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January 19, 2018



Aren't you focussing far too much on (explaining) behaviour of individual actors and failing to take into account that collective behaviour is complex (i.e. results from interactions between too many -agency imbued- actors to be analysable in that way) in which causality is not necessarily more important than intentionality, narrratives and competing discourses and in which path dependence makes analysis of behaviour being categorically caused by either x or y or both futile?
Agreeing on behaviour being driven by interests and/or ideas primarily implies agreement on a language and a perspective, that will subsequently performatively create social reality in its likeness.
If economists convince people that they act in accordance with ideas (and when they have a positive image of themselves: ideals) society will improve.
If economists convince people that they act in accordance with interests (and that serving one's own interest is only natural) society will deteriorate.
Let us please take our responsibility as economists to improve society!
Please see my "Economics as meant" presentation of a year ago in Leuven: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/economics-meant-normative-discipline-wim-nusselder/

Peter Dorman

I confess I’m at something of a loss in understanding the intensity of this exchange. It seems as though the two of you are both striving for an account framed in terms of “ideas” and “interests” as unitary terms, but surely there are very important distinctions we would want to make.

First, let’s distinguish between ideas about what is in our interest from other ideas about what is right, advisable or entailed apart from our personal interest. If I believe it is in my personal interest to cheat you financially, we wouldn’t want to conflate my idea about this interest with my idea about the rightness or advisability of carrying out the action, would we?

Second, the theory of ideology directs us to distinctions among ideas along a spectrum (or even multiple dimensions) of interest-impactedness. Even when people are acting, or claim to be acting, according to ideas other than those of their personal interests, they may be doing so indirectly to the extent they are attracted to these noble notions due to their interestedness. This is a complex, tangled topic, so I won’t go further except to put in a reminder that the theory of ideology is about belief, not truth value. (Contemporary standpoint theory is utterly muddled about this.)

What about Germany? German political figures, pundits, the majority of the Council of Economic Experts, etc. generally justify their economic policies on the basis of ideas of the general good, not just what’s good for Germany. In that sense, they pass the first filter: their ostensible motivating ideas are not narrowly ideas of their own national self-interest. The important question is whether they pass the second: to what extent is the current embrace of ordoliberalism reflective of the national interest of Germany given its reliance on current account surpluses and its position in the Eurozone? That’s an important question, ultimately one that has to be explored empirically.

My own hypothesis, for what it’s worth, is that structurally surplus countries generally display ideological predispositions for economic theories that stress saving and fiscal restraint. That’s part of what it means to be a structurally surplus country.

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