What’s Wrong with Heterodox Economics?

A couple of days ago I was exposed to a piece by Randall Wray discussing some remarkable findings presented in a paper by Leonhard Dobusch and Jakob Kapeller. The paper discusses citation practices and their relationship with the performance of economic journals. Wray’s comments are centered on the following four points made in the article:

  1. Cross-citation between heterodox journals and orthodox journals is largely biased towards the latter. This is due to orthodox journals constantly citing other orthodox journals and heterodox journals mainly citing orthodox journals.
  2. These biased cross-citation practices create perverse incentives. Researchers that want to get tenure send their best work to the highly ranked orthodox journals.
  3. A number of top heterodox journals are biased towards formal and econometric-based research. These articles are more likely to cite orthodox journals.
  4. Heterodox journals restrict the availability of their papers pre and post-publication.

In this piece I want to make some comments regarding the first three points.

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Dispatches from ASSA: Part IV

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The problem of the term “heterodox” manifests itself occasionally on panel discussions. Its ambiguity can lead to a gulf of subject matter, the depths of which can not be adequately plumbed in a standard follow-up discussion. The label of “heterodox” is used to describe everyone from Marxians, Sraffians, Austrians, Keynesians, Kaleckians and whatever remains in between. My last day at ASSA would best be described as heterodox.

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Dispatches from ASSA: Part II

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If you don’t know Scott Carter, he’s a man worth knowing. He is unlike most economists in that he actually appears human when talking about economic issues. While most economists are usually very congenial and calm during an ASSA session, Carter’s wild gesticulations and earnest roars match the grave urgency of the subjects he’s discussing. I was lucky enough to share a panel with Scott yesterday morning and see him again in a session on Sraffian economics later in the afternoon.

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Dispatches from ASSA: Part I

I was fortunate enough to have the self-awareness to plan to arrive in San Francisco a day before the conference. This meant foregoing any plans for New Year’s Eve. My airline, however, was insistent that I go to the club – even if the dance floor was occupied by rows of seating. Flying Virgin Air was by far the most bizarre experience I have ever had on an airplane. To understand what I mean, I recorded a video (below) of the in flight announcements.

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Polanyi and Mattei’s “Market Fundamentalism and Fascist Politics in Europe”

In this blog post I would like to address the presentation on “Market Fundamentalism and Fascist Politics in Europe”, delivered by Clara Mattei (NSSR Visiting Scholar and PhD Candidate, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa) at the Economics Department Seminar of the past October 20, in conversation with some thoughts after the talk “Polanyi’s Vision of a Socialist Transformation” by Karl Polanyi’s daughter, Kari Polanyi-Levitt, and Nancy Fraser.

Clara Mattei’s work follows perfectly from Polanyi’s well-known dictum, “laissez-faire was planned – planning was not”, which underlies his 1942 masterpiece The Great Transformation, a seminal book of economic history that practically founded the entire discipline of economic anthropology. In that work, Polanyi set a historical puzzle for neoclassical economists: “Why did a prolonged period of relative peace and prosperity in Europe, lasting from 1815 to 1914, suddenly give way to a world war followed by an economic collapse?”. Polanyi argued persuasively against the 19th-century ideology of market liberalism, founded on the utopian belief that human society should exclusively be subordinated to the laissez-faire forces of the self-regulating free market: he noted, by comparing the eroding effects of laissez-faire capitalism on the European social fabric both in the Great Depression and during the 19th century, that the relentless expansion of the free market would always inevitably unleash destructive forces upon the bare fabric of society in a way that society would inevitably respond back in order to protect itself, either in the form of fascism (Mussolini, Hitler, Franco) or socialism (Stalin). This constitutes the core Polanyian argument of the “double movement”.

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Free Capital as Anti-Democracy

That deterministic herald of creative destruction, globalization, was held in check by political barriers, namely capital controls, for the better part of the twentieth century.  Incidentally, this age of capital controls aligned more or less exactly with the age of shared growth we now call the Golden Age of Capitalism.  (an aside: it’s a sad irony of history that much of what is remembered as the achievements of capitalism are actually the achievements of not-capitalism).

But now this mainstay of globalization has resumed its inexorable march, except in India and China and a few other countries that have managed to rapidly develop, and capital controls have mostly given way to unrestricted short-term capital flows.  And just as political conditions once allowed for control of capital, now capital controls political conditions.

Take the following story:

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Why We Must Pay Attention to Rojava

One of the many characteristics of the economic orthodoxy is a tendentious relationship with the sphere it considers ‘non-economic’. The dominant strategies seem to be either to attempt to tame them with the amoral brutality of rational choice, or to ignore them (no matter how glaring their importance). It’s an ironic position- a far cry from the spirit of Adam Smith, their purported godfather, who sought to understand capitalism only because it was a revolutionary, newly emergent social order. The events of the last four years in Rojava may well be the first sapling of something truly new. If not, it is not for lack of ambition, effort or bravery on the part of Kurdish Syrians. And yet, we economists (along with too much of the media) have all but ignored it, and at our peril.

Despite the fact that Sinam Muhamed, the co-president of the People’s Council for Western Kurdistan, who spoke Monday at the CUNY Graduate Center spent the bulk of her speaking time explaining the political situation in Rojava, she was careful not to exclude economics. Most notably, she proclaimed that Rojava aimed to implement an “economic system based on morality.” This is a striking statement in a field in which luminaries such as Paul Krugman proclaim the amorality of economics with some degree of pride. By way of concrete example, Muhamed mentions that agriculture in Rojava- destroyed by the Al-Nusra Front, long before the current conflict with ISIS began- has recently seen a resurgence through the use of agricultural cooperatives. These cooperatives have rapidly become the dominant form of agricultural production in Rojava, and the cooperative model is spreading past the agricultural sector. Muhamed noted the present role of private enterprise in Rojava as well, but added that laws are in place to prevent “profit in the face of suffering,” the immorality of which she seems to take as given and unquestioned.

Muhamed warns us not to ignore the context of conflict and reconstruction in which Rojava is situated, and not to project dreams of a utopian social order onto the resistance there. Nonetheless, the relative success of Rojava cannot be ignored. 200,000 refugees from the rest of Syria have arrived in Rojava over the past four years. 197,000 have been housed. The reconstruction of Kobanê is well under way, and Muhamed aims for it to be an “ideal city,” and a “living symbol of resistance.” David Harvey, also speaking at the event, noted that on a recent trip to southern Chile, the local Mapuche liberation movement spoke in glowing terms of the developments in Rojava. A successful resistance movement in the face of inhumanity is one thing, but, lest we forget, the social experiment in Rojava began long before ISIS coalesced as a force. It is not merely a case of there being no capitalists in foxholes. Similarly, the relative success of areas of Syria under Kurdish control, as well as the emerging global contagion of the Rojava model imply that, although it is indeed a resistance movement, it is also far more than that. It represents a truly emergent social order that any social theorist would be loath to ignore.

Nonetheless, we cannot pay attention only because the situation is academically interesting. The fight against ISIS is as Muhamed notes “a fight for humanity against barbarity, a fight that is beyond ethnicity, gender or ideology.” If we are to regain a semblance of morality in our field, I see no better place to begin.