Thursday, June 9, 2011

On intellectual influences

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.


  1. I was reading your list and thinking, "Good thing there are no polemics on Daniel's list." But then I saw Christopher Hitchens. Haha.

    You reckon that as time goes by, your Major Influences list will get more contemporary? I mean two of those people have been dead longer than they have been alive, frankly speaking. Dead people can only give tools for analysis, but it's contemporary people who give good analysis of our times, right?

  2. I was actually more concerned about having someone as contemporary as Krugman and having someone I'm just getting to know like Rorty (with Rorty it's fairer to say that he's expressed and heavily refined things for me that I've been thinking for a very long time).

    I imagine it may get somewhat more contemporary, but I would think an idea would have to sit for a while and really mature to be substantial enough to make a major impact. Plus geniuses like Jefferson and Keynes don't come around all that often. There really can never be a repeat of Jefferson - he's a one of a kind, because it's not just what he thought it's the historical context of those thoughts. I'm tempted to say the same of Keynes.

  3. I'm so doing this.


    FA Hayek
    Ronnie Coase
    Armen Alchian
    Paul Krugman
    James Buchanan
    Sergei Diaghilev
    Adam Smith
    Joseph Alois Schumpeter

    Joe Stiglitz
    George Akerloff
    Gustav Mahler (my eternal loathing)
    Bryan Caplan
    Milton Friedman
    Robert Solow
    Frank Knight
    John Maynard Keynes
    Terry pratchett

    I have more major thinkers than you. If you assign three points to a major thinker and one to a minor, I'm winning.

  4. Buchanan's a good one. He's like Rorty - he reinforced and resaid a lot of stuff I had been thinking before I came across him.

  5. @ Stravinsky

    Terry Pratchett, hehe ;) He is a genius! :)

  6. The Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Economic Injustice is still a paragon in the field for its elegance and explanatory power.

  7. Yep. Absolutely! Spending less sometimes amounts to be more, if you can afford it.

  8. Der MenschenfreundJune 9, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Friedrich Hayek (economist)
    Hartmut Esser (sociologist)
    Friedrich Nietzsche (philosopher)

    Heinz von Foerster (philosopher, cybernetic scientist)
    Ludwig von Mises (economist)
    Bryan Caplan (economist)
    Steven Horwitz (economist)
    Hans Vaihinger (philosopher)
    Max Stirner (philosopher)
    Luis Buñuel (surrealist director)
    Salvador Dalí (surrealist artist)

  9. I'm shocked - shocked! - that mobsrule didn't crack a mention here.

    More seriously, rather flattered to make your list, DK. At the risk of this becoming a bit of a circle jerk... I'd completely endorse your thoughts on the blogosphere's role in developing my own thought. Man, it can be frustrating at times, but the good bits are certainly enough to keep me coming back. Of course, F&OST has been a big part of all that, both for the quality of its original content and the input provided by many of the commentators it attracts. Well done everybody! Give yourselves a good pat down!

    (I am just left feeling slightly embarrassed by my continued use of a pseudonym. I sense that it might be coming to the end of its useful shelf-life...)

  10. A little sad I didn't make the honorable mention for contributing bloggers! At any rate, this is a great idea and I'm definitely replicating it on ET.

  11. Hunter Lewis on Keynes...what do you think about it?

  12. Never read his recent book, and I'm not aware of anything else from Lewis. Is there a particular argument you're interested in my thoughts on that you could summarize? Is there something that distinguishes his reaction from others?

  13. He shredded the General Theory line by line...influenced, in part, by "The Failure of a New Economics". Wrote that Keynes had not even a basic idea of how markets work. The book's format of small snippets and counter-arguments is ideal for blog posts.

  14. "The closest would be Deirdre McCloskey, but I'm not sure it's close enough."

    That's a beautifully constructed sentence, Daniel. In the context, of course.

  15. Paul Krugman?


    Most significant (not in order of importance):

    Orlando Patterson
    Darwin (this is really true of everyone)
    Stephen Cohen
    Michael Adas
    James Scott
    Glen Dealy
    Benedict Anderson
    Clifford Geertz
    Simon Schama (particularly "Landscape and Memory")
    David Brion Davis

    I define this as people who have had a profound effect on the way I think.

  16. Most of mine are historians or anthropologists, not economists.

    Oh, I forgot one of great importance; in a class by himself really (not surprising I forgot - he's "meta" as far as I am concerned): H.D. Thoreau His "Maine Woods" was really the first book I ever connected with; and his political writings are classic 19th century libertarian texts.

  17. Glenn Beck
    Rush Limbaugh
    Gary Francis Powers
    The Mothman
    The Flatwoods Monster
    and.. Gary Gunnels

  18. re: "That's a beautifully constructed sentence, Daniel. In the context, of course."

    Wow - my mind was not there :)

  19. @Anonymous
    Funniest thing I've read today. (Gary, I enjoyed your spirited response as well.)

  20. Much of the entire world thinks differently due to Darwin; in the U.S. there is something of even a generational line when it comes to this - basically the line that divides that Civil War generation (and certainly the generations before and after the Gilded Age).

  21. stickman,

    Well, to be ranked with the Mothman and Francis Gary Powers, I could not be more pleased.

  22. Full disclosure: I had to look up the Flatwoods Monster. Damn I'm ignorant!


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.