September 2022

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  
Blog powered by Typepad

« Reasonable Radicalism? | Main | Is A Picture Worth A Thousand Words? »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I don't believe that, in May 2009, there is a solid way to make an Austrian vs. non-Austrian distinction. Not in theory, not in political views, and not even in methodology. I believe the basics of the Austrian material are mainstream, but not always easy to notice. Just two weeks ago, I heard a macroeconomics course lecturer present the socialist calculation argument, and he didn't call it a separate version of economics, he presented it just like everything else in the course. His presentation of it did not at all contradict anything else he had told the students.

I know nothing about career strategy, what people should write or where they should publish. My faith-based know-nothing belief is that academic careers mostly cannot be strategized and advised into happening. For the successful academics with whom I'm familiar, the way they do things is very personal and individual, and probably could not make students successful were it to be imitated. There is probably a high quality and original way, that somebody somewhere could figure out, to address just about any topic.

This brings up a point that if you accept the Austrian principles, could you reasonably work in an area hostile to them and be true to yourself? If the answer is yes, you would have a future in academia or politics.

If, on the other hand, the answer is no, you may have the opportunity to do some significant work.

Just make sure to have an applied (empirical) research agenda and job paper by the time you go on the market. Otherwise its not pretty.

Adam's comment prompts another: You write different papers for different audiences. The paper you write for RAE will usually differ from the paper you write for EJ. The point is not that one's principles or ideas change, but that one's *audience* changes. To get hits in the mainstream journals, you need to know where your target audience is at so that you can properly locate your Austrian argument in context of the mainstream literature. I'm making a pretty humble point, but Austrians sometimes neglect it for some reason.

"Pursue your passion" on its own is silly and reckless advice.

When you go on the market you have to be recognizable to hiring committees who may have never heard of Austrian economics or might call it "Australian economics" and probably wonder if you've ever run a regression. The market is getting worse, not better. You should pursue your passion subject to the constraints imposed by professional expectations. This is not a given. All the success stories mentioned essentially used that recipe. Pete knows this, so I don't know why he chose not to include it in this post but it's hard not to notice that his "just do good economics" mantra is absent.

Also, I agree with Pete's third point and think that young CL scholars should be shooting much higher than "get a job as a professional economist". I would only add: bring your passion to the classroom.


Isn't the issue here simply whether you're speaking to the profession at large or only to Austrians? I think Pete was saying "do both." When speaking to the profession at large, or some other non-Austrian audience, you may certainly cite Hayek or Mises or Lopez, but you won't, like, start with how we should all be Austrians and then if we are we'll see how bogus the mainstream is. Instead, you will pick a teachable point and go after it in ways your audience can understand. Thus, for example, I don't go on much about Hayek when I'm doing my forensic science stuff even though it's pure Hayekian epistemics. Your practice as a scholar is completely similar, Ed, so why the inordinately pessimistic comment? And you know, the teachable point is often something simple like "redundancy is good."

meant to say: The teachable point is often simple so often you don't need to review praxeology or whatever to make your point.

Roger, your audience point is well taken and you exemplify it well.

But this post is about building a successful academic career. A foolish approach is to work on stuff that you love but is not recognizable to the profession. All the young people Pete mention (except Beaulier) got their first jobs in "movement" schools. All of this year's placements did, too. As the market gets worse before it gets better, the GMU product cannot and should not rely on openings at movement schools. People forget how difficult the market was before 2000. Boettke, Horwitz, and Prychitko all cracked new nuts for GMU placements. So did Noel Campbell, John Charles Bradbury, and me. The next crop needs to be prepared to do the same.

Prof Boettke,

Hi. How ya doing? Long time listener, first time caller...

I am one of the fellow graduate students who sends the "mixed signals... about the prudence of focusing their research efforts on Austrian economics". As a matter of course, though, my signals are anything but mixed. I send the same two signals all the time, and they are these:

1) Please state your theory in a disprovable way.
2) Please use information to try to disprove it.

It is undeniably true that I am not a big fan of modern Austrian theorizing; I'm of the persuasion that modern neoclassical economics has already absorbed all the Austrian's good points, and those points are well taken. I am even less of a fan of the general attitude I experience at GMU workshops and presentations—an attitude of direct confrontation with modern economic thought and methodology—as if the things published in Austrian journals interact with the rest of the economics literature in a meaningful way (as opposed to commenting upon it). But those aren't my problems with Austrians.

No, it's just that they're not speaking the language anymore.

Back in the day (or so I've heard), one could reasonably write a narrative and discuss its validity with very general information (note that word--information, not data). An economist could express her reasoning in words or in symbols and it was not considered less rigorous to choose the former over the latter. That is simply not the case anymore.

The language of economics has changed since that time; economists communicate theories in symbols rather than words. This communicative form has some drawbacks even from the mainstream perspective, not the least of which is that increasingly complex (but nevertheless reasonable) ideas are very difficult to formalize. But for all the drawbacks, the advantage is obvious and its magnitude is large: economists have to state their theories in obviously disprovable ways.

