Isn’t this just a glorious Guardian letter?

This assertion that economics is not a science (Joris Luyendijk, Opinion, 12 October) was verified by the article preceding it (Money machine didn’t work – so keep it switched on). This apparently is the only advice that the IMF can give in these unprecedented times, where debt is the only growth industry and negative interest rates are being considered as a means of not solving but perpetuating this uneconomic, unsustainable situation.

I am a biologist, a very expansive science, and as such I have an understanding of energy transfer, production and growth, self-sustaining systems, feedback mechanisms, carrying capacities, natural selection and evolution. Unfortunately, economists do not have such a broad understanding of the natural world in which they operate. They also seem to be woefully unaware that the functioning of any activity involving humans, such as money-dealing, cannot be described by a mathematical formula but will be determined by the behaviour and mindset of the people doing the deals.

Removing regulations that governed money-dealing obviously encouraged those involved to behave unlawfully. The great god market forces has become a sentient being that feels excited or depressed and whose behaviour has been manipulated by corporate practices and the criminally minded. The “need” to have increased economic growth of any kind (increased consumer activity and indebtedness, for instance) is obviously unsustainable. As any biologist knows, unregulated growth is cancerous and a danger to someone’s health.
Julia Bird
Melton Constable, Norfolk

I’m very well and widely educated, me. And then I prove that I don’t have the first clue of the subject under discussion, what economists define as growth.

They measure the value added in an economy. Why an increase in value added is cancerous is anyone’s guess really.

34 thoughts on “Isn’t this just a glorious Guardian letter?”

  1. Glorious indeed.

    “They also seem to be woefully unaware that the functioning of any activity involving humans, such as money-dealing, cannot be described by a mathematical formula.”

    So says someone doing a science that uses mathematical formulas to model human and animal behaviour.

    As for removing ‘regulations’, well, cell growth is not ‘regulated’ by the government, is it? Or by any similar top-down proclamations. What a biologist would call ‘regulation’ is much more analogous to the mechanisms generated by the market.

  2. Is it something in the water over there?

    “Removing regulations that governed money-dealing obviously encouraged those involved to behave unlawfully” – err, more things were legal so banks did more legal things. Some of those things were risky, and too many fell over at once. Unless she’s talking about libor, but I don’t thing the regs changed there.

    So that’s failing to understand economic growth, basic law, statistics and modelling (humans can’t be described by maths), the entire point of markets (humans can’t be described by law), and Dunning-Kruger.

    Lovely.

  3. Cal, the interplay between mutation, cancer and evolution makes for some delicious irony too. And the advantages of a broad gene pool…

  4. Google indicates she’s stood for the Green Party in a district election and has co-opted herself onto the Parish Council. Probably explains her view of the world.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    The “need” to have increased economic growth of any kind (increased consumer activity and indebtedness, for instance) is obviously unsustainable. As any biologist knows, unregulated growth is cancerous and a danger to someone’s health.

    Someone needs to write 100 times “The Matrix is not a f*cking textbook.”

    Nothing says intellectual integrity more than getting your ideas from poorly understood science fiction films. Not even particularly good ones. Also as the British population declined into extinction, someone should ask what growth.

  6. A friend of mine is a zoologist and inveterate Guardian reader.

    In conversation, I once alluded to the (obvious) underlying similarities between free markets and evolution. Perhaps naively, I was surprised at the strength of his reaction.

  7. @ Fentiger
    “In conversation, I once alluded to the (obvious) underlying similarities between free markets and evolution.”

    This.

    I know a great many lefties who hold Dawkins in huge regard (almost as much as Dawkins holds Dawkins does), who lay in to the intelligent design mob like they were members of the Nazi party, and yet they espouse exactly the views they loathe in biology in economics.

    All seeing, omnipotent creator: Bad in biology, great in economics. Ditto for competition, evolution the lot.

    Point it out, though, and you better have your running shoes on….

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “Paul Ehrlich is an entomologist, and he’s a cunt.”

    C*nts have at least one actual useful purpose.

    Fen Tiger – “In conversation, I once alluded to the (obvious) underlying similarities between free markets and evolution. Perhaps naively, I was surprised at the strength of his reaction.”

    Well two books were published in 1859. One led directly to Stalinism. The other was not a minor influence on Nazism. Hard to say which is more influential on modern thinkers. However the author of one recognised the importance of the other. Marx and Engels loved Darwin’s Origin when it came out. Marx wrote to Darwin asking permission to dedicate his book (Capital I assume) to him. Darwin declined.

    However shortly after, they noticed that Darwin’s world was very much the world of 19th century British capitalism:

    Writing to Engels on 18 June 1862, Marx commented:

    “I’m amused that Darwin, at whom I’ve been taking another look, should say that he also applies the ‘Malthusian’ theory to plants and animals, as though in Mr Malthus’s case the whole thing didn’t lie in its not being applied to plants and animals, but only – with its geometric progression – to humans as against plants and animals. It is remarkable how Darwin rediscovers, among the beasts and plants, the society of England with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, ‘inventions’ and Malthusian ‘struggle for existence’. It is Hobbes’ bellum omnium contra omnes and is reminiscent of Hegel’s Phenomenology, in which civil society figures as an ‘intellectual animal kingdom’, whereas, in Darwin, the animal kingdom figures as civil society.”

