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"Instead, we usually see 'thin-clean' or 'thick-dirty', and we know that only nonsense is produced when we see 'thick-clean' social science (e.g., political-sociology with regression analysis where the right hand side is made up of variables that go over a page to list)"

Hey, I resemble that remark!

Great post. It is only at the Austrian economists blog that one get to enjoy posts like these.

I have also come to see the importance of anthropology. But how do we incorporate the study of anthropology into economics while being careful not to lose our way as economists? It is perfectly clear that neoclassical economics can in no way accommodate the observations of anthropologists. Perfect information, stable preferences, absolutely correct models, etc. etc. are not at all compatible with the study of anthropology.

I think it is time to significantly modify the assumptions economists make in constructing models about the real world in which humans live. And unfortunately, I think Austrian economics has little to offer us in this area. Austrian economics is very similar to neoclassical economics in many important respects. For example, absent government regulation, markets will clear. If not immediately, entrepreneurs will eventually make it so. Now no matter how persuasive people like Kirzner are (and damn is he persuasive!), I still cannot convince myself that these inisights are any different from the neoclassical paradigm. Information is imperfect, expectations and interpretation is subjective, models (becuase they are subjective) are incorrect and incomplete, and preferences change as time elapses. Now while most Austrians will agree with all of these assumptions, they nevertheless will continue to insist that free markets are efficient. Anthropology has no place in Austrian economics.

New Institutional economics, however, has much to offer us in this respect. I just finished reading Douglass North's "Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance" and I am convinced that this style of economics is perfectly compatible with the development of anthropology. The distinction between institutions and organizations, the importance of formal rules and informal constraints, the fallibility of human choice, the unpredictability of human behavior, etc. etc. can all be integrated effortlessly with anthropology. I think economics must extend their scope of analysis beyond the "maximaztion principle" if they truly want to understand human behavior. Douglass North does this. I think it is important to include transaction costs in the transformation process (land, labor, capital). Douglass North does this. And I think economists should study the way property comes to be not only specified, but also enforced and measured as well. Again, Douglass North does this.


I really like thinking about the intersection of anthropology and economics. I was sold on your "out the window" approach to applied research since the first time I heard it, and it similarly got me jazzed to come to GMU. I admit that I'm less familiar with the anthropologists and sociologists that you listed, and have sometimes felt lost, similar to Mueller's comment, about how to actually get started with these sorts of projects.

Aside from a few pieces by Storr and Chamlee-Wright there aren't many examples of scholarly articles that can be used as guide posts to produce similar work. The few that we have are often so driven by their unique theoretical topics (social capital, etc.) that their methodological uniqueness is hidden. How does one create a similar method to handle different theoretical topics? This also seems to be the case with economic history, very few papers are out there that one could pick up and say, "I'm going to do this but with a different subject matter." Possibly because good economic history requires longer treatments than what journal articles allow for.

What I have found most useful, that you did not mention, and I'd be eager to hear your thoughts on is Mises' description of Thymology as a method of history. To me it seems that the ethnographic / "just do it approach" gives insight and evidence for what the ends of motivated actors are in particular social settings. With real source material gathered through anthropological methods, social scientists can easily set up means and ends frameworks and evaluate choice from there. This seems implicitly recognized by economic historians in the Austrian camp, but much less understood when Austrians begin to ask questions about the contemporary world around them. Any thoughts?


Dan and Matthew,

You guys should take a look at the works cited pages of Storr's work. Frequently, Storr makes reference to the scholar who laid the methodological ballast for "Human Action" and "Theory and History:" MAX WEBER.

Max Weber made known that an "ideal type" implies a proposition relating to valuing and acting. The "ideal type," methinks, is THE PREMIER METHOD in order to analyze history, and, for lack of a better term, make theoretical predictions. When the "ideal type" refers to people, it implies that in some respect these people are valuing and acting in a similar way. See, e.g., Storr's "Enterprising Slaves and Master Pirates." When the "ideal type" refers to institutions, it implies that these institutions are products of similar ways of valuing and acting. See, e.g., Oppenheimer's "The State," Betrand de Joevenel's, "On Power," Nock's, "Our Enemy the State."

Another "economic" look at how the "ideal type" can be combined with "thick description," read Thomas Doerflinger's "A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise," where he discusses ideal-typical Philadelphia merchants in the middle-to-late 18th century.

I will also mention that Weber spent his intellectual career describing why "capitalism" "failed to launch" outside of what we call Western Civilization. His readings are the "Protestant Ethic," "The Religion in China," "The Religion in India," etc. While Mises (1985) is correct in claiming that Weber was, a bit too hamstrung by historicism, he cannot deny - nor did he - that the ideal-type is a wonderful tool for doing "thin-thick" social science with a humanitarian concern.

Stanislav Andreski would be a good man to add to your reading list, a professor of sociology in England and associated with the libertarian liberal movement he wrote a book on South American mercantilism and his book on Africa has case studies in the pathological impact of western aid. These were pioneering works on a par with Bauer though less informed by economic analysis.

He wrote "Social Science as Sorcery", one of the great debunking books on rubbish in the social sciences, read with delight by sociologists who enjoy the crit of other schools but ignore the crit of themselves.

That goes well on the shelf alongside Barzun (100 yesterday) "The House of Intellect"

and C Wright Mills "The Sociological Imagination"

How about a start with the mainstream? We do not need anthropologist or sociologists to motivate an economics of culture ("anthropology" is actually archaeology, linguistics, physiology of hominoids, and social anthropology). The economic focus should be on culture. It should begin with a rational choice-functionalist perspective with the necessary models: CULTURE FUNCTIONS AS A TECHNOLOGY. In the social context, there can be an economy of culture (entrepreneurs are necessary). This core is necessary to motivate studies and secure an endowment conducive to those we wish to motivate (language). From there (possibly NIE and fieldwork) we make skeletons walk...

Ryan Daza


I believe that Weber does just that. In fact, one of his ideal-typical action types is the pleonastic "rational action." Moreover, many (e.g., Lachmann) have made known their frustration with Weber's research into the link between Religion and Capistalism; averring that Weber sounds much like a "structural-functionalist."

To assume that culture functions as a technology does not take culture seriously. While I agree that rational models will assist in getting a core understanding of purposive behavior off of the ground, it certainly does not assist in ascertaining the ontological considerations involved in human decision-making.

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