Tuesday, September 30, 2014

WaPo Notices That Austrian School Economist Israel Kirzner is in the Running for the Nobel Prize

I have just noticed that The Volokh Conspiracy is blogging for WaPo, This must be a Jeff Bezos move.

VC takes note of the fact that Israel Kirzner has moved up in the ranks among the Nobel handicappers, as a potential Nobel Prize recipient. Unfortunately, VC points to a Pete Boettke comment on the justification for a Kirzner Nobel Prize.

I believe that Kirzner deserves the Nobel Prize and have been championing the idea for some time (SEE: Austrian School Economist Named as Possible Nobel Prize Recipient) but I don't think it is for many of the reasons Boettke lists. Boettke points to his 2005 piece on Kirzner where he writes:
 Several Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scholars who not only made fundamental contributions, but also generated a research program in economics and a community of scholars around them.  Kirzner is the signal most important individual in modern Austrian economics.  Obviously, Mises and Hayek and their shared research program forged in the 1930s and 40s provided the foundations of the research program, but it was Kirzner in the 1970s and 1980s that cultivate a new research community in Austrian economics and the theory of the competitive market process.  Murray Rothbard was a major galvanizing figure in the movement, but unfortunately Rothbard never taught at a PhD granting institution.  NYU in the 1980s emerged as a top 20 department in economics, and Kirzner developed in the mid 1970s an Austrian Economics Program.  PhD students and post-doctoral students all made their way through Kirzner's program: 
Don Lavoie, Sanford Ikeda, George Selgin are a few of the PhD students; Roger Garrison, Bruce Caldwell, Richard Langlois, Stephan Boehm, Uskali Maki, Frederic Sautet, and David Harper are a few of the post-doctoral students; and Mario Rizzo, Gerald O'Driscoll, Lawrence White and myself are faculty members who had the great opportunity to work with Kirzner at the leading center for advanced study in Austrian economics in the post-Mises period. 
Kirzner was instrumental in organizing major conferences that rallied intellectual interest in Austrian economics --- South Royalton is probably the most famous of these.  Book series were established --- most notably Mario Rizzo and Lawrence White's Foundations of the Market Economy with Routledge.  Dissertations were supervised --- most notably Don Lavoie's Rivarly and Central Planning (published later by Cambridge University Press in 1985) and George Selgin's The Theory of Free Banking (published later by Rowman and Littlefield in 1988).  Kirzner directed the Austrian Colloqium for two decades before handing it off to the able hands of Mario Rizzo. And he also developed and directed for years the summer seminar in Austrian economics which enabled scores of students to study with some of the leading figures in Austrian economics and be exposed to classic and contemporary scholarship in the school.
For these two reasons --- his own theoretical contribution and his work to cultive [sic] a community of research scholars --- Kirzner deserves the recognition in October that has to date eluded him.

These Boettke comments are difficult to understand on many accounts. First, I am aware of no Nobel Prize winners that have been awarded the Prize for the followings they have managed to create. It is always about theoretical discoveries and advancements.

But further, I do not consider Kirzner's efforts at developing scholars his strong suit. There is no one that I would rank on the same level as those who came out of the Mises seminars in Austria and New York. Mises teachings resulted in the development of Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek and Kirzner, himself. I just don't see anyone around Kirzner that can be placed in the same category as Mises' stars.

Boettke, also mentions that New York University is a top 20 university in economics, but this has little or nothing to do with Kirzner. It's a very heavily mathematical department. I was quite shocked when in a discussion, with NYU PhD grad Bob Murphy, he told me how little Austrian economics is going on at NYU.

It is positively absurd to rank Kirzner in the development of scholars above Mises and Hayek, especially Mises.

This sounds like Boettke promoting his view that cranking out Ph D students is the key to advancing a science (and a key to gaining a Noble Prize?), regardless of the quality of the students. If any one, he should no that this is a poor litmus test to quality. He wrote a damn paper on the contributions of Henry Hazlitt, who never even acquired a Bachelor's degree. Here's Boettke on Hazlitt:
The evidence that I have tried to marshal to support my conjecture that Hazlitt occupied a unique position in mid-20th century intellectual life in the US as a public intellectual attempting to contribute to scientific economics consisted of not just pointing to his prominent position in the world of journalism both as a literary critic and more importantly as an economist but more importantly for our purposes to the attention his written work commanded in the specialized professional journals in economics and philosophy, as well as the active correspondence he engaged in throughout his life. The company Hazlitt kept was not just that of the New York intelligentsia, but included many of the leading minds in the social sciences during his lifetime.
Again, I am one of the strongest supporters of the idea that Kirzner should be awarded the Nobel Prize. I believe his advancements in entrepreneurial theory are extremely significant with very important policy implications. But it is misdirecting the focus of the important work of Kirzner by discussing his research programs and over hyping their value. They have nothing to do with Kirzner's importance as an economist.


1 comment:

  1. Bob, I can confirm the math bent at NYU. I had a good friend who was a professor teaching finance, PhD Stanford, undergraduate math major, interned at SF FED.

    Also, don't you love Boettke's selective rewriting of the history of the modern Austrian revival? It seems the punks are still pissed, eh?