Reading through the discussion at Cato Unbound reminded me of when I tried to introduce myself to the readers of the Review of Austrian Economics, when I assumed the editorship in 1998. My editorial introduction was titled "Is There an Intellectual Market Niche for Austrian Economics?" In that, I argue that Austrian must shoulder the burden of argument and demonstrate that their effort to "dare to be different" has benefits that outweigh the cost. And I argue that there are unsolved puzzles and unanswered (and unasked) questions from core theory to applied areas, and I explicitly make reference to the distinction between theoretical areas of contestation and historical/empirical areas of contestation.
In that piece, I used two old JEL articles to motivate the discussion of the unsolved and the unanswered. I invite the readers to go back and read those articles and ask themselves even today whether the issues raised by Morgenstern (1972) and Robinson (1977) have been resolved satisfactorily in the broader literature of economics.
A few years later, as my 2001 SDAE Presidential Address, I tried to argue that the uniqueness of the modern Austrian school in economics can be found in the treatment of knowledge within economics. Since that time, the literature on unawareness as well as the further development of imperfect knowledge economics has progressed to such an extent that the treatment of knowledge in economics is no longer as "flat" as it was in the 1980s and 1990s with imperfect information economics. Still, the sort of epistemic points Hayek made about the market, and which Kirzner developed are not as appreciated as they should be in my opinion. But that is again a position which those of us who believe that must be willing to shoulder the burden of proof in argument.
Perhaps if I was to give the SDAE address in 2012 I would look back to an earlier paper on "Beyond Equilibrium Economics", though that paper is very much the effort of young graduate students themselves trying to sort out these issues (to be honest I am still trying to sort things out). Or, perhaps I would focus on the issue of endogeneous rule formation as I did in my 2011 Cuhel Lecture.
I am not sure. The only thing I am sure about is that economics and political economy should not be presented as a catechism, but as an invitation to inquiry. We should no doubt communicate to our students, and others, that core teachings of the discipline. But also expose our students to the unsolved puzzles and unanswered questions. To excite them about the intellectual possibilities that economic research opens to them. And to encourage them to grasp those opportunities with a sense of excitement and seriousness of purpose that befits scientific and scholarly endeavors. To the extent that the Austrian label encourages economists and political economists to view the world with such wonderment and gives them the intellectual tools to shoulder the burden of proof in argument it remains valuable to retain. But when the label closes off such wonderment, and labels produce a habit of using catch-phrases as short-hand for argument, then it is time to move on. Those of us who find the tradition of the Austrian school of economics worthy of our adherence must always be on guard against intellectual ossification, and instead encourage, as Mises put it in Human Action (p. 7) each generation of new thinkers to see economics as a living body of scientific thought that is constantly evolving and tackling those unsolved puzzles and unanswered questions.