I like narrative; Ira Glass of public radio’s “This American Life” calls narrative “a back door to a part of the mind where reason does not go”. I dig that; it’s why I tell stories when I teach. The difficulty with narrative is that it is woefully imprecise. It is too easy to use narrative to slip past reason, to choose ambiguity over clarity, to make falsification difficult. It is true that narrative logic *can* offer such precision; the advantage to statements of symbolic logic (such as mathematics) is that it *always* offers such clarity. It is directly provable whether two formal theories imply the same outcome through axiomatic operations; narrative offers no such immediate obvious way to determine when two people have said the same thing different ways, or said different things that imply the same outcome.

Additionally, once one adopts formal (mathematical) theorizing, one’s theories yield up testable predictions. They openly declare to the world how to go about falsifying them. They indicate, by the nature of their intentional design, what information one would need to show that they do not work. This is not to say that some narrative theories lack obvious tests; sometimes, no matter how one states a theory, it has a very obvious test. The example that comes to mind is any theory that suggests that there will be *none* of X. Merely finding some X in the world is sufficient to dismiss the theory. The problem is that those tests (i.e., “find some X, in any format”) are few and far between; the trick of differentiating among theories is often a task of determining direction and magnitude (i.e., “how big is X, and does it make Y big or small?”).

I know what you’re thinking: “X and Y”, why don’t you just say “econometrics”! Okay, I will: humans have become incredibly clever at developing ways to figure out whether an occurrence of a phenomenon is different from another occurrence. The job of economists is one of determining whether this occurrence of human behavior is like this other occurrence; let’s use these methods! They’ve got a lot of baggage (er, assumptions), and it’s not always obvious when somebody has ditched that baggage (satisfied those assumptions), but the great thing about it is that *there are ways of figuring that out, too*! You’re an Austrian; I thought you liked logical systems that are a priori true. Mathematics is a beautifully axiomatic discipline, and its sister, statistical inference, is pretty hot, too.

But, of course, the world does not repeat itself (or so I hear from the Austrians, over and over again, which makes me wonder if they’re aware that the repetition itself disproves their claim in an unimportant but comic way). We cannot regress Y on X, for that implies that the horse is flying, and yet we know it runs. It’s the opposite of the hybrid on Battlestar Galactica: All this has NOT happened before, and all this will NEVER happen again!

I guess so, but only in a trivial sense. We are predictable creatures. We have patterns. Whether you voted in the last election explains a lot of the variance in your choice to vote next time. The elasticity of our labor supply is low around the world (in the 20th century, anyway). Raising taxes on a behavior lowers its incidence; the question is merely one of magnitude. These things have happened before, and they will happen again. So say we all.

Of course, you’ve heard this all before. You hear it from non-Austrians all the time, and it frustrates you (not you personally, sir, but the plural ‘you’ of Austrian economists). You have answers to these critiques, some of which I have joked about above (thanks, Tyler!). And now you have people at GMU, the House of Austrian, saying it again and loudly. Why do I say it? Put simply, I want to learn the dominant language. Just as immigrants to the U.S. need their children to learn English in order to thrive here, we need to learn modern mathematical methods and statistical techniques in order to thrive in our discipline. I want to talk to my peers in a language that is clear and precise, and I want to understand them when they’re talking, too.

I apologize if you find this frustrating, or if my classmates find it disheartening. But I’m not going to walk into a room of English speakers spouting classic Gaelic just because you all want to speak it. And I’m going to inform the people with whom I study that nobody outside their little tribe speaks Gaelic anymore, either. It's their call what to do from there; I'm just offering... some data.



PS- I apologize if this is less than organized; I wanted to respond seriously to your post, but I do need to study for finals and write an econometrics paper (of all things!;-).

Interesting Jared.

In a comment full of calls to Austrians to use data and facts and set up "disprovable" theories, you ignore Pete's empirical challenge:

The claim that being an Austrian is a career-killer is "testable." And the evidence is pretty clear that it is false.

If you really want to say that being an Austrian excludes you from the profession, it behooves you to not engage in the sort of a priori reasoning you do above and confront the data. The data say you're wrong. Do you have other data or a different theory?

You moved the goalposts by suggesting that Austrian economics is methodologically suspect. That wasn't Pete's point. Saying that that it's false to claim it's a career-killer was. That's the data you still need to confront.


If you're not just pulling our leg, then I'm afraid you're worshipping false gods. It is simply not true math = rigorous. Diran Bodenhorn wrote a classic article on this point, in which he exposes internal contradictions in another classic article by none other than Harold Hotelling. See,
One of Bodenshorn's big points is that the math must be interpreted and the verbal interpretation may be inconsistent with the mathematical expression.

Karl Menger, the mathematician son of Carl Menger has also written great things on how "literary" statements are not necessarily less "rigorous" than "formal" statements.

You really go off the rails, I'm afraid, when you say math = falsifiable. The theoretical entities in a "neoclassical" model are often quite different from measurable quantities, so it becomes a problem to know if you got appropriate proxies and such. How would you test Debreu's _Theory of Value_?

