Economic Stew

[From Kenny Kitzke (2004.02.18)]

I was enticed to involve myself in the economic thread(s), especially discussions regarding the Economic Test Bed.

I asked a few questions, made a few comments (intended as contributions), mostly to Bill Powers and Rick Marken. My comments to Bill seemed appreciated.

I was suspicious of the analyses and conclusions being made by Rick. My comments to Rick were taken as provocative and he chastised me for intentions Rick felt I had. To Rick’s credit he apologized. I intended to continue to querry Rick and his modeling/simulation/data analysis work to verify his assumptions, methods and conclusions.

The science of economics seems woefully inadequate and incomplete to me as a novice practiotioner in at least the capitalistic economic system that seems to be the formula or theory predominate in the USA.

The academic economics literature seems to contain diverse and even contradictory views of how this system really works presented by its certified/credentialed experts. Add political ingredients and governmental agencies and economics, and even the data used to characterize it, becomes an Economic Stew. Its consumers can only guess exactly what the chef(s) claim(s) to have thrown into the pot versus what s/he actually threw in when they even claim they can recall what precisely actually went into that last batch of stew.

Add to this complexity, and the lack of consensus on theory, and possibly shoddy methodolgy in data generation and analysis to the unprofessional rancor and insults and accusations accompanying the thread(s) and my interest in pursuing this futher has waned. This “stewing” is more unsavory than the kitchen sink stew itself.

To those with the energy to keep spinning their wheels and their yarns, I wish you well. I do have a hunch that purposive behavior and feedback control loops may make a valuable contribution to the science of economics. And, somehow, someone on CSGNet may just find a new perspective or understanding. That would be wonderful. I just don’t have the time to be part of it. And, if I knew someone who did, I would be ashamed to send them to this forum to read all the tripe and character assassination found here. Incredibly unprofessional.

I will leave this small contribution for consideration. I see no evidence that economies are closed loop systems. I believe you can try to analyze them as such (using currency flows, etc.). But, if economies are not actually closed loop, but open loop systems (my guess), I wonder why anyone hoping to study the real system, and pontificate on how it really works, would use a closed loop model or simulation to explain the real thing or improve it?

Any thoughts about this to test my conclusion would be read and appreciated, though I don’t want to be dragged back in to the endeavor to make my own claims or prove others wrong. But, those who want to be part of explaining economics more accurately should have an answer to such basic questions for credibility purposes among the experts. No?

From Bill Williams 18 February 2004 2:30 PM CST]

Kenny in his recent post [Kenny Kitzke (2004.02.18)] has lots of interesting things to say about

the economics threads. ,I will try to comment later on his posting.

But, his thread caption “Economic Stew” caught my eye. Last spring and into the Summer I conducted a mostly one-sided dialog on a discussion list known as AFEEmail.

(The Association for Evolutionary Economics).

One of the thread captions I used was “Stewed Crow on Burnt Toast.”

The stewed crow on burnt toast was a metaphor for Behaviorism. Many of the economists who are active AFEE members have adopted, either

explicitly or more often implicitly, the assumptions of behaviorism.

Veblen wasn’t, however, among those who credited behaviorism, this contrasting view of behaviorism has created some extreme difficulties for the AFEE people in

interpreting Veblen.

After rereading the 7 August 2003 version of “Stewed Crow on Burnt Toast” I have made some very minor revisions that improve the readability of the document.


Date: Thu, 7 Aug 2003 03:15:05 -0500



From: “Williams, William D.” williamswd@UMKC.EDU

Subject: Re: Stewed Crow on Burnt Toast

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=“Windows-1252”

Dear Bill Waller,

In keeping with your use of gastronomic metaphors in your posting “discussion and its limitations”, I would suggest that AFEEmail readers consider almost half of my contributions to the “reconstructing culture” thread is a matter which is not described by either your suggested alternative of “meat and potatoes” or “hors d’oeuvres” but rather in terms of a ration of "Stewed

Crow on Burnt Toast." For that in fact is what behaviorism has become.

Orthodox Institutionalism has since its beginning been dominated by the assumption that Veblen got it wrong with regard to his conception of human behavior as an “instinctive” process. The ways by which the institutionalist tradition has expressed this assumption have been various. However, by the time of the 1987 JEI Foundations issue the evolution of a process of “group think” initial assumption that Veblen had it wrong had “ripened” into a conclusion that he had gotten it wrong. And, beyond ripening this conclusion had progress to intellectual decay. The rot had progressed to the extent that the leadership of the institutionalist movement was unable any longer to read Veblen’s texts with comprehension. The result was the publication of a paper by Hickerson as a part of the Foundations issue which denied that Veblen’s use of the term “instinct” in anyway implied anything hereditary in regard to human behavior. However, as a page thirteen Veblenian, I can recite from The Instinct of Workmanship Veblen’s five word sentence in which he says-- “The instincts are hereditary traits.”

