Friday, 14 September 2018

The Plutocrat

My title is misleading. My post time is misleading. My words are honest.

Here's plutocracy:
A plutocracy (Greek: πλοῦτος, ploutos, 'wealth' + κράτος, kratos, 'rule') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income.
Here's plutocrat:
A person whose power derives from their wealth.
Interesting... perhaps my title is not that misleading after all because here's where my title comes from...
Towards the end of Captain America: Civil War there's the quote "The futurist, gentlemen! The futurist is here! He sees all! He knows what's best for you, whether your like it or not."
No, I'm not going to talk to you about Tony Stark. Not even now when it's kind of relevant (early August around when Infinity War made it to home release) let alone when this is being published (mid-September). What I want to talk about is the potential of the super-rich to take transformative actions in society today. So let's get into it...

David Koch by Gage Skidmore
If you're American or familiar with American politics, you've probably heard people talk about the Koch Brothers. These dudes have an estimated wealth of something like $50 billion (US!) each and they're not afraid to spread it around to groups that they favour. They're involved in research, campaign funding and charitable efforts. In fact, they've got their own Wikipedia page dedicated to their political existence.

I don't know too much about what the Koch brothers actually do. Their interest in libertarian and Republican causes does suggest that I wouldn't care for those activities. At least, not all of them. But this isn't why the Koch brothers aren't really what I mean by transformative impact. I'm sure they've used their wealth to achieve some stuff they find to be fairly meaningful. Some of it might even be pretty transformative. But, to me, the Koch brothers are just campaign donors. They do more than that, as you can read, but that's the archetype of plutocrat I want them to represent.

Donald Trump 
You probably recognise Trump from the hotel lobby in Home Alone 2. Or possibly from the Apprentice. If you're a serious follower of ultra high net worth individuals, you probably don't know him all that well. With an estimated worth of about $3 billion US, Trump's a lot richer than me but pretty much a pauper in terms of the sums I want to be talking about.

The archetype that Trump represents is not celebrity wealth (see below) but plutocrat as politician. Yes, Trump is undeniably a media personality. Referencing the cameo in Home Alone 2 (it's real) is fairly facetious but his role in the Apprentice is really the only reason I know who he is. Well, until he became a birther leader and, soon after that, a Republican politician. And... as you can probably guess from the vitriol I've thrown Andrew Little's way, I'm not a fan of Trump. But he's done something eminently respectable... he's gone out there and got involved in politics. More people need to do that.

But I'm not really talking about wealthy politicians.

Oprah Winfrey by Alan Light
For someone whose wealth comes entirely from working in entertainment as an entertainer first, Winfrey is extremely wealthy but, like Trump, she's a pauper in my context being worth about USD 2 billion. And as a public figure I think the best way to describe her is as a thought leader.

Celebrity Wealth is always an interesting question. In some ways the appropriate currency here isn't money but followers. And certainly in her heyday Winfrey had that. Given all the talk about her Trumping it up some years ago and gunning for US president, she's probably still got it. So if it's not money that matters with celebrities and I'm obviously pretty dismissive of philanthropy why have a celebrity wealth archetype of the plutocrat? And the answer is that it's precisely because I have to ask this question. People look at America's 2016 election and talk about celebrity as a feature of the Democratic campaign.

Money is just another currency. And when celebrities have money as well as fame, they can do more than just guide opinions or represent a target lifestyle. This is an important category of analysis.

Elon Musk by Steve Jurvetson
Some of you are probably think, "Not this dickhead?" But, yes, this dickhead. Musk is a quintessential example of the self-proclaimed transformer. And he's even wealthy in my context at around US 20 billion (dollars, duh). Although, obviously, he's not what I'm talking about either.

You see, the thing with Musk is that he's all show and no go. Most of what people know him for is just media spin... he was pretty lucky with PayPal and he's been riding that wave ever since. And most of the media spin, come to think of it, exists simply because of Musk-spin. But this kind of character is important because they trade on the ideas of "Great Man" historiography... the idea that the right person, at the right time with the right idea can change everything. The world doesn't work like this but because people think like this you can get a lot done.