Somehow I am reminded of Machlup's quip. "And let us remember the poor econometrician who had to use a proxy for risk and a dummy for sex!"

Math is swell. I'm all for math. But it is not a magic wand making all things scientific, rigorous, and falsifiable. It just ain't, dude.


Our "disagreement" reminds me of the old joke about the pessimist and the optimist. The optimist thinks everything is just as good as it can be, and the pessimist agrees with him. I think we really agree even though your comments seem a bit pessimistic and I might be more optimistic.

I think "pursue your passion" is right. I also think you have to engage the rest of the profession, which means writing articles aimed at "mainstream" economists. One of the "constraints imposed by professional expectations" is that you can't reach the mainstream by clipping out a lot of block quotes of Mises and Hayek, but only by reading mainstream literature and going there. (Something you, Ed, do ably IMHO.) Such "outreach" is part of pursuing your passion.


What is a "movement school"? Any department that has at least one free-market economist already?


Oh, indeed. Note that I am not arguing that studying Austrian will lead to no jobs; several students ahead of me have demonstrated that this is a silly claim. I am making a different claim: using Austrian methods involves not talking to the rest of the discipline.

Personally, I don't think that it is very interesting to talk about the rest of the discipline and not get a response from it. I think that your empirical challenge (in general, not the specific one), is a good call; I'm working on it with respect to whether Austrians are primarily (a) talking amongst themselves or (b) discussing with the discipline. It is very tedious to code citations across journals for a year; for several years it may take, well, several years. I'll let you know what the network of citations looks like when I get 2008 done for, say, the first 10 journals.

Again, Prof Boettke is arguing that there are people who are arguing against studying Austrian economics. I imagine that there are; I know that I'm one of the students who speaks less than enthusiastically about it, but not for the study itself. I just don't jive on the methodology. Austrian methodology is clearly not a career-killer; there are a bunch of people who can work together across schools to ensure that this is not so (it's actually very impressive--the network, that is). It's just not engaging the rest of the discipline, and I suspect that the reason for this is methodological and not fundamentally theoretical. And correct me if I am incorrect, but not engaging the rest of the discipline likely reduces overall career prospects, even if it does not "kill" them, no?

Thus, a reasonable critique of my post is not that I fail to offer proof, but that I am arguing orthogonally to Prof Boettke. You make that argument; I concede. I am arguing orthogonally, which suggests that either there are other people making the precise argument he addresses, or his argument is orthogonal to comments people like me previously made. Since I'm not the only one who makes such comments, I imagine it's the former, and not the latter. I can see how that would not really address what you want to talk about.


PS- I think that the empirical challenge of Prof Boettke's post is interesting, but I need to think about it. At first pass, Austrians (in general) study at less prestigious institutions (which school among the top 25 has a significant Austrian contingent? This isn't sarcasm, I'm actually blegging here.). So teasing apart the effect of going to a lower-ranked institution and studying Austrian involves carefully considering what constitutes the relevant sample (I mean, even all GMU grad students isn't quite right, as we have a lot of part-timers who want to go back to work when they're done, not teach & research.).



Yup. True. You can misinterpret your mathematical model (unintentionally, I imagine). And that's the equivalent of leaving $20 lying on the floor for another economist to come and pick up (in the form of a corrective interpretation and extension). So it seems to me that over time, scholars would learn to pick up their own $20 (though not always; we might not recognize what we've got!).

Additionally, note that I'm not saying that math is rigorous; I'm saying that math is more precise than narrative (I think that's a reasonable claim, but maybe somebody could write me a narrative of, say, the Stiglitz-Weiss model that captures all its implications. I'm just not that talented.). And I'm also saying that narrative is *considered to be* less rigorous, whether it is or not. Is that not the exact experience that Austrians bemoan? I'm pointing out the two reasons why the rest of economics uses mathematics (they're not original; I've merely put in a tongue-in-cheek form stuff that Mankiw explained on his blog a few years back, I think), and suggesting that if you *want to talk to those people over there, use their language.*



The Volk,

I'm so pleased to be asked for empirical verification; I'll get back to you after the semester ends. Here's a spoiler for why I don't have 'em: if correcting for serial autocorrelation does not meaningfully change the results, you might want to consider buying the DJIA the day before federal elections. It appears that people get a little... jumpy. Or I haven't satisfied my assumptions; it's hard to say just yet.

"Additionally, once one adopts formal (mathematical) theorizing, one’s theories yield up testable predictions. They openly declare to the world how to go about falsifying them."

Well, I think that you can make testable predictions with words and you can make predictions that cannot be tested with mathematics. As Roger said, a loot of modern mathematical economic theory usually cannot be tested.


Um, dude, . . . you said, "It is true that narrative logic *can* offer such precision; the advantage to statements of symbolic logic (such as mathematics) is that it *always* offers such clarity." And you said, "Additionally, once one adopts formal (mathematical) theorizing, one’s theories yield up testable predictions. They openly declare to the world how to go about falsifying them." That's quite a bit different from saying "Oh, in the long run errors can be found out and corrected," which is mostly a hope and, in any event, no less true for "literary" argument. And it's quite a bit different from saying, as I had earlier done on this thread, that you need to shape your rhetoric to your audience.

