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From Freakonomics to Political Economy

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Abstract In this response to the symposium on our two books we try to deal as fully as possible in the brief space available with most of the major issues raised by our distinguished commentators. Although at least three of them are in agreement with the main thrust of the arguments put forward in our books, they all raise important issues relating to methodology, the history of economic thought (including omissions), and a number of more specific issues. Our answer is based on the restatement of the chief purpose of our two books, describing the intellectual history of the evolution of economic science emphasising the role of the excision of the social and the historical from economic theorising in the transition from (classical) political economy to (neoclassical) economics, only for the two to be reunited through the vulgar form of economics imperialism following the monolithic dominance of neoclassical economics at the expense of pluralism after the Second World War. The importance of political economy for the future of economic science is vigorously argued for.

1. Backhouse Roger "‘Political Economy: History with the Politics Left Out?’" Historical Materialism 2012 Vol 20 3 24 38
2. Callinicos Alex "‘Book Review: From Political Economy to Economics’" Science and Society 2011 Vol 75 2 267 269
3. Fine Ben Lewis Paul "‘Addressing the Critical and the Real in Critical Realism’" Transforming Economics: Perspectives on the Critical Realist Project 2004 London Routledge
4. Fine Ben "‘Debating Critical Realism in Economics’" Capital and Class 2006a Vol 89 121 129
5. Fine Ben "‘Critical Realism and Heterodoxy’" 2006b mimeo, available at: < >
6. Fine Ben "‘Rethinking Critical Realism: Labour Markets or Capitalism?’" Capital and Class 2007 Vol 91 125 129
7. Fine Ben "‘The Economics of Identity and the Identity of Economics?’" Cambridge Journal of Economics 2009 Vol 33 2 175 191
8. Fine Ben , Lapavitsas Costas "‘Markets and Money in Social Theory: What Role for Economics?’" Economy and Society 2000 Vol 29 3 357 382
9. Fine Ben , Milonakis Dimitris From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and Other Social Sciences 2009 London Routledge
10. Fine Ben , Milonakis Dimitris "‘ “Useless but True”: Economic Crisis and the Peculiarities of Economic Science’" Historical Materialism 2011 Vol 19 2 3 31
11. Fleetwood Steve "‘Rethinking Labour Markets: A Critical Realist-Socioeconomic Perspective’" Capital and Class 2006 Vol 89 59 89
12. Fleetwood Steve "‘ “From Political Economy to Economics” and Beyond’" Historical Materialism 2012 Vol 20 3 61 80
13. Friedman Milton Friedman Milton "‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’" Essays in Positive Economics 1953 Chicago Chicago University Press
14. Friedman Milton Hausman Daniel M. "‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’" The Philosophy of Economics: An Anthology 1984 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
15. Fullbrook Edward Ontology and Economics: Tony Lawson and His Critics 2009 London Routledge
16. Giddens Anthony Sociology: A Brief but Critical Introduction 1986 Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan
17. Hayek Friedrich "‘Scientism and the Study of Society [Part 1]’" Economica 1942 Vol 9 35 267 291
18. Hayek Friedrich "‘Scientism and the Study of Society [Part 2]’" Economica 1943 Vol 10 37 34 63
19. Hayek Friedrich "‘Scientism and the Study of Society [Part 3]’" Economica 1944 Vol 11 41 27 39
20. Hayek Friedrich "‘Scientism and the Study of Society’" The Counter Revolution in Science: Studies in the Abuse of Reason 1952 [1942–4] Glencoe, IL. The Free Press
21. Hodgson Geoff "‘Marshall, Schumpeter and the Shifting Boundaries of Economics and Sociology’" 2007 mimeo, available at: < >
22. Hodgson Geoff "‘Sickonomics: Diagnoses and Remedies’" Review of Social Economy 2011 Vol 69 3 357 376
23. Hodgson Geoff "‘From Social Theory to Explaining Sickonomics: A Response to Dimitris Milonakis and Ben Fine’" Review of Social Economy 2012 (forthcoming)
24. Lawson Tony Economics and Reality 1997 London Routledge
25. Lawson Tony Reorienting Economics 2003 London Routledge
26. Lawson Tony "‘The Nature of Heterodox Economics’" Cambridge Journal of Economics 2006 Vol 30 4 483 505
27. King John E. "‘Sixteen Questions for Fine and Milonakis’" Historical Materialism 2012 Vol 20 3 39 60
28. Marx Karl " The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte " Marx, Engels, Lenin on Historical Materialism 1972 [1852] Moscow Progress Publishers
29. Marx Karl Nicolaus Martin Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 1973 [1939/41] Harmondsworth Penguin Books
30. McNally David "‘From Fetishism to “Shocked Disbelief”: Economics, Dialectics and Value Theory’" Historical Materialism 2012 Vol 20 3 9 23
31. Milonakis Dimitris , Fine Ben From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory 2009 London Routledge
32. Milonakis Dimitris , Fine Ben "‘Interrogating Sickonomics, from Diagnosis to Cure: A Response to Hodgson’" Review of Social Economy 2012 (forthcoming)
33. Milonakis Dimitris , Meramveliotakis Giorgos "‘Homo Economicus and the Economics of Property Rights: History in Reverse Order’" Review of Radical Political Economics 2012 (forthcoming)
34. Swingewood Alan A Short History of Sociological Thought 2000 Third Edition Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan
35. Zelizer Viviana A. The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, and Other Currencies 1994 New York Basic Books
36. Zelizer Viviana A. "‘Fine-Tuning the Zelizer View’" Economy and Society 2000 Vol 29 3 383 389