Musk has put a lot of ideas out there and because it was him doing that, people listened. But unlike the celebrity plutocrat (which Musk has shades of) the self-proclaimed transformer has credibility in technical matters. And that credibility is hard to erode.

Musk is alternatively an example of the industrial messiah plutocrat. I didn't run with that because it's less spicy and I don't like Musk (obviously). The point here is that airtime can be given to people based on being very successful in business, at least when they are at the forefront of the age (it's hard to imagine, say, an Oil Baron doing the rounds in the way Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates do today).

Bill Gates (left) and Andrew Carnegie (right) from GeekWire's Article
These are two insanely wealthy individuals. Or, rather, were. Bill Gates' fortune has been put in perspective a little lately and he's sort of become a forgotten billionaire. Andrew Carnegie has been dead for decades but depending how you look at it, his wealth exceeded the rest of this list combined. By other measures, more in Bill Gates' territory. Either way you've probably never heard of him. I've known about Andrew Carnegie for about as long as I've known who Bill Gates is, i.e. most of my life, but this is because of his association with Diplodocus. Both men, as I grew to understand, are or were philanthropic plutocrats. Basically, they do charity. I mean, so does everyone else on this list, but the scale and relative significance just doesn't compare.

If you're thinking it's odd to juxtapose what amounts to an insult (plutocrat) next to a compliment (philanthropist) remember that I wrote this, remember that opening Tony Stark appraisal  (also click on the philanthropist link) and read this from a GeekWire comparison of Gates and Carnegie:
But the field of philanthropy has gotten more sophisticated and more controversial over time, with critics calling out the tremendous wealth disparity that fuels the sector, allowing the rich to wield unaccountable, unchecked power through their donations.
“That’s clearly become something that a lot of critics are concerned about,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “When you have wealth that is as big as a small country’s economy, should you be allowed to influence things that much without democracy?”
Philanthropy is power. Never forget that.

At the same time, donating money is often basically just like throwing it into the void. It can help people in the moment out a lot but it doesn't lead to meaningful change. What you need to do, if you can donate at scale, is target some sort of system. But when you do that, well, that's when you get to this democracy point being raised here. Andrew Carnegie is the closest example I know of this... without getting into the difference between philanthropy and philanthropic imperialism and colonialism. Here's what I mean via another comparison article:
Carnegie and Rockefeller were pioneers in bricks-and-mortar philanthropy. After Carnegie sold his steel company to J. P. Morgan in 1901, he plowed his nine-figure fortune into limestone. He built the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Institution in Washington and seeded the nation with more than 2,800 libraries. "His focus was to uplift humanity, and libraries for him were the best way to reach the broadest spectrum of the people," said Peter Krass, author of "Carnegie."
Carnegie's libraries weren't just built in the US either: there are a couple in NZ, for instance. And, in fact, they were what drew my attention to Carnegie as a philanthropist in the first place... as part of an economics internal I did some research on libraries. Actually, with the controversy about economists and libraries of late, that internal might make for relevant reading here. Hmm... would probably be best if I could remember why I only got Achieved for it, I'll think about it. Anyway, the second article's main thrust is the different, less material, approach taken by Gates:
"They're giving money to school systems and telling them to restructure, to reduce the size of their schools," Professor Frumkin said.
The Gates Foundation has given more than $100 million to New York City's public school system alone, to encourage the creation of smaller schools within existing school buildings. The foundation says its programs currently touch about 8 percent of the nation's public high schools.
This is more concerning, to my mind... as in it gets a lot closer to cutting across democratic processes. Think about it.

