14th June 2017

This pre-discovery meeting will examine if and why there is a ‘monoculture’ in macroeconomics, whether there are barriers to innovation and whether macroeconomics is divorced from the big ‘real world’ economic problems we face. We will look at institutions and consider how interdisciplinary collaborations might change this.

Macroeconomic policy frameworks in place before the crisis were based on the widely accepted insights of academic macroeconomics. Policy makers were thought to be doing a reasonable job, appropriately constrained by their policy frameworks. Economists had confidence in their models, and economic discussions were limited to undulations rather than possible deep fragilities. Challenges to the consensus were often thought to be outside the scope of modern macroeconomics.

Even after the biggest crisis for generations no consensus has emerged on the appropriate direction of macroeconomic policy (Davies and McGoey 2011). There has been some experimentation in policy making, but these practices are based on a narrow range of options defined by old orthodoxies and measurements of the economy. While the crisis has led to some reflection within macroeconomics this has been fairly muted compared to the enormity of the crisis in challenging core ideas.

If there is a ‘monoculture’ in macroeconomics, then this may undermine the robustness of its findings and policy conclusions (Bronk and Wade 2016).

There is an extensive sociology of knowledge of economics, but how might we turn these studies towards a reform of the discipline? Current research explores: the history of thought and the creation of dominant social networks, how the discipline frames and constructs the world and the unintended complex effects of the enactment of social policy (Bear 2015, Caliskan and Callon 2009, 2010, Fourcade 2009, Ho 2009, Holmes 2013, Mackenzie 2001, Mitchell 2002, Weszkalnys 2011, Zaloom 2009). How might we combine these perspectives into a productive engagement with macro-economists and policy makers?

Knowledge and orthodoxy

Fourcade, Ollion, Algan (2015) note that economics is unique amongst social sciences in not acknowledging the added value of inter-disciplinary research. In published research and social media economists are reported to provide less cross-referencing of related disciplines than in other social sciences. Are there incentives in university economics departments which inhibit innovative and interdisciplinary research?

Is it fair to say that macroeconomics unresponsive to real world challenges and, if so, why might this be the case? How much overlap in social networks is there in UK macroeconomics institutions? What is the role of the five major economics journals in promoting and reproducing established ideas? Who runs these journals and how are the social networks to which they are attached reproduced? How could we crate syllabi and networks of knowledge dissemination that would allow greater innovation (Carlin 2013, http://www.core-econ.org/)?

Elite networks and the limits to Innovation

Are key macroeconomics posts filled by members from a small number of UK based institutions? Do the ‘usual suspects’ operate in the same networks and do they have some monopoly power on access and influence? How are these elite networks formed? What is the role of bureaucratic institutions in limiting innovation and reproducing these elite networks? What is the impact of the Bank of England being such a dominant institution in the UK economic policy making landscape? Does this encourage a form of self-censorship both on the inside and the outside? How could new, more inclusive, decentred networks be formed?

Macroeconomics in public culture

How does the public culture of media and policy experts reproduce conventional wisdom about the economy? How can new macroeconomic and interdisciplinary approaches achieve greater influence? How might we construct a new popular engagement with economic issues? How could macro-economists and academics engage with communities and their concerns? How could we create a new public culture of macroeconomics?

It may be that policy making has changed, preferring the findings of focus groups than macroeconomics. Has the packaging of economic ideas become more important than the ideas themselves? What does this mean for democracy and how might economists respond?

Bureaucracies and the ‘will to ignorance’?

How do the policies of bureaucracies unintentionally generate a ‘will to ignorance’ (McGoey 2007)? How do the audit practices of institutions such as REF shape the form of macroeconomics as a discipline? How do institutions use macroeconomics to frame the world in ways that limit or destabilise intended outcomes? How might we help global and national institutions to measure and intervene into economic life differently? Could we create new bureaucratic forms and policies based on a social calculus that would generate genuine legitimacy (Bear 2015)? How could we construct a new practice of the ‘public good’ and the state as a public commons?

References

Bear, Laura. Navigating austerity: currents of debt along a South Asian river. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Bronk, Richard and Jacoby, Wade. Uncertainty and the dangers of monocultures in regulation, analysis and practice. MPlfG Discussion Paper, 16/6, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne.

Çal??kan, Koray, and Michel Callon. “Economization, part 1: shifting attention from the economy towards processes of economization.” Economy and society 38.3 (2009): 369-398.

________ “Economization, part 2: a research programme for the study of markets.” Economy and Society 39.1 (2010): 1-32.

Carlin, Wendy. “Economics explains our world–but economics degrees don’t.” Economics 7 (2013): 46.

Fourcade, Marion. Economists and societies: Discipline and profession in the United States, Britain, and France, 1890s to 1990s. Princeton University Press, 2009.

Fourcade, Marion. “The construction of a global profession: The transnationalization of economics 1.” American journal of sociology 112.1 (2006): 145-194.

Ho, Karen. Liquidated: an ethnography of Wall Street. Duke University Press, 2009.

Holmes, Douglas R. Economy of words: Communicative imperatives in central banks. University of Chicago Press, 2013.

McGoey, Linsey. “On the will to ignorance in bureaucracy.” Economy and Society 36.2 (2007): 212-235.

MacKenzie, Donald A., Fabian Muniesa, and Lucia Siu. Do economists make markets?: on the performativity of economics. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Davies, William, and Linsey McGoey. “Rationalities of ignorance: on financial crisis and the ambivalence of neo-liberal epistemology.” Economy and Society 41.1 (2012): 64-83.

Zaloom, Caitlin. “How to read the future: the yield curve, affect, and financial prediction.” Public Culture 21.2 (2009): 245-268.

Weszkalnys, Gisa. “Cursed resources, or articulations of economic theory in the Gulf of Guinea.” Economy and Society 40.3 (2011): 345-372.

17 July 2017

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