With the recession still fresh on the minds of everyone and debates about the deficit and the minimum wage plastered all over the news, I thought I would take some time to elaborate on something that’s been slowly dawning on me: economics is not a science.
Economists would certainly like you to think that it is. And that’s certainly the way that it’s presented, both in the media and in schools. I remember taking economics in college and being bombarded with a lot of very familiar scientific language–terms like “law” and “theory” and numerous equations. Sounds pretty scientific, right?
Well, only on the surface. I’ve always been a scientist at heart. I’ve always been very interested in biology, physics, and astronomy. I’ve always considered myself to have very high scientific literacy. And the more I learned about economics, the more I found that it wasn’t really science at all, but philosophy.
Perhaps the biggest red flag in the economics-as-science idea is that there are liberal and conservative economic theories. Liberalism and conservatism are philosophical ideologies, not scientific ones; there’s no such thing as liberal chemistry or neocon geology. It doesn’t make sense to describe science in political terms. There is no ideology that has the monopoly on facts and reality, period.
It seems, to me at least, that when it comes to economics people start with their philosophy and then create graphs and equations to “prove” it correct. That, as any scientist worth his or her salt will tell you, is the antithesis of science. Sure, on the whole, things like the law of supply and demand hold true–but that’s just logic and math, not science. That’s like claiming that solving 2+2 = x is doing science. It’s not. Science is a process, a methodology–a way of objectively thinking in order to discern the truth about the world around you. Economics fails at this.
Because if economics really were a science, why didn’t someone step in and save the economy is 2008? Or during any other recession for that matter? If economics is a science, and it really does follow a rigid set of principles and theories, then why didn’t someone simply step up to a whiteboard, draw out the equations and the graph, and present the solution? If economics truly were a science, it should be pretty simple, right? If the economy operates under X laws, then if we manipulate them in Y way we get Z outcome.
But it doesn’t work that way, because economics is not a science, anymore than “political science” is a real science. At best, economics is a biased ideology that attempts to predict the behavior of irrational agents–human beings. Sounds familiar, right? It should, because that’s exactly what philosophy attempts to do.