A Memorable Cartoon by Rod Emmerson
Yes, that's right. Money talks. And in the right environment, having ideas and the money to implement them can lead to actual implementations. Which might not be good. I mentioned philanthropic colonialism before. That probably sounds like another contradiction in terms but, I mean, have you read The White Man's Burden? Check it out:
Take up the White Man's burden —
The savage wars of peace —
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
I mean, if you think that doesn't sound anything at all like World Vision or Unicef or anyone like that, you need to scrub your ears out. Sure they don't dress up their appeals as a moral duty of "Whites" or colonial masters or use phrases like "half devil and half child" but they do propose a moral duty and they do want to address famine and sickness. If you're still not convinced, read Wikipedia's article on the poem. Notice, particularly, that philanthropic, strategic and financial imperialism are not mutually exclusive or even contradictory. It might be said, in fact, that back in the days of Empire, people believed the only way you could address things like famine and sickness was imposing an entire structure on an area... and that they were okay with all that entailed. 

But we were talking about Bill Gates. And it turns out that we can use Gates as another example of philanthropy gone wrong, from the GeekWire piece:
The Gates Foundation itself has faced criticism over the years. That includes programs delivering dramatic and sometimes unsuccessful changes to public schools and initiatives supporting charter schools. Critics have pushed back on agricultural funding in developing countries that relies on technology-based solutions with less attention to bolstering traditional approaches.
I've often wondered why people are so keen to see dramatic changes in education policy. Well, okay, I don't wonder. Most of the people who say such things are in the minority who had bad experiences at school or who have no contact whatsoever with state education (being home or privately schooled... often to the nth generation). What these people don't understand is that if you screw up your policies, you screw over people for their entire lives and their families' lives (often, again, to the nth generation).

From another Blog.
You might think I'm scaremongering but here's my truth: education policy should be terrifying.

So, to recap, what have we covered:

  • Philanthropy is power.
  • It's got the potential to be highly plutocratic.
  • There are lots of different kinds of plutocrat, not just those who rule in a plutocracy.
Which is pretty much the reverse order to how I covered them. And there's a reason for this and that's because what I really wanted to write about is what I'd do if I had the sort of money that Bill Gates or the Koch Brothers do. Hell, Musk is rich enough. So, what would I do with $50 Billion (NZ)?

Greater Auckland's (transportblog) Congestion Free Network
If you paused reading my meandering post to read those articles you might remember this bit:
THE networked approach to philanthropy recognises that it's hard to make a huge impact on your own, no matter how much money you have. The Gates Foundation gave out $1.3 billion in 2005. With Mr. Buffett's pledges, it will be able to double its philanthropic output, to about $3 billion a year.
That sure sounds like a lot. But it represents only about 1 percent of annual charitable giving in the United States — which was $260.3 billion in 2005, according to Richard T. Jolly, chairman of Giving USA, based in Glenview, Ill. The Gates Foundation has $30 billion in total assets; the National Institutes of Health has an annual budget of $28.6 billion.
I told you Trump was a pauper. But I also disagree here. It's just as easy as it ever was to spend your insane wealth in ways that could make a huge impact basically on your own. You've just got to spend it on the right sort of thing. And infrastructure? Infrastructure is forever.

Early Underground Stations (1860s), Roman Aqueduct (ca. 100; by Bernard Gagnon) and the Golden Gate Bridge (1937; by Rich Niewiroski Jr.) 
Well, okay, infrastructure isn't really forever but it does have a very long life cycle and when properly maintained can manage hundreds of years of use, no problem. But it's often difficult to get the funds to do it right and it's almost always subject to some kind of extreme market failure. Which is why it'd be a good area for philanthropic donations.

However, infrastructure spending is far from being free of value judgements: just look at all the hissy fits over the City Rail Link or Light Rail in Auckland. But what I'm suggesting is that these super wealthy individuals look at public transport projects which local and national governments want to build and fund those. It's what I'd do. Or, at least, what I hope I'd do. I could really transform Auckland if I could fund, say, the Light Rail L. Which, strictly speaking, isn't a project democracy is just trying to find the funds for, but I wouldn't pretend to be apolitical about it. I'd make people know that I reached out to AT, NZTA, Auckland Council and the Government specifically in order to implement a particular vision of choice, equity and development.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Your Economic School


How often have you entered a political discussion online and seen the conversation swing towards "schools of economics"? Perhaps that was the entire point of the discussion in the first place. Did it make you feel like an idiot? Did you feel like a god because you knew yours?

