Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The "Internet Austrians": a Blog Review

One of both Evan and my interests is intellectual history, and I am specifically interested in the history of economic thought. As the spate of recent posts demonstrates, one of my particular fascinations is the Austrian school of economics. The Austrian school interests me because its very insularity has allowed for the growth of some very original thinking - a lot good in my opinion, and a lot bad. It is also very libertarian in character, and so it is well within the classical liberal tradition. Of course, this makes it a bit of an ally for me. But again, there's a contrast: I find that Austrian school thinking in a lot of ways threatens the prospect of self-government, which in my view is inextricably linked to the preservation of liberty (the most extreme example is Hans-Hermann Hoppe's political framework). So for me, the Austrian school is a study in contrasts. One feature of Austrian economists is that they are very active on the Internet. In an exchange I had with a Wikipedia editor, he called them "the Internet Austrians," and remarked on the somewhat frustrating task of ensuring that they don't completely dominate the economics entries in the online encyclopedia! Go to any Wikipedia entry on economics - you're bound to find an "Austrian position on X" appended to it, and they're usually quite thorough. Another outlet for Austrians has of course been blogs.

For a while, I've been wanting to write a post reviewing the Austrian blogs out there to help direct uninitiated readers to relevant bloggers, and perhaps to solicit reactions from readers who are familiar with these blogs that may be different from my reaction. Recently, I've had cause to write such a review post: I am taking Cafe Hayek, an Austrian blog I've followed for quite a while, off my blog roll. A string of posts has made me realize it's really not worth checking up on - and the best way to abstain is just to not get updates from them. When two professional economists, in one week, completely miscommunicate the concept of externalities, inflation, and stimulus/fiscal policy, I start to wonder why I even read it. The inflation post was especially disappointing - the author didn't even seem to be aware of elements of inflation that are explained in Concise Encyclopedia of Economics's entry on it - and this encyclopedia is maintained by his colleagues! Cafe Hayek does offer two things that might interest readers: politics-heavy posting with a strong libertarian emphasis, and a very active comment section. But a warning on both; the political posting is very light on actual economics (which is part of the reason I'm realizing I'm wasting my time). For example, in the recent stimulus post there's no attempt to explain the argument for stimulus or even provide an analytic counter-argument to stimulus. Instead, the author calls it "magic", dismisses it, and moves on. There's little substance. My caution on the comment section is that it's very hostile. Again, it's hard to carry on a substantive discussion because if you're out of their mainstream your thoughts are only occasionally engaged (and there are some very good commenters on there - don't get me wrong) - more often they're caricatured and dismissed with a lot of name-calling.

So that's a long review of what I've concluded is not a very constructive Austrian school blog. Now I want to run through some better ones.

Coordination Problem: It's really unfortunate that I discovered Coordination Problem so late. This is an excellent blog. Occasionally there are some ideological posts, but the vast majority of it is very substantive economics. And it's heavy-duty Austrian economics as well. We all know that governments can't plan economies and freedom is good. That's often as far as Cafe Hayek goes. Coordination Problem moves beyond these superficial insights and gets into Austrian epistemology, Austrian capital theory, and a lot of interesting material (namely, the stuff that makes Austrian economics unique - opposition to planning, the Austrian perspective on knowledge, the market as a discovery mechanism, etc. aren't really unique to the Austrian school, although they're certainly an integral part of it). When its authors dispute Keynes you get the impression that they really understand Keynes, which is refreshing. The comment section is also great. Much less hostile, and another thing I've noticed is that a lot of big-name economists comment on their blog, which is great. And when the authors comment it's to really engage the commenters. Hats off to Peter Boettke, Steve Horwitz, and everyone else at Coordination Problem.

Econlog: Econlog is run by several economists associated with George Mason. It's also very good. I'll step on a few toes and say that I very much enjoy reading Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan, but I don't really prefer David Henderson. Henderson's posts can be more in the Cafe Hayek-style of over-simplifying his opponents and veering into political ideology heavy posts. Some readers may like that, it's just not what I prefer. Arnold Kling's "recalculation story" for recessions that he often shares is very interesting and important. I think he oversells it, but it's definitely a contributor to how I think about the business cycle. Bryan Caplan reminds me of the "Freakonomics" mentality in economics - he gets into a lot of interesting issues that aren't necessarily in economics proper. Some people call that disciplinary imperialism - I call it good reading. The comment section here is at a mid-point between Cafe Hayek and Coordination Problem. Medium-hostile and medium-substantive. Although I think some people might resent me saying this, the Mises Institute is really the mothership of American Austrian economics. There are major Mises-Hayek and Mises-Rothbard rifts for some people, which is why I say some people might resent that. But all in all, the site is full of lots of good material. If you're interested in internicene disputes within the Austrian school (I'm generally not), this is a good blog for that. Comment section isn't that hostile. One concern I always have about the Mises posts is that they definitely fall into this trap of caricaturing positions they disagree with. It's hard to get anything out of that. I'm a Keynesian. How am I supposed to take a post seriously when it's refuting a dumbed down version of Keynes that I feel I have no relation to? I can't. So that can be an obstacle to really getting anything out of these posts. But the introspective posts can be interesting.

