Is economics a science?

We rarely talk about the chemical sciences or the mathematical sciences, while we are happy to talk about economic sciences . For what reasons ?  » Science  » comes from the Latin verb « scire » which means « to know ». In everyday language, science is the art of lifting the veil on the world around us, of putting nature into equations to understand it, to search for the truth in the signs it sends us. Science is the search for truth.

is economics a science?

So the question arises even more acutely: is economics a science? We can doubt it when we see that economists rarely agree among themselves when it comes to forecasting or constructing theories and that they often get confused… From Karl Marx to Adam Smith , from Keynes to Ricardo, from Nicolas Bouzou (marked on the right) to Thomas Piketti (marked on the very left), we see that each one offers solutions which are all attractive, but tell very different stories, often denied by the facts. Would the truth be plural in the world of economics? Have economists become the « a posteriori » diviners? Have they mastered the art of explaining tomorrow why they were wrong today? In short, are they scientists or ideologues, incredibly adept at masking their ignorance behind a mountain of equations?

The development of the real economy has nothing to do with economics. Although they are taught as if it were mathematics, economic theories have never had any practical use. Karl POPPER

Karl Popper help us to distinguish what really pertains to science: for a theory to be called « scientific », it must be refutable by an experiment. The most famous example is the validation of Einstein’s theory of gravity by observing the position of stars during a solar eclipse. The observation having made it possible to confirm the results of the German scientist (a mass (here the sun) deflects the light rays), the theory became « scientific ». Which does not mean that it is true or definitive. In short, Popper’s logic can be summed up in a short sentence: if a theory is not invalidated by an experiment, it is not false or even it is provisionally true.

Science only subscribes to a law or theory on trial, which means that all laws and theories are tentative conjectures or hypotheses. I do not require any definitive certainty from science. Karl POPPER.

Karl MARX , in The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), then Le Capital, had no doubt as to the scientific character of his theory of surplus value. His work, made obscure by a jumble of equations, won over a good number of politicians, starting with Lenin, who saw in Capitala kind of Gospel: a revealed truth, definitive for everything concerning the economy. However, the stubborn facts as usual, showed that the theory was false: the impoverishment of the masses predicted by Marx never took place and at the beginning of the 19th century, far from organizing itself into a revolutionary movement, the European proletariat aspired rather improve their standard of living through reforms, rather than overthrow and lose everything. In England, France or Germany, capitalism was much more flexible and much more stable than the great Marx had theorized.. The revolutionary seeds (the Spartakist leagues in Germany for example), planted on these very fertile soils, eventually died out, giving way to a reformist socialism. In Russia, it took all of Lenin’s talent and aggressiveness to drag the masses in its wake on the basis of Marx’s fraudulent work . Eduard BERNSTEIN (friend of Engels) unmasked the hoax.

In 1896, German social democracy was shaken by a terrible earthquake. Eduard Bernstein (1850-1933) , a great party theorist, published a series of articles in which he denounced the « Problems of Socialism ». In opposition to his former mentor (Marx), he affirmed that Capitalism far from collapsing following a crisis of overproduction, turns out to be much more elastic than theorized by its former master. He went further by renouncing the Revolution and pushing progressive reforms within the capitalist system. This crime of Lèse Majesté was denounced Lenin.

In a book published in 2004, « Wild chance »: how luck deceives us « , Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about economics: 

It is possible to camouflage charlatanism under the weight of the equations without getting caught, because it is impossible to experiment with control. Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In summary, the impossibility of setting up refutability tests, the too large number of hypotheses and approximations, in particular on human behavior, the lack of results in terms of projection, the perpetual contradiction brought by facts, make economics an unscientific subject, closer to the art of oriented divination than mathematics.

Like all of the social sciences, or the political sciences, economics faces particular difficulties in producing scientific statements because it studies human behavior. As human actions are a priori free and spontaneous, it seems impossible to establish general laws about them, analogous to physical laws.

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