Monday, August 30, 2010

Kelly Evans, Again

Last week I told you to keep an eye on WSJ journalist Kelly Evans, after her focus on money supply, in an article. This weekend WSJ published her story on Austrian School economist, Peter Boettke. Evans is clearly a truth seeker. You are going to find few mainstream journalists that are willing, and have the courage, to step outside the very clearly marked borders of what is to be written about in the establishment world. WSJ may have a real reporter on its hands. So kudos to Evans!




Her profile of Pete is right on. It catches the essence of the man. As one guy told me, Pete "is a very hard worker, which singles him out in academia!"

That said, the one point in Evans piece that might raise some eyebrows is the reference to Pete and his "emerging as the intellectual standard-bearer for the Austrian school of economics..."

It would probably be best to describe Pete as the standard-bearer of the Uptight Wing of the Austrian School of Economics. The Uptights tend to promote the work of Noble Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek, over the work of the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.

Disscussing Hayek but ignoring Mises is something akin to discussing Scottie Pippen when talking about the championship years of the Chicago Bulls and not mentioning Michael Jordan. Nothing wrong with Pippen, but Jordan was "The Man."

In economics, there's nothing wrong with promoting the work of Hayek, in general he was a great economist. But "The Man" is Ludwig von Mises. The Uptights tend to push Mises down the memory hole because according to them he was "too stubborn." Translation: He was a man of principle in the face of severe establishment pressure to bend.

Notice there is no mention of Mises in the profile on Boettke.

There also seems to be a new move by the Uptights to distance themselves from the term "Austrian School." Boettke appears to be a key leader in this movement. For example, Boettke wrote:
As of January 1, 2010, we are changing our name to "Coordination Problem". This name change is symbolic as well as substantive. The term "Austrian economics" has become as much a hindrance to the advancement of thought as a convenient shorthand to signal certain methodological and analytical presumptions. We started this blog with a clear purpose to emphasize ongoing research in the scientific literature, and developments in higher education as related to economics and political economy. As a group we are committed to methodological individualism, market process theory, institutional analysis, and spontaneous order theorizing. And while we do not shy away from policy discussions, we do not identify with any political party or specific political movement.

As an experiment, over the past six months we have been tracking the use of the term Austrian economics in the news and in the blogosphere. Less systematically, we have also been listening carefully to the use of the term among fellow professional economists and what they think the label means. The results do not fit our intention. Google alert, for example, inevitably points to financial advice or libertarian politics, rarely to the research paradigm of F. A. Hayek, never to the scholarship of Israel Kirzner. Mises is often mentioned, but Mises the ideological symbol, not Mises the analytical economist. The "Austrian" theory of the business cycle is mentioned, but only in relationship to anti-fed politics and hard money advocacy, and never as an ongoing research program among professional economists.

These trends are not recent, but have been constant throughout our respective careers. We have always been among those who attempted to offer resistance to this use of the term. It has become evident to us that our efforts have been futile. Rather than resist the pure ideological identification, we are choosing to devote our efforts elsewhere. The name Austrian economics has been lost as a focal point for a tradition of economic scholarship, and is now a focal point for something else. We have to let it go.
Thus, it is somewhat ironic that a member of the Uptights has been identified as the standard-bearer of Austrian economics. Evans even seems to be a bit confused about all this since she writes in the profile:
The resurgence of Austrian economics does have its hazards, Mr. Boettke says. The antigovernment fervor on cable-television shows and the Internet may have popularized its theories, but it also "reinforces the idea to critics that these are crackpot ideas," he said. He has tried to distance himself from conspiracy theorists and even dropped "Austrian" from the name of his blog. But he hasn't yet thought of a better term.
Talk about cable-television fervor. A mention of Hayek's book, The Road to Serfdom, by the curious, one step in the insane asylum,  Glenn Beck, has sent the book to the top of best seller lists. And an even deeper reading of Hayek is being done by strippers.

The strippers are even reading Hayek's much more scholarly The Fatal Conceit.There has been no posting on Pete's blog as to how the Uptights should deal with these latest developments around Hayek.

In addition to the Uptights tendency to attempt to keep Mises and Rothbard stuffed down the memory hole. Many of the Uptights have wandered off the reservation with regard to Austrian methodology. The discussion on methodology is beyond the scope of this post, so I direct you to the paper by David Gordon on the subject. Gordon should be considered a kung fu master of the "Hard Core" Wing of the Austrian School. He has no fear. He will walk down dark allies, speak amongst gold bugs, make paths through Glenn Beck rallies and school curious strippers, and at all times, speak of the wisdom of not only Hayek, but Mises and Rothbard, as well.

