Tuesday, September 21, 2010

leon walras understands the power of hegemony...

so why can't Greg Mankiw?

From my AEA Economist's Calendar, September 2010:
As for those economists who do not know any mathematics, who do not even know what is meant by mathematics and yet have taken the stand that mathematics cannot possibly serve to elucidate economic principles, let them go their way repeating that 'human liberty will never allow itself to be cast into equations' or that 'mathematics ignores frictions which are everything in social science' and other equally forceful and flowery phrases. They can never prevent the theory of the determination of prices under free competition from becoming a mathematical theory. Hence, they will always have to face the alternative either of steering clear of this discipline and consequently elaborating a theory of applied economics without recourse to a theory of pure economics or of tackling the problems of pure economics without the necessary equipment, thus producing not only very bad pure economics but also very bad mathematics.
Leon Walras, Elements of Pure Economics, 4th ed., 1900


  1. Dan, this is an incredibly interesting paragraph by Walras. But I'm afraid I'm missing your point (and thus feeling a bit obtuse)
    In what sense do you regard this as reflecting the fact that Walras understands "the power of hegemony." Do you mean the fact that formal mathematical economics has become hegemonic?
    Walras appears to be making the point that there is no other meaningful choice (I'd be surprised if he argued otherwise) When he says "They can never prevent the theory of the determination of prices under free competition from becoming a mathematical theory" he means (it seems) as a matter of pure logic or pure science -- not as a matter of, say, which developmental path best serves certain ideological interests. The latter (or something like it) is generally what I take to be the implications of calling a theory "hegemonic." But if it is only hegemonic because The Dictates of Science make it so, then there is nothing to critique, right?
    Put another way -- what are you saying that Walras gets that Mankiw misses?

  2. Mark,

    I guess it's a difference in readings, because I did in fact read the Walras quote in terms of the "latter" perspective usually attributed to hegemony, as you call it.

    Why else would he term anything else as "bad economics"? It seemed rhetorical and therefore it seemed to me like he was talking about power.

    Though, you could be right -- and thanks for the comment.