The Politics, Mathematics and Morality of Economics: A Review Essay on Robert Nelson`s Economics as Religion

Posted: 29 Feb 2008  

Cristobal Young

Princeton University - Department of Sociology

Abstract

Is economics a science or a theology? Nelson sensibly argues that economists are a priestly class; they issue authoritative (scientific) blessings upon the marketplace. The bishops of this class are the mathematicians, who convert ideology into science. This essay, in contrast, argues that mathematics has more to do with internal competition between economists than with politics or religion. Indeed, in the early years, mathematical economics was dominated by socialist advocates of central planning. Over time, the mathematical school evolved towards a milder critique, emphasizing the weakness of free market assumptions. With an ironic twist, mathematical economics ultimately came to be interpreted as a defense of laissez faire. In short, mathematics traversed the whole political spectrum from socialism, to social democracy, to capitalism. While modern-day economists do often seem like free market evangelists, the role of mathematics in this is poorly understood.

JEL Classification: A110, B210, N010, B240, Z120

Suggested Citation

Young, Cristobal, The Politics, Mathematics and Morality of Economics: A Review Essay on Robert Nelson`s Economics as Religion. Socio-Economic Review, Vol. 3, pp. 161-172, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=898914

Cristobal Young (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Sociology ( email )

Princeton, NJ
United States

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
1,233