Sort of, says Christopher Hayes in a very well-written and very interesting piece in The Nation. He says orthodox economists are a close-knit group and are quick to penalize those among them or from outside who overstep the boundaries. Here is an excerpt:
So extreme is the marginalization of heterodox economists, most people don't even know they exist. Despite the fact that as many as one in five professional economists belongs to a professional association that might be described as heterodox, the phrase "heterodox economics" has appeared exactly once in the New York Times since 1981. During that same period "intelligent design," a theory endorsed by not a single published, peer-reviewed piece of scholarship, has appeared 367 times.
It doesn't take much to call forth an impressive amount of bile from heterodox economists toward their mainstream brethren. John Tiemstra, president of the Association for Social Economics and a professor at Calvin College, summed up his feelings this way: "I go to the cocktail parties for my old schools, MIT and Oberlin, and people are all excited about Freakonomics. I kind of wince and go off to another corner or have another drink." After the EPI gathering, Peter Dorman, an economist at Evergreen State College with a gentle, bearded air, related an e-mail exchange he once had with Hal Varian, a well-respected Berkeley economist who's moderately liberal but firmly committed to the neoclassical approach. Varian wrote to Dorman that there was no point in presenting "both sides" of the debate about trade, because one side--the view that benefits from unfettered trade are absolute--was like astronomy, while any other view was like astrology. "So I told him I didn't buy the traditional trade theory," Dorman said. "'Was I an astrologer?' And he said yes!"
Hayes makes a number of good points about how ideology permeates a lot of thinking by orthodox economists. Anybody who strays from conventional wisdom is in danger of being ostracized. Some years ago, when I first presented an empirical paper questioning some of the conventional views on trade to a high profile economics conference, a member of the audience (a very prominent economist and a former co-author of mine) shocked me with the question "why are you doing this?"
On the other hand I have never found neoclassical methodology too constraining when it comes to thinking about the real world in novel and unconventional ways. See the Carlos Diaz-Alejandro rule here. To me it represents nothing other than a methodological predilection for deriving aggregate social phenomena from individual behavior--and as such it is a very useful discipline for any social science. You say people have some preferences, they face certain constraints, take others' actions into account, and go from there. Neoclassical economics teaches you how to think, not what to think.
So it has always been a bit difficult for me to understand the critique that neoclassical economics is necessarily driven by ideology or leads to foregone conclusions. Just as it puzzles me why so many neoclassical economists are ready to jettison what they teach in the classroom and espouse simplistic rules of thumb on policy.
UPDATE: Fadi, you guess right, and you win this.
UPDATE: Peter has some very perceptive comments in the thread below. I recommend them to all.
UPDATE: Christopher Hayes responds in an e-mail:
Your point about neoclassical economics as an approach as opposed to a substantive set of principles is an important one, and gets at the crux of the issue. To what point does the toolbox determine what the carpenter fashions? If all you have is a hammer, does everything begin to look like a nail?