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Thinking Seriously

October 23, 2007

Tags Austrian Economics Overview

In a a blog post, Pete Boettke presents some interesting and innocuous ruminations about paradigm shifts and progress in science and, then, suddenly, after a few paragraphs, makes a startling categorical claim: "Amateur economists, individuals without advanced degrees, or those not teaching in research universities, who spend their time writing in blogs or in journals not listed by SSCI cannot pull off the desired paradigm shift. This is a form of economic discourse, perhaps even an important one, but not one that matters scientifically. . . Only outsiders with a claim to inside legitimacy can move ideas from being outside to those that are now inside." Thus speaketh the Pope of Austrian Economics. As a humble vocational economist on the outside looking in and whose work counts for naught scientifically, I would like to demur from this apodictic and a priori judgment. The empirical evidence seems at best to be mixed on this point. Carl Menger was a mere journalist, amateur economist and an outsider even in the academic backwater that was then Austrian academia, when he published the book that would cause an international revolution in economic theory that ultimately destroyed both the British classical and German historicist paradigms. Likewise Boehm-Bawerk was ensconced in the backwater University of Innsbruck when he wrote the great Mengerian treatise that would catapult him to international fame and forever revolutionize the way economists thought about capital and interest while establishing Austrian economics as perhaps the leading theoretical paradignm before 1914. Contrariwise, the paradigm of the French liberal school, which had enjoyed unchallenged dominance in French economics for three-quarters of a century was overthrown almost overnight when in 1878 the French government began to establish chairs in economics in all Law Faculties in France and staffed them with outsider lawyers and economists sympatheetic to the German Historical school. These examples could easily be multiplied. If one really wishes to think seriously about progress in science, he must abstain from off-the-cuff apriori judgments on blog sites and busy himself with sustained and careful study of the historical evidence. He then may render a considered opinion in an academic article or book. An exemplary model of such an endeavor and a good place to start examining the evidence is Guido Huelsmann's great biography of Mises, The Last Knight.of Liberalism.

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