Monday, August 31, 2009

Will There Be Another Milton Friedman?

Tyler Cowen writes:
Dan Klein, guest-blogging at AustrianEconomists, poses the question and says no, there will not be a classical liberal advocate of comparable stature. At least not anytime soon:

With the postwar re-awakenings, bold thinkers defied the cultural ruts of their times. They rediscovered pieces of the liberal understanding. Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, Tullock, Rothbard, Kirzner, Alchian, Sowell, Coase, Bauer, Simon and Demsetz developed new statements of parts of liberal wisdom. Because it had been dead and buried, it now seemed fresh and original. They earned status as epic figures by fresh pioneering and academic kudos. But what they formulated and taught to all of us was the low-hanging fruit of all that had been forgotten. I’m not saying that everything they teach had been taught 150 years prior. But a lot of it had, and the basic verities pretty much all had....

I don’t think that a clone of Milton Friedman could today become Milton Friedman. To get on in Econ he’d have to do a lot more math, and identify with “normal scientists.” Back in the day, Hayek, Coase, and Buchanan could eschew math and still end up with Nobel prizes. Not today. Normal scientists won’t embrace you academically if you don’t seem like their kind. You would have to become their kind. You wouldn’t develop liberal vision and motivation. Or, if you did you wouldn’t become first among your peers at a top department (even, that is, if you had the endowments of a Milton Friedman).

The culture generally is becoming more fragmented, because of technology. But technology is making the academic discipline more integrated and monolithic, even at the international level. There is no “freshwater” vs. “saltwater” and so on. It is like the baseball player market, one big pyramid.The top departments are alike and the rest strive to maintain their standing in the pyramid. Regardless of academic standing, how is the modern clone of Milton Friedman to cut a figure? The low-hanging fruit has been plucked and digested by the liberal movement. A new young brilliant dynamo could write a nice book like Free to Choose or Road to Serfdom, but who would care? It’s all available in another dozen books that have appeared since 1960.

There is more at the link and of course you can see the link to David Hume's ideas about the posts of honour being filled. I agree with Dan.
Klein and Cowen are so caught up in the government captured university education structure that they can not see the revolution in front of them. And this is after Cowen writes a pretty damn good book that, in part, points to the way the internet is changing the processing of information.

Any students out there thinking about economics should dismiss this talk from two pretty bright guys who suffer from near Stockholm syndrome thinking, about what can and can not be done as far as breakthrough thinking in the framework of clasical liberal economics. It will happen, but like the way Mises did, it will be done from outside the traditional full university sponsored setting.

Anybody who can write a sentence like this, or agrees to it:

I don’t think that a clone of Milton Friedman could today become Milton Friedman. To get on in Econ he’d have to do a lot more math, and identify with “normal scientists.”
is simply a wimp who fears to talk truth to power.

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