The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, tells us a different story . . . how paradigm shifts really happen.

They are almost always nasty, messy, dirty affairs, very much like political revolutions. They unfold like vindictive putsches. The old guard protects its turf jealously. The dissenters are ignored, stonewalled, refused publication and tenure, ostracized and obstructed in every way.

Kuhn’s most profound insight is that, contrary to the way scientific progress is supposed to happen, an old paradigm cannot be replaced by evidence, facts, or “the truth” . . . it will not be thrown out because its forecasts are wrong, its policies no longer work, or its theories are proved unscientific. An old paradigm will only be replaced by a new one when a group of maverick scientists orchestrate a coup and throw the old-school practitioners out of power.

So the lesson we take from Kuhn is that if we really want a paradigm shift in the science of economics we have to move beyond our academic comfort zones and become metameme warriors. We have to occupy our economics departments: disrupt lectures, walk en-masse out of classes, post a never-ending stream of posters and provocations in the corridors, nail manifestos to the professors’ doors. We have to ridicule their axioms in campus newspapers and on campus radio . . . organize teach-ins and, in front of campus-wide audiences, demand to know how they factor forests, fish, climate change and ecosystem collapse into their macroeconomic models. We have to create a collective aha moment of truth when it becomes obvious that the professors in charge of educating the next generation of economic policy makers are unable to answer even the most fundamental economic question of them all: How do you measure progress, Mr. Professor? How do you know if we’re going forward or backward?

And if you don’t know the answer to that, then of what use are you and your teachings?

At some point, thousands of students around the world have to muster their courage, walk up to their professors and say: “Dear Professor, do you really know what you’re doing?"

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