« Even good economists sometimes go astray | Main | Dani Rodrik most definitely is bonkers »

October 05, 2007



i read introduction your book. good, very good. but we live in developing country and can not buy it by this price.
i hope one day i can buy your book.


"tends to downplay the second-best complications graduate students in economics learn about"

why wait
till its
too few
too late ???

give the masses
second best
memes right up front
at the news stand

they can take em

we ought not flatter ourselves this is really hard to grasp ...

we can make a fast food take home version of
the present best models
including second best

why leave the mass chat market
to the trans nats
deep fried free marts
the big macs
of econcon memery

drop the snob line
" ...the haut shit's too rich for em "
if indeeed the wash-con
is crumbling
(at least as it seems to be anyway at places like ....here
and other digital-chat circles )

then lets broaden the front

lets tie together this complex of " countering notions "
developed over the last
50 years or so
of economic advance

lets push on beyond
the fall from grace
of euclidian economics

once you bust
the " parallel postulate"
a few times
you need to move on
as dixit suggests in a critique of the stig-greenwald theorem

obviously much else dissolves too as stugff like this
gets out in the stret and picks fights

i'm not simply suggesting we train our best algebraic guns
on detroit and calcutta
not fantasia
u know
go rude empirick

let the ant farm models abound

they're a lovely refuge
for morally thin skinned

but us ethical class oafs
oughta build us some
quick serve road side bombs
to plant about
the diga-sphere

so what if it generates
nothing "real" over night
the problem is
policy prufrocking
by those of best convictions
too timid or polite
too "other handed"

hamlet don't brake eggs
and the masses are hungry
for a new souffle

thought to be unfit for
the public's crude pallet
prolly aren't

its nonsense
all these trans nat seving pc market "hands off
is best off " meme-figments

their not " loved "
and believed by the weebles

their just " memes in occupation"

like our marine corps in iraq

i like your eclectic high spirits

we hardly need worry
about the currents running our way here
drop the kit gloves

a quest for a euclidian finality
is un necessary
b4 we mix it up
on the web
the chat faces
of the globes
corporate cross boarder

far be it from a guy
who claims spiro agnew as his lit-mentor
to confidently
throw up
an 'umble suggestion

but ....

don't over use
"the second best" label

try for a cluster of interconnected labels

imply the corn-u-copia
from which you draw your
is indeed just that

Dani Rodrik

mohammad --

please write to my assistant, [email protected] , with your address, and we will make sure you get a copy of the book.


I haven't read the book (yet) so I don't know whether you have covered this or not, but...

All discussions of best economic policy use historical examples to bolster their case, but the world is no longer in the same state as it was in the 17-20th Centuries. Herman Daly said that in early periods the world was mostly "empty" and now it is mostly "full".

In prior periods there was an option for migration and even population expansion within existing regions. This is less true now. Most population growth is now occurring as slums in overcrowded cities. This has to have an effect on what sort of policies can work in the future.

Another aspect of "full" is that we are taxing the resources of the earth. Previously maximum exploitation was limited by technological underdevelopment. When steam came along deep coal mining became practical, for example. Now we are running into actual limits of resource reserves. Every day brings new examples: cod, tuna, corn, oil and even exotics like Tantalum.

Inherent in all schools of economic thought is the idea that growth will solve the problems. They differ only in how best to achieve this. Only the small group of ecological economists is willing to face the possibility that something other than growth may be in store in the future.

In physics we say that if you want the results of an experiment to be replicated you have to start with the same initial conditions. The same should be true of economics. We no longer have the same initial conditions.



a warning

malthus takes many forms

and history mocks
them all....eventually

i submit
you green goblins
need to show irreversible harms way here
not irreversible change

and given human adaptibility
you won't

'cause you can't

if the deep future means
a steady state
of say half a billion humans

so be it

but also ...so what ???

a future better earth
as one big wild-oid park

with us playing
the zen like rangers

simply bores me

who sez
we neved
more descendents
in each cohort
then ancestors

so far
optimal population
has not been
an overt social choice

but obviously it can be

your world
and your fears
are not the fears
of the future worlds
to be or not to be


I wish Princeton University Press' pricing strategy had been a bit more heterodox. You are not going to change the world with your ideas when you charge that much for the price of admission! I doubt you are happy with their pricing strategy either.


