Blog cafe Economics, divorced

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Aug 29 2008, 06:03am hrs
Most people believe that there is something called economics. But this is just not so.

When we use the word economics, we are conflating two completely distinct disciplines. Worse, at most one of these disciplines is righteach despises and condemns the other. Its as if English had one word stellatry, which meant both astronomy and astrology.

Our first discipline is literary economics. Literary economics is what the word economics meant in English until the 1870s or so. It is Carlyles dismal science. It was also practiced in the 20th century, under the name Austrian economics, by figures such as Mises, and Hazlitt . Our second is quantitative economics. Quantitative economics was invented in the late 19th century and early 20th century, by figures such as Walras, Marshall, Fisher, Keynes and Friedman. It is also practiced today, under the name economics .

Observe, for a moment, the suspicious evolution of this terminology. Astrology and astronomy have a similar temporal relationshipas do alchemy and chemistry. Ie: astronomy replaced astrology, and made it clear that its predecessor was nonsense. Chemistry replaced alchemy, and made it clear that its predecessor was nonsense.

But when Robert Boyle replaced alchemy with chemistry, he chose a new name to make it clear that he was separating the sheep from the goats and classifying himself among the former. Whereas in economics its the other way around. The new name has replaced the old one in situ, forcing its predecessor to decamp to a label which, like all labels, was originally pejorative. Its as if chemistry had decided that it was the only true alchemy, and forced the original alchemists to rebrand their field.