Economics is an Imperial Science

George Stigler, a founding member of Mont Pelerin Society and a key preacher of neoliberal economics,  on what he proudly calls “economist-missionaries” (1984: 304) :

So economics is an imperial science: it has been aggressive in addressing central problems in a considerable number of neighboring social disciplines, and without any invitations
Why did economics begin its imperialistic age so recently as the last two or three decades? My answer… is that the extended application of economic theory was invited by its growing abstractness and generality The abstraction increased the distance between economic theory and empirical economic phenomena – not without some cost to economics – and made the extensions to other bodies of phenomena easy and natural. If that explanation is correct, there will be no reversal of the imperialism.
Heinrich Gossen, a high priest of the theory of utility-maximizing behavior, compared the scope of that theory to Copernicus’ theory of the movements of the heavenly bodies. Heavenly bodies are better behaved than human bodies, but it is conceivable that his fantasy will be approached through the spread of the economists’ theory of behavior to the entire domain of the social sciences.” (Stigler 1984: 311 – 313)

Stigler, George. 1984. “Economics—The imperial science?” Scandinavian Journal of Economics 86: 301-13. (open access)

economics-is-an-imperial-science

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2 Responses to Economics is an Imperial Science

  1. Ivan Light says:

    Imperial but not imperialist. It’s scientifically legitimate to expand the scope of one’s paradigm even at the expense of sister disciplines. Pierre Bourdieu understood the economists’ challenge to social science and responded effectively to it.

  2. Pingback: Economics is an Imperial Science | martinscreeton

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