Ceteris Paribus

One of the most often used terms in economics is Ceteris Paribus (everything else remaining the same/holding everything else constant/ everything else remaining equal). I have a fascination for this concept. Just imagine how things would be if everything else could be kept constant and we could deal with each of our problems in isolation. It is definitely difficult to experience ceteris paribus . Nonetheless, it helps us understand certain things. The notion however is best limited to the short phase when we are taking baby steps in understanding theories. It has no place outside of it.

My belief doesn’t seem to resound with the reality around me. One is expected to look at things in isolation or so seems to be the norm. For instance there are people who argue along the lines of “If Nepal has more of people who think this way the country would be such and such.” Or if you want to understand why suppose Marxists/Keynesians or Neoclassicals (whosoever for that matter) are wrong read this and be enlightened. And the writer, to my understanding expects you to just believe what she says. As if the writer’s thoughts exist in isolation and we are supposed to merely get immersed in her writing. We are not to wonder or ask why a certain person says or writes things the way they do. For if we do so then we are deviating from the great read at hand. You are questioning things unrelated to the writing. You are even accused of defaming the writer if you start digging about the person’s background or seek to understand why a person is of a certain frame of mind. We are to hold everything else constant and merely absorb things put in front us as if they materialized out of the blue.

Things do not exist in isolation. Do they? No person does either. The way to talk, we dress, eat, reason all is an outcome of things that influence us or not.

For instance I was reading about the wrath of the writer on workers as they kept going on strikes and asking for a rise in real wages. The increase in numerical terms amounted to 400 bucks. There can be multiple of reactions to this event. To begin with economists are often saddened and enraged that production has come to a halt. The rest which neither work in the factory nor run it are angry just because the economists have written that it is bad for the economy. Others are mad because there is a strike and they have to walk. Yet another crowd of people could be surprised at the fuss created even when workers demand a mere 400 rs increase when they know no major change in consumption pattern can occur due to it. An economist’s anger is in itself related to her theoretical orientation. That orientation could be affected by the way she has lead her life among other things. Perhaps her parents owned a company themselves. The newspaper reader might just be angry because everyone’s saying the strikes are bad for the economy. Something called the ‘economy’ is in trouble because people without the capacity to think about something as sacred and vast as the economy are not letting factories run. And of course everyone says their brains have been infested by other smarter people into thinking that they can demand and indeed have a larger portion of the pie. Why certain people think and act one way or the other in total contrast with someone else is what interests me.

We are all opinionated people, more so as Nepalis. And every one of us is busy tagging someone else an ‘ism’. Every ‘ism’ has an entry point to the discourse of why the world is such. “So what the factories throw out workers as they hinder production?” once argued a classmate. “Seriously, so what? No one is in the business of altruism. If you want better things you have options to go elsewhere. There is an entire army of labor out who are ready to work for you so what is the issue?” The argument is clear. There is nothing to debate in it. What’s interesting to me is what lead him to argue that way. Does he think options are so readily available? Why does he think options exist? Does he believe everyone gets what she deserves? What is his notion of ‘getting what you deserve’? Or does he think the employee deserves more? Does he think people who revolt are irrational? Does he believe everyone is rational? What is his notion of rationality?

The deeper you go the more simple the questions get. It is like travelling through an inverted pyramid. How a person sees the world can be simplified in few simple terms. One can’t argue in social sciences with the precision in chemistry like saying two chemicals mix and the outcome is this only but a person’s opinion can more or less be abstracted into the basics of a theory . It becomes a lot easier to dissect things/writings/people once you have a grasp on the theory or so I believe. So please do not expect me to go through your ideas in isolation when you put them up for public display. Or don’t expect me to think that what you say in the four walls of a classroom exist in isolation of you as a person outside of it. I believe, we all walk into to the room with our baggage of experiences and academic influences. Obviously, what I say/think/do/write is an outcome of it too. Amen.


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