Thanks for the alert and for the new preface! Your book was meant to be a reading for my class, but because it wasn't available until now I had to opt for a second best alternative! But I am going to order a copy and hopefully my students will discuss at least a few chapters of it!


Re: "Most population growth is now occurring as slums in overcrowded cities. This has to have an effect on what sort of policies can work in the future."

not sure paine's much needed anti-Malthusianism applies to rdf's pertinent observation. "Growth" doesn't mean what "mainstream economists" seem to think it means: the future of growth is Lagos, Mexico City, El Alto, Sao Paolo, Beijing, Mumbai, Cairo, ad infinitum -- these are the cities of the future, unless mainstream economists figure out a better way to fix all those misunderstandings that policy makers seem to have developed over the years about development, through of course no fault of the economists.

I'd like one tiny shred of evidence that mainstream economics is the only game in town for dealing with the endemic and unpredictable crises created by an asymmetrically interdependent world -- within and between every country. Where, pray tell, is one model of economic development that is not simultaneously distributional, political, and in need of the state in some way -- and therefore always already beyond the capacity of mainstream economics to handle by itself?

As for those who dismiss trenchant critiques on the grounds that they offer no alternatives, well, any alternative has to start with doing democracy better, increasing the capacity of people whose lives are most affected by development projects to also participate in governance. This means by definition a great deal of humility is needed from the would-be grand designers of the planet, those who think their way is the "only game in town." It means accepting different approaches, not branding them as useless without any kind of self-reflection and attempts to dialogue with others.

To a large degree I think Dani and those who comment on this site are a step in this direction. I sure would like to see him respond, however, to the several requests that have been made to engage with N. Klein's book in a substantive manner, even if a tiny tiny bit. It's an anomaly to me that he doesn't, although this post for his book seems to indicate why.


Dani -

*I've no sympathy for economists who consider theoretical models are relevant for framework of policy particularly when transfering know-how to developing countries.

*Experience of more than 30yrs teaches us (taught EU!) you can't duplicate Korean example in Mauritius or Fiji.

*Island developing countries don't fall easily into your modelling funiture, if I may be crude.

*The EU learnt hardway to throw out their 1975-80 program of technology transfer based on other developing countries experience. And began dealing with island developing countries together and not with other mainland states.

* Evidently its hard for theoretical economists - with no training in political economy - to find ways and means of providing framework of policy which FITS the ground-level and grassroots problems of development, for example, in Mauritus and Fiji.

*If you don't understand the culture/history of isolated developing island
countries, there's good chance you'll fool yourself like IBRD/IMF does in their policy programming missions.

*I don't need to read your or anyone's text to understand that if you're NOT conversant with indegenous development issues on the ground, ALL your bloody theoretical and other knowledge will become a waste of time and investment.

*Therefore, I urge you and your students, to consider practicality of dealing with development issues based on individual case studies and NOT massing them all together! It may be efficient in academic schools, but not to the island economy in question.

*I shall leave it at that...for now!

Dani Rodrik

corvad --

"Where, pray tell, is one model of economic development that is not simultaneously distributional, political, and in need of the state in some way -- and therefore always already beyond the capacity of mainstream economics to handle by itself?"

Every model of development that I have written down has a role of the state in it, many of them are explicitly political, and many are meant to explicitly diagnose distributional implications. I have never thought that what I was doing was beyond mainstream theory. Let's not draw an outdated view of what mainstream economics is or what you can actually do with it.

