Life without Virtue: Economists Rule; Review Essay of Dani Rodrik's Economics Rules

Economic Issues 25 (2):51-70 (2020)
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Abstract

This review essay of Economics Rules situates Dani Rodrik’s contribution with respect to the 2007–2008 global economic crisis. This financial meltdown, which the eurozone did not fully recover from before the Covid-19 pandemic, led to soul- searching among economists as well as a call for heterodox economic approaches. Yet, over the past decade, instead the economics profession has maintained its orthodoxy. Rodrik’s Economics Rules offers a critique of the economics profession that is castigating but mild. It calls for economists to use more and diverse models without becoming wedded to any single model or an overarching vision. Yet Rodrik ratifies many of the benchmark models standard to orthodox economics and provides little ground for a fundamental rethinking of the discipline. This essay analyses the conservatism underlying Rodrik’s approach, which upholds general equilibrium theory and rational expectations underlying the efficient market hypothesis. It argues that the economics discipline’s scope-creep to maintain its applicability to all human decision-making, and its acceptance of all-inclusive utility functions, crowds out moral sentiments and civic virtue. Thus. it argues that rather than urging economists simply to be more cautious in their application of models to address particular social concerns, instead economists must recognise their discipline’s inherent limitations.

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S. M. Amadae
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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