"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK
UPDATE: Take a look at Bob's comments. I think I've stated everywhere I mention this that Bob Murphy is not a problematically strict a priorist and while I think Graeber's critique of a priorism is dead on (which is why I originally linked it), his critique of Bob isn't. He uses evidence all the time, and he seems to me to have a very well calibrated balance between theory and data. Just to make that perfectly clear. As for the Graeber book itself - I haven't read it, and haven't thought much about the origin of money. I really don't have a dog in that fight. That I think Graeber made a good point about a priorism should not be confused with me thinking he's made a good point about (1.) Bob Murphy, or (2.) the origin of money. I'm agnostic on the latter, and I disagree with Graeber on the former.
- Gene corrects me on empiricism. Gene thinks a lot about this stuff from a more philosophical perspective. I've said in the past here that I don't think there's much use for epistemology - my approach to these questions is more practical. I'm an "empiricist" because of the value that I place on evidence, not because I reject rational arguments. Indeed, a lot of the stuff I talk about on here (like multipliers) isn't amenable to a clear empirical picture, and what you're forced to do is take all the scraps of evidence and just decide what coherent argument makes the most sense given those scraps of evidence (and then you still have to be cognizant of the fact that other things might be going on too - you haven't come up with a totalizing theory). That got me thinking, though, about ideal types of rationalists and empiricists. It's hard for me to imagine an empiricist that doesn't rely on rationalism at all. It's pretty clear that you need rationalism to organize your observation (which is why I treated that as implicit). It's also hard for me to imagine a strict rationalist, but at least in terms of scientific pursuits I think you're more likely to come across a strict rationalist than a strict empiricist (obviously in daily life a strict rationalist would be non-sensical - we all utilize sense data all the time). The ones that come closest in economics happen to cluster around Auburn, Alabama and perhaps Las Vegas, Nevada. And my main point on the irresponsibility of that disposition remains (and on that, I think, Gene would agree with me). Again, I'd like to restate that the irony of this all is that Bob Murphy is pretty good at whipping out (and accepting the discipline of) data. In fact it's amazing that that tendancy of his hasn't raised more eyebrows in Auburn. I think the reason it hasn't is that everyone - even there - intuitively knows how ridiculous a priorism is.
- Will Wilkinson has a good discussion here of how hard it is to nail down definitions for words like "liberty" and how ultimately we just make up definitions that suit us. I think this is basically right, but I think it's likely he has the causality reversed. He suggests we have a sense of what institutional arrangements we prefer, and then we develop understandings of "liberty" and "equality" that match that. That seems odd to me. Concepts like liberty and equality are appreciated and latched on to much earlier than a deep sense of institutional allegiance, so I would have thought that we develop our understandings of what it means to be "free" or "equal" early on, and that these are very amorphous words that can carry a lot of different implications, and that our politics can grow out of that later. Either way - it's precisely the indeterminancy of these words that makes Jan Helfeld's whole project look so ridiculous to interviewees and people that aren't already libertarian, and so compelling to people that are libertarian.*
- What do readers think of James Buchanan more generally? When I was in college, we read stuff of his on constitutions, and it made a big impact on me - I liked him a lot. Lately Don Boudreaux has been posting a lot of Buchanan on Keynes (here and here) that strike me as being deeply ignorant. Not just in the "I'm not a Keynesian so I'm going to make a critical comment" sense that I may disagree with, but which a reasonable person can say is informed. I have to say - the last several passages Don has put up have lead me to severely discount a guy that I used to have a ton of respect for. Granted - the passages have very little substance and the actual work he did to advance economics (the public choice theory work) is still is as good as it ever was. But it has been surprising to read. Does anyone have thoughts on Buchanan's relationship with Keynes? Maybe it just says something about the times in which he was writing - I don't know. We all have a tendancy to get swept around by the political winds.
*I debated Jan for over two hours last spring - the audio has yet to go up. He just went around in circles and didn't get anywhere, and the reason was that I did what all his other interviewees didn't think to do - I told him his definitions were fair enough as a first cut but I thought they were missing a lot and I wouldn't accept derivations from those definitions. That's ultimately why other interviewees balk at him. They just don't think to challenge him early on in the interview because on the face of it what he says sound OK. He seemed very bothered that I wouldn't play his game and that I offered counter-definitions that we could work from. At the end of the interview he told me that my mind was "poisoned" by "post-Kantianism" and that he felt sorry for me. I literally laughed out loud when he said that.