Suggested rules of the game (2): draft guidelines

Alan Freeman (
Thu, 05 Feb 1998 09:59:39 +0000

These are the guidelines we sent out to IWGVT participants this year.

They're a draft, and subject to amendment: a work in progress. Anything
said in response will certainly be taken very seriously when amendments are
made. I certainly intend, for example, to suggest an additional section
dealing with inconsistency arguments, in which I hope to be able to take
into account the points recently made by Juriaan.

Draft IWGVT guidelines

A different tradition

The standards of publication or presentation offered by mainstream
economics are based on establishing the authority for an argument or
viewpoint. Typically, this leads to assertion by definition, attribution
without evidence, a refusal to address the meaning of concepts, and the
exclusion of alternative interpretations.

Our tradition is argument from evidence. Since 'evidence' in economics is
nearly always constructed, it is vital to let the reader get behind the
constructions. This calls for an approach to discussion that is both
pluralist and critical: pluralist, because no interpretation of a theory,
and no presentation of the facts, is ruled out a priori; critical, because
varying interpretations and presentations cannot be excused from
confronting each other, and must provide independent evidence in support of
their arguments.

Help the reader judge

We are not claiming there is no basis to judge between assertions. We'd
merely like to suggest that the people who make the assertions are not the
best judge of their truth. Therefore, it is probably more important than
anything else to permit the reader to make her or his own informed
judgment. That doesn't mean cutting out theory: it means on the contrary
that the theoretical presuppositions should be explicit, and the reader
should be informed where they come from. It doesn't mean cutting out
mathematics: it does mean the reader should be able to follow the chain of
reasoning. It doesn't mean cutting out facts; it does mean the reader
should be able to check what theoretical presuppositions were made when the
facts were constructed. And - above all - it means clearly identifying the
meaning of the concepts used and distinguishing the true source of the
theoretical framework from whence they came by clear citation or reference.

Polemical style

The aim of debate isn't to defeat the other guy. It's to get clear what the
other guy is saying. That doesn't rule out sharp characterisations
supported by evidence; if you think a view is Walrasian, classical,
neoclassical, authoritarian, libertarian, fundamentalist or Cartesian then
say so: but explain it, prove it, and don't rule out other ideas by the
turn of phrase you adopt.

Pluralist discussion does rule out common turns of phrase like 'absurd',
'ridiculous' or 'impossible'. These phrases imply the opposing view is not
worth discussing: use them and you're censoring it.

Distinguish your readings of an author from what the author actually says

John Maynard Keynes did not say that equilibrium in the goods and money
markets is given by the intersection of the IS and LM curves. This is
Hicks' interpretation of Keynes. Karl Marx did not say that value is a
vertically-integrated labour coefficient: this is the interpretation of
Marx proposed by Linear Production Theory. If you want to agree with these
interpretations, that's cool, but others may not accept your reading. You
should either provide evidence for it, rather than taking it for granted,
or refrain from unsupported attribution. Don't deny other interpretations
the right to exist, and don't attribute a disputed view to others without
proof, by phrases like 'The Marxist Theory of Value', 'The Keynesian Theory
of Money' or 'Classical Value Theory', unsupported by evidence that Marx,
Keynes or 'the Classics' really held the views you attribute to them.

We suggest as a rule of thumb that if you are expounding your own theory,
then say it is what you think; if you want to explain what someone else
thinks, then cite them. Too often the words ' as X explained' conveys no
information except that the author can't prove a claim and hopes the great
X's name will be accepted as an alternative. Unfortunately, if your claim
has a humongous hole in it, you've ended up besmirching the great X.

Distinguish theoretical reconstructions of the facts from independently
-verifiable evidence

'The real output of the UK economy in 1994 was #570,722m' is a false claim.
'Output as measured by the UK NIPAs, deflated using the HMSO GDP deflator,
was #570,722m' specifies the theoretical framework that produced the claim,
permits the reader to trace the assertion back to its source, and allows
the reader to judge how the conclusions of the paper would change if a
different, alternative measure of output were used.


Characterising a school of thought with which you are debating is a thorny
problem and we don't claim to have a perfect answer. For example, most of
the authors commonly called 'neoricardian' prefer to describe their views
with the words 'the surplus approach' and it is discourteous not to accept
this: debates go better if you refer to antagonists by the name they
themselves choose to use.

However, it is often important to define the characteristics of a view
independently of what it calls itself, to identify the underlying
theoretical basis of a viewpoint. For example, we've adopted the term
'dualist' to group together all systems which define value and price of
production by means of two independent sets of simultaneous equations, and
so far no-one has objected very strenuously.

The biggest problems arise when calling someone by a name they don't
accept. As a rule of thumb we would say don't do this. But if you really
want to, then make sure it is as scientifically well-grounded as possible,
make sure you explain the reasoning, provide the evidence for your claim
and above all be prepared to debate it.

Read what the other guy says

One of the features of IWGVT conferences that has proven most popular is
the fact that participants not infrequently get a real discussion of what
they are saying, instead of just sitting on a platform with someone talking
about something completely different. This doesn't happen by accident: it
happens because we stress the engagement of ideas. If you want other people
to pay attention to what you are saying, then you should pay attention to
what they are saying. Try to get hold of their material (our website is
designed to help you do this) and try to understand what they are getting
at. Try to see how it relates to your own ideas, and try to modify your
presentation to address the questions that you have a mutual interest in
resolving. If all the economists in the world did twice as much listening
and half as much talking, the place would be no worse off.