Economics is language – 04/03/2024 – Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

Economics is language – 04/03/2024 – Deirdre Nansen McCloskey


Professor Bart Wilson of Chapman University in California and I are writing an essay aimed at our fellow economists on what we call “humanomics.” Wilson and I, with very few others such as Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, have tried for decades to convince economists to look beyond narrow behaviorism, the methodological dogma that human beings should be studied as if they were gorillas, ants, or molecules, or even rocks, always from the outside. Behaviorism assumes that the economist does not know what is going on in human heads. Behaviorists say, “Just look at their outward acts. Talking is meaningless.”

But of course, as humans, we have at least some idea of ​​what’s going on in the head of our husband, coworker, or child. After all, we do more than flag offers. We talk all day, we read “Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas”, we watch movies, we laugh with friends, we do business with other humans talking, talking, talking.

But I said that Wilson and I have tried “for decades” to get this obvious point across. I’ve been on the case since 1983. Our colleagues think it’s somehow unscientific to look at all the available evidence from a human science.

Last week, however, Wilson and I made a big breakthrough. We now believe that we can gently convince other economists to take seriously human thought and speech, love and laughter, and to stop treating their science as similar to the study of ants.

Suddenly, we realize that we can tell you about the enormous scientific – and humanistic – literature that points to language as the distinguishing characteristic of humans. It’s true that humans have a lot in common with our great ape cousins. But the cousins ​​cannot, like us, think symbolically and abstractly. About economics, let’s say.

Obviously, the result of this uniquely human feat is the mental and verbal culture that we share and trade. Imagine human beings without language, grunting and pointing at best. Grunting and pointing, contrary to the implicit assumption of our fellow behaviorists, are not enough to run an economy. Negotiating agreements, designing products, imagining a new job, expecting inflation, believing in top-down state action and believing in free trade are thoughts and speeches together.

Economy is better, yes?

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