Dismal Quackery

The other day, I made a crack about the soft sciences, psychology, sociology and so forth, comparing them to astrology and economics. It was in the context of the replication crisis that is roiling fields like psychology. The soft sciences are trying hard to pretend it is problem in all science, but that’s not true. Anyway, someone gave me grief for slandering astrology, because the early strides in astronomy and even astrophysics were due to people trying to improve astrology. If you believe in that stuff, precise measuring of the movement of stars and planets is important.

I think most empirically minded people have long ago concluded that psychology is quackery. When I was a kid, talk therapy was the rage. The schools were hiring “counselors” and having kids sit down and talk about their problems. Even as a kid I knew it was nonsense. Talking someone out of being insane or depressed is slightly less nutty than slaughtering a goat and reading the entrails. Imagine if someone claimed they could talk you out of a broken leg or cancer. But, quackery seems to to stick around much longer than logic says it should.

That’s the pattern we are seeing with economics. The colossal errors in the field should have discredited it a long time ago, but economist are still the court magicians of the modern state. This post by Tyler Cowen is a good example of dressing up uninformed opinion with the jargon of economics to make it sound like science. As Steve Sailer pointed out in the comments, economists have yet to offer a plausible explanation for how the post-nationalist world could operate. The only possible answer is that it would be based on force.

Europe is a great example of just how wrong modern economics has been about pretty much everything. The totality of mainstream economics has been cheering the Euro project for decades, even when it was pretty clear that the single currency was a disaster for many of the members. It has all the cyclical defects of hard money and none of the benefits. The open borders part of the project has resulted in a flood of non-Europeans, who have upset the social order, threatening the stability of the Continent.

This is not the first time modern economics has been outlandishly wrong about Europe. This post by Greg Cochran is a great reminder of just how absurdly wrong the field was about the realities of communism. The best estimates by the court magicians overstated communist economic output by two or three times reality. This despite the fact they had first hand observations of the state of these communist countries. Westerners, including western academics, traveled throughout these countries and could observe the squalor first hand.

In the 80’s, an acquaintance was getting sent to Moscow on government assignment. His family held a going away party as he was expected to be there for two years. Everyone was asked to bring something he could use in Russia. He got things like cartons of cigarettes, blue jeans and small bottles of liquor. The Russians turned a blind eye to this type of smuggling because they wanted the stuff too. The customs agent would take something for himself and maybe set you up with his cousin Yuri to sell the rest. Everyone, except economists, knew the score.

Of course, the birth of economics as a distinct field from political-economy was roughly 100 years ago, with the publication of an economic textbook by Alfred Marshall. Economist were just as wrong about reality then as they are today. Prior to the Great War, globalism was all the rage, just as it is today. A 1910 best-selling book, The Great Illusion, used economic arguments to demonstrate that territorial conquest had become unprofitable, and therefore global capitalism had removed the risk of major wars. A few years later Europe was murdering itself in the worst war in human history.

Science gets lots of things wrong. The scientific method assumes this, which is why test results are published, along with the methods, so others can challenge the results. Negative results are still results and add to the stock of human knowledge. In economics, they get fundamental elements of their field wrong and manage to subtract from the stock of human knowledge in the process. The problems facing Europe today are problems people understood well 50 years ago. Thanks to economics, policy makers are now forced to relearn what their grandparents took for granted.

The root of the problem is that statistics are not science and economics is pretty much just statistics applied to commerce. It’s not worthless, but it is limited. Probability and correlation can point real scientist in the right direction, but they don’t explain the mechanics of cause and effect. We know that smoking correlates with emphysema, but biologists figured out why one causes the other. Per capita chicken consumption correlates with US oil imports and only an economist would suggest one causes the other. Know what is happening is not the same as knowing why.

Calling back to where we started, most quackery manages to have some benefit, even if it is to just some make people feel happy. Astrology is right about the movement of the stars, at least as far as charting them. Horoscopes are stupid, but a harmless way for people to feel good about the uncertainty of life. Alchemy was a confidence racket, for the most part, but it eventually gave us chemistry. Even climate science has some utility, despite the massive fraud. Economists are fond of calling their racket the dismal science, but that’s not fair or accurate. It’s really just dismal quackery.

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Adama
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Adama

Like the saying goes: if all economists where laid end to end, you’d have a long line of assholes.

Crispin
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Crispin

I thought the saying was: If you laid all the economists from end to end — they would not reach a conclusion.
[but don’t ever attempt to lay them all. You’ll pick up some nasty STDs]

Adama
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Adama

It is. I was just being a smart ass.

