Neoliberals on uncertainty

When Ritchie tells us that there is uncertainty, uncertainty being different from risk, I have a feeling that this is the sort of thing he has in mind:

This brings me to the crucial issue. Unlike the position that exists in the physical sciences, in economics and other disciplines that deal with essentially complex phenomena, the aspects of the events to be accounted for about which we can get quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the important ones. While in the physical sciences it is generally assumed, probably with good reason, that any important factor which determines the observed events will itself be directly observable and measurable, in the study of such complex phenomena as the market, which depend on the actions of many individuals, all the circumstances which will determine the outcome of a process, for reasons which I shall explain later, will hardly ever be fully known or measurable. And while in the physical sciences the investigator will be able to measure what, on the basis of a prima facie theory, he thinks important, in the social sciences often that is treated as important which happens to be accessible to measurement. This is sometimes carried to the point where it is demanded that our theories must be formulated in such terms that they refer only to measurable magnitudes.

It can hardly be denied that such a demand quite arbitrarily limits the facts which are to be admitted as possible causes of the events which occur in the real world. This view, which is often quite naively accepted as required by scientific procedure, has some rather paradoxical consequences. We know: of course, with regard to the market and similar social structures, a great many facts which we cannot measure and on which indeed we have only some very imprecise and general information. And because the effects of these facts in any particular instance cannot be confirmed by quantitative evidence, they are simply disregarded by those sworn to admit only what they regard as scientific evidence: they thereupon happily proceed on the fiction that the factors which they can measure are the only ones that are relevant.

Very difficult to think that neoliberals don\’t acknowledge uncertainty really.

7 comments on “Neoliberals on uncertainty

  1. Spot the difference:
    In science, we can often eliminate confounding variables by choosing (for example) only male fruit flies.
    In social “science” (or scientific socialism we can eliminate confounding variables by (for example) eliminating a million kulaks.

  2. And then of course someone discovers something which overturns everything you thought you knew anyway. Happens in science too.

  3. I think this is fascinating, but have these guys not heard of the uncertainty principle? People that think economics is not like the physical sciences don’t really understand the physical sciences!

  4. While in the physical sciences it is generally assumed, probably with good reason, that any important factor which determines the observed events will itself be directly observable and measurable…

    Hmm. Covalent bonds? Observable and measurable in themselves?

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