Monday, February 26, 2018

Did Tyler Cowen Just Take a Swipe at the Mises Institute?

Ludwig von Mises

In a post titled, Who are the most underrated and overrated libertarian thinkers?, Tyler Cowen includes this paragraph: 
Ayn Rand and Ludwig Mises belong in a separate category, because they both have overzealous disciples who so overrate them.  That in turn makes them somewhat underrated almost everywhere else.  Rand’s cocktail party analysis of the sociology of capitalism-hatred remains one of the great contributions to political thought, plus she reaffirmed the necessary high status of the business producer.  Mises’s Liberalism and also Socialism were two of the best books of the first part of the 20th century.  So I am happy to call them both underrated, subject to the above not entirely insignificant caveat.

How can this not be a swipe at the Mises Institute?

I'll let the Randians discuss Rand, but I just don't see that many overzealous Misesian disciples, certainly not any that overrate him. If anything, I would say most fail to understand many of the most important contributions of Mises (I would put Cowen in this category.).Further, compared to John Maynard Keynes, Mises is hardly known and Mises was a far better economist than Keynes.

That said, I think Cowen does have a point that among free market economists many distance themselves from Mises because of their belief that "overzealous Misesian disciples" exist.

I would say though that this is a failure and a weakness of the scholars who ignore Mises. I don't judge an economist by the crowd around him but by what he himself says. I have read all kinds of crackpots to make sure they were crackpots. A scholar is an incomplete scholar if he fails to learn for himself.

And this failure does go on with Mises. Indeed, just last year I wrote this about a Russell Roberts podcast:
At one point [Roberts] says he never learned much from Mises but in the next breath says he hasn't read much Mises at all. Go figure.
Also of note, Cowen writes this:
 The most overrated libertarian qua libertarian might be Milton Friedman.  He is not overrated as an economist, if anything he is still considerably underrated.  But as a libertarian?  For a guy that smart, I’m not sure he added much to the corpus of libertarian ideas, and I recall one closing segment to a Free to Choose episode where he couldn’t out-argue Peter Jay on some basic issues of political philosophy.  And have the Friedmanite ideas of school vouchers and social security privatization really held up as so central?  Friedman and Rothbard really didn’t like each other, and each was right about what the other couldn’t do.
That's an interesting take on Friedman but I will leave it to David to respond, but in the entire discussion of libertarians, this is Cowen's only mention of Rothbard. It is as if he is signaling he didn't forget to mention Rothbard but just didn't think him worthy of greater mention. Interesting.



  1. I feel like a lot of economists consider Mises a party pooper for throwing cold water on the value of econometrics.

  2. Good point Bob. One should never judge a master by his disciples. Marx once said he knew for sure he wasn't a Marxist. Keynes said something similar about not being a Keynesian. I am sure Mises would be appalled at what passes under his name with some people I call Internet Austrians.

  3. At least one could be excused for not reading that much of Rothbard, since to read all he wrote is damn near impossible. Still, with him a little goes a very long way.