'Has populism reached economics? Two criteria for assessing normative empirical concepts in economics', by Irene van Staveren.

ISS working paper 631


This paper attempts to understand why we generally feel that some normative empirical concepts in economics are unproblematic whereas others feel uncomfortable or misleading. I develop criteria to distinguish between the two on the basis of two notions from the philosophy of science: positional objectivity and thick concepts. I operationalize these with the help of two recent guidelines on good scientific practice that have been developed in debates around scientific integrity. This leads to two criteria: unavoidability and global evaluation. Following this discussion, the paper will present a case study on "ethnic fractionalization", popular in empirical research on the social determinants of economic growth. Throughout the paper I will make use of examples of other normative empirical concepts to further the understanding of the various ways in which such concepts violate the criteria that I have suggested.

Economics, normative concepts, scientific integrity, populism, ethnic fractionalization

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About the author

Irene van Staveren is Professor of Pluralist Development Economics at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She works on issues in the philosophy of economics, in particular on ethics, and on inequality, social cohesion, gender, and institutions. She recently published an economic textbook, Economics after the Crisis – and Introduction to Economics from a Pluralist and Global Perspective, Routledge, 2015. She has won the Gunnar Myrdal Prize for her book The Values of Economics – an Aristotelian Perspective, Routledge, 2001, and the Thomas Divine Lifetime Achievement Award of the Association of Social Economics 2014.

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