Sunday, August 1, 2010

An Endorsement of Murray Rothbard (By a possible elitist?)

Last week Peter Boettke wrote:
Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen points to a new paper by Thomas Sargent on Free Banking, and to a recent discussion by Arnold Kling on recalculation.

First, with regard to Sargent's paper, am I being 'elitist' when I conclude that Larry, George and Steve would have a more productive conversation by concentrating on dealing with Sargent rather than Rothbard?
Kind of a nasty swipe at Rothbard, in my view.  I always thought of Rothbard as one of the greatest economic scholars of all time.

Hmm, despite the swipe, this week, Boettke writes:
Why Graduate Students Not Only Should, but MUST Read Rothbard's Man, Economy and State

When I teach my PhD course in the Austrian Theory of the Market Process I assign four required books that in my opinion students must master to make a contribution to the this literature --- Mises, Human Action; Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order; Kirzner, Competition and Entrepreneurship; and Rothbard, Man, Economy and State. I have written before about how Rothbard's vision has guided much of my own research and teaching career despite what others may believe, here and here.

But in stressing the captivating aspects of Rothbard's vision of a free society, I run the risk of giving the impression that I discount the analytical contributions that he made to economics in Man, Economy and State.* An important point to stress is that at the time of its publication, Rothbard's book represented the state of the art in what Henry Hazlitt called "orthodox economics". The young Rothbard had read and absorbed not only the teachings of the classical economists and the writers in the Austrian tradition, but was completely aware of all the developments in property rights economics, law and economics, public choice, Chicago economics, and of course he was deeply knowledgable of his intellectual opponents from Marxist, to Institutionalist, to Georgists, and of course Keynesianism. The footnotes in Man, Economy and State demand very careful study to get a full sense of the amazing range of Rothbard's learning as an economist and social philosopher. The first 66 pages of the book might still be the most straightforward discussion of the economic way of thinking one can find anywhere. And, of course, there are great discussions of price formation (as opposed to determination), production and entrepreneurship, competition and monopoly, money and the business cycle, and public economics and political economy...

Chris Coyne and I attempt to highlight Rothbard's contributions to the economic analysis of socialism in theory and in practice here. In writing that paper, again the amazing and awe inspiring fact was how much Rothbard had mastered in the literature on comparative economic systems, and also how he anticipated subsequent developments in the field in the 1960s-1980s.
I am sure there are nuances I am missing, as apparently I have in the past with Boettke.

 Despite Boettke having written this:
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.
Following one of my earlier posts, Pete wrote to me. A series of email exchanges ensued. At one point, he wrote me:
So please understand I never have and never will "throw Austrian economics under the bus", nor will I through the Coordination Problem under the bus. I use Austrian economics to try to solve the intellectual puzzle of the Coordination Problem.

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