I think you go wrong in part because you think there is are "Austrian methods." I'm with Percy Bridgman, who said that “the most vital feature of the scientist’s procedure has been merely to do his utmost with his mind, no holds barred.” If you will look in Pete's journal, you will see many different methods applied.


Many claims going on in your comments. My post was not intended for those who don't find the Austrian argument persuasive, but to those who do and just to encourage them to keep plugging along. But I do think there is an empirical claim about whether or not Austrian economics is a career killer. Here I think you ought to examine the evidence. If you want to talk to me about it, then come by and ask me about it anytime. We can discuss the evidence from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

To Ed Lopez (my old padawon learner :)):

Ed!!!! Read what I wrote. The basic advice on pursuing your passion is to ALL graduate students independent of their perspective. This is neither reckless nor silly, it is simply an idea to be intellectually curious and to let your curiosity guide you. Your real mentor lived his entire professional career this way -- Bob Tollison. I, in fact, think I might have first heard this advise from him or from Kenneth Boulding. The basic idea is that if you are not in academics to pursue ideas, you can make a heck of a lot more money writing ad copy on Madison Ave. So study what you find fascinating. A young Bob Tollison did that by studying the military draft, a young Kenneth Boulding did that by studying the ecology of capital, etc. An older Bob Tollison studied baseball, basketball and religion. And an older Kenneth Boulding studied peace, conflict, gifts, etc. And praxeology, that is what excited a young Israel Kirzner. Anarchism, that excited a young to middle aged Murray Rothbard. As far as scholarship is concerned, that is all that matters --- scholars need to pursue their passion. Milton Friedman cared about monetary rules, James Buchanan cared about fiscal policy, etc. Substitute the phrase "public choice economist" for "Austrian economist" in my post and the same advise would apply.

Now your comments on the market are essentially correct --- the market is tough. But students who are curious and do an excellent job of reading widely, thinking hard, writing clearly are going to find jobs. It is my hypothesis that you will be more effective in reading, thinking and writing the more passionate you are about the topic.

The market for economists is a competitive and tough market --- something I have stressed repeatedly on this blog. I-O, Money, International are safe bets as for areas of concentration. Political economy less so. History of ideas very "thin". Austrian economics is a "thin" market, but an active one. But an Austrian trained in traditional field expertise, if they are talented can compete for the jobs in I-O, Money, International Trade, etc. You have to read widely, think hard, write clearly. If you do so, you can make a contribution by "raising the Austrian hand in the classroom of the economics profession."

Having served on many academic hiring committees, I feel compelled to add to what Peter says (without necessarily objecting to it) that economics departments generally gear their searches around orthodox fields of specialization, without any express regard for schools of thought. So: if you want to get an academic job, you had better be able to market yourself as a labor economist, or an IO economist, or a monetary economist, and so on, but _not_ as a member of this or that school of economic thought. If you are a real expert in one of the conventionally-recognized fields, you've got some hope of succeeding within the broader profession.

Too much of an insistence on brandishing your "Austrian" credentials can prove harmful, on the other hand. I've read way too many papers that were so self-consciously "Austrian" that they mainly succeeded in convincing me that their authors were more-or-less ignorant of non-Austrian works concerning their chosen subject. Bear in mind, most readers of your work don't care whether it's "Austrian" or not; and by insisting on telling them you merely give them the impression that the work isn't aimed at them at all, and that they count only as "outsiders," if not enemy outsiders. So, resist the temptation to label your work. Do not call it "An Austrain Perspective on" etc., or anything of that sort. (If the title includes both "Austrian" and "towards," don't bother to rename the paper: just throw the damn thing away.) If you want to do something "Austrian," then do it tacitly, and not by shouting the fact from the rooftops. Otherwise you might as well thumb your nose at the "great unwashed," including practically every potential referee for a non-Austrian journal!


Real time blogging is not possible so my comment was written prior to your latest comment. But let me point out to you that the major Austrian center in academia for years was at NYU, which consistently ranks either in the top 10 or top 20 departments. Look at Mario Rizzo's ThinkMarkets blog for a sense of what he is writing these days.

But I deny that I am not talking to others in the profession, nor do I suggest that my students not talk to others in the profession. Are there some "language barriers"? Of course. But are there examples of people who overcome them? Yes, but some are more successful than others.

The Austrian economists being trained at GMU are encouraged to pursue Austrian economics as they see fit, engage the wider profession, write for the best journals to engage the wider profession, and to put the tracking a truth above the tracking of career as the "best strategy" for advancing their careers.

All I am saying in my post is that economic thinkers should follow what they care about. If they care about history of thought, write history of thought. Understand the consequences of that decision, but make the decision. If you pursue your comparative advantage in intellectual life, you will be more competitive than if you attempt to do something else under the delusion that it will serve you better career wise.

