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Economics Imperialism versus Multidisciplinarity

John Davis

History of Economic Ideas, 2016, vol. 24, issue 3, 77-94

Abstract: This paper examines the explicit and implicit arguments in Chicago School economist Edward Lazear’s 2000 defense of economics imperialism using standard international trade theory. It associates that defense with interdisciplinarity, or the idea that the social sciences are relatively autonomous, but argues that this defense functions as a mask for a more conventional imperialist strategy of promoting Chicago School neoclassicism. Lazear’s argument also created a dilemma for Chicago regarding how it could espouse interdisciplinarity while actually operating in a contrary way. I argue that the solution to this dilemma was for mainstream economics to rebuild economics imperialism around a performative conception of neoclassicism as a theory that always sees the world in its own image. This strategy, however, suffers from a number of problems, which upon examination ultimately lead us to multidisciplinarity, or the idea that the sciences can have transformative effects on one another. This latter conception can be associated with a complexity economics approach as an alternative view of the relation between the sciences. The paper argues that this view provides a basis for pluralism in economics.

Date: 2016
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