One would expect economists to at minimum respond adequately to the questions of what must one know about the economy and what must be done to make the economy best serve human interests.
It is claimed that economists learn about economic theories, without ever learning about the economy itself. That is, the theory itself does not have strong explanatory or predictive value, meaning it’s mostly bunk. (This is pretty easily verified by the fact that top economists like Allan Greenspan and Larry Summers run the economic policies and produce devastating outcomes, clearly failing to predict the consequences of their own policies.)
However, economics is politically popular because it gives justifications for business class policies. There is a very strong correlation between pro-business class economic theories and available social rewards within institutional spaces (such as the academy, or government jobs; cases in point are Greenspan, Paulson, Bernanke).
Studying fake entities
Economics begins by positing a series of entities and relations. But these entities and relations are pulled out of thin air, they don’t bear any strong relation to reality. Examples: rational actors; perfect markets; optimized relationships. It is easily demonstrated that none of these theoretical entities bear close resemblance to the economic phenomena in the real world. There is, therefore, no reason to be using theories that include them.
In any other science, the entities posited and relations between them are subject to scrutiny, and modified until the explanatory model can be demonstrated with observational results. In economics, for some reason (likely having to do with social rewards and lack of scientific culture), theories are endlessly produced that bear no relation to the real world.
Another example. One of the founding phrases of economics is that it entails the study of “allocating scarce means to unlimited wants,” as put in the early 20th century by a prominent economist. But this is bunk: means are not scarce; and wants are not unlimited. In reality, human resources are massively underused (while natural resources such as petroleum massively overused), and wants are clearly finite, or else you would not need an advertising industry to constantly create them. Moreover, this phrase fails to distinguish between “wants” and “needs,” the notion of “basic needs” (human, social, environmental) simply not appearing within economic theory.
In sum, modern economics is a theory largely developed around a political agenda. It employs circular reasoning, starting with the founding assumption that free markets exist and produce felicitous consequences, and developing an entire theory to elaborate on these assumptions, both of which turn out to be false (markets are always arbitrarily defined and never actually free; and unregulated markets produce disastrous results, as successive depressions through the 20th century have amply demonstrated).
In the world of supercorporations, where markets are dominated by a small group of oligopolistic quasi-competitors, it is make-believe to describe the market as free. Freedom of the market implies no or low barriers to entry; fierce competition among many players. Virtually none of our markets resemble this, from internet and phone service providers to supermarket chains or health insurance carriers. Instead we have oligopolies and near-monopolies in the majority of cases. Freedom in this sense, as US libertarians use it, simply means freedom of the largest corporations to dominate.
Leaving out what matters
Economic theory abstracts relations that are in fact so deeply and irretrievably colored by factors it ignores that the theory guarantees its own ignorance about economic activity. It leaves out analysis of most of what matters in economic activity: all matters of political, sociocultural, technological, psychological, and military issues. Economic activity described in the abstract of such issues is meaningless, because it describes a world that doesn’t exist. So economists spend much of their time trying to account for the “imperfections” of their models: market imperfections, irrationality in the market, etc. They keep clinging nonetheless to their theories about what is “supposed” to happen in the imaginary world in which the theory is made.
Political talking points
But while economic theory is busy delivering misinformation to the public, it also delivers ready-made talking points to pro-business policy makers, who use it opportunistically to justify their politically motivated policies. If the economic theories happened to contradict the pro-business policies, they would just get ignored and another pretext would be conjured. But when the theories are deemed useful, they are held up as justification for what are in fact class-based policies in favor of the business class. In every single case, the economic theories held up justify letting business operate without public restraint or concern for public interest. The economic theory claim is that if you let business operate in fullest power, the derivative effect will be the maximization of public interest. That the history of the world demonstrates the precise inverse (consider places where business really dominates, like Haiti or El Salvador; and consider how the US or England got so wealthy: by carefully controlling industry) is left to the wayside.
Chang, Ha-Joon. 21 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. 2010.
Chang, Ha-Joon. Bad Samaritans. 2008.
Dowd, Douglas, ed. Understanding Capitalism: Critical Analysis from Karl Marx to Amartya Sen. 2002.
Dowd, Douglas. Capitalism and Its Economics: A Critical History. 2004.
Hahnel, Robin. ABCs of Political Economy. 2002.
Kanth, Rajani. Against Economics. 1997.
Sen, Amartya. Inequality Reexamined. 1992.