Inicio > Economía marxista, Teoría crítica acumulada > “Mathematical Modelling and Ideology in the Economics Academy: competing explanations of the failings of the modern discipline?”: Tony Lawson

“Mathematical Modelling and Ideology in the Economics Academy: competing explanations of the failings of the modern discipline?”: Tony Lawson


The widespread and long-lived failings of academic economics are due to an over-reliance on largely inappropriate mathematical methods of analysis. This is an assessment I have long maintained. Many heterodox economists, however, appear to hold instead that the central problem is a form of political-economic ideology. Specifically, it is widely contended in heterodox circles that the discipline goes astray just because so many economists are committed to a portrayal of the market economy as a smoothly or efficiently functioning system or some such, a portrayal that, whether sincerely held or otherwise, is inconsistent with the workings of social reality. Here I critically examine the contention that a form of political-economic ideology of this sort is the primary problem and assess its explanatory power. I conclude that the contention does not fare very well. I do not, though, deny that ideology of some sort has a major impact on the output of the modern economics academy. However it is of a different nature to the form typically discussed, and works in somewhat indirect and complex ways. Having raised the question of the impact of ideology I take the opportunity to explore its play in the economics academy more generally.


One positive consequence of the ongoing economic crisis is that the intellectual malaise of the modern academic discipline of economics is becoming ever more widely recognised. Economics is a discipline that is marked by significant explanatory failure stemming from wildly unrealistic formulations, and has been for many years now (see Lawson 2003, chapter 1).

The reference to specifically academic economics here is not incidental; I want to stress that
throughout the discussion my concern is not economics in all its forms or manifestations but economics as it is pursued within the modern academy, which after all is the site from which most strands of the subject emanate.

Elsewhere I have put forward an explanation of the noted academic malaise that draws
significantly on ontological theorising, i.e., on theorising the nature of (social) reality. Because my focus here is with examining the power of, and support for, an alternative explanation I do not want to rehearse my own position at length. But in brief, the explanation I elsewhere maintain is that the fundamental problem of modern economics is that methods are repeatedly applied in conditions for which they are not appropriate (see Lawson, 1997; 2003). Specifically, modern academic economics is dominated by a mainstream tradition whose defining characteristic is an insistence that certain methods of mathematical modelling be more or less always employed in the analysis of economic phenomena, and are so in conditions for which they are not suitable.

Fundamental to my argument is an assessment that the application of mathematics involves
more than merely the introduction of a formal language. Of relevance here is recognition that mathematical methods and techniques are essentially tools. And as with any other tools (pencils, hammers, drills, scissors), so the sorts of mathematical methods which economists wield (functional relations, forms of calculus, etc.) are useful under some sets of conditions and not others.

Mathematical Modelling and Ideology in the Economics Academy: competing explanations of the failings of the modern discipline?

Economic Thought ISSN: 2049-3509
Published by the World Economics Association

Volume 1, Number 1 (2012)


  1. Emilio José Chaves
    20/07/2012 a las 20:16

    Recomendable para todo investigador, en especial los de economía, econometría y estadística.

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