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Why most economists including Krugman must be against unions

The assumption of my title is that the profession of economists is limited to New Keynesians and New Classicals.  I think it is a fair assumption given the majority of economists working in universities, in economics departments, are one of the two neoclassical varieties.

I find two things interesting about Nick Rowe”s recent post Why New Keynesian macroeconomists are against labour unions

On the one hand,  that his observation should be at all controversial is odd.  From the  outside of the profession, it is obvious that neoclassical economics is hostile to unions.  It is baked into the fundamental model which they were both weaned and teach year in year out.

On the other hand, Rowe’s observation should be controversial because it confirms that economics is dominated by an ontological vision that is consistently against unions (and almost any non-market based forms of cooperation).  I can’t think of any other discipline in the social sciences that manages to maintain such a homogeneous world view.  Put differently, all other disciplines are staffed by a plurality of ontological visions.  And most departments would defend this plurality on the basis of a recognition of the existential fact of human existence and the social sciences.  Pluralism is not loved for the sake of pluralism but rather on the deep understanding that all ontological visions are limited and partial and thus part of a healthy academic / intellectual life requires interaction with radically different paradigms.  In short, it accepts that scientific progress in the social sciences needs more than internal critiques.  That is, progress requires exogenous critiques.

Perhaps when economists Like Krugman, Delong and Stiglitz refuse to be anti-union it is because they do not really buy the ontological model as correct but nonetheless use it because a) it was the price of the dance for admission into the profession; and b), find it helpful on a narrow, well specified, range of questions.

This would suggest a very different relationship to the core model by New Keynesians than their New Classical counterparts.  It may not be pluralism proper but at least it is something.

Maybe economics departments need to hook-up potential candidates to lie detector tests to establish whether or not the candidate really, really, really believes the model.

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6 thoughts on “Why most economists including Krugman must be against unions

  1. You know what? Rowe’s post didn’t seem too hard to figure out. But I’ve got some rice going on the stove and I need to cook it and get downstairs to join everyone else for dinner and Rowe’s argument didn’t have any graphs.

    More importantly, I haven’t been to that blog since summer 2008, when all the neo-liberal union-busting, financial sector deregulation, public service slashing bullshit hit the fan and ALL of that crap and their stupid definitions of “efficiency” were irrevocably discredited.

    I simply won’t waste my time reading that brain-dead garbage anymore.

  2. Hmm, I think you missed the point of Rowe’s post. Quite apart what you or I might think about the state of the economic arts Rowe’s point was that to be consistent PKs like Paul Krugman should be against unions. That is Rowe was simply pointing out that NK theory has an anti-union bias thus their pro-union stance is inconsistent with the models they regularly use to establish truth claims. Since no PK economist is going to reject the core (they built their carrers on it) they are either going to stay silent (most likely). Nick thus has the PKs in Chinese finger trap.

  3. Travis,

    Hah. Well as I said, I was distracted. I read the first third then skipped to the end where it sounded like he said that Krugman et al had no choice but to hate unions because his (Rowe’s) writing about efficiency stuff was true.

    To which I said, “whatever.”

  4. I’d think the claim would be difficult to sustain if the likes of Krugman etc. have even a casual familiarity with the work of David Soskice, Wendy Carlin and Alison Booth. See Booth’s “The Economics of the Trade Union” and any of Soskice and Carlin’s work along with the whole discussion of the Varieties of Capitalism approach by commenters on DS’s work…

  5. @Eubulides

    Yah but Hall and Soskice get there by arguing that the role of unions (where highly centralized and with sufficient coverage) is to aid the central bank in its war on inflation. That is unions are simply reduced to the role they can play in price stability. Not really a pro-union argument. Which is not really a surprise because underneath their analysis is a Williamsonian view of the firm coupled with a new-keynesian macro-model. In a North American context they are anti-union as Nick Rowe would rightly expect.

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