Thursday, March 09, 2017


Andrea Saltelli post (8 March) ECONO TIMES HERE
Michael Polanyi recognised that Western science is, ultimately, a capitalist system. Like any market of goods and services, science comprises individual agents operating independently to achieve a collective good, guided by an invisible hand.
Scientists thus undertake research not to further human knowledge but to satisfy their own urges and curiosity, just as in Adam Smith’s example the baker makes the bread not out of sympathy for the hunger of mankind but to make a living. In both cases this results in a common good.
There is a difference between bakers and scientists, though. For Polanyi:
It appears, at first sight, that I have assimilated the pursuit of science to the market. But the emphasis should be in the opposite direction. The self coordination of independent scientists embodies a higher principle, a principle which is reduced to the mechanism of the market when applied to the production and distribution of material goods.
Gone the ‘Republic of Science’
Polanyi was aligning science with the economic model of the 1960s. But today his assumptions, both about the market and about science itself, are problematic. And so, too, is the scientists’ march on the US capital, for adopting the same vision of a highly principled science.
Does the market actually work as Adam Smith said? That’s questionable in the current times: economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller have argued that the principle of the invisible hand now needs to be revisited. To survive in our consumerist society, every player must exploit the market by any possible means, including by taking advantage of consumer weaknesses.
How does a supposed ‘invisible hand’ guide the market for science in 2017? What does this invisible hand do? Just how scientific is such a notion taken from a modern false notion of a metaphor mentioned by Adam Smith in 1776 and applied in 2017?
Even comparing it with a ‘baker’ in 18th century Scotland, making bread for sale for which act he has prior costs in assembling the ingredients, applying baking techniques in his oven, bought from an oven-maker and serving his bread from a market stall for a fee to the local council, all of which is ascribed by Andrew Saltell to the “1960s”.

News that economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller (“Phishing for Phools: the economics of manipulation and deception”: Princteon University Press) want to “revisit” modern invented notions of his use of the now infamous metaphor is to be welcomed. Though from memory, when I reviewd it on Lost Legacy, i am sure I was not that impressed.


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