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To economists

To economists, I wish to point out that it seems you have not yet recognized a certain continuity between your discourse and the referent of your discourse.

One concise statement of the particular link between words and meanings that you overlook is this: because economics does not neutrally describe but also actively constructs its object of study, a process which you economists yourselves constantly participate in, as do all discursive subjects, economic analysis must by definition be incomplete in its own terms.

This is not an entirely new observation: it is a variant on the Lucas Critique, which is itself a variation on Goodhart's Law, and which has other precedents as well. The Lucas Critique (1976) might be phrased as saying that myopic

expectations will be wrong, the remedy to which is thought to be model-consistent expectations; Goodhart’s Law (1984) says that any measure targeted by policy ceases to serve as a good target, the remedy to which is thought to be XXX. What has to be worked out in greater detail is how these critiques map onto the conceptually simpler observation that words matter.

Economic insider shorthand covers but does not in fact mend this wound. The statement that "all equilibrium is partial," for example, is a way of naming the inherent limitations of abstract analysis. But the bigger point is missed, because the very next movement on the part of the economist who says it is to proceed to go ahead and do whatever it was that they wanted to do, and it is that next movement which is the really substantive thing here. It's not just that economists don't care that what they are doing is meaningless, it's that their job is not to care. They professionalize the anti-scientific.

Another line of thinking follows instead observations on the performativity of economics; the central claim here has a relationship to those ones. But what is still missing, I think, from the case for performativity is that economics has a particular class position, which means that the discursive stance of the discipline itself is a part of the extraction that is going on. This will be a hard case to prove to an economist who has not already seen it. But it would seem to be a path from the performativity literature and the critical macro-finance literature back toward a clearer orientation toward Marx.


  1. Goodhart, C. A. E. 1984. “Problems of Monetary Management: The UK Experience.” In Monetary Theory and Practice: The UK Experience, 91–121. London: Macmillan Education UK.

  2. Lucas, Robert E., Jr. 1976. “Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique.” Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy 1: 19–46.