In any case, congratulations to Pete. He is  a good guy. I'm not sure what texts he uses in his courses, but I hope his students are secretly holding discussion groups around such books as  Ludwig von Mises' Human Action and Murray Rothbard's Man, Economy and State. And that they occasionally cruise, Mises.org

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for the backgrounder here on Peter Boettke. I was surprised by the total lack of mention of Mises in the article when I first read it; which is ironic in that it was a mention of the Mises Institute many years ago in the WSJ that lead me away from Cato and into a much deeper study of Austrian Economics and lead me toward a more Rothbardian philosophical anarchism. Love the term Uptights!

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  2. I was a student of Boettke's during the whole name change thing (I've also been an avid daily reader of Mises.org and Lew Rockwell for years, which is what linked me here). He told us that the last straw was something involving a celebration for Ronald Coase's 99th birthday that some Austrians apparently disrupted because Coase refused to debate Walter Block. I haven't found anything online to independently confirm what happened but seriously, would you want to be counted as part of a group that disrupted birthday celebrations for 99-year-old men (for whom you personally have much respect)?

    I was skeptical at first about the name change, but for those of us who want to be taken seriously as economists, and for those of us who want Mises, Hayek and Rothbard to be taken seriously as economists, we unfortunately are being forced to distance ourselves from this kind of unscholarly behavior.

    I'd hardly call Boettke uptight but he is a damn good economist and professional scholar (the required reading for the course I took with him was Human Action, Man, Economy and State, Hayek's Individualism and Economic Order, and Kirzner's Competition and Entrepreneurship, by the way - no secret book clubs necessary). Let me ask you - do you want to be tarred with the same brush as Glenn Beck, when you want to make a career out of studying and advancing Austrian School economics? Do you want to have to preface a reference to Hayek with "no, I don't think Obama is a Communist Muslim who hates white people and was born in Kenya, I'm not one of THOSE Hayek fans?" I'm sure Boettke doesn't and I don't. Your blog may profit from the Austrian School currently being a hot topic among crazy racist assholes but I'm sure you understand what that does to Austrians' credibility as academics. Put yourself in Boettke's shoes. Think about what Mises would do if he were an economics professor today (wasn't he rather famous for being uptight, as well?).

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  3. Be easy, Brian, EASY! Uptight is okay--it's good, VERY good! Now, just put down the knife . . . .

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  4. Robert,

    I know for a fact that Boettke uses MES and HA in his course.

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  5. Some renown economist:

    How many entries does he have at Mises.org?

    FOUR!

    http://mises.org/literature.aspx?action=author&Id=332

    yes, he gets to be the standard-bearer all right...

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  6. Brian,

    You say,

    "I haven't found anything online to independently confirm what happened..."

    Unless you are lying and Boettke said no such thing, maybe then you should take Boettke's story with a huge grain of salt, or just as a lie itself. You can't find any independent evidence of this claim -- really, it would have been all over the net -- yet you are slandering those at Mises.org and LRC?

    Perhaps you and Boettke should stop engaging in trashy behavior by gossiping and spreading rumors.

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  7. Ha, I think it's pretty hilarious that this is how I first get my name mentioned on the LRC blog. As I mentioned, I've been an avid, daily reader since I was an undergrad. It was almost a year ago that I was in this class, and I know I don't remember the details of what Boettke said. I mostly said what I did with the hope that someone would come forward and fill in the details, actually. Normally I'm not one to spread half-remembered rumors but I thought I had some slight insight to add to the name-change thing, having actually heard some of the reasoning from the Boettke himself. I haven't talked to Boettke in maybe six months, so I hope no one thinks he's responding through me.

    One would have hoped DiLorenzo might have contacted me first before posting his blog entry calling me a lying puppet of the Koch brothers. Oh, and implying that I smear Ron Paul and defend the Fed (I'm almost certainly more hard-core a libertarian than he is). Alas, his knee-jerk response was ad hominem and political invective. Hey, DiLorenzo, are you still wondering why respectable people want to distance themselves from you? Maybe because you're screaming about a Koch/Fed conspiracy over a half-remembered secondhand anecdote a grad student mentioned offhand on a *blog comment page*?

    Aren't you guys supposed to be taking on the government economic takeover and the war and all that, too? Don't you have better things to do than flip out on someone who didn't even comment on YOUR blog? I'm completely astonished that anybody cares about this enough to smear me as some kind of Koch-funded hack on a blog read by thousands. Well, I suppose you'll have one less reader in the future, and probably many fewer if you all keep up with the fake medical advice, anti-vaccination campaigns and HIV-doesn't-cause-AIDS stuff that keeps popping up on the LRC front page.

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  8. Brian, I don't know Professor Boettke, but of course he is uptight that he is so willing to split off from the mainstream Austrian School to be more acceptable to our overlords (as Tom Woods might put it). Perhaps a better term would be the Sally Field wing of the Austrian School?

