Sunday, January 1, 2012

Roads to the Austrian School

Austrians and libertarians like to talk about their personal journeys a lot, often because they think of their views as unique and non-traditional to an extent that begs the question "how did you come around to thinking that". Jonathan Catalan has a nice review of his personal journey to the Austrian school here. I don't always agree with that characterization. I think anyone who really takes the time to think about what it is they think is going to end up having some unique views that originated in an interesting way, and there's nothing especially unique about libertarianism or Austrianism in that regard. For me, my libertarianism early in my college career was a pretty "go with the flow" product of being somewhat conservative in high school and then figuring that conservatism plus the standard recreational college activities and attitudes equaled something like libertarianism. That was the natural progression for conservatives - it wasn't particularly hard for me to be a libertarian. Just like in college I don't think it's hard to be leftist. If you came out of high school as a garden variety liberal, and then read a little Marx and discovered the same standard recreational college activities, you kind of naturally fall into being a leftist for a little while the same way conservatives naturally fall into being libertarians.

Personally - my views only got interesting when I stopped going with the flow and really thought about what I thought. Now I'm a much more interesting muddle of American classical liberalism, Keynesianism, Pragmatism, and neoliberalism.

Yesterday I finished my application for an IHS fellowship, and part of the application required reflection on our intellectual beliefs and how they developed.

In writing that up, I realized something interesting: I was a Hayekian before I was a Keynesian (Keynes comes out more, but I still consider myself a Hayekian). Kind of neat, huh? My introduction to the Austrian school came in the summer of 2005, when I participated in a week-long workshop on experimental economics at George Mason University. That was when I first got introduced to Hayek, and (aside from a few really bad claims of his around "scientism") I've found Hayek very compelling ever since. Other students at the workshop talked about Mises and Rothbard. I remember not being particularly interested in that stuff at the time (these students struck me as more interested in exegesis of Mises than actual ideas... a tendancy I would come to notice often). But Hayek seemed to get how markets worked. I definitely benefited from learning Hayek through Vernon Smith, who closely linked Hayek to Adam Smith. I had just finished reading Adam Smith extensively in my history of thought class, so I was particularly receptive to that framing of Hayek (plus, it's hard not to be receptive to Vernon Smith's framing of anything).

That was all in the summer of 2005. In the fall of 2006, after graduating, I first came across Keynes. I knew of Keynes before, of course. We worked with Keynesian crosses in macro, but as an undergrad I didn't like macro very much. I was interested in labor, econometrics, and industrial organization - straight micro stuff. So I didn't really know Keynes, and I remember being confused by him when we covered him in my history of thought class. But in the fall of 2006, for some reason I decided to read the General Theory, and I've been pretty attached to Keynes ever since.

But it was interesting to remember, thinking back for the application, (1.) what a determined libertarian I once was, (2.) how important that GMU workshop was for me, and (3.) that I actually had a decent grasp of the Austrian school over a year before I had a decent grasp of Keynes (of course in the case of both Keynes and Austrianism you always continue learning - but I feel like had a good grasp of the basic points in the summer of 2005 and the fall of 2006, respectively).


  1. "Austrians and libertarians like to talk about their personal journeys a lot..."

    So does everyone else. Everyone is prone to self-love.

    "...often because they think of their views as unique and non-traditional..."

    Well, libertarians are often treated that way (along with the vocal loathing and stuff) so thinking of yourself as "unique" comes with that territory.

  2. IHS? Think your conflicts with Russ and Don will be a problem?


  3. I hope not IB. I discussed what I think could be some very important research work on the market for scientists and engineers, and I think almost most people associated with IHS would agree with my read of the literature to date and my own work to date on it.

    I think I've been critical of Don and Russ, but quite fair and always willing to supply complete arguments. I think a lot of the review booard that knows me would agree on that.


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