Friday, January 1, 2010

GMU’s Latest Economic Name Change

By Bill Anderson

Lew, in reading your post on the latest “name change” for the Austrians at George Mason University, I am reminded of a long conversation I had with Bob Higgs several years ago about the Progressive Era. Bob told me that one of the main things driving “Progressives” was their desire for “respectability.” It was the Progressives that demanded “professionalization” of many vocations, and the results often have been disastrous.

Now, I can understand (at least at some level) the desire for academic economists to gain respect within the profession, and I also fully understand that the vast majority of academic economists reject the Austrian paradigm. However, I think it is important to note that most do not reject Austrianism because they comprehend what the Austrians are saying and that they disagree; no, they reject it because they believe they are supposed to reject it. Sometimes, we hear the “Austrian Economics has failed the ‘market test’” nonsense, as though there is a “market” among academic economists for methodology.

No, I hate to say it, but I think that a lot of academic economists are driven by the desire to be “respectable,” and to be “accepted” by others in the profession. Austrians are going to be denied positions in “prestigious” departments no matter how good their scholarship, and that creates a number of quandaries for talented people who wish to advance in their line of work. Now, it is easy for me to go with the Austrian viewpoint. I’m 56, I did not receive my doctorate until I was 45, and I got my doctorate at Auburn, which was not a “top-level” program. Furthermore, my mathematical modeling skills are pretty average at best, which means that I am cursed with writing economic papers that others actually can understand and comprehend.

Thus, I couldn’t care less if I were “respectable” or not. As I see it, if the economics profession really believes that a charlatan and political hack like Paul Krugman represents the best that academic economists have to offer, then I really don’t want to be “respectable” at all. Still, I understand the position Pete Boettke and others at GMU have taken. However, I don’t think that these constant name changes are going to make anyone in the economics profession take notice. Academic economists generally are not persuaded by evidence or even superior arguments. Like so many other “professional” people, they do best by going along and playing the game.

My larger point is that the AER crowd that will be strutting around the ASSA convention this weekend like so many Greek gods really are not interested in looking at anything that will challenge their own worldviews. Indeed, they will do everything they can to keep any “heretical” thought at bay, and that includes not only “Austrian” Economics, but “Coordination Problems” economists or anyone else who does not buy into the Keynesian-Market Failure approach. Yet another legacy of the “Progressive Era” and its drive for “respectability.” As always, Bob Higgs was right.

The above originally appeared as a blog post at

1 comment:

  1. Robert Murphy discusses the GMU rebranding exercise on his blog too. He mentions this:

    "It is undeniably true that Arnold Kling has gotten way more mileage among professional economists with his "Recalculation Argument" concerning the recession, than Mario Rizzo or I have gotten with our explicit debt to Mises and Hayek. Note that I am not saying Kling has done anything underhanded, and I'm not saying Kling's ideas are totally unoriginal. All I'm saying is that the progressive economists who bother to criticize Kling's views would have the exact same response to Rizzo or me, and yet they never bothered to point out why, "Those espousing the 'Austrian' explanation of depressions are wrong because..." It's true that Paul Krugman has explicitly attacked the Austrian theory of the business cycle and the "hangover" theory, but that was like a biologist at Harvard discussing creationism. The explicitly named ABCT has never gotten the courtesy from other econo-bloggers that Kling's "Recalculation Argument" has gotten, and I suspect much of the difference is simply due to the label."

    Someone once said "Marxist" ideas get better traction when the "Marxist" label is removed. Maybe "Austrians" should follow this tactic too. Instead of ABCT why not "Recalculation Lag" Theory?