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 is 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. Quackery seems to stick around much longer than logic says it should.

That is 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 firsthand observations of the state of these communist countries. Westerners, including western academics, traveled throughout these countries and could observe the squalor firsthand.

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 one hundred 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 is not worthless, but it is limited. Probability and correlation can point real scientist in the right direction, but they do not 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 different from 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 is not fair or accurate. It is really just dismal quackery.

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JohnTyler
JohnTyler
7 years ago

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 »

Adama
Adama
7 years ago

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

Crispin
Crispin
Reply to  Adama
7 years ago

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
Adama
Reply to  Crispin
7 years ago

It is. I was just being a smart ass.

I like your joke in the brackets though. 🙂

Saml Adams
Saml Adams
Reply to  Adama
7 years ago

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

Adama
Adama
Reply to  Saml Adams
7 years ago

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
UKer
Reply to  Adama
7 years ago

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

LetsPlay
LetsPlay
Member
7 years ago

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)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  LetsPlay
7 years ago

@ 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 »

Derwood
Derwood
7 years ago

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.

Doug
Doug
7 years ago

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 »

The Sage
The Sage
7 years ago

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 »

Uncola
Uncola
7 years ago

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.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

@ 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
notsothoreau
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

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)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  notsothoreau
7 years ago

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
Doug
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

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)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  Doug
7 years ago

@ 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 »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
7 years ago

@ thezman – Germany has a very solid economic model which is working, and has been working very well for decades and is pulling the rest of Europe. Unemployment rates have averaged 5.65% from 1950 until 2016 and our government is not off-shoring jobs in favor of quarterly profits. Nearly half our population, 43% of us, own our homes outright. No German economist has proposed the idiotic concepts of sub-prime loans, variable mortgages, unsecured credit card loans and our banks don’t loan money to people who can’t possibly repay their debts. In 2010 we paid off our reparations for WW1… Read more »

LetsPlay
LetsPlay
Member
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

I would have to agree with Karl. Germany has been the strong man of Europe since post – WWII, after recovery that is. However, hopefully with Trump as President, a swift change in Corporate Tax rate, Capital Gains Taxes and Foreign Income Tax rates will stem the tide of companies both leaving the US and moving jobs offshore. The tax rates in the US are a disgrace but that is the child of Wash. DC. With China on a buying spree, companies like GE, who are now owned by the Chinese, may still move anyway as part of the economic… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  LetsPlay
7 years ago

@ LetsPlay – It’s important to note that unlike the various states across the US (California, Michigan, etc), European countries did not enter the world market on a level playing field following WW2. To be fair, we must compare apples-to-apples and look at all of Europe, not just Germany, when comparing the European economic models to that of the US After WW2, Germany had a huge advantage as it was the only country to receive US financial help though the Marshal Plan. Much of German industry that remained was literally dismantled and hauled off to East Germany and/or Russia. For… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
7 years ago

@ thezman – I never said Germany was, nor would I imply it to be one. But we still have a few things that do work – so give credit where it’s due. To the point of defense spending, Germany has been the largest occupied country under US forces since 1945. As the saying goes “Wieso eine Kuh kaufen, wenn Du nur 1 Liter Milch brauchst”. (Why buy a cow when you only need 1 liter of milk)?.” I think we could agree that the US military could have left anytime, especially after the Wall came down since NATO was… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
7 years ago

@ thezman – Fair comments. But I have a difficult time with the idea that somehow America bankrupted itself trying to keep Europe safe for the past 70-years. Germany was only allowed a limited defensive military, and was geo-politically split in half and occupied by the Americans, French and British with the USSR (DDR) getting the East. And you may remember that when German Colonel called in an airstrike on a tanker truck in Afghanistan that led to the death of 100 Afghans, many of them civilians, the Defense Minister had to resign. How exactly is the German military supposed… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
7 years ago

True – what works well here for us won’t work there. Different attitudes about many things including work ethic, education, savings, health care, etc. As for the Euro…guess we will see.

Janet
Janet
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

Karl, I hate to break this to you, but the Z Man is correct– if Germany was a US state, it’s median income per person would be noticeably lower than West Virginia’s ($34K to $37K, at PPP). And our home ownership rate is 66%, compared to your 43%… and most of our homes, actually are HOMES, not apartments. One of the most surprising things to me about living in Europe was just how poor you all are– there’s quite a bit of truly beautiful architecture, but that’s the leftovers from centuries of head start over us. The people who live… Read more »

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  Janet
7 years ago

@ Janet – Are you kidding? The average US household has $130,922 in debt — $15,762 of it on credit cards. Not to mention 71% of college students graduate with an average of $25,000 in student loan debt. And who exactly holds the mortgage and lean on your houses and cars – you or the banks? Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account. And you think we’re poor? Do you want me to start on the topic of how the US stacks up on education, work, healthcare… Read more »

Member
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
7 years ago

Germany is the owner of a bar that loans money to its customers so they can buy the liquor. This business plan can only work for so long.

LetsPlay
LetsPlay
Member
Reply to  thezman
7 years ago

I would agree that Europe, the EU, has failed but within the EU, Germany is the bright spot. I think the best summary for things like BREXIT are a bunch of disinterested parties making decisions by committee about things in places they know nothing about but treating them as “parts is parts.” People don’t like being treated like “parts” especially when they are left to sit outside and rust and decay without essential care and recognition for the value they still possess. In their Ivory Towers they think THEY are all that matter and that attitudes shows in everything they… Read more »

Chazz
Chazz
7 years ago

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.”

JohnK
JohnK
7 years ago

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 »

Ganderson
Ganderson
7 years ago

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.

notsothoreau
notsothoreau
7 years ago

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.

snopercod
snopercod
7 years ago

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

Fuel Filter
Fuel Filter
Reply to  snopercod
7 years ago

“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).

Member
7 years ago

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
BillH
Reply to  hokkoda
7 years ago

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

Lulu
Lulu
Reply to  BillH
7 years ago

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
notsothoreau
Reply to  Lulu
7 years ago

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
Reply to  Lulu
7 years ago

Pretty sure they’re all Pices…

Member
Reply to  BillH
7 years ago

Pretty sure they’re all Pices…

Saml Adams
Saml Adams
7 years ago

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.

Meema
7 years ago

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.

James LePore
7 years ago

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
LetsPlay
Member
Reply to  James LePore
7 years ago

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

James LePore
Reply to  LetsPlay
7 years ago

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

DFCtomm
Member
7 years ago

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
Dan Kurt
Member
Reply to  DFCtomm
7 years ago

@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

DFCtomm
Member
Reply to  Dan Kurt
7 years ago

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.

ciribiribin
Member
7 years ago

“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.

Al from da Nort
Al from da Nort
7 years ago

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 »

Severian
7 years ago

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).

Fuel Filter
Fuel Filter
7 years ago

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
Fuel Filter
Reply to  Fuel Filter
7 years ago

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
james wilson
Reply to  Fuel Filter
7 years ago

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.