But I take the point about humility; in fact I make a big deal about it in my book.

I also take the point about engaging with others substantively. I sort of regret the throw-away comment I made about the Naomi Klein book, since I was not planning to write a more extensive critique (for no other reason than there are already many good critiques out there, see Will Hutton's for example).

Dani Rodrik

hari --

There is no policy thinking without theory, since you are always basing your advice on some model of how the "world" works. Either you are theorizing implicitly, or you are theorizing explicitly. I much prefer the latter.


thank you dani. I sure do wish that economists like yourself could convince US policymakers and especially financial media outlets that neoliberal economics is indeed outdated and a misrepresentation of mainstream economics. The problem with Milton F. and the Chicago school seems to be that he had an outsized influence on policymakers, the damage of which we need to work collectively to undo (Dezelay and Garth's book "the internationalization of the palace wars" is a fascinating study of institutional linkages between the Chicago school and L. Am. technocrats in the 70s and 80s).

on the other hand, MF's conscientious objection to the war on drugs made no dent at all on US policy, which has been one of the biggest contributions to the rise not just of state-repression in the Andes and C. Am. but of guaranteeing the profits and violence associated with drug trafficking orgs, corruption at every level of government, and indeed the ability to account for an outsized portion of the global economy, not to mention licit and illicit arms trafficking. Evidence that mainstream economics and even neoliberal economic influence on policy was not as complete as often advertised by its critics ... it's always been obvious to economists of all stripes but now it's transparent: failures of development policies mean that survival strategies in crisis zones will generally result in labor migration to participation in narco-capitalism (see Afghanistan and even Zimbabwe, where marijuana is the only viable cash crop, a la coca in the Andes in the 1980s.

Aqdas Afzal (Pakistan)

On Free Books --

Congrats on the new book. Btw, can I get your book for free as well, please! I also live in a developing country, which, in addition to poor economic performance, is definitely not doing too well politically! Hence, the long-term outlook of my rather humble salary increasing is pretty bleak:)

On Schools --

I think present discourse on development needs to incorporate "state" as a variable in its analysis, once again. I know, we are living in a post "Bringing the State Back In" world but state is, again, being neglected as a variable.

Perhaps, my experience of living in Pakistan, which lacks democracy, forces me to spread the word re. focusing on the state?

Applying Mainstream Economics --

I think the concept of "adverse selection" from mainstream economics (Akerlof's Market for Lemons) would serve as such a powerful tool for constructing a theory for the lack of transparency and good governance in certain developing countries.

In other words,in the absence of perfect information, corrupt politcians tend to drive out conscientious politicians.

Suppose I am an average voter without much information (state controlled media) about the virtue of two candidates contesting elections in my constituency. The probability of my selecting a conscientious politician is 0.5 and that of selecting a corrupt one is 0.5 as well.

Suppose further that electing a conscientious politician costs me $1000 -- as he doesn't provide immediate pork barrel; I have to go to the polling station by myself; buy the newspaper to find out about the politicians' positions etc. And, electing a corrupt one costs me $500 as there are immediate short-term benefits of a perverse nature; kick backs; provides transportation to the polling station on election day, etc.

Because of incomplete information about the politicians' level of virtue, I would be willing to pay the following price:

(0.5)*1000+(0.5)*500= 7500

Thusly, more corrupt and less conscientious ones will enter the field of electoral politics as corrupt politicians obviously are getting more than they are worth.

Eventually, people realize that pushing the price they are willing to pay even lower. This, then, pushes more conscientious politicians out of electoral politics.

This is one way we can apply main-stream economics toward the understanding of problems in the developing world.

Barkley  Rosser

Well, I have not seen your new book, Dani, although hope to before too much longer. However, this is probably the time to remind one and all of some useful distinctions. In particular, as described in a book I did with Colander and Holt, The Changing Face of Economics, it is useful to distinguish between "orthodox" and "mainstream" in describing economics. The former is an intellectual category, the latter is a sociological one, describing those in charge of the profession. "Heterodox" is both, anti-orthodox intellectually and socially alienated from those in power.

