"Productivity" is a perfect example of the pseudscience underpinning economics

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/08/13/quants-are-quaint.html


From this shake foundation, economists have erected a towering edifice of theory and math that “proves” over and over that workers get the pay they deserve.

I don’t know how they can make this claim with a straight face:


It’s kinda their job, isn’t it.


Economics as theory isn’t the problem here, it’s neoliberal economics, or Chicago School economics. It’s the old supply-side, trickle-down, Voodoo economics to blame for rising inequality despite constant productivity gains.

Classical Keynesian economics works fine.


After taking an undergraduate Microeconomics class, I’ve always been wary of economics because they were always putting the dependent variable on the X-axis.


The trick is to twirl your mustache at the same time :wink:


Yes, let’s distribute wealth based on how much wealth each person generates! Finally, all those useless babies will simply starve to death, eliminating their burden on society. We don’t need those takers!


A lot of economists primary job is to push their viewpoint, typically to give a scientific veneer in the push back against socialist policies so you don’t have to come across as “the rich people demand more money and we don’t care one whiff about people without money.” In fact they don’t have a way to quantify “happiness” so it’s not a part of the calculation, only money and things that can be measured with money.


This episode seems relevant: https://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/capitalist-chaos-and-crimes-the-great-recession-of-2008

IIRC This episode talks about how academic institutions are used to launder propaganda as science and consensus with alarming regularity.


Economics as a discipline is shit, as is evidenced by the fact that, multiple times in my adult life, a majority of economists have made predictions that turned out to be wrong, but none of them changed their basic assumptions as a result of this. That alone is enough to make it clear that it isn’t a science.

Keynesian economics, like all other schools of economics, is predicated on a government enforcing the economic system it operates in, so, though it is better at describing that system than the Chicago School, it is still fundamentally ideology, not science.



The Nobel Prize in economics is fake? SONOFABITCH!

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They borrow a trick from Col. Flagg from “MASH”. They watch every Three Stooges film over and over again, and every time they get the urge to laugh, they stab themselves in tbe stomach with cattle prods. Eventually, they become able to recite the most deranged unscientific and logic-free gobbledeegook spewed by capitalist apologists without so much as blinking.


Well, that’s just that nasty friction he referred to at work. If parents didn’t occasionally feel some irrational compulsion to keep their kids alive by handing over wealth that the kids didn’t create, then his postulated law would work fine.

One always has to read these things with a careful eye for what is being defined (and what isn’t). Socrates/Plato FTW.

I’m going to postulate a natural law that says that all things are naturally weightless and that this law, if it worked without the influence of gravity, would mean that all things hang in mid-air.

Is that true? Quite possibly. Does it tell us anything useful about whether things we encounter in the world are likely to be hanging about in mid-air? No.

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On Economics from the Top Down, York University PhD candidate in economics Blair Fix takes on the economic logic of measuring “productivity,” demonstrating how it uses circular reasoning to prove that underpaid workers are receiving a fair wage.

Oh so Blair Fix is an economist. And he’s critiquing an economic concept. So this proves economics is a pseudoscience???

This is the same genre of fallacy that reports every instance of the republicans doing a thing as ‘politicians’ doing a thing.

Citation needed.

Anyway Cory is misunderstanding the article. The issue here is that economic productivity is still worth measuring - it is still a thing that is real. What isn’t real is treating productivity as an ethical prerogative, which is a fallacy based on using the regular definition of a jargon-word (see also the idea of statistical significance).

But if raising productivity is essentially the same as raising workers’ hourly wage, measuring it is important for improving social welfare. (If you just measure aggregate annual wage you miss out on whether people are earning more simply by working longer hours.)

Seriously. There is no coherent idea of leftwing policy without economics. Marx was an economist. Separate out right wing economists from economics as a whole, please.


“Essentially” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. You should pay it more.


I was going off of what the article said. The thing is, you can’t simultaneously promote the article on the basis of “productivity is pseudoscience, it’s tautological to say that productivity justifies income so everyone is necessarily being paid a fair wage, because productivity is income”, and then plot of a graph of productivity and compensation and say that the lag of compensation relative to productivity shows that workers are underpaid. You can’t both say the idea is unfalsifiable and then falsify it!

Looking at the article, Blair Fix’s error comes down to ignoring the profit part of the equation. Productivity can show the presence of unfair pay if that is the result of the company deriving excess profits.

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The graph simply points out that the typical neoliberal economist’s claim that (as you summarised it) “raising productivity is essentially the same as raising workers’ hourly wage” is laughable BS – even accepting their own primary term of measurement.

That’s where the ideology comes in and an attempt at empirical measurement becomes a secondary concern. Neoliberal economists assiduously ignore what the ever-growing space between the lines is applied to. And when they are called on the fact that the fruits of their sacred productivity go to profits for shareholders and excessive executive compensation and treasury instead of to worker wages, these economists then claim that that the delta in that graph depicts the correct and natural order of things (“mumble-mumble job creators…”).

Fix isn’t ignoring the profit part of the equation but rather pointing out the way the purpose-designed equation (in the general sense) grounded in productivity is regularly used by some economists to promote an ideological agenda that’s done a terrible amount of societal damage (approaching the damage done by (and essentially setting the stage for) the dirigisme of the far left and right).

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Blair Fix would do well to point to ‘typical neoliberal economists’ specific statements. The only one referenced seems to be Clarke who died in 1938, rather a long time before neoliberalism.

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The first honest economics student. And how many have graduated?