Science and the Politics of Economics

The following is taken from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed (1996 [1962]), by Thomas Kuhn:

“Few people who are not actually practitioners of a mature science realize how much mop-up work this sort of a paradigm (an accepted model or pattern for scientific research/methods) leaves to be done or quite how fascinating such work can prove in the execution. And these points need to be understood. Mopping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers. They constitute what I am here calling normal science. Closely examined, whether historically or in the contemporary laboratory, that enterprise seems and attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies.” (24)

It seems to me, in light of my recent thinking and writing on economics and the political impact on them, that we have a fairly concise analogy for the current state of American economic policy located Kuhn’s argument above. Are we not currently “mopping-up” the messes of the American free market capitalism economic paradigm? When the politicians talk of revitalizing the economy, aren’t they merely suggesting conducting further experiments that adhere to, and more importantly, hope to legitimize that economic theory? Are we stuck in a box that refuses to recognize or tolerate new theories? It has been argued that democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s economic and health care policies are partially influenced by socialist theories. So within the framework of Kuhn’s understanding of paradigms, one could argue that Obama’s policies should be dismissed (or perhaps even charged as theoretical heresy) as flights of fancy that fall outside of the box of how economics work. Is what we need now as a nation simply a matter of reinforcing the box with packing tape? Or do we presently need (as I have regularly argued) to consider the possibility that the box’s integrity has been compromised, and there is a very real possibility that the bottom could fall out. Is this a time for cosmetic cover-ups and blind faith in a paradigm in which the rich are routinely rewarded for causing the financial struggles of the rest of us? Or can we at least begin to entertain the notion that the trickling down of promised economic prosperity might not be able to penetrate the top of the closed box? But I am no scientist, nor am I an economist. So who am I to question the present paradigm? It’s not like we’re still dealing with the inequalities of feudalism, when access to the lands great resources were reserved only for the elite nobility who grew fat off the labor of the working class… wait a minute.


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