Now, I have already more than once on this blog suggested that you are a good example of a "non-orthodox mainstream" economist. Someone else fitting that bill might be George Akerlof. He is not only a Nobelist, but just stepping aside as prez of the AEA, and married to one of the most powerful women in the world. He clearly has lots of influence, but his economic views are not strictly of the neoclassical, orthodox variety, if this means assuming all agents rational, and homogeneous, with single and efficient equilibria implied.

While you are clearly not a breast-beating heterodox, and clearly are frustrated with heterodox who spend most of their time beating up on straw men versions of orthodox economics, I think it is also probably not the case that you are really an orthodox economist, even if you are clearly a mainstream economist, given your considerable clout and influence. Do you believe in rational expectations? Do you think that all societies can be modeled without reference to local institutions or social inclinations and behavioral peculiarities? That you use formal models does not make you "orthodox," even if you are still "mainstream."

Dani Rodrik

Aqdas Afzal --

I am happy to send you the book. Please send my assistant an e-mail with your address.


I have been waiting for the paperback version of this book. However, given Dani is freely delivering the book, I have no option but buy the hard copy! I hope I will see how the neoclassical economics can explain my decision in the book.


(a)is it possible to be a non-orthodox economist without being a [non-breast-beating] heterodox economist? It seems as though dani shares an epistemology with the orthos, but an ontology with the heteros ...

(b)does dani's work, and Akerloff's, and perhaps others, make it necessary to redefine what we mean by neoclassical?

(c)In other social science disciplines, which by definition reject the idea that economics is the only game in town (sorry dani, that one keeps coming back to me), "neoclassical" has taken on a perhaps overblown correlation with "neoliberal", which seems to refer to mainstream + orthodox per Rosser's intervention above. And it's pretty much always a bad word, increasingly quite the straw concept. which is why I think exploring the first two questions is important ... i'm all for interdisciplinary dialogue.

Ben Todd

Hi Dani,

I think your blog is great -- just a quick quip as for the price of the book -- how about trying the Radiohead strategy!


PS -- Paine, do you have any poetry compilations?


"... non-orthodox mainstream economist."

Would that be a "nome"?



the poor nation
sump -city
means the vast bulk
of the peaantry is now landless

ripped untimely from
their umbilical cord
to mother nature
the subsistence plot

rural china here is
the bellweather
not doomed rural india
china might still
prove a better way
for the vast asian transition
to mass prolery

can it
pass thru
with less misery ???

stay tuned


i prefer
the new eclecticism
as a nomination
for the dani-stig -ack ack
etc types

to me their's
obviously is not
a rejection
of the hetrogeneous formal particulars of their neoclassical legacy

but they have abandoned
the neoclass drive
toward completeness
consistency and adequacy

paul samuelson
in 1948
i'm sure thought
the big truth
the whole big truth
and nothing but
the big truth
lay out there up ahead
just a high speed
(albeit long )
tunpike drive away

crows nest econ cons
are far less sanguine . ..eh ???


"breast-beating heterodox"

like kong
b4 the walls
filled with his island's
unwelcome cohabitants

Barkley Rosser

Since Dani has gone and linked to my website, I note that the more recent papers are at the bottom, and I also apologize for being lazy and not keeping all of the versions there fully up to date. Anyway, the most recent take on these distinctions is in the paper "Live and Dead Issues in the Methodology of Economics," with Colander and Holt, and forthcoming in the (heterodox) Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. In August that paper was tied for the 12th most downloaded one from RePec, so I guess this is a hot issue indeed.


I would agree that "neoliberal" would fit someone who is a "mainstream orthodox." Although as Dani notes, the Washington Consensus has been weakening noticeably recently, non-trivial pieces of it continue to hang on.

