Optimal insults

A long story leading to an interesting question: I like to keep half an eye on heterodox economics.  A lot of this work raises interesting questions about the methodology that is my bread-and-butter.  I think of this as useful intellectual discipline: those who don’t school themselves in the limitations or ethical constraints of our frameworks, are likely to mis-use them.  And that got me thinking about a particular sub-group: The Post-Autistic Economics Movement.  Reading some (but not all) of the output of these heterodox economists can be quite illuminating.

But Post-Autistic?  Really?  What kind of insult is that? 

Two answers:

  1. A pretty darn good insult.  Some of the agents in our models would in fact rightly be called autistic.  Those two words are pretty clever, and occasionally telling.
  2. A terrible insult.  Post-Autistic" is designed to shock.  It is a statement more about the insulter than the insultee.  And as the subject of the insult changes, surely it loses its force.  Based on titles alone, which critical journal would you rather read: Feminist Economics, or the Post-Autistic Economics Review?  (Aside: Feminist Economics is, in my view, an excellent and underrated journal.)

But still, it got me thinking. What does an insult communicate?  At what point does an insult switch from being an insult to a statement about the insulter?  There must be a signaling story here, but I haven’t quite figured it out.  And if signaling yields a theory of insults, what would the characteristics of the optimal insult be?

So with some trepidation, let me say, comments are open.


Comments for this post are closed