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Beyond Positivism, Behaviorism, and Neoinstitutionalism in Economics

A penetrating analysis from one of the defining voices of contemporary economics.

In Beyond Positivism, Behaviorism, and Neoinstitutionalism in Economics, Deirdre Nansen McCloskey zeroes in on the authoritarian cast of recent economics, arguing for a re-focusing on the liberated human. The behaviorist positivism fashionable in the field since the 1930s treats people from the outside. It yielded in Williamson and North a manipulative neo-institutionalism. McCloskey argues that institutions as causes are mainly temporary and intermediate, not ultimate. They are human-made, depending on words, myth, ethics, ideology, history, identity, professionalism, gossip, movies, what your mother taught you.  Humans create conversations as they go, in the economy as in the rest of life.

In engaging and erudite prose, McCloskey exhibits in detail the scientific failures of neo-institutionalism. She proposes a “humanomics,” an economics with the humans left in.  Humanomics keeps theory, quantification, experiment, mathematics, econometrics, though insisting on more true rigor than is usual. It adds what can be learned about the economy from history, philosophy, literature, and all the sciences of humans. McCloskey reaffirms the durability of “market-tested innovation” against the imagined imperfections to be corrected by a perfect government. With her trademark zeal and incisive wit, she rebuilds the foundations of economics.

192 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles


"A compact discussion of some crucial issues economists should be contemplating."

The Enlightened Economist

"Beyond Positivism [presents] a criticism and reshaping of economic thought that departs from neoinstitutionalism and other non-'humanomical' movements, promoting the ethics of liberalism as the ideal foundation for an adequate economic science."

Journal of Economic Literature

“The manuscript is a collection of writings for various forums, many reviews of others and many replies to critics. One unifying theme is a critique of neoinstitutional economics. But yet another theme is a defense of the bourgeois trilogy against its critics. This book is well worth a read.”

Richard Langlois, University of Connecticut

“This new book deepens the continuing conversation in Humanomics. It’s essentially about discovering Adam Smith and resuming a path that McCloskey has so magnificently helped to reinvigorate in the last half century.”

Vernon Smith, Chapman University and 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics

Table of Contents

Introduction The Argument in Brief

Part I. Economics Is in Scientific Trouble
Chapter 1. An Antique, Unethical, and Badly Measured Behaviorism Doesn’t Yield Good Economic Science or Good Politics
Chapter 2. Economics Needs to Get Serious about Measuring the Economy
Chapter 3. The Number of Unmeasured “Imperfections” Is Embarrassingly Long
Chapter 4. Historical Economics Can Measure Them, Showing Them to Be Small
Chapter 5. The Worst of Orthodox Positivism Lacks Ethics and Measurement

Part II. Neoinstitutionalism Shares in the Troubles
Chapter 6. Even the Best of Neoinstitutionalism Lacks Measurement
Chapter 7. And “Culture,” or Mistaken History, Will Not Repair It
Chapter 8. That Is, Neoinstitutionalism, Like the Rest of Behavioral Positivism, Fails as History and as Economics
Chapter 9. As It Fails in Logic and in Philosophy
Chapter 10. Neoinstitutionalism, in Short, Is Not a Scientific Success

Part III. Humanomics Can Save the Science
Chapter 11. But It’s Been Hard for Positivists to Understand Humanomics
Chapter 12. Yet We Can Get a Humanomics
Chapter 13. And Although We Can’t Save Private Max U
Chapter 14. We Can Save an Ethical Humanomics
Works Cited

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