If a student wanted to write on praxeology and the philosophy of economics, I would not only willingly serve as chair, but enthusiastically so. I would however explain the difficult career path they have laid out for themselves and that most likely we will have to truncate their job search because not many schools would find that desirable. Still, if they do it right, then can find a great job at a liberal arts college teaching outstanding students. If a student wanted to write on the debasement of our currency by government, again not only would I agree to chair the dissertation but enthusiastically do so. I would however meet with the student and explain ways they might work on that idea that would reach a wider audience in the profession. And I honestly believe that if they could do it well, they could get a job at a major research university.

Anyway, Jared just so you can update a bit --- this year two of our "Austrian" products (one a recent PhD from WVU who did a post-doc with us; the other a new PhD) will be joining Bill Easterly at his new center at NYU. Bill made those hires precisely because of the knowledge these researchers have in Austrian economics and the free market ideas of Mises, Hayek, P. T. Bauer, etc. One of those students also had a pre-doc fellowship at Cambridge University precisely because of his interests in Austrian economic and the philosophy of economics.

So while I will admit to "thin market" for fields such as history of ideas, methodology, philosophy and economics, constitutional political economy, etc., I do deny your contention that those of us who work in those field primarily talk to each other and do not engage the larger profession. What gives you the impression that we do not talk to others in the economics profession?

BTW, this character Selgin knows of which he speaks!

But keep in mind something, I qualified my "Austrian" endorsement by saying "doing it really well." Doing good work is the best recipe for avoiding all these issues that were raised. Being "Austrian" is not an excuse for doing bad work.


on the citation issue, let me state clearly --- I would love to have a high citation count, my goal is to have a high citation count, I don't have the citation count I'd like. In this sense, I view my efforts as "failing".

I am with you on the standard of what success is in our profession. But keep in mind that if I hit .200 for the Washington Nationals, that would still mean that while I am not such a good hitter and that I play on a rather bad team, I am still a Major League Baseball player. Perhaps I cannot hit that curve ball as I should, but I keep trying to learn.

If I couldn't hit at all, I wouldn't be playing for the Washington Nationals and thus wouldn't be in the Major League.

Contrary to what you might believe, I suggest you first start your measuring with EconLit just to gauge professional activity. Then I would do a SSCI study to sort out activity from accomplishment. But then I would do a google scholar search, etc. to also capture citations in books, etc.

And again remember my point about the lowly hitter with the Washington Nationals. It is better to get up to bat and strike out, rather than to never get a chance to bat at all. And only so many players get the chance to bat against Major League pitchers. Most are still playing in the sandlot leagues, or more likely never playing at all but sitting in a bar with their buddies drinking a beer and eating some nuts and complaining about how the poor guy just struck out.

Jared Barton makes the same point that Bryan Caplan made in 1997

"The simple fact is that M&E [mathematics and econometrics] are the language of modern economics, much as Latin was the language of medieval philosophy. These professional languages waste a lot of time and make it difficult for laymen and academics to communicate. But once mastered, even dissident scholars can use these tools to speak their minds."

The conclusion should be the same as well. "The reasonable intellectual course for Austrian economists to take is to give up their quest for a paradigm shift and content themselves with sharing whatever valuable substantive contributions they have to offer with the rest of the economics profession - and of course, with the intellectually involved public."

As I learn more about Austrian economics today, it seems to me that increasingly the Austrians hear Bryan. Pete Leeson has an empirical paper forthcoming in _American Journal of Political Science_ using spatial econometrics (several of his other papers use mathematical models and econometrics as well). Ben Powell is writing (has written?) a paper on how experimental economics is consistent with praxeology (I suspect it to be along the lines of what Vernon Smith wrote in Cato Journal, 1999).

So.. wait. What's the point of the "Austrian" label in 2009? Pete, why don't you give a message to your students to do GOOD economics and stop worrying about whether or not you are Austrian?

One last thing Jared. You made a remark about GMU being the "House of Austrian". I really wonder what drives that.

Even if we are "liberal" in our interpretation and just take those people who would be willing to self-identify as "Austrian" (as opposed to classical liberal) you would have 3 faculty members --- Dick Wagner, Pete Leeson and myself. In our economics department at GMU we have roughly 30. 3/30 is small. Now we have a large number of people who are well-read in the tradition and have an opinion one way or another --- Cowen, Caplan, Klein, Tabarrok, Boudreaux, Roberts, Williams, etc. Heck Roger Congleton was a post-doc at NYU in the Austrian program; Ron Heiner met Mises when he was in HS; David Levy published in the New Individualist Review during the early days of his graduate education and prior to that studied (I believe) with Ben Ward at UC Berkeley and learned of the socialist calculation debate. This what makes GMU such a great environment for someone like me. But each of these colleagues have criticisms of the Austrian approach and do not adhere to its teachings. Just ask Bryan Caplan, he will tell you at length -- I am sure he already has.

So in what sense is this "House of Austrian" --- it is instead a place full of "former smokers" and "reformed drinkers" who in their mind have seen the way to a 'healthier life-style'. The 'scare quotes' around 'healthier' indicate my doubts about the truth of that claim.


If you read what I wrote, you would know that I did say do good economics. However, what I also said is that if students are interested in doing the unusual things associated with Austrian economics --- methodology, method, history of ideas, comparative, etc. --- they should do it.