    Also, considering how much coverage old newsletters of uncertain authorship published under Ron Paul's name back in the 1970s received during his campaign, I find this story pretty much impossible to be true. And you haven't found a single shred of corroborating evidence to back up this absurd accusation. Guess what? People lie. They make things up. They act childish and immature. They malign those they think are hampering their own acceptance, especially when they're more concerned with some perceived respectability or acceptance by those who look down on them.

    For someone who sees himself as the standard bearer of the Austrian School, coming up with names to replace the term "Austrian School" that only those who already know of the Austrian School is not a way to gather new adherents, who must be asking themselves, "WTF is 'Coordination Problem'?"

    And finally, regarding Glenn Beck...please! As if any real Austrians ally with him in any whatsoever. It's nice when he says good things about freedom, but what do you suggest now, distancing yourselves from Hayek, now that Beck has latched on to him?!

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  9. Brian - I'm sure Mises would renounce his Austrian heritage. Give me a break!

    Btw, Brian was called out by Tom DiLorenzo yesterday on the lewrockwell.com blog:

    The latest lie about us that I’ve learned of comes from one Brian Bedient, a former student of Professor Pete Boettke at George Mason University who a young twenty-something reporter for the Wall Street Journal laughingly claimed is the leader of the resurgent Austrian economics movement in America. The lie, as told by Bedient (scroll down to the “comments”) is how Boettke told a group of George Mason graduate students that to him, “the last straw” with the Mises Institute/LewRockwell.com crowd was when some of them supposedly “disrupted” Nobel laureate economist Ronald Coase’s 99th birthday party because “Coase wouldn’t debate Walter Block.” How boorish can you get! Disrupting an old man’s 99th birthday party because of extraordinarily childish hubris! Who would want to associate with such people?! Stay away from them — they’re weird!

    This is a lie. It never happened. If it did, the “Uptights” at George Mason would have been broadcasting it all over their blogs for months. But even Bedient said in his blog comment that he couldn’t find any discussion of it on the Web. Our friend Professor Peter Klein, whose career has involved careful study of “Coasean” economics, has been in touch with several people who were at Coase’s birthday party and there has been no mention of any “disruption.” It never happened.

    I guess I now know the source of at least one of the lies about us that have been told to George Mason students to keep them from associating with the real leaders of the revival of interest in Austrian economics — the scholars associated with the Mises Institute and LewRockwell.com.

    LewRockwell.com has published dozens of articles by Congressman Ron Paul, who has been more successful in generating interest in free-market Austrian economics than ten thousand Peter Boettkes. Of course, the beltway “libertarians” not only did not support Ron Paul when he ran for the Republican nomination, but instigated a vicious smear campaign against him (while defending the Fed to boot).

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  10. Brian, you didn't ask someone to confirm a rumor you heard. You stated it as if it were true and then stated it as an obvious reason to distance oneself from such boorish and rude people, even though no such action ever occurred! I would think an impartial observer would first wait for some sort of confirmation before issuing a condemnation.

    Also, the proper thing to do would be to contact Walter Block directly. I've emailed him numerous times, along with Lew Rockwell and several other authors on LRC. They all answer emails and would certainly have responded to such a query promptly.

    You should certainly know of such consideration, since you insist that others follow that rule before attacking YOU for posting an outrageous and unconfirmed rumor on a completely unrelated site!

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  11. Some of the comments here are just loony. I mean, WTF guys? Like Brian, I've been a regular LRC reader for a long time, but we had some fun with David Kramer over at The Daily Bail. Check it out.
    http://dailybail.com/
    http://dailybail.com/home/austrian-school-cat-fight.html

    And yes, we'd rather fight and expose the lies of Bernanke and Geithner than make up crazy stories about "Brian the Graduate Student".

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  12. Brian,

    The way I read the DiLorenzo post on LRC was that you were relaying information and, in fact, saying that the fact you couldn't find confirming evidence was likely proof it didn't occur. I like DiLorenzo but I have to say that he tends to take disagreement as a personal assault. Of course, I do happen to think the "Lincoln Cult" exists and seeks to destroy non-hagiographers of Lincoln so it is with some understanding that I cut DiLorenzo slack on the Lincoln front.

    At any rate, I didn't read the post as an attack on you necessarily - so I hope there are no hard feelings on your part about it.

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  13. And before anyone accuses me or The Daily Bail of being part of some Koch-funded conspiracy, we've been down that road before -- except it was the Left, and not the Auburn Austrians, who made that accusation.
    http://dailybail.com/home/the-mother-of-all-irony-playboy-magazine-targets-the-daily-b.html

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  14. Brian, I think you shouldn't downplay your comment as unworthy of a response from DiLorenzo. You are also projecting -- instead of posting here, why not email DiLorenzo and request to engage in a dialogue? I don't understand the war of the comments.

