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Is There Progress in Economics?

Is There Progress in Economics?

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn

This thought-provoking book discusses the concept of progress in economics and investigates whether any advance has been made in its different spheres of research. The authors look back at the history, successes and failures of their respective fields and thoroughly examine the notion of progress from an epistemological and methodological perspective.

Chapter 8: Progress in economics

Luigi Pasinetti

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought, methodology of economics


Luigi Pasinetti I have had the opportunity of facing this subject on at least two previous occasions (Pasinetti, 1985, 1986). Since my views on this subject have not substantially changed, I shall try to summarize them here. The first of the two mentioned occasions was a conference in which the European Science Foundation asked scholars from different fields of learning (physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, sociology, linguistics, history, economics) to discuss the topic ÔThe Identification of progress in learningÕ. The economists in the group were Edmond Malinvaud (rapporteur) and myself (discussant). The challenge came to me from MalinvaudÕs statement that Ôa commonly recognized process does not exist in economics by means of which scientific progress can be assertedÕ (Malinvaud, 1985: 167). To me, the relevant question to face first of all appeared to be that of investigating the particular features of economic research as against other disciplines. The obvious area of comparison seemed to be physics, considered by many as Ôthe prototype of scienceÕ. I may list at least four features that seem to me as peculiar to economics: 1. First of all, unlike physics or astronomy or many other sciences, the object of economic studies is changing continually. When Ptolemy, 22 centuries ago, observed the planets and stars in the sky, he was looking at exactly the same universe which we explore today with the aid of the Hubble or of the radio telescopes. The observable universe has not changed (or has changed negligibly). We can simply probe into...

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