(P8-01) Discussing Mainstream May Be Dangerous to Your Health

Last Saturday (June 13, 2015) I spent with my brother. We started out in Enschede, where we were born and raised. After revisiting the houses we lived in, we drove to our current domiciles, at our leisure: we had all day. A substantial part of our conversation touched upon what I had picked up from reading the first Chapter of Kirman’s Complexity Economics. My brother is an economist. I read law. So my understanding of issues economical may be a bit feeble. On the other hand, I am outside the disciplinary sphere of the economists’ disciplinary forum – outside their spheres of authority. I feel free to test ideas that might feel eccentric to such spheres.

Our conversation showed that both propositions might hold. And after dropping my brother at his house I continued home, enriched with a small library of economic writings (Hirschman, Krugman, Akerlof) and a list of additional references that would set me right after suggesting that mainstream economists might be held indirectly accountable for not preventing the economic crisis of 2008.

First of all, he suggested, economists may be too diverse to acknowledge any main stream. But this seems hardly coherent with what and how is discussed by Krugman in his article on Ricardo’s difficult idea, Kirman in his Complexity Economics book and Akerlof in his Motivation article. All three refer to mainstream economists, Akerlof and Kirman to show their discontent with mainstream approaches and Krugman to show his discontent with widespread misunderstanding of mainstream economical models (especially Ricardo’s comparative advantage) in outsiders (like me, I guess).

What may be an additional concern is that Krugman and Akerlof are both Nobel laureates, which does raise their scientific bargaining value to levels equivalent or even above that of the main stream.

I think these discussions by first-rate economists,  and also  the conversation between brothers show how difficult it can be for members of disciplines that aim for tractable, complete solutions to really open their hearts and minds to the kind of scientific debate that at least keeps one eye on real world phenomena, takes falsification seriously and refuses to seek refuge in defensive tactics so often considered characteristic to the hedghog species.

On our path to make the complexity perspective an accepted, additional tool in the toolbox for legal scholarship, it could be very useful to keep the difficulties alive in our minds that, mutatis mutandi, e.g. Coase, Akelof, Olson, Arthur, Ostrom, Farmer, Beinhocker and Kirman had to face when selling their ideas (of course without implying that we consider our work to belong in the same ball park, quality wise).


Akerlof, George A. 2007. The missing motivation in macroeconomics. The American Economic Review, 3–36.

Kirman, Alan. 2010. Complex Economics: Individual and Collective Rationality. Routledge.

Krugman, Paul. 1996. Ricardo’s difficult idea. In: Manchester conference on free trade, web.mit.edu/krugman/www/ricardo. htm.



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