The term "neoclassical" is a tough one. It has nearly always been used pejoratively by critics, initially so by its neologizer, Thorstein Veblen. My coauthor, David Colander, argued a few years ago in a presidential address to the History of Economics Society, and pubbed in their journal ("The Death of Neoclassical Economics"), that the term really refers properly to the marginalists of the 1870s (to whom Veblen was referring) and their followers. In this view, Samuelson a la the Foundations was really the culmination of that view, with the early game theorists and Arrow-Debreu already something else, although in a sense I think that most of us view neoclassical economics as having absorbed at least non-evolutionary game theory, and certainly Arrow-Debreu. The highwater mark would seem to come with the extension of this rationalistic GE theory to macro with ratex, including its more recent DSGE variation.

In any case, I am sympathetic to Colander's idea that the term "neoclassical" should not be extended too far. I think that it is useful to identify it with what we would currently call "orthodoxy," if not something even older.


And those who google are the Googling Non-Orthodox Mainstream Economists, aka, "Gnomes."

paine and others,

One of the reasons that we wrote our book was precisely that we felt that some heterodox were to quick to divide the world into two neat categories, a "mainstream neoclassical orthodox" group, and the good heterodox, despite the rather large diversity of this latter group. Even though to varying degrees we (Colander the least so) viewed ourselves as at least somewhat heterodox, we found this sort of thing frustrating to hear over and over, since we were aware of all these clearly non-orthodox types who were doing interesting stuff, even if they were not gathering in cliques to repeat denunciations. They were just doing their things, sometimes being more heterodox and sometimes less so, it being possible to move back and forth across that boundary (think of Deirdre McCloskey and Duncan Foley, for example, both of whom have moved back and forth).

BTW, it should be kept in mind that some heterodox may be viewed as "neoliberal," notably many of the Austrians, although they would generally prefer the term "classical liberal."

And, while I have expressed some frustration with some breast beating, it is also the case that a considerable amount of it is justified and needed. There has been suppression of heterodoxy, and often in very unreasonable and unjustified ways, with the Notre Dame case the clear poster boy. I would further note that when this suppression occurs, it is more often than not carried out by mediocre third raters, and not the top leaders of the mainstream, who tend to be somewhat more open-minded. Has anybody ever heard of any of the people who were out there so vigorously enforcing neoclassical orthodoxy at Notre Dame? I am not going to name names, but the hard core of the "neoclassical mafia," as Michael Perelman described it, consists of intellectual zeroes, frankly.


wow, much much thanks for all the engagement!

i really apologize for overposting, I feel like the student who keeps raising his hand in class, but in terms of nomenclature, how well would "post-Keynesian" fit for the nomes?


post not in the negative sense, but in the updated reworked sense

Michel Lazare

"My friend Lant Pritchett assures me that the battle is already won: all talk nowadays in the multilaterals and in aid agencies, he tells me, is about diagnostics, identifying binding constraints, and country-specific solutions. But I wonder."

Lant Pritchett may be right. Multilaterals are changing.

If you (and the blog's readers) are interested in reading more about how multilaterals like the IMF and others are looking at the institutional aspects of public financial management (PFM), have a look at the new IMF "PFM Blog" released today by the Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF.

the link to the PFM Blog is: http://blog-pfm.imf.org/


Speaking of prices and books, I just wanted to add that the Colander, Holt and Rosser, at 65 bucks a pop on Amazon, is pricey but worth it. The sympathizers on both sides should read it. The heterodoxophiles just so they'll stop making the same misinformed criticisms against imaginary strawmen and the heterodoxophobes so that they can see that there actually is something to this whole thing. Maybe then there'll be more engagement and real discussion rather than posturing, name calling and sneering dismissals.

Adam Hersh

Dani and Barkley,

First, let me apologize for not posting in heroic couplet (but kudos to Paine).

While I find Barkley's label apt, I would classify the distinction between the groups (loosely defined) somewhat differently.

