Pete Boetkke answers
Don't you think the HET was disregarded by economists long before it came to be associated with heterodox thinkers?
I mean Stigler wrote his essay saying that we had little to learn from the study of the history of economics long before HES was a society that gave intellectual space to a variety of heterodox voices. Kenneth Boulding tried to counter the dominant Whig interpretation of Samuelson already in 1971.
So lets do a thought experiment, imagine no heterodox voices found their way into the subdiscipline of HET, what would be the status of HET today within the economics profession?
My guess is that heterodoxy has little to do with the status of the subdiscipline, and instead it is an attitude that the farther a discipline looks into its own past the less scientific that discipline actually is in practice. I could be wrong on that, but I would suggest that the placement record (both in terms of jobs and in terms of articles within the profession of economics) of the best and the brightest in the HET field over the past 50 years would reveal the the problem is far deeper than whether or not the subfield is seen as a welcoming home for heterodox thinkers of all stripes.
There are costs associated with the close identity with heterodoxy (I blogged about them briefly in my own report on the HES meetings this year). But the heterodoxy also brings some huge benefits to the table that make the HES meetings a more engaging experience than the typical economics meetings. The participants care about economic arguments in a way that few economists do. This enthusiasm can be a great source of stimulation --- even when one finds the arguments presented frustrating from the perspective of logic/evidence/relevance.
The economic science wars are not over forever --- there are glimmers of hope. You just have to find the right margin to fight on. The interest in economic biographies, the interest in some melding of economic history and history of thought in the context of policy debates, and the interest in science studies all means that all is not hopeless that economists will find HET more valuable in the future. I am an optimist in this regard, and still believe that good work in the subdiscipline can be rewarded. But it will only be rewarded appropriately in my mind when the meta-argument about what is progress in scientific thought is addressed head on.
Peter J. Boettke
Evelyn Forget answers
Thank you, Peter Boettke, for your statement of optimism about the
future of HET! I see the field flourishing in exactly the spots you
identify: in interdisciplinary, policy-related work. Of course that
doesn't mean everyone needs to do that kind of work. (and of course
"flourishing" is a relative term.)
I find it astonishing that we, as an intellectual society, can be
driven to such soul-searching by a bureaucratic exercise conducted by
a statistical agency. Yes, we needed to respond to them, but we don't
need to be quite so desperate to "fix" one another.
If heterodoxy is responsible for our current status, as Roy
(unconvincingly....) argues, then so be it. Heterodoxy is an
undeniable part of who we are as a field. let's see where it takes us
as a field. If Eric believes the implications of such an argument
"unfitting of a serious intellectual enterprise", good for him.
(Although even he ought to see the humour in making such a statement
as part of a plea for tolerance)
But please someone tell me: when was this golden era when HET was at
its apogee? Did subfields in economics really exist before the 1950s
and 1960s? And haven't we always been a rather small collection of
voices in the wilderness? Isn't that precisely what attracted most of
us to the field in the first place? Don't we relish our eccentricity?
Evelyn L. Forget
Greg Ransom answers
I think Roy has his causation backwards here. Mainsteam
economic "science" is hostile to contextual thinking of most any
kind because it is professionally invested in a scientistic
use of formal models and statistics. History of economic thought
is contextual thinking at its core -- and so economists
have effectively eliminated it from their curriculum. To the
extent that genuine science is dependent for its improvement and
advance on a growing contextual understanding of its problems,
"mainstream" economics was not interested in doing actual science.
So I think you have to begin with the fact that in the first instance
economists are not interested in genuine scientific work, or real science
progress. (If you must, you might argue that mainstream economists are
interested in a sort of fake science, a cargo cult science which tries its
best to imitate some parts of real science -- but this activity should not
be confused with genuine science.)
For the "mainstreamers", the hostility to the contextual thinking embodied in
the history of economic thought came first -- and what followed was a
contempt for any sort of contextual research the mainstream associated with this
field, e.g. all of the various "heterodox" brands of economics. Stuff the
mainstreamers view as just waste-of-time "history of economic thought".
Fred Lee answers
Roy's comment is slightly inaccurate on one point--the decline in HET
started at least in the early 1950s before it got associated with
heterodox economics in the 1960s onwards. On a second point, Roy's
comment that HET connection with heterodox economics did and does have
an adverse impact on HET is correct. But to blame the cleansing of HET
from economics on this connection is much like blaming the victims of
ethnic cleansing for their own demise. It is the people who carry out
the cleansing that are responsible for it.