For some reason the other day I was thinking of intellectual influences, and how the things I think about and the way I think are to a large extent a synthesis of prior thinkers (hopefully with some measure of added value). It’s interesting to think through who (1.) you really would be a different sort of thinker without, and (2.) those more minor figures who have nevertheless powerfully shaped the way you think. I’ve listed mine below, particularly mentioning the way in which they’ve influenced me. Specifically I have a “liberal” tagline next to them, which indicates that they’ve strongly influenced the way I think about and associate myself with the liberal tradition. Some – like Richard Freeman or Harry Holzer – I know professionally as economists, but they have also influenced the way I think about liberal ideals and I thought it was worth noting who I thought of in that way. Two names I considered adding but decided not to are Lovecraft and Friedman. The former was easy to exclude – I’ve eagerly plowed through several volumes of his letters and have appreciated getting to know him as a thinker, but he hasn’t influenced me at all – it’s just been intriguing to get to know him. Friedman was a tougher call, but the more I think about it the more I think I really haven’t been influenced all that much by him. One thing that surprised me in thinking this through - several of these are personal influences, but people who have nevertheless influenced me substantially intellectually. I'm not sure it belongs on this list per se, but the bloggers who have really added substantial value to my thought - really made me grow in my thought, simply through the blogosphere (no mean feat) - have been Brad DeLong, Gene Callahan, "stickman", Lee Kelly, Mario Rizzo, and Nick Rowe. It's also worth noting that my brother Evan is probably the most entrenched, most articulate, most insightful sounding-board I have at my disposal. A lot of our conversations are off the blog, so that may not be apparent to people, but if any of these "minor influences" deserves to move up to the majors it's probably him. I won't indulge you by apologizing for anyone that I've forgotten. It is what it is.
Who influences the way you think - broadly speaking (not just on the specific questions that interest you)? Who molds the way you consider the world? I think when you start to consider the question, you'll be amazed at how long the list is.
Major influence (I would be a substantively different thinker without them)
John Maynard Keynes (economist, liberal, statesman)
Thomas Jefferson (liberal, statesman)
Richard Rorty (philosopher, liberal)
Paul Krugman (economist, liberal)
Minor influence (but not trivial by any means)
Thomas Kuhn (philosopher)
J.R. Hicks (economist)
F.A. Hayek (economist, liberal)
Richard Freeman (economist, liberal)
Joseph Stiglitz (economist, liberal)
James Madison (liberal, statesman)
Ronald Coase (economist)
Oliver Williamson (economist)
Adam Smith (economist, liberal)
A.C. Pigou (economist)
Robert Reischauer (economist, liberal, statesman)
Christopher Hitchens (liberal, journalist)
Bertrand Russell (philosopher, liberal)
Harry Holzer (economist, liberal)
Thomas Paine (liberal)
H. Vernon Eney (lawyer, liberal)
Michel Foucault (philosopher)
UPDATE: An interesting realization - no women on the list. It doesn't particularly bother me, just interesting. And I'm not sure - having thought about it - what woman I could add that would be genuine and not just at throw-away name. The closest would be Deirdre McCloskey, but I'm not sure it's close enough. From what I know I feel like Lin Ostrom is someone I would have a ton of common ground with, I've just never really read her or worked with her thoughts on things, so it would be odd to add her. Martha Nussbaum, like Ostrom, I feel like probably has the potential to teach me a lot I just haven't gotten around to giving her a chance! Joan Robinson isn't really my cup of tea.
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