As Abba Lerner wrote: "Economics has gained the title Queen of the Social Sciences by choosing solved political problems as its domain." Here, I read "political problems" to mean the exercise of power in social interactions. Orthodox economics still operates in this domain (leaving aside serious epistemological and human behavioral problems in orthodox economics, which are similarly ignored).

Heterodox economics, on the other hand, begins from the notion that the exercise of power cannot be divorced from the functioning of markets. Thus power is essential to analysis of economic dynamics.

The orthodox domain precludes analysis of many of the more interesting questions (and answers) on economic dynamics, and in its purest form, orthodox economics ceases to be a social science--by choosing solved political problems, it eliminates social interaction. The orthodox focus is almost exclusively trained on markets--"perfect" markets, or deviations there from, where individuals interact with prices. Institutions, other than those supporting a free market, are irrelevant.

Heterodox economics, while also studying markets, invites a broader scope that recognizes most economically relevant social interactions occur outside the purview of markets (indeed, within organizations like households and firms that purposely disrupt market functions).

Dani's beef seems to be that heterodox economists do not engage in enough mathematical modeling. It is true, I think, that such analysis is less predominant in heterodoxy, though it is still there and with technical sophistication (heck, just flip through a Lance Taylor textbook).

But mathematical models does not a science make. While models are useful for illustrative purposes and for organizing analysis of complex problems, a scientific approach would suggest that the specific problems dictate the appropriate methodology and not vice versa. Power does not necessarily lend well to an individual optimizing framework.

In the end, models, regression coefficients, historical analyses, and personal anecdotes all perform the same function: they help tell stories about economic cause and effect.


breast beating eclecticism:

"In the end, models, regression coefficients, historical analyses, and personal anecdotes all perform the same function"

Barkley Rosser


Good lord, while I appreciate the kind remarks, I thought you were smarter than that. The price you quote is for the hardback. Can get the paperback from the publisher (University of Michigan Press) for $27.95.
Not sure why Amazon is not selling that.

Adam Hersh,

Well, for about the umpteen millionth time I shall point out that there are heterodox schools of economics that are very mathematical or that have mathematical branches, incluidng Marxism. Yes, there are some schools that tend to be non-mathematical, critical realism and Old Institutionalism, for example. But the frequently repeated claim that the heterodox should be ignored because they are not mathematical simply shows that one has only read some of the heterodox work out there (yes, I know the post-autistics like to rant about math being bad, but they are not all of heterodox economics, even if they may like to think that they are).


Ah, "post-Keynesian." You have just raised one of the most absurd and obscure of all hair-splitting exercises in the schools of economics. So, while Joan Robinson in the UK first used "post-Keynesian" in the 1950s to describe fairly radical followers of Keynes, Paul Samuelson used the same term in the 1960s to describe generally eclectic and mainstream economic policy analysts. This led in the US to those identifying with the Robinson view, especially Paul Davidson, to come up with "Post Keynesian." This has now come to largely prevail among the more heterodox of this orientation, although some in Britain especially still use "post-Keynesian." The Samuelsonian usage of it for mainstream eclecticism has rather faded away. (Whew!)

Per Kurowski

hari. “Therefore, I urge you and your students, to consider practicality of dealing with development issues based on individual case studies and NOT massing them all together! It may be efficient in academic schools, but not to the island economy in question.”

Clearly since as even hari confesses it is “efficient in academic schools” you better go on doing so. It is only when applying the research that one needs to tailor it better although let me assure you that in my experience for each bona-fide valid request for a better adaptation to local considerations there are about 10 requests that are only looking for the excuse not to adapt at all.


I think it's all about the philosophy.

Economics is just main aspects of the world(using many models), but not the real world itself.

I am Chinese. I think many Chinese know an idiom called "yin di zhi yi", which tells us that We should use the proper solution to a special problem, but not something sound "right".

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