I like your joke in the brackets though. 🙂

Saml Adams
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Saml Adams

Was it Truman who wished he could only hire one armed economists? Something about eliminating the “on the other hand” caveats….

Adama
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Adama

That’s funny, I had never heard that one. The only other economist joke I can remember off hand is the one about how economists accurately predicted eight of the last five recessions, or something to that effect.

Speaking of wonk jokes, one of my very favorites: Three statisticians are hunting in the woods. Suddenly a deer leaps out from behind a tree. The first statistician shoots and misses five feet to the right. The second one shoots and misses five feet to the left. The third one jumps up and cheers, “Yes, I got him!”

UKer
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UKer

I heard the saying as: If they laid all the world’s economists end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised

JohnK
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JohnK

Here’s the Amazon link to John D. Mueller’s “Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element” https://www.amazon.com/Redeeming-Economics-Rediscovering-Missing-Enterprise/dp/1932236953 From a talk by the author on the book: “So, economics is essentially a theory of providence: it describes how we provide for ourselves and the other persons we love, using scarce means that have alternate uses. … “Scholastic ‘AAA’ economics (c.1250-1776) began when Aquinas first integrated these four elements (production, exchange, distribution, and consumption) into an outline of personal, domestic, and political economy, both positive and normative, organizing Aristotle’s contributions according to Augustine’s framework. The scholastic economic theory was taught at the highest university… Read more »

The Sage
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The Sage

Mainstream economics is full of various flavours of Keynesians, who are quite happy to see governments spend like drunken sailors in the bad times, and who then quietly refrain from pointing out that they should be also stashing away savings during the good times. On Europe, even 30 years ago, with the first ruminations of the “hard ECU”, there were papers written pointing out that absent massive transfers between states, such a currency would be vulnerable to asymmetric shocks, exactly as we have seen. The assumption seems to have been that the theory of the “beneficial crisis” would continue to… Read more »

Member

For example: I’m an Aquarius (astrology) and an ENTP (psychology): ENTP: Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another. Aquarius: Although an Aquarius may act emotionally detached at times, they really do care, especially about their friends. Aquarius zodiac sign thrive on creativity, and because of this they tend to wilt in environments that are not conductive to their… Read more »

BillH
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BillH

Which zodiac sign do life’s losers fall under? I checked the link and couldn’t find it.

Lulu
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Lulu

I was burdened with being a textbook Virgo, which sounded like the dullest sign of all (although we are superb caregivers, and God knows I’ve done enough of that!). Then I found out the Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren were also Virgos. I felt better immediately.

As for psychologists, my few scrapes with them found me ending up listening to them. Did nothing for me except make me feel more normal, which may have been the point?

notsothoreau
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notsothoreau

I feel that way about being a Taurus. Why must they make us sound so dull?

I have a personal dislike of all things psychiatrist. My mom’s boyfriend had been threatening to her and was in custody. The shrink had him released and didn’t bother to notify us. He later admitted that he was afraid of the guy. Fortunately, the boyfriend was not violent towards her physically and we got through it. But common courtesy demands that you notify the family in a situation like that.

Member

Pretty sure they’re all Pices…

Member

Pretty sure they’re all Pices…

Doug
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Doug

I’ll take Astrology for $200. Wacky as it is, tt least it is isn’t trying to rob you blind of your hard won fruits of your labor, it is about trying to find some kind of truth about life and the imponderables of the universe. Not much harm in that. Economics is like a cake made out of feces, you can put all the frosting you want on it, it is still about screwing the little guy and it still tastes like feces. And you need the state to enforce it’s rules. The only rule of how economics works unless… Read more »

Chazz
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Chazz

Wonderful line, Z Man, thanks: “In economics, they get fundamental elements of their field wrong and manage to subtract from the stock of human knowledge in the process.”