37. FN1 1. From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory(cited as Milonakis and Fine 2009), and From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and Other Social Sciences(cited as Fine and Milonakis 2009).
38. FN2 2. Geoff Hodgson has also written an extensive commentary which was intended to be included in this symposium but, in the event, was published in the Review of Social Economy, giving rise to a debate between him and ourselves. In what follows, reference will be made to the views expressed in this article but, for a fuller account, the reader is advised to consult the debate itself: Hodgson 2011 and 2012 (forthcoming), and Milonakis and Fine 2012 (forthcoming). Our books also benefitted from many reviews indicative of the interest in the foundations of political economy and critique of orthodoxy. Recently a similar if more extensive symposium has taken place over Tony Lawson’s Reorienting Economicsand the critical realist project more generally – see Fullbrook (ed.) 2009.
39. FN3 3. And special thanks to Sam Ashman for organising the symposium if, unfortunately, the only woman able to be involved.
40. FN4 4. See Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 9–10.
41. FN5 5. McNally 2012, pp. 10–11, King 2012, p. 40, and Fleetwood 2012, pp. 61–2.
42. FN6 6. Backhouse 2012.
43. FN7 7. Backhouse 2012, p. 25.
44. FN8 8. We have drafted and intend to post a longer response at some point in the future.
45. FN9 9. Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. xiii, contra King 2012, p. 39; see also Hodgson 2011, p. 358.
46. FN10 10. Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 1, 2, 4, 9.
47. FN11 11. Fine and Milonakis 2009, p. 1.
48. FN12 12. Backhouse 2012, p. 24.
49. FN13 13. King 2012, pp. 40–1.
50. FN14 14. King 2012, p. 41.
51. FN15 15. Backhouse 2012, p. 29.
52. FN16 16. King 2012, p. 44.
53. FN17 17. King 2012, pp. 47–9. Callinicos 2011 in his review of our first book makes a similar point.
54. FN18 18. See Fine and Milonakis 2009, pp. 36–42, and below.
55. FN19 19. See also Fine 2009.
56. FN20 20. King 2012, pp. 55–6.
57. FN21 21. Hodgson believes we are wrong to place the roots of the malaise as far back as the marginalist revolution, opting instead to locate them exclusively in some adverse institutional developments since the Second World War, although in his response to our response he seems to have backtracked from his initial position. See Hodgson 2011 and 2012 (forthcoming), and Milonakis and Fine 2012 (forthcoming).
58. FN22 22. Backhouse 2012, p. 34.
59. FN23 23. See Milonakis and Meramveliotakis 2012 (forthcoming).
60. FN24 24. See also Hodgson 2011, p. 373.
61. FN25 25. Fine and Milonakis 2009, p. 154.
62. FN26 26. Marx 1972, p. 5.
63. FN27 27. Milonakis and Fine 2012 (forthcoming).
64. FN28 28. Instrumentalism in the context of economic science was first put forward by Milton Friedman in his famous 1953 essay ‘The Methodology of Positive Economics’ (Friedman 1953, reprinted as Friedman 1984).
65. FN29 29. Fleetwood 2012, p. 68.
66. FN30 30. Hayek 1942, 1943 and 1944, reprinted as Hayek 1952.
67. FN31 31. Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 260.
68. FN32 32. King 2012, pp. 45–6, and Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 230–6.
69. FN33 33. Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 230. Two missing commas, indicated by ‘[,]’, a slip on our part, is the cause of the misunderstanding with King on Ricardo’s method. Thus the proper quote should be: ‘Indeed, Ricardo’s deductivism[,] andpositivism[,] are taken to the limit in mainstream economics, as with Friedman’s (1953) instrumentalist methodology’ (Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 69). As far as Ricardo’s method is concerned, we have made our position abundantly clear on many occasions: we consider him as one of the first champions of pure deductivism.
70. FN34 34. See above and Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 231.
71. FN35 35. See Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 234–5.
72. FN36 36. Lawson 2003, p. 145.
73. FN37 37. Marx 1973, p. 100. Analysis is opposed to what Marx calls synthesiswhich describes the opposite mental route, going from abstract categories to more concrete ones, which Marx (Marx 1973, p. 101) called ‘the scientifically correct method’. We hope this discussion answers the accusation that in our books we ‘give the impression that right lay on the side of the inductivists’ (Callinicos 2011, p. 268) and that the latter underplays the role of theory in economic analysis. We fully agree with the latter point, and it was certainly not our intention to side with the inductivists but to show the need to transcendits distinction with deductivism in the ways suggested here.
74. FN38 38. Fleetwood 2012, pp. 72–5.
75. FN39 39. King 2012, p. 48.
76. FN40 40. King 2012, pp. 41–2.
77. FN41 41. Milonakis and Fine 2009, p. 93.
78. FN42 42. Giddens 1986.
79. FN43 43.  Swingewood 2000.
80. FN44 44. Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 216–17.
81. FN45 45. See Fine and Milonakis 2009, pp. 88–9.
82. FN46 46. Hodgson 2007.
83. FN47 47. See the debate between Zelizer 1994 and 2000, and Fine and Lapavitsas 2000.
84. FN48 48. See Fine 2004, 2006a and 2007, the last not least in debate with Fleetwood 2006. On critical realism and heterodox economics, see Fine 2006b commenting on Lawson 2006.
85. FN49 49. See Fine and Milonakis 2011.
86. FN50 50. See also Fine and Milonakis 2011.

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Affiliations: 1: School of Oriental and African Studies ; 2: University of Crete


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