Saturday, September 15, 2012

One point I disagree with Steve on

He writes: "Though perhaps not that distinct from what Boettke calls the “mainline.” His distinction between “mainstream” economics and “mainline” economics is a helpful one."

I disagree. I actually think pushing this point has been unhelpful and can be very confusing or distortionary to the discussion.

It's not that I don't think it's important to distinguish short term fluctuations from long-term trends in science. Sure, that can be valuable. But "mainline" ends up meaning "people that Peter Boettke likes to cite". If you delve at all into this discussion it doesn't illuminate much. You may ask for clarification about what "mainline" means. A common response is that it means Smithean and Humean economics. OK great! I know lots of modern mainstream economists that take their cue from Smith and recognize mutually beneficial exchange and the profit and loss function of markets as generators of socially beneficial outcome characterized by a division of labor. I am certainly in the Smithian tradition, as are the vast majority of mainstream economists.

But then you find out Boettke doesn't think a lot of mainstream economists are in the Smithian tradition...

And then you realize that what we're really arguing over is whether economists make it on the list of people the Boettke likes to cite...

I've never asked but I wonder if they'd class me in the mainline or not. And then it all starts to look a lot more useless as a piece of terminology than it first appears. Because it clearly doesn't mean "Smithian economics", and it's not clear anymore what it means except "the people who like the list of economists that Boettke likes and are willing to exclude the economists Boettke doesn't".


  1. All true. But Horwitz ignores the existence of a massive intellectual movement that spent the last forty years developing these insights: behavioral economics.[8] If you really want to learn about human’s “beliefs about the world,” the “limits of our knowledge,” or our “ability to optimize,” read Daniel Kahneman’s magnum opus Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman elegantly and carefully explains dozens of major discoveries about how people think. Compared to this fountain of knowledge, Austrian talk about subjectivism is empty generalities.

  2. Comparing Steve Horwitz talking about human behaviour to a behavioural economist is like comparing a man discussing water to a man talking about a place near where he grew up, where there was a well.


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