The Value(s) of an Economist


There is a crisis of legitimacy in economics, as Sanjay Reddy describes it, calling into question basic tenets of how economics is understood and applied in classrooms around the country and in public policy. In a critical examination of economists, he asks his peers: Exactly how neutral and scientific is our thinking and approach?

In the Economics department at The New School for Social Research, Reddy is leading a research project titled “Economics: Value-Neutral or Value Entangled” to respond to this crisis by reappraising the methodological foundations of the field to consider the ethical values that should motivate and constitute economic inquiry. The research will also examine prevailing conceptions of the role of economists in society, and the relationship between economics and other fields.

“The discipline has been in thrall to the idea that economists engage in ‘neutral’ and ‘scientific’ inquiry. The aspirations to neutrality are commendable, but the discipline systematically falls far short of what is required to further them,” according to Reddy.

“Ironically, one of the main reasons for doing so is the failure to recognize the role that evaluative reasoning must play in certain deliberations. Excising judgments from social inquiry both leads to difficulties in making sense of the world and to becoming the unacknowledged captive of specific interests, as a result of which economics does not serve social goals in the

Reddy’s research proposes the idea of “hybrid ethical concepts” that blend fact and value, and these concepts he argues, must be at the very heart of the enterprise of economics. “I hope to contribute to the understanding of the appropriate relation between economics and the ends of human beings and to examine how the practice of economists should change in light of it.”

The project, which is being funded by a grant from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), supports financing for a graduate student research assistant, and time for Reddy to develop a draft for a book that he eventually plans to publish. In addition to publishing, Reddy will disseminate findings from the work at public events and through INET’s high-profile conferences and internet resources. Reddy says, “I have been pleased that the publicity given to the project as a result of the grant has caused others working in the area to contact me.”

For more information about Reddy’s work and research, visit

Reddy’s advice in the areas of sponsored research and grant seeking:

A grant can provide a spur and it can provide some needed resources or time, but there is no way around the lonely near-daily labor, which is required to make sustained progress on a substantial project. The sooner one begins this, with or without support, the better. In the end, it is this individual commitment, which is the real foundation of intellectual progress.

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