Beyond behaviorism, positivism, and neo-institutionalism in economics

a conversation with Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Originally published in Journal of Institutional Economics

Silvestri interviews McCloskey about her forthcoming book, ‘Beyond Behaviorism, Positivism, and Neo-Institutionalism in Economics’, critical of recent economics, especially of neo-institutionalism. Neo-institutionalism uses the ugly character ‘Herr Max U’ as its central idea: the elevation of Prudence to the only virtue. Institutions are mainly intermediate, not ultimate, causes in society. Ethics, rhetoric, identity, ideology, and ideas matter. McCloskey's turn to defending liberalism is in the background of her critique of behaviorism, positivism, and neo-institutionalism as anti-liberal, reducing the analysis of people to a model of childish slaves. Liberalism is the theory of non-slave adults. Of the big ideas of the past few centuries, only liberalism treats people with suitable dignity, and permits them to have a go, and make others rich. Neo-institutionalism shares the two sins of modern Samuelsonian economics: a devotion of mere existence proofs; and a deviation to arbitrary tests of statistical ‘significance’. And in its tale of a rise of ‘capitalism’, it shares the errors of amateur economic history. The better word for the modern economic world of the Great Enrichment – fully 3,000% increases in real income per person – is ‘innovism’. Neo-institutionalism, as the method of historical economics, must be replaced by ‘Humanomics’.

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