Here are some quizzes with my results:

Which economic school do you belong to?

Which School Of Economic Thought Do You Side With Most?

I was actually expecting to be able to find some more quizzes like this but I didn't really. I did find the usual "mixed economy" type ones though. Or, at least one, but these aren't really the same thing.

This difference between reality and expectation is important. The argument that I was going present was very stridently opposed to economic schools partially because I see them in political contexts being linked to the sort of ideas and questions that aren't out of place in things like the Political Context. The bent of, particularly the latter quiz, is much more what I'd term introspective. It might be said that its interest is more microeconomic than macroeconomic. Just like me. Even the former has some epistemological questions:
Relating to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
I maintain that the political economy (in a naive sense*) is the usage of the question "What's your economic school?" when I've seen it deployed in politics contexts. Mind you, I just dismiss the question as a subject of relevance so I don't pay too much attention. It doesn't take much to articulate the problem with this point so we'll deal with that first (even if it does turn out to be a strawman). Once that's done I'll turn my attention to the epistemological critique.

The Politician's School of Economic Thought

As you might recall, I have a degree in economics. I also have three levels of NCEA in economics. I don't have a particularly good mathematical treatment of economics. I'm not very good at maths, you might recall. I have two econometrics papers and a bunch of stats ones, but the specific maths used in microeconomic theories? It gets away from me even what I've encountered. And I never did get 311 done so I'm missing a big perspective on macroeconomics. However, this is a vastly better education in economics than the vast majority of people out there. Including most politicians and most business leaders.

The schools of thought that people present just don't appear in an educational context. They're not relevant. Except when you're bothering to look at the history of economic thought.

In the real world, economists teach a particular approach to economics (we have not yet dismissed the epistemological critique so we mustn't use its falseness as an argument yet), which does not vary based on the economist, the university or the country. How can I tell? Because economists all try and write the same economics textbook. And they all try and put everything in it. And the reason for this is because economics is sufficiently complex and sufficiently new that we don't really know much about it. Not in the same way we do with, say, physics. At one point physics was thought to be solved/completed... since then the field has exploded... no-one has ever thought we've been remotely close to that with economics (and may I remind you that Wittgenstein once thought he'd solved philosophy. Philosophy!).

That economics is a field in expansion is really obvious when you're half in and half out of it (as the thinking undergraduate student or recent graduate of economics is). It's not really so obvious to the layman who doesn't know that economists teach themselves the same truth. They don't understand that economists don't worry about Mercantilism or Keynes or Marx or Friedman or the Austrian School. That's for business majors. (Who steal all the funding from Economics departments.) It's for dweebs. These are developments which have been synthesised. And they might influence the particular take a lecturer has on why we should laugh at the assumptions of perfect competition (Economists, but not business majors, understand what models are) or approaches to "open questions". And that's because this is how academic subjects work. All of them. Economics is not special.

So that's the problem with the Politician's view of Schools of Economics. To them the fact that Economics is taught as a coherent subject is completely mind-boggling. They have never encountered that. Many of them come from much less self aware backgrounds (law, chemistry, geography or business). And they're interested in using old ideas which are convenient to political stances they exogenously prefer to gain votes. So, yes, politicians & voters have a distinct interest in getting people to believe there is such a thing as a different school of economics (to whatever someone else is saying). It gives them credibility. So they go trawling through the history of economic thought to find whatever ideas they want. And they can find them. And they can find them packaged up into non-mathematical statements of theory.