    “When this conjurer’s trick has been performed.. .the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved. The puerility of this procedure is so obvious that not a word need be said about it. (Engels to Pyotr Lavrov, 12-17 November, 1875)

  9. “as such I have an understanding of energy transfer, production and growth, self-sustaining systems, feedback mechanisms, carrying capacities, natural selection and evolution.”

    Particularly amusing, because she’s got the same delusions about her own science as economists seem to have about theirs.Both are mostly observational sciences. She doesn’t “have an understanding” of any of those things. She’s trying to acquire an understanding. And by the nature of what she’s observing, she can only refine that understanding without achieving full understanding. And, every so often, she’s going to discover she’s got it thoroughly wrong.
    So I wouldn’t be too critical of her.
    Sounds like an economist to me.

  10. Pendant’s Corner:
    in these unprecedented times
    today has no yesterday! Whoops, there goes evolution then!

  11. If one wishes to be pendantic, TMB, all times are “unprecedented”.
    15 Oct 2015 was preceded by 14 Oct 2015. This is unique & has never happened before.

  12. I suggest digging out Julian Simons essay about biologists and economics ( more accurately about them bein doom mongers) in hoodwinking the nation.

    He demonstrates why biologists, through their training massively mess up when talking about economics. It is not just ignorance it’s the transfer of concepts and ways of thinking from biology to economics.

    Frankly he should just say, sure economics isn’t a hard science and it contains large normative assumptions but it can be useful just not always solidly to forecast.

    But then anyone broadly educated should know and be able to say that. But mister scientist here thinks ha biological training gives him authority but he isn’t really that well educated as he falls for his fallacy.

    HA

  13. I wonder if Dunning and Kruger found a bigger effect for educated people blundering into other fields than average people generally.

  14. BiS

    yup, that works too. The difficulty for the true, committed pendant was whether to go for unprecedented meaning “unique” or meaning “with nothing preceding it”.

  15. It’s fascinating that someone can know about evolution and natural selection and not grasp that economics is so much about that. OK, there’s a step via psychology from biology to economics, but so much of economics is understanding that people want to be lying in a big comfortable bed with a supermodel (or if you’re a supermodel, lying in a big comfortable bed with a man of resources who is going to make sure that your kids want for nothing).

  16. If we made the same predictive demands of biology that we make of economics we would soon see how much ‘better’ as science it is.

    I thought that Darwin took some of his ideas from Herbert Spencer (who was writing before the Origin of Species was published), so that rather describing Spencer’s ideas as ‘social Darwinism’ we should describe evolutionary biology as ‘biological Spencerism’. I guess that would make many biologists blow a gasket.

  17. Rob Harries

    Julian Simon is another legend (I often quote the late Peter Bauer as an example of someone who refutes every tenet of a Leftist worldview) whose work should be hardwired into the brains of Murphy and this other idiotic Norfolk dweller as a direct and complete refutation of their entire philosophy- a sadly missed voice in the debate…..

  18. Sorry, this one’s unbelievably fucking blatant:

    “any activity involving humans, such as money-dealing, cannot be described by a mathematical formula but will be determined by the behaviour and mindset of the people doing the deals.

    “Removing regulations that governed money-dealing obviously encouraged those involved to behave unlawfully.”

    https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=%22money-dealing%22+antisemitism

    That phrase has an incredibly strong connection to antisemitism and old-fashioned Nazism. I think we can see who ‘the people’ are.

  19. DevonChap,

    It’s like my current health kick. I’ve switched from red meat to chicken and fish. Swapped the cakes for fresh fruit. I don’t need to know the exact numbers for sugar in Twinkies and oranges. I do know that eating Twinkies is like communism.

    Neoliberalism is at the point of knowing you should lay off the twinkies, but not really knowing whether to have oranges, apples or raisins.

  20. She was making an important point from the Austrian view-that action follows from individual choice of ends and means, and subjective valuation-from which the inadequacy of econometrics.
    Unfortunately she then switched to the design (“regulation”) of society perspective which has delivered so many innocents over to the caprices of the stupid and the cruel .
    The spontaneous order theory wld have been a natural continuation of her first train of thought. Maybe politics got in the way…

  21. She’s a Green, therefore she’s an idiot. This what happens when you ‘educate’ masses of people way beyond their level of intelligence.

  22. @Devon Chap
    According to Hayek CD’s notebooks suggest he was influenced by Adam Smith in his theories of natural selection.
    Hayek makes the wider point that the humanities developed an evolutionary theory well before the biological sciences did.

  23. “The puerility of this procedure is so obvious that not a word need be said about it”

    much classier than “you’re wrong cos I said so la la la” some bloggers could really learn a thing or two from reading old correspondence

  24. If she thinks biology isn’t susceptible to mathematical modeling, why do applied biologists have to do 3 years of statistics to give them some basic idea of how to design experiments? And I mean basic, the statistical methods I needed to do the econ modules in my post grad studies were considerably more complex.

  25. Frankly he should just say, sure economics isn’t a hard science and it contains large normative assumptions but it can be useful just not always solidly to forecast.

    Engineering’s a bit like that, to be fair. I suppose the idea is to get you within a ballpark of where you’re supposed to be, and then make some corrections. Rather than being miles away when reality hits, like the Lefties usually are.

  26. She stood for the Green Party, yet doesn’t mention that in her letter. Just presents herself as a biologist. Would The Guardian accept that same failure to declare interest from, say, an American gun-owner writing about gun laws and not mentioning that they’d once stood as a Republican candidate?

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