    Considering the prodigous output of DiLorenzo (whose controversial positions are his greatest strength), you might at least consider why he was so upset before you defensively reject his position out of hand.

    First, you created a strawman. DiLorenzo never called you a puppet of Koch or anything of the sort. He did however make a comparison to the complete rumor you were spreading to the typical behavior he has found in certain GMU circles. He does not attack you personally.

    You may not consider yourself a pawn at all, but to the extent you spread false rumors as a serious way of "weighing in" on a controversy, you undermine your professional credibility. You also open yourself up to very deserved rebuke from professional scholars who have seen this pattern of behavior from others who have come through GMU before. It also validates DiLorenzo's comment that the GMU faction has a tendency to feel antipathy towards the Mises crowd, and has, in some specific instances, discouraged student association with them, at least implicitly through the spread of unfounded and unfair rumors.

    Lastly, your last sentence is snobbish tripe. Feel free to disagree with articles on LRC - no one expects ever reader to agree with everything. But the ease in which you attack certain articles to me shows you have unfortunately been acculturated with the politically correct etiquette all too common in the academia. Not everyone is a sophisticate like you.

    LRC is about opening minds and challenging orthodox views. Yes, even HIV-AIDS from time to time. (and your attack on that is an insult against the great Peter Duesberg, a hero if there ever was one)

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  15. Look, Boettke's anecdote was intentionally vague to protect the guilty and my memory is pretty hazy about the whole thing - I'm sure whatever it was happened at the academic conference held to celebrate Coase's birthday and if I recall consisted of someone yelling something from the audience, which could have easily been missed by people who were there, even. The lesson Boettke took home was, I think, that this was evidence in favor of the idea that certain Austrians are more interested in ideology than economics - Coase is a great economist no matter what your political views, and disrespecting him suggests you care more about something else than a scholar's contribution to your field.

    I wasn't trying to tell a story of what happened at some conference a year ago, I was trying to explain the impetus for changing the name of the Austrian program at GMU according to what my professor said. Forgive me for any details I remembered incorrectly and for not thoroughly researching something I put in a blog comment I expected no one to read. Any errors I've made have been from my own sheer laziness rather than malice, I assure you.

    Boettke emphasized during his course that you have a choice between being an economist and being a professional ideologue, that each interferes with the other too much for one person to keep up both tasks, and he implied that he intended to do economics. He didn't imply anything about what was going on at LRC but hey, I don't think he had to, I think it's pretty obvious that they care more about getting Ron Paul the Republican nomination, for example, than advancing economic science. Which is okay. It's not that being a professional ideologue is necessarily a bad thing. It's that it's very difficult for one to do that and still produce good economics. And it's also rough when the political ideologues insist that they are the leaders of the academic economists (should schools of thought really have "leaders" anyway?).

    Anyway, I thought we were all okay with secession, right? Screw Lincoln and all that? Why does the Austrian School have to be so centralized? The name change is essentially an act of secession, and I'd compare this one-sided war of invective being fought on LRC to Sherman's march to the sea. Is Boettke trying to fight you or criticize you? No, he just doesn't want to be part of your little club. Let him go. Why squabble with your intellectual brethren, like Marxists, over a minor schism? Hopefully all the jealousy will die down soon (do the rest of you really want puff pieces of your own in the War Street Journal that badly?).

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  16. Let's also keep our eyes on the ball.. It was the War Street Journal with the puff piece on Boettke, to elevate him above the real standard-bearers. A class pupil is easy to go after, but the real enemy is of course the Kochians, the media, and especially the War Street Journal in this matter...

    So why would the War Street Journal want this out there? Why now? Could it be elections coming up? Who ordered it? What did they know and When did they know it? - as it where...

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  17. I took an Austrian Economics class as an undegrad at GMU and the entire course was on Mises' Human Action. The discussions weren't so secretive.

    And the grad school school Austrian classes includes required readings of Mises and Rothbard. http://www.ccoyne.com/Coyne_-_Econ_880_-_Syllabus_-_Fall_2010.pdf

    "Required Books:
    Ludwig von Mises, [1949] (1996) Human Action, 4th ed.
    http://mises.org/Books/humanaction.pdf
    F. A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order (1948).
    Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy and State (with Power and Market) [1962] (2009)
    http://mises.org/books/mespm.pdf
    Israel M. Kirzner, Competition and Entrepreneurship (1973)."

    Pete Boettke's post -- every grad student MUST read Rothbard: http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/07/why-graduate-students-not-only-should-but-must-read-rothbards-man-economy-and-state.html

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