The Epistemological Critique of a "Single" Economics

You might not find my argument above particularly compelling. I've basically just said: "There aren't Schools of Economics because it's not taught like that." The only reason I didn't say that was because I wanted to say it here. You might have found that I touched on some ideas which rather undercut my point. You might have been thinking, "Woah, hold on, that's just what they say is the case, which isn't the same as what is the case". If that last person is you, you might have even been  trying to find that quote from the start of The Big Short:

Man... that's a good film. I just now realise it was what I wanted to watch before. When I decided that I didn't feel like watching Harry Potter. Anyway, I digress... here's a quote from someone who stridently argues for different schools:
These schools are not irreconcilable enemies, however; the boundaries between schools are actually fuzzy. But it is important to recognise that there are distinctive ways of conceptualising and explaining the economy, or ‘doing’ economics, if you like. And none of these schools can claim superiority over others and still less a monopoly over truth.
The moment he (who has a much greater education in Economics than me) says the first thing, you know what's happening, don't you? You know that whatever else he's got to say he's ultimately able to see that it is still all one thing. Or, possibly, it's not.

You might remember that I was also a statistics student. In statistics, as I have mentioned before, one of the key things you have to learn to do is see nothing. We don't want to see anything in a residual plot (usually). But, as humans, all we do is see patterns. I'm bad at describing them. But I see them. So, you've got to learn when no signal is really no signal. It's not incredibly hard, but it's not easy either. And the relevant lesson here is that maybe I'm looking at a plot and saying it's nothing and he's looking at a plot and saying it's something. That the clustering of points is a cluster of schools. The tree has just enough branches.

And maybe one of us is right.

Or, maybe, we can be both right.

Or wrong.

What is for sure is that he's got a table... I'll quote the spiel attached to where I found the table after this paragraph because I think it contrasts. I don't think the sentiment is quite equivalent. Which might make you wonder if maybe I just exist to say things aren't so. And maybe you'd be right. I've never managed to understand why an insignificant p-value isn't worth publishing. But that's probably a digression too...
Despite what the experts want you to believe, there is more than one way of 'doing' economics
People have been led to believe that, like physics or chemistry, economics is a 'science', in which there is only one correct answer to everything; thus non-experts should simply accept the 'professional consensus' and stop thinking about it.
Contrary to what most economists would have you believe, there isn't just one kind of economics - Neoclassical economics. In fact there are no less than nine different kinds, or schools, as they are often known. And none of these schools can claim superiority over others and still less monopoly over truth.
I accept that being suddenly asked to taste nine different flavours of ice cream when you had thought that there was only one plain vanilla can be quite overwhelming. In order to help, the simple table below should help you overcome your initial fear.
I will show you the table very soon. But I'd like to just articulate what you should have learnt so far... the basic logic of different approaches doesn't validate the idea that there isn't one way of doing Economics, doesn't validate the idea that there are several competing schools of Economics. It is possible for similarities to exist without being real. In practice we don't rely on ourselves to detect things in statistics (we apply mathematical theories via models) but in lieu of running some kind of genetic study on the taxonomy of the social sciences, I'll stop short at having demonstrated the naivety of the apparent logic.

It should be obvious that I don't believe Chang's arguments rest on what I have quoted. The idea that I might actually offends me. But I know that people like to quote mine. And even though I have no readers, I protect myself just in case. Which I mention because if you are looking at this table you might be looking at this table and thinking, "Well, Harry, this looks pretty bloody divergent to me". And because my response to that is to look at this other bit of Chang's first quote. Namely the idea of a monopoly on truth. In other words, I'm not going to move much further from what I've already shown you. I am certainly not going to move away from the Changian conception of what I am calling the epistemological critique.