Why do others feel compelled to tell others what they should do? If students want to run regressions, I say let them do it. If faculty colleagues want to build models, I say let them do it. If a student/faculty wants to write on praxeology and catallactics, I say let them do it. The test is that everyone must meet the professional standards.

I am just saying that people who write on praxeology and catallactics have in fact met those standards (the best efforts anyhow) and that students can be encouraged to follow that path themselves.

Nobody is asking for a secret handshake Zac, all that is going on is that there are topics that are traditionally associated with the "Austrian School of Economics" and that if students are interested in those topics they are being encouraged to pursue them unashamedly. If I was Bryan I'd feel just as comfortable telling student who were interested in public ignorance, to study that unashamedly, or if I was Dan Houser I'd feel just as comfortable telling students who were interested in experimental economics and emotions to study that unashamedly.

Why is there a disjoint in the examples in yours and Jared's mind?

Prof Boettke,

[This is my last one for a good while, not because I'm not having fun, but because I have written about six pages today, and none of them contributed to finishing my econometrics paper!]

Huh. So I wrote a several page comment several comments ago (in response to your 4:52 post), and the Internet connection ate it (this is what I get for writing you from the JC). It was all about your question on how I got the impression about Austrians not talking to the mainstream. I will try to recreate it from memory (in the near future). Let it suffice to say that I got the impression from (a) comments by Austrians and Austrian students in workshops and at presentations on the difficulty of publishing narratives, (b) Prof Leeson's anecdote in his new book on the unusual nature of his JPE piece relative to others, and (c) a brief comparison I made between a few mainstream journals and the RAE.

Also, on the House of Austrian: that is a comment I made with respect to attending the Graduate Student Paper Workshop (GSPW for the uninitiated... hello, you great unwashed!). More than one individual has asked me why I came to Mason, "where Austrian is taught" when I am so hostile to Austrian methodology. My reply is just that I was under the impression that I could ignore all that and do good ol' technical economics and experimental. So I guess that's more a function of which side my bread is buttered than a function of Mason per se.

On your batter for the Nationals: yes. There was a long comment about that. By me. Lost to the ages. To be reproduced after I go to Micro II (and, with luck, finish a few pages that are *not* comments on your blog:-).


PS- On Prof Leeson's spacial econometrics: hell yeah. Read it a while ago; love the paper. Simple model, novel dataset, cool technique, interesting result.


First, I suggest you talk to former students at ICES such as Ryan Oprea about how he supplemented his GMU education with courses at Maryland and to talk with Dan Houser about how best to prepare yourself for a career in the experimental field.

Second, my advice (and my example) is about trying to engage the larger profession -- how poorly I've done it is another question (and the point of my .200 hitter). But I deny your premise about the impossibility of getting analytic narratives published. It is hard, but publishing in good journals is hard for everyone. How much the sweeter when you publish as a slightly out of sync economist anyway!

Anyway, I think somehow the experience at GSPW has given you a wrong impression about the nature of Austrian work and the attitude of Austrian economists toward work in the profession. I do recommend that you talk to Pete Leeson, since I imagine you might find him more persuasive than you would me. Alternatively, you could have that conversation with Vernon Smith and ask him about Lakatos and the methodology of economics. Vernon had a lot of challenging things to say when he was setting out to establish a niche for experimental economics when the profession thought he was not on the right track. Or, perhaps you could look at Buchanan's What Should Economists Do? essay and how he deviated from the accepted methodology and methods of his day --- the recent RAE issue on the exchange paradigm versus the allocation paradigm in economics might be useful for you to look at --- and given your inclinations why not read Rob Axtell's piece, who also has had to struggled to get his agent-based computational methods accepted within the profession.

Look I am not going to persuade you about the way you should approach economics, all I am interesting exploring is a mutual understanding (and respect) for one anothers position with respect to economics --- its methodology, its methods of analysis, and its teaching. Hopefully that at least can be reached.


Okay, Pete. We're on the same page.

I simply throw the caution flag at "pursue your passion, period." Instead you should have initially said "pursue your passion SUBJECT TO..." and then fill in your way of saying what I said, which is "subject to meeting professional standards."

All the success stories that you point to--from RDT to Boulding to The Troika to Noel and me to all your recent placements--are just that: SUCCESS stories. The new crop needs to avoid becoming one of the unseen failures, and to do so they need to play the professional game of economics AS PROFESSIONAL ECONOMISTS. Following an irrelevant passion when you have the talent to do something that matters--well, that would be both silly and reckless.

But as I said, we are on the same page. You'll always be my Yoda.


Pete asks why there is a disjoint in my mind between encouraging students to study in a topic like public ignorance and encouraging them to study Austrian economics.

What is "Austrian economics"? This is what I am trying to get at. It cannot be "unusual things associated with Austrian economics --- methodology, method, history of ideas, comparative, etc." because it is possible to write about those topics and not be Austrian. In any case that would be a very strange definition of Austrian economics. So that is the disjoint. When you counsel interested students to "do Austrian economics" you are not just advising them to study the topics that interest them. You are advising them on which analytical framework to use to study the topics they are interested in.

