Inicio > Economía marxista > “The General Impossibility of Neoclassical Economics”: Ben Fine

“The General Impossibility of Neoclassical Economics”: Ben Fine

This article recalls how neo-classical economics prides itself both on its mathematical rigour and on the universal applicability of its principles, and how, on this basis, “economics imperialism” is colonising the subject matter of the other social sciences. Critics of the mainstream have emphasised the conceptual and theoretical weaknesses of reliance upon axiomatic deductivism and methodological individualism of a special type, as well as denying the image that the mainstream has of itself as emulating the natural sciences. In a complementary critique, this article demonstrates, by drawing upon Russell’s logical paradoxes, how results from within mathematics itself, as opposed to its application, impose unnoticed limitations upon the scope and consistency of the mainstream.

Keywords: individualism, holism, mathematical foundations.


Today, mainstream economics prides itself on its mathematical rigour and
deploys mathematics to an enormous extent as indicative of disciplinary
acceptability, thereby policing the exclusion of other forms of economics to
an extraordinary degree. In the following section, I highlight the extent to
which the use of mathematics has promoted a particular content within
economics, one that has shifted only in its expanding scope of application
since the formalist revolution of the 1950s. This sets the context for the main
goal of this contribution: to assess the extent to which formal problems
within, and not of, mathematical reasoning itself set constraints on what can
be achieved within mainstream economics. In particular, mathematics has
found it necessary to negotiate the consequences of Russell’s paradoxes, laid
out in Section 2. Placing mathematics on sound foundations is found to have
potential implications for, or limitations on, what can be achieved by
mathematics in its applications. These limitations have been totally and
unconsciously ignored within economics despite its heavy use of
mathematics. In particular, as argued in Section 3, for an economic theory
based on methodological individualism, there are severe limitations upon the
extent to which social properties can be consistently addressed – whether
micro can be fully and legitimately extrapolated to macro. This raises
questions over whether what have now become increasingly standard
concepts within mainstream (micro)economics, such as institutions, liquidity
and the state, can be properly or fully addressed given its methodology and
the requirements of mathematical logic. One or other of the latter has to give,
and the final section draws the conclusion that methodological holism needs
to take precedence over methodological individualism if the social is to be
able to be fully addressed in principle, consistently and without limitations.


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