George Soros Theory of Reflexivity Published online: 13 Jan 2014
I am honored that the editors of the Journal of Economic Methodology have created this special issue on the subject of reflexivity and have invited me, as well as a distinguished group of scholars, to contribute.
Of course I did not discover reflexivity. Earlier observers recognized it, or at least aspects of it, often under a different name. Knight (1921) explored the difference between risk and uncertainty. Keynes (1936, Chapter 12) compared financial markets to a beauty contest where the participants had to guess who would be the most popular choice. The sociologist Merton (1949) wrote about self-fulfilling prophecies, unintended consequences, and the bandwagon effect. Popper spoke of the ‘Oedipus effect’ in the Poverty of Historicism (1957, Chapter 5).
My own conceptual framework has its origins in my time as a student at the London School of Economics in the late 1950s. I took my final exams one year early, so I had a year to fill before I was qualified to receive my degree. I could choose my tutor, and I chose Popper whose book TheOpen Society and Its Enemies (1945) had made a profound impression on me.
In Popper’s other great work Logik der Forschung (1935), which was published in English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), he argued that the empirical truth cannot be known with absolute certainty. Even scientific laws cannot be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt: they can only be falsified by testing. One failed test is enough to falsify, but no amount of conforming instances is sufficient to verify. Scientific laws are always hypothetical in character, and their validity remains open to falsification.
While I was reading Popper I was also studying economic theory, and I was struck by the contradiction between Popper’s emphasis on imperfect understanding and the theory of perfect competition in economics, which postulated perfect knowledge. This led me to start questioning the assumptions of economic theory. I replaced the postulates of rational expectations and efficient markets with my own principles of fallibility and reflexivity.