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« $25 billion here and $25 billion there and pretty soon we are talking about serious money. Are we? | Main | Economic Policy: Ideas, Implementation, and Consequences »


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Maybe you are too hard on your young self Steve, now that you have become an old fogey do you really think of the young people at MPS meetings as young punks? Or just young colleaagues, with a lot to learn? But a true member of the republic of learning will always assume that young students want to learn until they demonstrate otherwise.

Who else did he have to talk to anyway?

Nah, Rafe, you didn't know us back then. We wuz punks. Of course I mean that in the most complimentary way.

And who else could he have talked to? Oh gee, I don't know... a handful of Nobel winners, some think-tank leaders, wealth businesspeople with money to donate. It was Mont Pelerin after all. ;)

He probably calculated that the marginal return in putting some young punks on the right track was better than trying to teach old fogeys and Nobel Prizewinners. Given the results I would say he got it right.

I find that younger intellectuals are generally much more curious than older intellectuals. They are in their "system-building" years, years of "high theory" as Shackle would call it; unwilling to commit to any cause and always open to incorporate new insights from obscure and hidden corners. And perhaps most importantly (though a close friend of mine would vigorously disagree), they are more open to radical ideas, and this is very good in my opinion.

For example, one can ask people like Milton Friedman or Israel Kirzner a question, and then listen to audio files of them from three years ago and detect identical responses. However, with younger intellectuals, it will be Rothbard one day, Hayek the next, and Lachmann at bedtime.

I hope to always remain curious! I never want to feel like there is nothing more to learn, or that "specialization" should eventually take over. Perhaps we have something to learn from Julain Simon on this point?

Matthew Mueller raises an extremely important point, and one that I find attractive in the scholars that I have valued the most in my life. That is the attribute of LIFE LONG LEARNING. Hayek exhibited that, Vernon Smith exhibits that. It is an amazing intellectual treat to be around these people and talk and learn so much not only from they know, but from what they are still trying to figure out.

It is inspiring.

I do want to put in one qualifier, however, being a LIFE LONG LEARNER does not necessarily mean you have to change your perspective on things. You could in fact be curious about new topics, or new arguments related to the topics that moved you in the first place. Changing your mind is one indication of learning, but not the only and certain not a perfect indicator. Hayek, for example, knew socialism did not work, but he was unsatisfied with existing presentations of the argument. He sought alternative more satisfactory arguments. This is not dogmatic, it is commitment. There is a difference. In the wake of more persuasive argument or contradictory evidence, Hayek didn't refused to change. Instead, his intellectual quest was fueled by lack of self-satisfaction with an argument that had logic and evidence on its side. So he kept at it, looking for better ways to make the argument. It led him from technical economics, to philosophy, law, politics, history, and eventually to anthropology, to once again head back to political economy. A fascinating intellectual journey. Similarly, Vernon Smith is not dogmatic because he is committed to the use of lab experiments to engage in social science research. He has taken a similar journey as Hayek, including the trip into cognitive science and the pre-history of mankind.

Both were (are) committed intellectuals who were also life long learners. Another one of my teachers, Kenneth Boulding was the same.

And in their own way, you can see this quest to find a better presentation and improve the argument and refine it in Israel Kirzner. I think Matthew's depiction of Kirzner in this regard is wrong. He is no doubt a "conservative" scholar --- he believes that avoiding error is more important than being creative. But I have always used the analogy of an apple and a pairing knife with Kirzner --- he is pealing away the skin of the apple and making finer and finer cuts of the apple to get to the core of economic truth. Again, a fascinating intellect.

As I get older --- hard for me to think of myself as anything but a kid --- I hope that I behave toward young scholars the way Julian Simon did that day to us and that I try to continue to be a life long learner in the way that Matthew has identified. I am not 50 yet, and don't have much grey hair --- Nozick says that we shouldn't trust philosophers until they have grey on their temples. I used to think that was insane, but now I think it has some great wisdom to it ... is that life long learner or just self-interest?


P.S.: Rafe ... we were extremely punk. I said many things during those times that got me in trouble. But I had a lot of fun doing so. And I think Steve and Dave did as well. That sense of commitment to scholarship, but irreverence to authority was I think the mixture of being educated by Don Lavoie, Kenneth Boulding, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and Bob Tollison, as well as more junior whiz kids like Kevin Greir on the one hand and George Selgin on the other. At Selgin's job talk at GMU, he turned to Buchanan at one point and said "I am surprised that an astute theorist as yourself could make such a fundamental error in theory." The audience gasped, Buchanan chuckled ... Selgin became a hero of the students. Greir similarly never shied away from harsh and pointed critique of his elders, while possessing an amazingly quick mind and thorough understanding of the technical arguments. We were VERY fortunate to study at GMU at that time and then be introduced to the larger world through this collection of scholars.

