Best wishes to all for a peaceful, productive, and prosperous New Year.
As we end 2005, Brad deLong set off a discussion on his blog by raising the question of the ideologue status of Hayek. The general consensus of the 70 plus comments and the track back is that Hayek is a ideological dogmatist. With the lone exception of J. Barkley Rosser, however, nobody took the time to critically assess Hayek's analytical argument. Instead, we are treated to claims of guilt by association (Hayek supposedly never publicly criticized Pinochet and therefore supported the right wing authoritarian) and policy myths (rich get richer, poor get poorer and it is Hayek's fault).
My original post, which de Long took as the starting point of his post, was an invitation to engage Hayek (and Austrian economics more generally) analytical argument and to avoid these sort of ideologically blinded discussions. First, rather than a hermeneutics of suspicion, I prefer to advocate the Lachmann principle of "charitable reading". Second, while I think policy relevance is a virtue and not a vice, I think our critical focus should be on the reasons and evidence a thinker brings to bear on his policy positions and not those policy positions per se.
Austrian economics as a school of economic thought puts forth various propositions that follow from their methodological position and analytical methods. They are committed methodological individualists (but not atomistic) and methodological dualists (but not post-modernists). The analytical focus is on decision making in a world with an uncertain future. The capital structure in a modern economy consists of heterogeneous capital goods that have multi-specific uses, and the entrepreneurial market process is one of on-going discovery of better ways for individuals to arrange their affairs to coordinate production plans with consumption demands.
But rarely does debates over the relative merits of Austrian economics in modern economic discourse turn on these questions of methodology and method. Instead, the critique gets bogged down in outrage over the policy positions offered. This just seems to be the fate of Mises and Hayek.
To be frank this annoys the hell out of me. One of my favorite Dr. Dre songs has him warning his critics that they better watch out or "They will bring back the old me." But rather than respond to uncharitable readings with uncharitable readings of ones own, I do hope that Austrian economists will heed Lachmann's demand for us to follow the principle of charitable interpretation, and they follow the scholarly example of civility that Israel Kirzner has represented throughout his career.
So as we end 2005 with charges flying of ideological dogmatism, lets hope that in 2006 (especially since policy issues of extreme importance such as the war, universal health care, financial instability, market regulations, globalization, etc. will be no doubt on the table) that cooler heads will prevail and that honest debate will take place and reason and evidence will be the guide.