When critics say "do not do Austrian economics" I hope they are not saying "do not study topics which Austrian economists study, like economic history or business cycles." If they are that is very silly. Just like if a critic of Marxism says "do not do Marxian economics" they are not saying "do not study topics which interests Marxists like labor economics or monetary economics" they are saying "do not use the analytical framework of Marxism." Also note that even if you could have a good career as a Marxian economist it does not follow that you should do Marxian economics. The idea that you should be encouraged to use an analytical framework because you are interested in it or you can have a good career doing it is bizarre.

So I am asking the question because I want to know and I do not think it has been made clear. When you say "Do Austrian economics," (in 2009) what are you saying, and why?


I will be more explicit then. If students are convinced that the Austrian approach is correct, then they should pursue that approach without any worry whatsoever that it will impact their career options provided they do quality work.

Without trying to blow my horn, I have held appointments since earning my PhD at: NYU (ranked #12 -- 1990-1998); Stanford (1992-93; 94); and LSE (2004; 2006). Each of these appointments were because, not in spite of, my Austrianism. Pete Leeson has held appointments at WVU (2005-2007), LSE (2005), and next year will be at Chicago. You can point to a percentage of his papers which have in fact conformed to conventional methods, but more than half of his papers are explicitly Austrian, and all of his papers are Austrian in motivation. Mario Rizzo has taught at NYU since the mid 1970s, and has also taught at NYU Law, and had appointments at Chicago and at Yale.

So there are methods of disequilibrium analysis and entrepreneurial adjustment that are not fully captured in conventional methods; there are methodological critiques of scientism which are not appreciated in conventional approaches; there are questions of institutional analysis, etc. In short, the Austrian school has some comparative advantages in analysis that are currently under appreciated.

At least that is my sincere belief and that is what I try to demonstrate in my articles (targetted at the best journals I can publish in) and in my books.

But I do have a broader perspective, as opposed to a narrow perspective, on economic research and the social sciences. My own approach need not be the approach of others. I believe pluralism is a result, not a position in the social sciences. For example, I am an editor (with Timur Kuran) of the Cambridge Studies in Cognition, Economy and Society. This is not an outlet for Austrian works but for a broader set of ideas in the social sciences some of which may have a strong affinity with the work of Hayek and others in the Austrian tradition. My book series with Edward Elgar is more Austrian in orientation, but again not exclusively as its purpose is simply to promote the philosphy, politics and economics program. RAE on the other hand is more about pushing out the frontiers of the Austrian program. And my own publications is different from my editing duties.

Bottom line: as Mises said, all I can do is submit my work to the critical evaluation of my peers. This is what I try to do. I keep trying to track truth as I see it. To me Austrian economics does that better than alternatives.

NOTE --- truth tracking comes first, Austrian approach is a means to that end, good career is an outcome of doing good work that tracks truth. So your claim that my emphasis on success in the profession as "bizarre" is a misunderstanding.

Thank you Pete, this is really great advice and I will take it in the spirit in which it was intended. Pete has noticed that many of my peers feel like they have to work on the topics that everyone else is working on or that they have to stifle their own unique voice in order to be successful. This is not true. It is precisely the fact that we are working on interesting topics and have a unique viewpoint that will make us successful, privided, of course, that we bring to bear the requisite passion and hard work. I now feel liberated to study whichever topic I am most passionate about and find most important. The "mainstream" definitely has not absorbed very many of the important Austrian insights. Precisely the opposite is true. There is so much work to do that there is 100 times more than there are Austrian economists to do it. The progressive research programs of Mises and Hayek are so underexplored that it can sustain a research agenda for year after year of graduate students that will lead to productive and successful careers. Our challange as graduate students is to do justice to their ideas by pursuing them with cosumate scholarship.

Nick Curott. Please give me some clear specific examples of Austrian insights that are absent from the modern economics that is not labeled Austrian.

Pete, thanks for clarifying your position for me.

When critics say that students should not use the Austrian framework, I think it is likely that most of them do so because they think the Austrian approach is incorrect. In this case, it is perfectly reasonable that they counsel their students or fellow graduate students to not pursue it. Just as you do not counsel your students to pursue the Marxian approach, or the neoclassical approach, since you believe Austrian economics to be better than the alternatives for tracking truth.

But you say "The concerns that some faculty and your fellow graduate studetns are voicing are WRONG and can be proven to be wrong by a simple examination of the facts of the fate of GMU graduate students over the years." Yes, it proves that it is possible to have what most of us would consider a successful career while doing Austrian economics, possibly even because your work is Austrian and not in spite of it. But that does not mean the Austrian approach is correct. Other students will do neoclassical economics, do it well, and achieve success. This does not mean that their approach is correct, either.

Wouldn't your colleagues who discourage students from doing Austrian economics be hypocrites to do otherwise, if they think the Austrian approach is wrong and do not identify as Austrians or use the Austrian approach in their own work? Likewise the students who do not find Austrian claims convincing should tell their fellow students that they should not do Austrian economics. That is the basis for a healthy debate on the real question: are the important and distinguishing (unique to) claims of Austrian economics, which are foundational for understanding of all sorts of phenomena, true or false? This is not the proper forum for that debate of course. It so happens I think false but that's coincidental.

