Thomas Kuhn liked to remind his readers that Newton didn't have much to say about gravity.
That sounds odd to most people, but if you know the argument it makes more sense. What Kuhn meant was that for Newton gravity may have been very important but it was just assumed. There was no great effort expended on figuring out why it was the way it was and where it came from, etc. Although the idea of incommensurate scientific paradigms had to do with many things, this fundamental point that different paradigms sought to explain different pieces of the puzzle was an important one.
Einstein wanted to explain gravity and that was a major element of what separated Newtonian from post-Newtonian physics.
I think it's instructive to think about Kirzner's work on the market process in these terms. Economists aren't dunces. They know there is a market process operating in the world. But they're like Newton in that they don't have much to say about it. Kirzner has a lot to say about it and doesn't care very much for everything the mainstream has to say about equilibrium models, despite the fact that many reasonable people insist that you can get a lot of important mileage out of those models! It doesn't matter. Kirzner says a fundamental point is being neglected.
In prior posts I confessed skepticism about the importance of Kirzner's departure from the mainstream. However, if I'm right here that the market process is analogous to gravity it means that Kirzner is far more significant insofar as he might represent a new paradigm for thinking about the economy rather than simply a scholar interested in a side-point that most people acknowledge but don't think is worth delving into in any detail.
It's certainly worth a thought.
So if the mainstream is Newton, Kirzner is Einstein, and the market process is gravity that bodes really well for the modern Austrian school, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The first problem is that you need more for a paradigm shift than just focusing on something that other people don't focus on. It needs to be something which, when attention is turned to it, you are able to explain paradoxes that the existing paradigm struggles with. Does market process work fit the bill? Ehhh... I'm not so sure. Nothing obvious springs to mind. Certainly none of the things that really puzzle mainstream economists seem to be suddenly solved by market process theory. I'm happy to hear candidates in the comments, but let's be very specific please. Of course the market process undergird all market activity but grandiose talk like that doesn't answer how it address specific scientific puzzles.
The second problem, of course, is that assigning the mainstream to Newton and Kirzner to Einstein is not the only option available. Kuhn talks about how Descartes and others with a mechanical theory of gravity offered (like Einstein but unlike Newton) an explanation of gravity rather than just responding to the problem with hand-waving. And we all know what happened to the Cartesian theory of gravity: nothing.
So is Kirzner a Descartes (or worse, a post-Newtonian Cartesian!) or is he an Einstein?
Introduction to Algorithms, Lecture Three
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