JohnTyler
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JohnTyler

Any serious field of study in which controlled experiments cannot be conducted, is not and cannot be a science. In these pseudo-scientific fields, what is considered correct is basically what its most influential practitioners determine is correct and this is often biased by the political ideology of the practitioners. And because funding for “research” is governed by those most influential, any research results contrary to the accepted dogma will either never get published or have a very rough time getting published. The absolute worst scam artists are economists and that entire field is a joke, a fraud. You really need… Read more »

LetsPlay
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LetsPlay

So the backlash to all the “consensus” of science today is pressure to apply the scientific method. Of course, those wanting to push a certain consensus want a short-cut, they are lazy in thinking, doing the hard work, and really don’t care about truth per se, they are after something else … money. You cover quite a range of topics here. I find that the deductive reasoning is best applied in comparing the goals of each “discipline” instead of inductive reasoning. For instance, while a lot of psychology does fall into the “bogus” category, there are some things I find… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
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Karl Horst (Germany)

@ LetsPlay – Well said! I am so sick and tired of how many Germans go on about the horrors of capitalism and how the west is responsible for all the evils in the world. Of course I always remind them the public tram they took to work is only possible because of capitalism, along with all the hospitals, clinics, libraries, roads, power plants and water treatment plants in Europe and everywhere else the west has built them. I must say seeing that little twitch in the corner of their eye is so satisfying as they glare at me and… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
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Karl Horst (Germany)

@ thezman – To your point “Europe is a great example of just how wrong modern economics has been about pretty much everything.” I’m sorry, but I must take exception to this comment as it is completely off base. In the old DDR, the idea of fighting unemployment and looking superior to the west was digging holes and filling them in. If you correlate this to total economic activity of gross GDP, of course their numbers look deceptively good. But everyone knew it was nonsense. But let’s look at GDP in the US. It has continued to increase since 2006,… Read more »

notsothoreau
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notsothoreau

I agree with you about manufacturing. Unfortunately, a lot of the apprenticeship programs in this country require you to be related to a union member to get in. They open up when there’s high demand sometimes (which is how my late husband got into the machinist’s union to build nuclear power plants.) We have too many companies that are unwilling to train workers.

A lot of the decisions were made to benefit the wealthy, with little consideration of the effects on workers.

Karl Horst (Germany)
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Karl Horst (Germany)

notsothoreau – I suspect the American apprenticeship programs have simply followed the trend of manufacturing. There isn’t a demand for them, so there’s little point in opening a school to teach skills no one will be hired for. It’s revealing that the US Occupational Outlook Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/) currently lists their “featured occupation” as web developers. Good luck growing an economy with that skill set. If you want a good look at the direction of where your country is going, just look at the list of Top-10 careers listed on their website (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/most-new-jobs.htm) They are all service occupations. Mechanical engineers, electrical… Read more »

Doug
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Doug

Karl, you said “America simply failed to enact policies that supported the competitiveness of its manufacturing base.” Excuse me, we already in acted policies, it is called the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but the grandaddy of them all is the Declaration of Independence, and the war fought in leu of it. This economic tyranny called things like NAFTA and the TPP, they was one of the most important causes why we had a revolution against the British economic empire to begin with. What the political elite, and it’s crony’s did was fail to obey the rule of… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
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Karl Horst (Germany)

@ Doug – In my opinion, based on the level of corruption displayed in your country at the highest levels, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights basically became null and void the minute corporations became entities. It should have been clear to all Americans during the events that lead up to the 2008 crash, that the banks, in collusion with the US Government, intentionally did everything possible to benefit themselves, while showing exactly how little cared for either of these historic documents or the lives of the people they where written to protect. To those you have voted for… Read more »

Fuel Filter
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Fuel Filter

Don’t be too hard on psychology as a whole. There are plenty of strict behavioral psychologists around who base their clinical work on Skinnerian principles. I used to teach a grad course (for five years running) in behavioral analysis for masters-level students strictly based on Skinner’s findings. I was also a behavioral consultant/interventionist for many years and had great success in those trenches. Strict behaviorists bypass emotions, thoughts and beliefs as side products of behavior and, if skilled, are able to get their clients and patients to “manipulate” the reinforcers and punishers in the environment to successfully bring about adaptive… Read more »

Fuel Filter
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Fuel Filter

BTW, it also works quite well for people with mental illness, including all but the most hardcore psychotics (except diabolical narcissists like Obama).

james wilson
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james wilson

Perhaps there is an analogy to be made with Garrett’s description of capitalism. It was a talent that a few men had, and only after it’s great successes did academics describe it as theory. The more academics worked describing capitalism, the worse they became at understanding it. There is a type of mind that expects facts to follow theory instead of theory following experience.

Severian
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Psychology and economics both want to be sciences, but they forget that science is DEscriptive, not PREscriptive. The further you get from the lab bench, the greater the temptation to sneak in that deadly little word “should.” As in, “my research indicates X; therefore you / society should do Y.” Any intellectual discipline, even psych, can be used to produce good results (as Fuel Filter says with Behaviorism) in a very limited, very specific context, for an individual. Anything further than that falls victim to the generalization paradox (all generalizations are wrong).

snopercod
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snopercod

“There are no objective methods for detecting the presence or absence of mental illness.” –Thomas Szasz

Fuel Filter
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Fuel Filter

“No objective methods”?

