Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More arguing with Austrians

Josh Barro has a great post up at Bloomberg reflecting on the onslaught. It does a nice job highlighting some of the same things that Krugman has run up against, I think.

What's funny is that a priorism (Barro) and opposition to fractional reserve banking (Krugman) are views that are passionately held by a lot of Austrians. Instead of acknowledging this and saying "but there's actually a diversity of opinions on both of these issues among Austrians", they get brow-beaten for it. That's no way to promote your views, particularly when both Barro and Krugman have accurately represented an important part of the Austrian school.

There is this weird tension where because of the heated divisions within the Austrian school, outsiders who make an honest attempt to grapple with it get treated like pariahs. Selgin is one of the few who reacted this more constructive way - saying essentially that he agrees opposition to fractional reserve banking is wrong, and that actually a lot of Austrians agree too.

Barro invokes the alleged empirical failure of The Road to Serfdom, and this is another minefield when talking about Austrians. Is it just about totalitarian socialism or is it a slippery slope argument about mixed economies or what? If you say it's just about totalitarian socialism you are guaranteed to get a contingent telling you you have no idea what you're talking about. If you say it's a criticism of mixed economies you are guaranteed to get a contingent telling you you have no idea what you're talking about (see Greg Ransom). You know how I react to that? It makes me never want to talk about The Road to Serfdom! This isn't like the arguments about excavating "what Keynes really meant" by differentiating Keynes himself from the years of theoretical synthesizing of his ideas, where one side gives a late twentieth century textbook boilerplate Keynes and the other gives a historical Keynes. That's not what we're really dealing with. These are people who disagree strongly about what the historical Hayek actually said, and will call you dishonest or poorly read if you don't agree with them.

Not sure where I'm going with this. It's messy business.


  1. Barro's post is ridiculous Daniel and that you think it's terrific says more about you than him.

    1. OK - once again the link on this name suggests this is probably not Steve Horwitz, people.

      I'd delete it but I don't want a bunch of even more irate posts after I shut down for the evening.

      Barro has been presenting some simplistic characterizations of Austrians, but they do accurately describe a lot of Austrians (and he does the courtesy of clarifying who he was thinking of). The right response to that is George Selgin's: calm clarification of the diversity of opinion. The wrong response is biting his (or Krugman's) head off over it. They didn't just make up the idea that Austrians are a prioristic or Austrians oppose FRB, after all.

    2. According to Steve's FB page, that's definitely him. The Road to Serfdom is a book on philosophy and history. So when people present themselves as being familiar with Austrian Economics and cite a non-economics book as their example of where they learned Austrian Economics, people like Steve, who have spent their life teaching and writing actual (Austrian) economics, get a bit upset.

    3. Is that commenter him, though? Why does it direct you to another guy's website?

      I just saw his FB page. "Gasoline pourer"? I don't know what that guy's problem is lately - he's been a real jerk to me on a consistent basis.

      The point is Josh Barro is not just making things up off the top of his head. As much as Steve hates to admit it, a priorism is an important part of Austrian economics for a lot of Austrians. Likewise, opposition to fractional reserve banking is an important part of Austrian economics for a lot of Austrians. For those Austrians who disagree, they should recognize that Barro and Krugman are not arguing in bad faith - they've just (perhaps unwittingly) inserted themselves into some touchy arguments between different Austrians.

  2. Heh actually Daniel that sounds like Steve to me. :)

    Look I will grant you that Austrians and Ron Paul defenders don't like to give an inch, and we are so used to people truly not knowing what our position even is, that's it's easy to fall into that response ("If you had just read Mises for once you would know...").

    But c'mon Daniel, this Barro piece is dripping with derision. You are acting like Barro said, "Hey everybody, I'm just trying to understand what these Austrians mean by 'praxeology,' and it seems to me--" and then Horwitz bit off his head. No, that's not at all what happened. This piece is full of outright contempt for the Austrians.

    Again, I'm not saying the non-Austrians have a monopoly on mudslinging, but you can't link to DeLong taking the first 20% of his post talking about people hating Jews and then Barro saying how Austrian "econ" isn't even econ but is philosophy dressed up as econ, and then wonder why Austrians get defensive in their responses. When you attack people, calling them anti-Semitic and non-economists, they get defensive. Austrians aren't weird because of that.

  3. I just read Barro a second time. I think it's fine. Can you name a particularly problematic line? The dressed up philosophy line seems to describe strict a priorists OK. And the answer is they aren't all strict a priorist but it's quite clear how he could emphasize that.

    Is that the worst of it?


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