“Sidney Alexander & I are really the only ones who showed the basic logical contradictions caused by positivism having penetrated economics in the middle of the 20th Century”

Subroto Roy hears from Mr Scott Peterson,

“Dear Professor Roy, I have been reading your book *Philosophy of Economics* and happened to stumble on the following paper:’Public Finance Texts Cannot Justify Government Taxation’ Walter E. Block (Loyola University New Orleans, Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business) has posted Public Finance Texts Cannot Justify Government Taxation: A Critique on SSRN. Here is the abstract: ‘In virtually all economic sub-disciplines, practitioners of the dismal science are exceedingly desirous of avoiding normative concerns, at least in principle. These are seen, and rightly so, as extremely treacherous. Being only human, they do sometimes stray off the path of positive analysis; but when they fall off the wagon in this manner, if at all, it is done relatively cautiously, and infrequently. There is one blatant exception to this general rule, however, and that is the field of public finance. Here, in sharp contrast to the usual practice, not only is normative economics embraced, it is done so with alacrity, and without apology. That is, most textbooks on the subject start off with one or several chapters which attempt to justify taxation on moral, efficiency, and other grounds. This occurs in no other field.’

When I read this I immediately thought of your discussion of the normative vs positive approaches in economics. Perhaps the exception economists make regarding public finance is that most economists’ paychecks come from the public sector.

Regards,

Scott Peterson

Dear Mr Peterson, Yes indeed. Thanks for the observation. Sidney Alexander and I are really the only ones who showed the basic logical contradictions caused by positivism having penetrated economics in the middle of the 20th Century. Are you at Facebook? Feel free to join me. Cordial regards, Suby Roy

“….Meanwhile, my main work within economic theory, the “Principia Economica” manuscript, was being read by the University of Chicago Press’s five or six anonymous referees. One of them pointed out my argument had been anticipated years earlier in the work of MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander. I had no idea of this and was surprised; of course I knew Professor Alexander’s work in balance of payments theory but not in this field. I went to visit Professor Alexander in Boston…. Professor Alexander was extremely gracious, and immediately declared with great generosity that it was clear to him my arguments in “Principia Economica” had been developed entirely independently of his work. He had come at the problem from an American philosophical tradition of Dewey, I had done so from a British tradition of Wittgenstein. (CS Peirce was probably the bridge between the two.) He and I had arrived at some similar conclusions but we had done so completely independently.”

Professor Alexander, contemporary of PA Samuelson, tutor of RM Solow and many others, deserves far greater attention, and I will do what I can towards that.  He introduced me briefly to his MIT colleague Lester Thurow and I sent an email some time ago to Professor Thurow suggesting MIT should try to remember him better.

Furthermore…. (12 August 2013)… as Karl Georg Zinn observed in his perspicacious review:

“Either all of positive economics is attacked with just as much scepticism as anything in normative economics, or we accept one and reject the other when instead there are reasons to think they share the same ultimate grounds and must be accepted or rejected together”(p.47).

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