Now Bush has described how those who were responsible for the Foundations issue made every effort “to get it right.” But, according to their paradigm of Orthodox Institutionalism the criteria for “getting it right” was perceived in terms of conformance with notions derived from Durkheim and Behaviorism such as your “Its culture all the way down” slogan. Or Walter Neale’s Cheshire cat psychology in which Behaviorism has been discredited as an empirical science but never-the- less retains a validity of some-- such as Lewis Carrol’s Cheshire cat for whom all that is left is the grin. Tool almost a quarter century ago described the concept of “conditioning” as a theoretical conception subject to disproof. Yet when Peach recently reviewed the republication of Tool’s Discretionary Economy he argued that it had, thus far, withstood the test of time and that there was no new “substantial” ground upon which to criticize it. In part Peach may come to this conclusion because as a matter of editorial policy Tool and Mayhew excluded work that was critical of the propositions which make up Orthodox Institutionalism. Tools description of culture as the result of “conditioning” would appear to me to be an assertion that, following the overthrow of behaviorism in psychology is a matter requiring reconsideration. However, As Tool said, no serious scholar doubts that “all behavior is learned.” Chomsky to the contrary asserts that anyone who’s sane knows that a lot of behavior is innate And, As Pinker’s recent book title The Blank Slate or his The Language Instinct assert human behavior can not be explained purely in terms of learning. The biological context in which learning takes place is, contrary to the doctrine of behaviorism and Orthodox Institutionalism, significant. In scholarly/ scientific circles these questions became central in the late 1930’s (Lashley’s denial of the Engram thesis, and his debate with Pavlov) and many think the fate of behaviorism was finally settled by Chomsky’s 1959 review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Institutionalists like to think of themselves as “critical scholars” but I see little evidence that recent institutionalists have maintained a familiarity with the critical literature in psychology, or the transformation that has occurred in biology regarding the concept of “the life process.” The negative aspect of this issue, at least with respect to defenders of Orthodox Institutionalism, is following your gastronomic metaphors is a ration of burnt toast.

The positive side of my argument is that the comparatively recent discoveries in biology have rescued Veblen from his detractors who view him as an “old fashioned” guy who couldn’t quite get it right. You and many others are of the opinion that Veblen’s conception of human behavior, his instincts and his notion idle curiosity, can be discarded without loss. That is you think it is outmoded and should be treated a trash. According to You, this change in perspective doesn’t meet your criteria for scholarly accomplishment – it doesn’t you argue amount to a dish of “meat and potatoes.” And, from your viewpoint, of course it isn’t. Where VEblen made frequent references to the necessity of revising economic theory in terms consistent with a theory of the life process, you have over the years has been arguing that biology isn’t interesting or of any particular significance. Biology you think doesn’t have much of anything to contribute to social theory. So what I’ve been arguing for is, when viewed from your side of the table, a dish of “stewed crow.” And, of course, you don’t find a meal of stewed crow on burnt toast appealing. But, Who would?

Mat Wilson, early on in the “reconstructing culture” thread made what I think was an important point about the conduct of a discussion when he said, as I remember it, that the character of the discussion shouldn’t make it harder for the losing side to change their position. Recent thinking within the traditions within heterodox economics has been increasingly concerned with questions regarding the criteria that regulate the process of inquiry. And, Mat’s point is, in this context, a principle, among others, to keep in mind. However, in a debate changing the mind of those on the other side isn’t the only end-in-view. Most discussions include an audience which isn’t necessarily initially committed to either position that is being argued. And, they don’t necessarily wish to become active participants in the sense of contributing to the discussion. But, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t a part of the process.

And, if we take the standpoint that Habermas recommends in his Communicative Interaction the advocates of a position have to expect the understanding of the position advocated to change in the course of discussion. I wonder has anything I’ve said made any change at all in what you think?

Bill Williams

No one was willing to admit that I had any contribution to make to economic scholarship.

The president of the association argued explicitly that what I had to say made no contribution at all to economic scholarship.

Some defenders of Behaviorism were insistent that I was as they said a fascist. How attacking

behaviorism makes one a fascist I have yet to understand. Perhaps my mistake was launching an excessive attack upon behaviorism.

Bill Williams

18 February 2004