Szasz was an opportunistic huckster who mad a fortune on his pathetic book “The Myth of Mental Illness” and nothing more.

There are oceans of scientific literature using “objective methods” proving beyond a doubt that there is, in fact, plenty of mentally I’ll people out there.

He was a fraud and helped set back therapy and the public’s perception of it back decades.

Szasz was to psychology as Rachel Carson was to DDT (except Carson has the blood of tens of millions on her hands, mostly third-world deaths from malaria and the like).

notsothoreau
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notsothoreau

I ran across this article yesterday: http://rightmi.com/neither-austerity-nor-rebuilding-are-guaranteed/

I thought it was an interesting discussion of the role of entrepreneurs, something that seems in short supply these days.

Al from da Nort
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Al from da Nort

Because they are a central pillar of the overclass infrastructure, (not to mention the basis of their claim to rule) the reputation of the so-called social sciences deservedly share in the blame for the manifest failures of the overclass’ current utopian project(s). In particular, their collective extravagant claims to god-like knowledge and perfection stand exposed as Z-man so ably points out. But, does this mean that these ‘disciplines’ are of no use whatsoever_? Arguably not if one can dial out the politically self-serving elements. But this is a difficult and contentious task, requiring a skepticism based on considerable knowledge of… Read more »

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ciribiribin

“The root of the problem is that statistics are not science and economics is pretty much just statistics applied to commerce.”

Ludwig von Mises was an economist who made a career out of arguing that statistics ARE the “root of the problem” and that “statistics applied to commerce” is NOT economics. Mises once criticized Lord Keynes by writing: “It is assumed that the evolution of economic science culminated with Alfred Marshall and ended with him. The findings of modern subjective economics are disregarded.”

You make the same error.

Member

You think economists have failed, but they haven’t. I’m sure they’ve made assurances, away from the public, that they could produce all the money a political could ever want to spend, and on that point they have been true performers. I believe, that in the end it’s going to end badly, but make no mistake, economists have been judged, up to date, on a pure meritocratic basis.

Dan Kurt
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Dan Kurt

@DFC “You think economists have failed, but they haven’t.”

With this kind of “reasoning” POSident Obama has succeeded.

Current economists in the mainstream and especially since Keynes’ General Theory have been NOTHING BUT CHEERLEADERS justifying government spending. They have done NOTHING except to extol politicians making bread out of stones.

Dan Kurt

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Even better they’ve made money out of nothing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying there won’t be a price to be paid, because I think there will be, but up to this point they’ve been true to their promises. That’s better than politicians can say.

James LePore
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There are competing religious sects in the Cult, each with its own high priests, rituals, acolytes and sacrificial rites. Economics is one, environmentalism is another. The priests read entrails and talk to the gods. The king pays them for the answers that he hopes will keep him in power.

LetsPlay
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LetsPlay

How do you spell P A U L K R U G M A N ?

James LePore
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Like all high priests, sells his entrail readings to the highest bidder.

Uncola
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Uncola

Speaking of psychology, I once had college professor who first made his fortune in the real world prior to teaching his Industrial Psychology class. He told me something once I never forgot, and years later, I found it to be a contributing factor of economic causation within free market societies and a great benefit to me personally.

He said: “Achievement strengthens and accelerates motivation.”

Speaking of astrology, I once dated a Gemini. We didn’t last very long because I couldn’t stand both of her personalities.

Derwood
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Derwood

The problem is that economics are, like all the sciences, ruled by political correctness. This mental illness causes hallucinations, delusions of superiority, and false sense of divinity, leading to falsifying observations to reach a predetermined conclusion.

Meema
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In the process of divorcing her psychopath husband my daughter had to endure being evaluated by a county psychologist, $6000 later he concluded that she was ‘histrionic’ because she sobbed when she told her story. His conclusion on the nut job? Good ole boy, misunderstood. So, ask me how I feel about psychologists.

Ganderson
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Ganderson

I teach HS Econ. A really smart kid asked me whether or not it was mostly BS. I went full Jackie Gleason… Hammina hammina…. Spot on about psch- it’s all made up.

Saml Adams
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Saml Adams

Thinking about it a little more. This “glorious future” thing is really a law of physics for Progressives. The usual application is that we’re just one more trench or gulag full of people that refuse to get on the “glorious future” train.