Economic Thought: I definitely recommend this blog, but it does have some bugs. It regularly fails at this problem of caricaturing alternative positions. It also comes across as being obsessed with countering every word that comes out of Paul Krugman's mouth (and again, usually by changing what he said). Nevertheless, I recommend it because like the Mises blog, it has some really good insights on the Austrian school itself. It's also written by some very well read, articulate, and energetic students out in California - and as a young, aspiring scholar myself I respect that. The comment section is a little sparse, but that's the curse of small blog that we understand well here at Facts and Other Stubborn Things. That's a reason to go read it and leave a comment - not to ignore it!

Monetary Freedom: Mostly monetary and macro Austrian blogging. Posting is occasional. I have to say I haven't been truly drawn into his posts, but I've enjoyed many of them. I'm not particularly familiar with this one.

ThinkMarkets: I think this needs to replace Cafe Hayek on my blogroll. Up until now I really haven't followed Mario Rizzo, but I have found my way to this blog on several occasions because people have linked to him, and I've been very impressed. Mario reminds me of the authors at Coordination Problem, insofar as he has an excellent command of Austrian theory and he writes substantive economics posts - not political ideology. He doesn't do the Road to Serfdom Lite kind of posts that you can get on Cafe Hayek or from David Henderson at Econlog. Rizzo is a meat-and-potatoes Austrian. He also doesn't caricature Keynes. In fact, I often feel like he has a better grasp of Keynes than many Keynesians do. He occasionally falls into this "if you're not an Austrian you don't like free markets" hooey, but nobody's perfect. I can't comment on his comment section - as I said, I don't really follow this one closely but I think that's going to have to change.

Not-really-Austrian/More Libertarian Blogs

Money Illusion: Not really an Austrian blog, but a lot of Austrians think well of Scott Sumner, as do I. He offers a very unique perspective on monetary policy. He has me half-convinced. His posts are always epic - I rarely get a chance to read the whole thing.

Megan McArdle: Another not-technically-Austrian. She's libertarian. She's always an excellent read. she's well thought of among many Austrians.

Others worth checking out

I don't know why, but I still don't follow Tyler Cowen. A lot of people rave about him - I really need to follow him. The Independent Institute might have a blog - they occasionally have interesting articles. I think The Freeman might have a blog. Will Wilkinson has a libertarian blog that's more politically focused (which is mostly why I haven't followed him). Cato has a blog that I don't follow. Reason has a blog I don't follow but that I've heard good things about. These all may be worth checking out if your interests lie on the libertarian side of things and not the substantive Austrian economics side of things (with the exception of Cowen, who definitely does substantive economics... although I'm not sure if he's technically an Austrian).


  1. Two things -
    First, I want to stress that I used to like Cafe Hayek a lot. It used to be a lot more like Econlog. I think it's gone downhill since Obama took office, though. It really hasn't engaged the macroeconomic questions with the rigor that Econlog has, and it's increasingly emerged as a very political/ideological blog. Just not my style - but the transition has been somewhat recent, and perhaps some readers like that. For the most part, the authors are perfectly nice people - it's just not the kind of blog I like to follow.

    Also - I forgot to mention Greg Ransom's "Taking Hayek Seriously" blog. It's another one that I don't follow regularly, but that I've been directed to occasionally and have always been impressed with when I visit.

  2. Have a look at Organizations and Markets run by Peter Klein and others.

    It leans in a libertarian/classical liberal direction but not in a distracting way and there is bit of humour (a nice change of pace).

  3. Great - thank you Rafe. I hadn't heard of them before. I'll check it out.

    I didn't make a general call at the end of this post, but if people have other suggestions (or their own blogs) please share!

  4. Thanks Daniel. All of us at CP appreciate the kind words. We've certainly attempted to make the blog be more or less the kind of place you've said it actually is, so your comments are particularly appreciated.

  5. Daniel, you're posting comments at Cafe Hayek!

  6. That post that I was commenting on was the straw that broke the camel's back - so I figured I'd see it through to the end :)

    I'm not saying I won't check up on it and even comment on it every once in a while. But I've just determined definitively that it's not worth following closely with my google reader anymore.

    I try not to be dogmatic about much of anything in my life... I think this will probably be the same. You may very well see me there again - just not anywhere near as often.


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.