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Distinctly Austrian vs. Eclectic Economics

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09/11/2012

As I illustrate in this post, Steven Horwitz’s essay The Empirics of Austrian Economics is, as Joseph Salerno put it, “profoundly confused” about Mises’ methodology. George Selgin responded to Horwitz yesterday. While I disagree with Selgin’s criticism of Mises’ methodological positions, at least he doesn’t grossly mischaracterize them, as does Horwitz.

Selgin points out that the work that Horwitz refers to as “modern Austrian” is really more “eclectic” than thoroughgoing in its “Austrianism”.

“For one thing, I note that almost all of the examples he supplies of empirical Austrian economics come from George Mason graduates who, like himself, were heavily influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of the late Don Lavoie. (The one exception—the article on the Fed written by myself, Bill Lastrapes, and Larry White is at most only one-third Austrian.) But just how “Austrian” are these examples? Professor Lavoie was nothing if not eclectic in his approach to economics, and so left his students with an appreciation, for praxeology certainly, but also for hermeneutics and, in his last years especially, economic history, among many other things. It is, I believe, that eclectic approach rather than Austrian economics as expounded by Mises, or even by Hayek, that is reflected in the empirical work to which Steve refers. That of course doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t refer to such work as Austrian economics, or to its authors as Austrian economists. But it does mean that the work may not be representative of broader Austrian-school tendencies.”

Horwitz, who still clings to the mantle of “Austrian” (even as his like-minded colleagues have moved away from the term), ascribes the notion that Austrian Economics is deeply aprioristic to ”various advocates of Austrian economics on blogs and Internet forums,” and claims that these “internet Austrians” misrepresent Mises’ approach to economics.

But Selgin, who actually understands Mises’ approach enough (and recognizes how much it is different from his own) to not call himself an “Austrian”, continues:

“Discerning those broader tendencies requires, for one thing, that one consider the large body of writings by those Austrians who with some justice claim to be the strictest of all adherents to Mises’s methodological views—writings that are by no means confined to Internet forums. This includes work by Israel Kirzner, by Murray Rothbard, and finally by those Austrians whose books are published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute or who publish in its Quarterly Review of Austrian Economics.”

And Selgin is obviously referring to those same scholars, when earlier he refers to those “who have perhaps the best claim to being consistent practitioners of the methods of which Mises approved…”

Dan Sanchez is a libertarian writer and an editor at the Foundation for Economic Education. He is a contributing editor at Antiwar.com, where he writes a regular column, and an independent journalist at Anti-Media. His work has frequently appeared at such websites as Zero Hedge, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, and David Stockman's Contra Corner. His writings are collected at DanSanchez.me.

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