Sunday, April 19, 2009

Boettke Austrians

From my reading/discussion a “Boettke Austrian” is simply an honest, engaged, curious economist who takes inspiration from Hayek/Mises (& is thus interested in 3 “black boxes” of economics namely: processes of change & adjustment, development & progress, and institutional adaptation & evolution). An inclusive definition focusing on productivity and fruits.

Hard to take issue with this, as it is a positive & “light” definition that does not worry about details and irrelevant arguments (and makes room for different strains - like bakers yeast it is functional, and full of various types of yeast). A good operational definition. However, to me, the distinction between “Austrian” and “Good” economics seems to be near nonexistent, in terms of "products", and is one of chosen community and identification (specifics that lie behind production of a given work). i.e. a paper one would judge to be "good" could be written either by an Austrian or someone else, and while you could perhaps guess correctly much of the time (Mises reference - yes or no? Hayek? Other Austrian signatures?) the distinction could only be truly made by asking the author.

I can see the value, and in particular the motivational and functional value of taking on the Austrian label, so defined. After all, we must all connect with a community in order to challenge and support each others growth, find mentors, inspiration, have a reference group, etc.

I guess the only problem with the label is that it can signal either "Boettke" or "Crackpot" Austrian - but to the extend that a positive, productive, and inspiring message (i.e. Boettke Austrian) is promoted and propagated by Boettke & his academic offspring/friends the crackpot version will become increasingly weakened and Austrian will take on a positive light.

From an outsiders perspective, Boettke & other "positive Austrians" still has work to do on this end, but judging from his work and many of his students (After Arg!) the label may be salvaged. Since community is important, while I see little value in the Austrian label in terms of "products" (good economics is good economics) I see potentially great value in the "label" on a personal level, or rather the community behind the label.


  1. When you see people creating "intellectual family trees" on their office wall (Austrians Virgil Storr and Daniel D'Amico have done this and posted the pictures online) you start to wonder how much of this is about a community of outsiders. A desire to define one's thought in relation to your biggest influences and work that "sounds" most similar to yours.

    I still maintain, however, that the Austrians should drop the label and simply absorb into the mainstream if they want to have a major effect on academics. If they want to sell books to the Ron Paul crowd, maybe they should keep the label.

  2. I've always found "intellectual family trees" distasteful, and bizarre [even in math & physics one sees this too]. Sure, if academia works then students should learn from their "masters" so conceivably there is some value to this - but on your wall? At that point it seems like hero worship, and prestige by association, and defeats one of the key tenets of the Renaissance & scientific revolutions: that ideas, not people/position, are what matters and that we should look to evidence and reason, not authority, as our gold standards.

    This "anti-renaissance" like feel is what disturbs me about a subset of Austrians, Mises! Mises! Hayek!, but I think you can find the same problem with any discipline; this appeal to authority and status is pretty much an intrinsic property of people that must be beaten out of them, academia doesn't seem intent on issuing the beating so it is up to individuals/mentors and their honest questioning of life to reach this understanding and doing the job themselves. Sad, since this revolution was/is huge in terms of freedom and potential and value of people, and looking at history and the world today shows just how important and fragile this insight is.

    As for the label, I think it is somewhat up in the air - it definitely is more strongly associated with cranks, but Boettke & gang are showing at least one viable strain exists. The question is merely one of - can they provide enough evidence that the label is a positive one? Association with people like Easterly makes huge strides towards a positive re-evaluation of the label, and depending on how Leeson's Pirate book goes over a "cool pop" presentation to the public may be in place.

    A simple summing of pro/negative, and question of "core" (I see no real core economic difference) to me suggests dumping the label - but then again, I am not "inside" to see the potential value of the community. If vibrant & exciting & motivating - as reading Boettke from a distance suggests it is - then it makes sense for an individual to associate with such an existing group (and sometimes having an "underdog" mentality can make you achieve much more than you would have otherwise, as you feel you need to work hard and really engage). And everything is measured at the individual level...

  3. "If they want to sell books to the Ron Paul crowd, maybe they should keep the label."

    Sweet burn!