"I don’t think of myself as a ‘heterodox’ economist," writes John Quiggin. Despite his left wing views, Quiggin defends the methods and assumptions of mainstream economics. As he sees it, the mainstream is broader than most people think.
In a recent article for The Nation, Christopher Hayes described the economics profession as a ‘mafia’ which enforces a pro-market, small-government orthodoxy on its members. According to Hayes, economists like Alan Blinder and David Card have been punished for questioning the orthodoxy. Blinder worried about "the massive dislocations that the current trade regime and outsourcing trends might bring for American workers" when he should have been defending free trade. And Card questioned whether a higher minimum wage really would destroy jobs. Both were attacked. But Hayes sees some cause for optimism:
As Card’s and Blinder’s experiences show, the "mafia" still flexes its muscles, but there are also signs that its hold on power is slipping. While the discipline remains dominated by a "neoclassical" consensus that is generally pro-market and suspicious of government intervention, an explosion of new research programs and methods have provided strong evidence that many of the pillars of that consensus rest on a foundation of sand.
Not everyone is convinced that Hayes’ division of economics into heterodox and orthodox makes sense. Matt Yglesias argues that "What heterodox economists are really challenging isn’t neoclassical economics but the political behavior of neoclassical economists." And, according to Yglesias, mainstream neoclassical economists are happy to modify their assumptions if there’s a good enough argument for it. What they won’t do is throw all their assumptions out the window at once. Not everyone who questions an assumption should qualify as heterodox.
At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell agrees with Yglesias:
There seem to me to be two different fights going on here, which often get confused… One is whether economists’ reliance on the rational actor model, assumptions of self-interest, supply and demand and so on is intellectually good or bad. The second is whether ‘mainstream’ economics is necessarily right wing.
Quiggin has no problem using mainstream economic analysis for social democratic ends. And like Yglesias, Quiggin argues that the mainstream isn’t as narrow as many people think:
…most of the concerns 11. Quiggin: "I guess the big exception to this is if you want to discard methodological individualism altogether, but the theoretical enterprises that took this route (such as structuralism) don’t seem to me to be prospering." [↩] that are commonly raised against simple-minded versions of economics can be addressed without throwing out the whole system and starting from scratch. If you don’t believe in the perfectly rational economic man (sic), there’s a huge body of work on behavioral economics, bounded rationality, altruism and so on. If you don’t like simplistic competitive models, the shelves are groaning with books on strategic behavior and game theory.
On Quiggin’s view, it makes little sense to call economists like Blinder and Card heterodox. That label should probably be reserved for people like Michael Perelman.