Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The best piece I've read on Keynes in a while

Deirdre McCloskey, Keynes was a Sophist, and a Good Thing Too.

One critique I have is that McCloskey doesn't seem to allow for the prospect of Sophist mathematical theory or a Sophist econometrics - scientific theoretical and empirical work that understands the contingency of human knowledge and that understands that science is a search for useful knowledge rather than "truth". I think she presents Keynes well - he shares her skepticism. But I still think it's a mistake.


  1. Daniel, have you read prof. McCloskey's new book Bourgeois Dignity?

    Boudreaux has been blowing his horn for it pretty hard at Cafe' Hayek, but I mostly don't care for his blog posts, so I wrote off McCloskey. This essay was pretty interesting, though, so probably I was too hasty.

    From reviews, it seems like yet another take on the industrial revolution and the escape from the Malthusian trap, perhaps comparable to Guns Germs and Steel or A Farewell to Alms, and I'm sure many other books touting "the" reason that the past 300 years have been so different from the previous 3,000.

    I've been thinking about these (big) questions as compared to certain (small) fringe history questions: Shakespeare authorship question,(don't laugh) etc. At the moment I'm a bit upset that so many hypotheses seem plausible. That's partly due to my unavoidable (relative) ignorance. But only partly.

    The big problem is confirmation bias; it influences both whom I read, and what they write; once a coherent thesis is formed, it biases both authors and readers to read and write confirmatory content. I'm sure this is no surprise to you or your erudite readers(Sandre excepted), but to myself, It is profoundly disturbing.

    I can only liken it to one experience: the Glass House. This carnival attraction is touted by a Hobo Clown sitting on an enormous stool(like a barstool, not a turd, Sandre)...

    "You'll never get out of the Glass House, the Glass House, the Glass House..." says the Hobo... to a five year old it seems like an adventure.

    The Glass House is a very simple maze, but once inside, you cannot see the walls; they are made of glass. You are left with your own rules of maze traversal and your sense of touch.

  2. Boudreaux does indeed like McCloskey, and McCloskey is a fan of GMU.

    I think McCloskey offers somewhat broader appeal than that, though. It's like Smith or Hayek - they are quite popular at GMU too, but one need not buy into Masonomics hook, line, and sinker to genuinely appreciate Smith and Hayek.

    There are a few arguments which I think McCloskey overstates - I alluded to this in the post. But generally speaking I think she's a superb economist - and even more than that a superb social theorist.


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