One of the great contributions of Freud and later psychoanalytic theorists is that they taught us to look sideways at ourselves. Sometimes what seems clear and straightforward is, on closer analysis, muddy and frustratingly complex.
This is one of the reasons why in recent years, I’ve found myself more and more interested in economic issues. Like psychoanalytic theory, economics brings a healthy dose of skepticism to any conversation about human action. Unlike Freud and his disciples, however, economic analysis is scientific in the sense that it offers for consideration hypotheses and theories that are empirically and logically falsifiable. Put another way, when Freud is right about our dark, unacknowledged motives, he is as right as any of the Church fathers are about the pervasive and corrupting consequences of sin.
And when Freud is wrong? Well this is where I think intellectual honest requires me to part company with him. Not so much because he and his followers are wrong but because how they respond to the shortcomings of their own work. There is a tendency in their theorizing not simply to resist but actively and even aggressively reject criticism and so correction. This is done by the use of a clever rhetoric device that allows them to take disagreement as evidence not of their own error but of their critics’ bad faith and resistance to the illuminating insight of psychoanalysis. In a word, psychoanalysis lends itself to bullying.
So why my interest in economic issues? Continue reading