Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why does it seem like Auburn-affiliated Austrians take offense at everything?

I swear, sometimes it feels like Bob Murphy is the only one of them you can hold a conversation with for any appreciable duration of time without him thinking you're attacking him.

Peter Klein now thinks that "someone as, um, accomplished as Daniel Kuehn" is questioning his academic qualifications.

No Peter, I'm not. I follow your blog - you post great stuff. You're clearly highly qualified, intelligent, and well published. I never said anything to the contrary. That goes for everyone else I listed too. Perhaps I should just issue this challenge to Danny Sanchez or anyone else: do you know of any other congressman dealing with economic policy of any variety that is so closely affiliated with one small fraction of one small school of thought and who fills as high a percentage of their hearings with representatives of that faction of that school of thought - representatives who largely work in other fields and who are not internationally known otherwise (preemptive note: the fact that someone isn't internationally known does not mean I'm saying they're not qualified)?

Give me another example. If you can't, then I don't see how you can dispute my point.

Now, do you think that sort of thing - if practiced more widely - would lead to a well informed Congress?

I don't.

I'm glad, when the Democrats controlled Congress, we didn't just get scholars affiliated with the Levy Institute at Bard College. I think some of that work is interesting and informative just like I think some of the work from Mises Institute scholars is interesting and informative. But I'm glad that's not how hearings were composed previously.


  1. I have to agree with Daniel Sanchez, though — none of this suggests that these Austrian economists are in friendly ("Shire") territory. It just means that they have an inside connect. But, that Ron Paul is Austrian-friendly doesn't mean that now Congress or the panel are too.

    And, well, Klein's point is that credentials regarding work on monetary theory aren't necessarily relevant, since the topics of the talk are pretty broad (although, I agree with you that inviting someone like DiLorenzo is pretty bizarre — it's difficult to consider him an important economist even with the narrower circle of what you call Auburn Austrians).

    Nevertheless, I do think that some people overreacted and took your comments personally, when they shouldn't have (and I'm not talking about Klein).

    1. I don't understand this point now or when Danny said it.

      Do you just mean that not everybody in Washington is as enamored with Austrians as Ron Paul is? Well obviously. I never said otherwise. That's true of any group of people. Maybe I should have said "Capitol Hill" rather than "Washington", but that's about as far as I'll go. If you were to ask "what school of thought, right now, gets the coziest reception in Congressional discussions of monetary policy", the answer is unambiguously LvMI Austrians.

      Anyway I still think the point is pretty obvious. I don't think most hearings run like this (mainly because most representatives don't have such stark opinions on economic theory - despite never working in the discipline - as Rep. Paul), but if they did I think it would be a bad thing for the country.

    2. It depends on which school of economics is embraced by the legislators in question, and which school is most broadly right. If Austrian economics is right, and if most hearings were organized by legislators who embrace it, then of course it would be a good thing for the country.

  2. Dan,

    When you write things like this:

    "Congressional discussions of monetary policy are very, very friendly to the Austrian school."

    Without explicitly mentioning in the sentence that this only relates right now to current Austrians (for a contemporary monetary policy committee), it looks a little misleading. Does Ron Paul favor LvMI austrians right now? Yes. But is this a case of Ron Paul inviting speakers who, despite strong knowledge of economics, would not normally be able to attend, or him only selfishly playing favorites? Have the best mainstream economists been favored with top publications, policy jobs, academic positions, congressional testimonies etc, in the past 50 years because they do good work?

    The answer obviously depends on if you think Austrians/Neoclassicalists do good economics. It depends on if you think the above mainstream economists get published in the top journals because they are good Neoclassical economists or good economists.

    To go back to the Circle Bastiat, you said that Hayek wrote in mainstream journals. However, the requirements for those journals have changed (again, in the Austrian opinion, for the worse, due to the overbearing emphasis on mathematical models). I highly doubt that what Hayek wrote, or even what some of the top economists wrote in the 30s-50s would be publishable in top articles nowadays. And if the requirements for getting published force the writer to change the substance of the article, whats the point?

    I don't think any Austrian ever attended Bretton Woods. Nor did any work for the Federal Reserve. Or serve as senior faculty on the Council of Economic advisors. Were there any Austrians that testified in Congressional meetings during TARP? Stimulus package? Those were some big events that the widespread population cared a little more about.

    1. Hayek didn't stop publishing in the 50s, Patch - although he moved away from a lot of the formal economics by that point. I think there's a role for non-mathematical economics and there are lots of people that have been successful with it - Coase, Buchanan, McCloskey, and North all come to mind as people that aren't highly mathematical but have great publishing histories.

      That all has an important place. However, I don't want to overstate the case. If you can't get published doing non-mathematical economics in good journals, it may be because your non-mathematical economics is not good economics. Indeed, unless economics is different from every other science that seems like the most sensible explanation of what's going on.

      It need not be this way. Austrian economics doesn't have to be hermetically sealed. Austrian economics doesn't have to be non-mathematized. You could easily mathematize all of that and thereby make it much more rigorous. And there are many Austrians that don't balk at the prospect of breaking the hermetic seal. Unfortunately there's a large subculture that likes the seal, and this subculture has a powerful friend in Washington at the moment.

  3. Ok, in light of what you said, let me ask you: Did Pedro Schwartz question Krugman's qualifications in that video that's been making the rounds?

  4. You can have a discussion with Bob Murphy?

    "Just because an asteroid threatens to destroy all human life, that alone is not sufficient to justify violating people's rights. It is not morally acceptable to engage in theft, if doing so would merely prevent people's deaths from natural causes (i.e., the asteroid strike).... Volokh thinks it is okay to tax people (i.e., steal from them) in order to fund anticrime operations, which thereby prevent even worse rights violations, he allows for the possible justification of taxing to stop the asteroid: specifically, the proponent of this plan would need to demonstrate that failure to do so would result in greater rights violations than the theft of increased taxation (to pay for the asteroid defense). In other words, Volokh is saying that in practice it could be morally acceptable (in his view) for the government to steal money from taxpayers, because the taxpayers would be so relieved once they realize that the government has enough money to blow up the incoming asteroid, that they won't resort to massive looting (i.e., stealing)..."

    1. Just because he says absurd things sometimes doesn't mean he's hard to talk to or hypersensitive the way a lot of the rest of them are.

    2. Yes, it's very easy to have a discussion with Bob Murphy. He may hold very extreme and unorthodox views on morality and economics, but he understands opposing viewpoints and is willing to give them the most charitable reading possible. The same can't be said about Walter Block or Thomas DiLorenzo. Moreover, Bob's aware that his positions are unorthodox and isn't a fervent in-your-face proselytizer about them.

      The next time you want to be confrontational, just come out and say "Bob Murphy is a lunatic who opposes taxes even when they are used to prevent the torture of kittens!". Huge paragraphs are just annoying to read when your point is simple.

    3. And just how many conversations have you had with Walter Block or Thomas DiLorenzo? I ask because I've always found Dr. Block to be very easy to talk to. DiLorenzo, not so much. Then again, I've only talked to him once and it was an awkward exchange.

    4. You raise a good point about the difference between interpersonal interactions and other interactions. Block, DiLorenzo, and others are in all likelihood very nice in person. But they certainly write and speak very differently than Bob does.

    5. Interestingly, I've still never met Dr. Murphy (though, we've had email exchanges). I've had opportunities, but inevitably something always comes up and ruins my plans. I will say that I can understand how some might not "get" him right away, he does have a strange sense of humor and it is almost always in the on position.


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