Critical analysis of the foundations and tenets of capitalism and of the dismal science - economics.
Economics - to the great dismay of economists - is merely a branch of psychology. It deals with individual behaviour and with mass behaviour. Many of its practitioners sought to disguise its nature as a social science by applying complex mathematics where common sense and direct experimentation would have yielded far better results.
The outcome has been an embarrassing divorce between economic theory and its subjects. The economic actor is assumed to be constantly engaged in the rational pursuit of self interest. This is not a realistic model - merely a useful approximation. According to this latter day - rational - version of the dismal science, people refrain from repeating their mistakes systematically. They seek to optimize their preferences. Altruism can be such a preference, as well.
Still, many people are non-rational or only nearly rational in certain situations. And the definition of "self-interest" as the pursuit of the fulfillment of preferences is a tautology.
The theory fails to predict important phenomena such as "strong reciprocity" - the propensity to "irrationally" sacrifice resources to reward forthcoming collaborators and punish free-riders. It even fails to account for simpler forms of apparent selflessness, such as reciprocal altruism (motivated by hopes of reciprocal benevolent treatment in the future).
Even the authoritative and mainstream 1995 "Handbook of Experimental Economics", by John Hagel and Alvin Roth (eds.) admits that people do not behave in accordance with the predictions of basic economic theories, such as the standard theory of utility and the theory of general equilibrium. Irritatingly for economists, people change their preferences mysteriously and irrationally. This is called "preference reversals".
Moreover, people's preferences, as evidenced by their choices and decisions in carefully controlled experiments, are inconsistent. They tend to lose control of their actions or procrastinate because they place greater importance (i.e., greater "weight") on the present and the near future than on the far future. This makes most people both irrational and unpredictable.
Either one cannot design an experiment to rigorously and validly test theorems and conjectures in economics - or something is very flawed with the intellectual pillars and models of this field.
Neo-classical economics has failed on several fronts simultaneously. This multiple failure led to despair and the re-examination of basic precepts and tenets.
Consider this sample of outstanding issues:
Unlike other economic actors and agents, governments are accorded a special status and receive special treatment in economic theory. Government is alternately cast as a saint, seeking to selflessly maximize social welfare - or as the villain, seeking to perpetuate and increase its power ruthlessly, as per public choice theories.
Both views are caricatures of reality. Governments indeed seek to perpetuate their clout and increase it - but they do so mostly in order to redistribute income and rarely for self-enrichment.
Economics also failed until recently to account for the role of innovation in growth and development. The discipline often ignored the specific nature of knowledge industries (where returns increase rather than diminish and network effects prevail). Thus, current economic thinking is woefully inadequate to deal with information monopolies (such as Microsoft), path dependence, and pervasive externalities.