Wednesday, February 5, 2014

$2 million from Templeton to F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at GMU


My first reaction to it was a feeling of excitement and congratulations. That sort of money can go a long way in a program like this. But it was frustrating and deflated my enthusiasm to see the work of the program described this way in the announcement:
"Boettke, who was profiled in the Wall Street Journal as “the intellectual standard-bearer” for the revival of Hayek’s ideas, continued: “The failures of Keynesian economics to explain the recent economic crisis or to lead a recovery demonstrates the need for an approach that is grounded in the way the world actually works. We think our analytical framework can be that approach.”
Again we have the absurd "battle of the century" mentality. There are smart people at GMU that do interesting work, particularly in this nexus of philosophy, politics, and economics. When I hear something like this, though, I worry about the prospects for good economic science (I'll leave the philosophy and politics to better judges than me) coming out of the effort. If you take the contributions of Keynesianism to economic science to be a "failure", and if you see Hayekian and Keynesian contributions as competing such that in an announcement about the F.A. Hayek Program you have to mention the alleged failures of Keynes I worry about the quality of the output of such a program.

Perhaps this is just Pete Boettke being Pete Boettke. It's the sharp turn in my reaction from excitement for the program to despair at more of this "battle of the century" claptrap as I read through the announcement that made me feel the need to blog about it.

To sum up, it just seems to suggest that we have more stupid food fights to look forward to. Hopefully I'm wrong.


  1. They got the shills that pay the bills.

    Why do you expect anything different from the GMU econ department? They decided a long time ago that their 'comparative advantage' was producing pleb tier rightwing claptrap, and they'll go on doing that until it no longer results in wingnut welfare similar to the linked article. It's as simple as that.

    By this point, you should be well aware of what GMU econ is. For some reason, you go on pretending they have some interest in economics as a science. Maybe this posture increases your effectiveness as a troll, but for 'longtime listeners' like myself, this pretense is wearing thin.

    This edition is only a measly 2 mil, but their gravy train stretches well beyond the horizon. I'm not sure why you bother feigning disappointment at Boettke's statements. He's just doing his job.

    1. This is far too strong, Argosy.

      Everyone knows there are things I don't like about GMU, but they do a lot of good work there. Two Nobel laureates were based their who made important contributions, and the work of both continues at the direction of other faculty members. Public Choice as it is actually practiced I think sometimes veers into polemics rather than science, but that is very different from saying that Public Choice itself isn't an important scientific endeavor. I agree with Noah's recent view that Austrian economics is probably spent, but if I'm wrong on that it's the Austrians at GMU that will provide the new contributions. Other important work on institutions and on non-market allocation in the tradition of Elinor Ostrom is done there, and that is certainly important.

      The concern with GMU, I think, is indeed that sometimes it's hard to tell whether the department is about promoting a political ideology or doing economics. And the Mercatus Center specifically is clearly a politically tainted research institution. But none of these things mean that there isn't also important economic science done at GMU. A statement of the risks posed by the department does not constitute proof that every inch of it is permeated with these problems.

    2. "sometimes it's hard to tell whether the department is about promoting a political ideology or doing economics."

      "Masonomics trusts that the presence of liberty and basic human rights will enable people to create a political-economic system characterized by economic growth, stability and rule-of-law. Economists at Mason are involved in the process of discovering new institutions – including constitutions – provide sufficient flexibility to ensure the efficient workings of markets."

      Hope that clears things up for you. Promoting libertarianish political ideology is Job 1 at GMU.

      I'm sure there are more than a handful of upstanding citizens on the faculty. If I paint with too broad a brush, well, they shouldn't have been standing there anyway.

    3. This is a little vague (it could describe me, for example), but the euphemisms are clear enough.

      And clearly most (all?) of the faculty have these ideological predispositions.

      The point is that if you take someone with an ideology, and an associated interest in something like - say - constitutional economics, you can get good economic science out of that interest in constitutional economics.

      Having a political position, in other words, doesn't preclude good economic science.

      I do find it disconcerting that GMU is so explicitly pushing a political agenda. Every department is going to have a political make-up. It seems different to me to actually put that forward as something like a mission statement. IMO the mission statement of an economics department should be to do good economic science, perhaps with whatever field or school of thought interests of the faculty are notable and relevant. Take AU for example. We've got left-liberals for sure. Not exclusively, but there's a lot. But our faculty and students would find it bizarre to highlight the promotion of a left-liberal as a mission of the department. The department is here to do good economics. We would add that we do a lot of work on Post-Keynesian economics, gender economics, and infometrics work.

      On this I agree.

      But despite these problems, more is produced there than "pleb tier rightwing claptrap"

    4. In fairness Daniel, don't you find the excessive cynicism of the Public Choice School to undermine their scientific arguments?

  2. Argosy: What difference does it make that Boettke is "just doing his job" as you put it? Even if Boettke is knowingly promoting ideas he doesn't believe (I doubt it) the central issue whether or not those ideas are correct. Wait until you run out of evidence before you resort to attacking his motives. Or not, I guess.

    Daniel: What specifically is your objection to Boettke's statements? You call it claptrap and talk about a "mentality" but pejorative language proves nothing and your speculation about Boettke's mind (which you do not have acces to) just highlight you lack of engagement with Boettke's claims (which you do have access to). Does he assert something which you believe is false?

    1. re: "pejorative language proves nothing"

      Then we're agreed!

      I didn't realize I was being so unclear. There are two big concerns. First, if you call Keynesian economics in the wake of the Great Recession a failure the chances that you're doing good economic science are very low. There is room for debate, I think, if you are coming from an alternative aggregate demand perspective, but precisely because I do know and engage in Boettke's claims I know he's not.

      But the second thing that is disappointing is that he promotes a Hayek program not with a discussion of Hayek's ideas but with a criticism of Keynes. He sees Hayek as an anti-Keynes, and that is more of this "battle of the century" approach to the history of economic thought that is unhealthy and that we do not need more of.

  3. Daniel -- I assure you, this is about science and scholarship even when you don't like the conclusions. The only economics that is economics is microeconomics and in particular the economics of relative price adjustments. That isn't as outlier a position in the history of the discipline as you might want to believe. Also, I'd encourage you to read VERY closely F. A. Hayek's Nobel Prize address -- "The Pretense of Knowledge" -- and contemplate the challenge it represents to the entire macroeconomics project of the neo-classical synthesis. It is not a food fight to discus the logical coherence of a position, and its place in the sciences of man.

    Pete Boettke


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