Loren Lomasky is visiting GMU this week. Over dinner he asked me and a group of graduate students the following question. "Who besides people at GMU, and who are not market-oriented in the economics profession are doing good work?" The way Loren framed the question it meant we were dealing with guys like Stiglitz, Summers, etc. Loren also pushed the behavioral line of research. But the students responded by pointing to Vernon Smith's Nobel address, and other criticisms of the behavioral critique.
Loren was not impressed and kept pushing the students and me to think more broadly. And, in fact, said at one point that if he thought the literature in his discipline was so fundamentally misguided he would stop being a philosopher.
At this point, I realized there was a fundamental failure of communication going on. But I couldn't get my point across, though I did hint at it. First, in Loren's own discipline he is an analytic philosopher, but there is also a continental approach to philosophy. Analytic philosophers in general are not very impressed with the work (old or new) done by continental philosophers. If the profession in general was continental in orientation, then Loren might have the same assessment of philosophy that Austrian economists have of their discipline. Second, if we move beyond the issue of Austrian economics within the current intellectual landscape of the economics profession and instead just concentrate on the idea of the basic teachings of economics, then there is another issue which I believe Loren was missing --- namely, the difference (in Lakatosian terms) between the hard core and the protective belt. One can be intellectually open and engaged in a progressive research program, and not be focused on self-criticism inside of the hard core. Instead, the act of criticism and innovative trial and error is all directed at questions at the edge of the protective belt. Loren kept asking questions which were inside the hard core of the economic way of thinking, so his disappointment at lack of critical engagement with the graduate students may very well have been a false expectation of how economists debate progress in their discipline.
Finally, Loren artificially rigged the discourse? Work by political economists such as Acemoglu, Johnson, Robinson, Besley, Shleifer, Glaeser, etc. were ruled out of court. Moreover, Greif, Benson, and others on self-ordering was ruled out of court. We didn't talk about John List on natural experiments, nor Esther Duflo on radomized experiments in policy evaluation, nor Michael Kremer on push versus pull in scientific funding, nor Roland Fryer on incentives in educational policy. Some of these weren't thought of because of the way Loren posed the problem (focusing not on interesting work, but on interesting work that argues for positive role of government in economic life), others weren't thought of because they actually are market-oriented contributions to economics.
Still Lomasky's challenge is worth contemplating? Who is indeed doing the most interesting work outside of our intellectual comfort zone?