People, Materials, and Environment Simon have though was described in Jevons Pradox a century ago.
So i'm just against old established people, whose take much care about somethings that not really reall. exmp. global warming vs. global dimmings.
peak oil = peak energy.
These people are too creative to capitalized any issue to be their papper money object.

"I am not 50 yet, and don't have much grey hair"

Well in absolute terms maybe, but relative to the smaller total amount of hair on your head? Not so clear. ;)

I will have to remember that one though because on the absolute scale, I don't have much either.

How did you punks stack up against Bazza Mackenzie, the archetypical Australian abroad in the 1970s? http://www.the-rathouse.com/KPmeetsBM.html

Actually that piece had to be cleaned up from the original version that appeared in the student newspaper.

How did you punks stack up against Bazza Mackenzie, the archetypical Australian abroad in the 1970s? http://www.the-rathouse.com/KPmeetsBM.html

Actually that piece had to be cleaned up from the original version that appeared in the student newspaper.

On lifelong learning, it really helps to find good influences early, like Barzun, Popper, Hayek, that way you can go deeper and wider as you pursue your problems without having to junk too much stuff or back out of too many dead ends. Even more important than that is finding the right problems, if you are asking the right kind of questions you will be sensitive to the work of good people. That is why "justificationism" (the quest for justified true beliefs) has been such a disaster in philosophy, why "essentialism" (analysis of definitions) has been the same in the soft social sciences, and ditto positivism in the social sciences that have tried to be hard. It has been noted that people do creative work in the social sciences at a later age than people in science and maths, I think that is because it takes longer to find out the genuine problems that are hidden in the verbalism.

I told Popper that a serious interest in cricket would lead to all the fundamental problems in philosophy but I don't think he took any notice. He was unfortunate during his time in NZ because his great friend Colin Simkin hated cricket and football (he was a classical music lover and that made him a misfit in the local culture). Similarly, serious interest in ball games leads to the fundamental problems in the social sciences as well. http://www.the-rathouse.com/EvenMoreAustrianProgram/OffspinneronReductionvsExistence.html

That was first drafted in 1970 during a series of test matches between India and Australia, in India. One game was held up when there was a riot in the crowd and I wondered how that could ever have been predicted by commentators who speculated about the outcome of the series beforehand.

One more comment, on saying things that cause trouble. Round about 1970/71 I gave a talk in a series for the Red and Black Society (Marxist Anarchists) hosted by Bob Gould who owned the leading radical bookshop in Sydney. My topic was "A defence of reformism" and about five sentences into the talk one of the young radicals got up and stomped out in a noisy and dramatic manner. He only went as far as the nearest bar where we all joined him after the talk. He matured into a leading conservative/liberal commentator, reviled by the left. But still eccentric; in his capacity as editor of Quadrant he wanted to yank one of my pieces last year because it contained favourable references to the Austrians.

That was Paddy McGuinness. He was buried yesterday and at the wake I found myself standing at the bar next to the recently defeated Prime Minister John Howard. Next to him on the other side was the (still radical) Bob Gould. I first met John Howard in 1970 or 1971 when I gave a talk to a branch of the Young Liberals on the policies of the Australia Party which was trying to be a Third Force in addition to the conservatives and Labor. John Howard was the branch president, at the start of his political career - he was elected to the Federal Parliament in 1974. I have a painful recollection of being shouted at by the future PM and others because the policies of the Australia Party were half baked and uncosted. John Howard and others were right on top of those things (very different from the situation in the same branch of the Young Liberals 20 years later - in 1970/71 the Liberals were in the process of losing all the politically engaged young people on account of conscription for Vietnam).

You guys will probably be reading more about John Howard because he will soon be over there to pick up a gong for service to liberal-conservatism and I should write a full essay to provide background and local context. He fought some of the good fights but the woodwork of the party was too rotten to back up the right things and spread the ideas in the community. In 1989 the party was racked by the wet vs dry debate, with Howard leading the dries. I went back to the Young Liberals (the same branch) to give another talk and asked how the debate was going in the branch. The President replied that he did not want to be bothered about that, he just wanted to rivals to patch up their differences and win the next election.


More than thirty years have rushed
By me like a runaway chariot. I too have spent
My life rushing from one end of the country
To the other. I long for
The homestead where I was born,
A thousand mountain ranges
Away. Like yellow leaves in
The decline of Summer a
Few white hears have already
appeared on my head. All my
Travels only made tracks
In drifting sand. I piled up
Learning like a snowball.
I crossed mountains and passed
Examinations and gave
learned speeches. What did I gain?
Better I stayed home
And raised prize melons.


(Kenneth Rexroth, trans.)

I know, I know. Arthur Waley's translation is much better. No, Burton Watson's. No....

Ho ho ho. You're joking about Simon aren't you. Mr. "billions of years" Simon? Total dimwit.

This was an age of innocence and happiness.God bless you all, and God bless America !

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