Welcome to Economics From the Top Down. My name is Blair Fix. I’m a political economist based in Toronto. I spend my time thinking about the future of humanity, and how we can create economics that’s relevant to the real world. In this blog, I tell you about what I’m learning. You can read the academic version of my work here:
I write about economics, but I don’t consider myself an ‘economist’. I’m a social scientist who’s skeptical of much of the economics discipline. As an outsider, I feel free to point out the problems in the field. If you want to know how I feel about mainstream economics, read these posts:
- No, Productivity Does Not Explain Income
- Productivity Does Not Explain Wages
- An Evolutionary Theory of Resource Distribution
I’m a generalist who has spent his life dancing between disciplines. I began my post-secondary life in engineering, but soon quit to study music — jazz of all things. I was a professional musician for most of my early twenties. But over time I realized that I disliked the musician lifestyle.
So I took a hiatus from music and worked as a substitute teacher — a job that gave me lots of time for reading. I discovered The Feynman Lectures on Physics, the seminal lecture series given by physicist Richard Feynman. I found his love of science was so infectious that I decided to become a high school physics teacher. I went to teachers college and soon landed a teaching job.
My path seemed set. Except that along the way I discovered economics. Or rather, I discovered the embarrassment that is mainstream economics. In my spare time, I was reading books by Steve Keen, Herman Daly, E.K. Hunt, and David Korten. These authors showed that the ‘science’ of economics is patently absurd.
Realizing that mainstream economics is bullshit felt revelatory. I’d always disliked the idea of science as ‘crack filling’ — finding tiny knowledge gaps and filling them in. Still, that’s what you have to do in ‘normal science’. But what if a field’s scientific core is bankrupt? Then you don’t need crack filler. You need a jackhammer.
Armed with my metaphorical jackhammer, I headed to grad school, determined to give economics what Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan call a ‘radical Ctrl-Alt-Del’. Since doing that from inside an economics department seemed impossible, I enrolled in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. After 7 years, I got a PhD. Oh, and I wrote a book along the way.
Today, I continue to do research. After two years of blogging, Economics from the Top Down has a large audience of astute readers, many of whom support me on Patreon. Thanks patrons!
What is ‘economics from the top down’?
What’s with the blog’s name? ‘Economics from the top down’ describes my philosophical approach to science.
I study society from the ‘top down’ rather than from the ‘bottom up’. Here’s what that means. In the bottom-up approach, you postulate simple principles of human behavior — what economists call ‘microfoundations’. Then you use these principles to explain the behavior of groups. I think this approach is misguided. It’s like trying to explain the behavior of an organism using postulates about its cells. That’s a nice goal … but is presently beyond our abilities (vastly so).
The alternative is to study society from the top down. Rather than focus on individuals, we treat groups as the unit of analysis. By thinking about groups, biologist David Sloan Wilson has sparked a revolution in evolutionary biology. I want to bring this revolution to economics.
‘Economics from the top down’ is also a metaphor for hierarchy. In a hierarchy, power flows from the top down. You’ve probably noticed that hierarchy is everywhere in society. Yet it’s conspicuously absent from economics. That’s a mistake. Hierarchy, I’ve come to believe, is crucial to how humans distribute resources.
Here’s some of my writing about hierarchy:
- The Growth of Hierarchy and the Death of the Free Market
- A Second Look at Hierarchy
- What Trait Affects Income the Most?
I love to hear from you
If you like a post, have a question, or think I’m off the mark, leave a comment! Or contact me here.
I tweet at @blair_fix.
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