances on the loss of their own civilizations. Many economists have yet to consider the economic dangers of excessive centralization. Just the same, effective decentralization is not a matter of reaction and anti government sentiment. There is beauty in productive economic environments, which rivals the beauty of nature in its complexity. When governments give in to the desire to limit economic complexity to cities and "special" regions, they create instability for their own populations.

When individuals lose their intimate connections to production processes, their higher aspirations are also lost. They become more susceptible to hate and blame, convinced as they are that the present day system cannot be healed. When economic vitality is not deemed possible for the world as a whole, the world slowly encroaches on the holders of that vitality. Then, the "outside" finally threatens the cities which sought to preserve the use of knowledge on limited terms.

However, when knowledge use and productive economies thrive in every corner of the world, terrorism strongholds begin to lose their grip. Economists could play a tremendous role in this worthy cause. Economic complexity for all, is still a worthwhile dream.

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