Chang attempts to pull the veil from his reader's eyes. Well, let me pull the veil he left behind from your eyes. If Chang is correct, then there are no disciplines. Not as we think about them. No physics. No chemistry. Even science itself. Not a Thing, Chang leaves only a bunch of essentially disjoint, rivalrous and insufficient abstractions. The Changian belief that there are schools of economics is to take evidence that in any other subject would be used to infer methodological debate or the existence of an unanswered question (like the Poincare Conjecture** or the Riemann Hypothesis in maths) and conclude that the whole affair is bunk. Economics is not special.
Moreover, unlike the natural sciences, economics involves value judgements, even though many Neoclassical economists would tell you that what they do is value-free science. As I will show in the following chapters, behind technical concepts and dry numbers lie all sorts of value judgements: what is the good life; how minority views should be treated; how social improvements should be defined; and what are morally acceptable ways of achieving the ‘greater good’, however it is defined. Even if one theory is more ‘correct’ from some political or ethical points of view, it may not be so from another
The Truth is that we're always having to make decisions about the world. What Chang calls value judgements in this paragraph is typically definitional. Define the parameters. Judge the outcome. Formulate hypotheses. Draw predictions. Compare with outcomes. That's the scientific method. Which, by the way, is a very rough and ready abstraction of how science advances.

I'm not a physicist or even well read about it. I do, however, know enough about it to say that James Clerk Maxwell was more important than Einstein and not be completely laughed out of the room. And I know enough about it to say that Einstein's work is more far-reaching than I once appreciated. But are any physicists actually worth name-dropping when all we care about is knowing what physics as a discipline thinks? Not really. Even mentioning a big problem with Einstein is that he never really grasped the implications of all the big ideas of his time is usually irrelevant. But when we're talking about Chang it's important to note that Einstein, today, would be called heterodox for disagreeing with the quantum revolution.

Does that quote remind you of anything? If it doesn't, you probably need to read Chang's table. Economics can get very probabilistic. But, apparently, it's an important distinguishing feature.  There are many examples, from many disciplines, which possess similar properties. The co-existence of divergent or opposing viewpoints is how the field of knowledge expands... until such a time it collapses into one outcome. And then it all begins again.

My economics is a very simple discipline. It begins with the issue of scarcity. That's where I started and it's where I believe the discipline starts. And it ends with a final understanding of the implications of scarcity for the human condition. Will we ever get there? I don't know.

Economics is highly dependent on advances in mathematics, ethics, statistics and psychology in its personal quest to understand the world. I could convince myself into believing we have reached the end of our knowledge in maths. I have convinced myself that just because we know we don't know if the Riemann Hypothesis is True that doesn't mean we'll ever be able to know either way. But disagreement over these points doesn't change what we're doing in any particular way. Either we're still investigating what economics is, or we're investigating within economics. And if we're within economics, then we can't be doing it differently... because whether we're using experiments, maths or shower thoughts we're still buying into the same purpose.

Let's recap. I see the epistemological critique as saying:
  • There are different ways of doing economics.
  • Therefore, there different schools of economics.
I just don't accept that the first line is enough to justify discerning different schools. Knowledge is an ever advancing wave. It can't go backwards: unknowing is not possible. It can't go in one particular direction: knowledge is everywhere. It doesn't have any destination: it's merely observed when it runs into a beach, as it were. What it can do is collapse. And when that happens new waves form from the same water. If we'd put it in one wave, then it is one wave only that exists.

Which begs two questions:
  • Under what circumstances would I accept the idea of different schools of thought?
  • What if Chang and I have different conceptions of what economics actually is, then what?
To a certain extent, the first question is answered by the second. A different school of thought exists when people have different ideas about the same thing. Not in the sense that they have a difference of opinion about how to find out information about an agreed thing or in the sense that they disagree about what something means or how it works, but strictly in the sense that they disagree about what it actually is. And you'd be right to say that Chang's schools disagree about what the economy is... whether it's individuals or classes, two take the simplest ones to type. But you'd also be right to say that I'm taking a higher level position, that I've zoomed too far out for this to matter. And that's why the second question doesn't answer the first one.

