Friday, April 18, 2014

An INET grant idea that I am not equipped to submit but someone should (and when they do they should include me in some kind of management/editorial role)

I've been involved recently in some discussions about whether INET has really fulfilled its mission of generating "new thinking". A major stumbling block I see here is how to think about established views and personalities. My view is that it's not the "Institute for New Economics Commentators", it's the "Institute for New Economic Thinking" and some of that new thinking might be within the context of existing paradigms, some may not. I also think it's important to remember that "new" isn't good for its own sake. INET is pursuing new thinking because we all agree there are things that are wrong with the old thinking. But that's not the same as saying all the old ideas are rubbish or that new is good for its own sake.

Much of the arguments have been framed in terms of replacing one family of ideas with another. Generally this consists of left heterodox people saying "mainstream" economics should be replaced with left heterodox economics and right heterodox economics people saying that it should be replaced with right heterodox economics. An alternative view is that each theoretical tradition is hitting on something (not necessarily of equal value of course) and each - insofar as it is really scientific - is a progressive intellectual endeavor. This view would imply that "new thinking" after the crisis should come from changes within theoretical traditions, and not exclusively from between them. This brings me to the idea.

I think it would be useful to fund a volume essentially of literature reviews across the various theoretical traditions that INET has some association with. This would be quite pluralistic. The volume would evolve across at least two workshops. Here's how it would work:

Stage 1: Well regarded people in each theoretical tradition would write a literature review of the major insights of their respective traditions, but only using material published in 2008 or earlier. Instructions on this point will be very strict - the editor of the project will ensure that all citations after 2008 are struck from the papers, even post-2008 treatments of pre-2008 work and ideas.

Stage 2: A workshop on the pre-crisis consensus in each of these theoretical traditions to get people broadly familiar with a wide spectrum of work and also of course to hammer things out and make sure nothing is missing.

Stage 3: After the first workshop another author is tasked with writing a literature review of work done since 2009, each comprising of two main sections (1.) work done continuing in the consensus view, and (2.) "new thinking". The emphasis here is on justification of each section. Is continuing in the consensus view warranted or not? Does the new thinking give us reason to reassess the tradition? What work still needs to be done post-2009, and what are the obstacles to getting it done? Citation instructions must of course be less strict here, but the author will be encouraged to principally cite to the pre-2008 literature review so that we are working with a coherent narrative.

Stage 4: A second workshop where this is considered and the author of the post-2009 chapter is challenged on his or her justifications.

At all of these stages, discussion of which tradition is better will be kept to a minimum and only mentioned in the interest of providing context. That is not so much because anyone thinks all traditions are equal, but because it's not the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise is in effect to police cases of shoring up old ideas or trying to gain undue market share for old ideas that is posing as "new thinking" and to highlight where new thinking is really going on and what the verdict is.

Plenty of people are doing the inter-tradition infighting and the justification of old ideas. This is intended to do something different.


  1. Would ambiguity aversion be involved in some way for this, Daniel Kuehn?

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