The idea that everything I've been talking about is irrelevant concerns me. I accept the idea of schools of thought as being relevant in historical discussion. I mean, the disagreement of Einstein and his contemporaries helped move physics along. But we're able to see what happened to that wave: we know how it collapsed. To have a school of thought, we must know what it is... and if you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I take a "what it is, is what it does" approach to definitions. And these things? Well, we can't know what they do until it's been done... we rely on the distance of time to discern schools in an Eastian sense. To the Changian sensibility it is enough that they disagree. To the Eastian it only matters if the disagreement mattered. And that's a much stronger test.

Notice that choice of language there... Eastian and Changian... am I not setting up two schools of thought on what schools of thought are? But I need these kinds of terms because I need these kinds of referents... in trying to have a discussion about the way people think about something, I need people to have ways of thinking (and it is easier still if they can be grouped). In other words, the world is what we thought we'd see.

The second begged question is irrelevant. If Chang and I disagree about what economics is then, well, maybe we need to wonder if Economics as a subject even makes sense. But that question is never what is being talked about by "economic schools" so it can't be what I set out to disagree with (remember that previous paragraph?!).


What I've said might be enormously unsatisfying. It basically boils down to four points:

  • People assert that there are different, valid approaches to thinking economically, which is wrong.
  • There is one way that economics' knowledge is actually taught and that's because who came up with an idea is never as relevant as what the idea is.
  • It's not enough to notice that people disagree about stuff because these disagreements are how knowledge works.
  • Economics is not special: disagreements in this one particular discipline are treated uniquely (typically because of political expediency).
Which is basically saying that I am comfortable saying economic schools don't exist mostly because there is a synthesised body of work that is taught... and that I am still okay with saying that despite epistemological criticisms. And it's leaving implied the idea that I have some ego-defensive motive here.

Look, I guess the best way of putting it is this. I know I disagree with what I see. There are not schools of economics in the same way that you're a Republican, he's a National voter, they're a Conservative and she's an Australian Liberal. There aren't even schools of economics in the way that Jacinda Ardern is Labour (populist, xenophobic leftism), David Seymour ACT (liberalism) and Winston Peters NZ First (big government conservatism). As much as I disagree with all these mentioned philosophies, they are all equally valid lines of argument in politics. Economics is different.

You don't get to say that the so-called Keynesian school is just as valid as the Classical School or the Neo-Classical school (which is really a synthesis of both). You don't get to say that because in the academic world, when you want to take a different angle or even the orthodox one, you sign up apply transparently, fairly, carefully and honestly apply the world to brainpower. In politics it is the other way around. Furthermore, when you sign up to be an economist, what you're saying you're going to do is that you'll look out the window using this filter, not sociology's, not physics', not history's, not political science's, not whatever's. In embracing this "filter" you accept all sorts of premises about how the world ought to interact with brainpower, including what those interactions look like, the shape they take.

I am perfectly comfortable saying that the so-called schools of economics are epistemologically consistent. I am even perfectly comfortable saying that the competing conclusions floating around don't justify different schools. This is because they all share the same ambitions, because they can't be pigeonholed and because rival ideas are necessary and expected. But this way of thinking about the schools economics isn't what I thought I was signing up to write about. And I want to make my strong views about what I set out to talk about public. And this matters.

The day economists start doing different things, for different reasons and stop agreeing about what the properties serious analysis should possess (if not the specific methods to be included), then I'll start thinking there are different schools that matter. But, we're not there yet. And I doubt we ever will. All that there is are patterns in the gradual process of synthesis.

*Meaning not the article (let alone the subject) but rather just this opening sentence: "Political economy is the study of production and trade and their relations with law, custom and government; and with the distribution of national income and wealth." Or, in other words, the literal meanings of the two words.

**This is actually solved. Like, they figured it out. A lot of similar problems (such as the Riemann Hypothesis, and by similar what I mean is "things people think might be true or right") are not. They may, in fact, be intractable. Or they might not be. But right now? We don't know.