I agree that it would be inappropriate to tell someone what topic to study. But when you say "I am not an Austrian economist" it is not inappropriate to add "and you shouldn't be either." Indeed that should be implied.

The great G.L.S. Shackle converted to Keynesianism while a student of Hayek. He told Hayek he would now have to seek out a new advisor. Hayek told him that it was okay and he (Shackle) could finish with him (Hayek). I don't think Hayek was a hypocrite for choosing not to "discourage students from doing [Keynesian] economics." Do you, Zac?

Hey Zac,

I just finished supervising the honors thesis of a graduating senior (Phi Beta Kappa etc) who wrote on the calculation debate, arguing that Austrians weren't as right as they thought. He's on his way to U-Mass Amherst on a full ride in the fall.

Am I a hypocrite or an open-minded scholar who believes that students should pursue their passions and do so with the highest quality work possible?

One can believe that a particular paradigm is wrong and nonetheless encourage students to pursue it if that is what *they* truly believe is right and if they have the passion and skill to do so. The world you think faculty should live in bears little resemblance to what is required to do the job right.

We are not here to make little replicas of ourselves. We are here to guide and mentor students on the paths that *they* think are best. I can believe Austrian economics is the "right" paradigm and still be a pluralist when it comes to approaches and encourage a non-Austrian student to pursue his or her passions.

Selgin may be right... Austrians should perhaps learn to "write (and talk) between the lines"... See also: Leo Strauss, "La persécution et l´art d´écrire".


Steve and Roger state my position on teaching and the teacher-student relationship.

Also in the particular cases that started this discussion thread the claim was not don't do Austrian economics because it is wrong, it was instead, don't do Austrian economics because it is career suicide.

If someone said don't do Austrian economics because it is wrong, I would disagree, but understand their consistency. In fact, I would have STRONG reasons to disagree and would do so with them --- as I have with Bryan (who I think is wrong both in his original article, and in his repeated claims on ABCT and uncertainty, and on indiffernce, etc., etc.). BTW, on the open mindedness issue --- I was one of two referees on Bryan's SEJ paper, the other referee was also an Austrian economist. Both of us tried to give Bryan suggestions on how to make his own argument stronger, not to tell him he should never make his own argument. Think about that --- as McCloskey would say, that is following in the footsteps of Milton Friedman, not in the footsteps of George Stigler.

But again, the advice being given to students wasn't on intellectual grounds, but on career grounds. And here there is an evidence burden that must be met with respect to the history of GMU's program. We have produced hundreds of PhD students in a 25 years history. This is an empirical question. Does the record indicate career suicide for those who pursue an Austrian oriented research program, and if not, what does that signal to current students?

Btw there is nothing new about this criticism. When I was a graduate student I heard it. But I also was very friendly with Bob Tollison, and he told me -- while he encouraged many others to come on-board with him --- that I was too deeply gone when it came to "Australian economics" and that I should just do it. This was after I brought Bob a copy of his review of O'Drsicoll's Economics as a Coordination Problem and told him I didn't realize how Austrian he was (BTW, for all you public choice guys that see a fundamental contradiction between Austrian and public choice, read this review, and then recognize the wisdom of Dick Wagner and Randy Holcombe, which derives from both Buchanan and Tullock --- Virginia is quite different from Chicago, recognize!). Many of the students when I was in graduate school made fun of us and our teachers. There probably were some good reasons to make fun of us. While people have been making this criticism at GMU for 25 years (and at other places for well over 50 years), they are wrong on both the intellectual criticisms and the career advice.

Bottom line: pursue your passion and do really good analysis and write clearly, and you will find a home even if you are out of sync with the mainstream of current practice. You will find a home both in the publishing world and the teaching world. And you will find a readership, even among those who fundamentally disagree with you.

The book also exists in the English language of course, see: Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Steve, I don't have all the information to judge. It would not be hypocritical to encourage your student to write on, say the economic calculation debate. It would be hypocritical to encourage them to do Marxian economics. If your student said "I want to do Marxian economics," and you responded "Great! I know a school in Massachusetts where you will find Marxian professors to work with. You should go there and follow your passion," then yes that is hypocritical. Why? Because Marxian economics is based on false claims.

What would not be hypocritical is to tell the student to study the topic of economic calculation using a correct analytical framework. This is the process of teaching. The Labor Theory of Value is one claim of Marxian economics - as teacher your job is to say this theory is wrong, and marginalism is true and explain why. It is appropriate to have a discussion about why the LTV is false but not appropriate to encourage the student to go out and do "good work" using the LTV as a part of their analytical framework.

Roger, in the case of Hayek and Shackle I know even fewer details, but I doubt Hayek actively encouraged Shackle to embrace ideas that he (Hayek) thought were false.

Pete says "in the particular cases that started this discussion thread the claim was not don't do Austrian economics because it is wrong, it was instead, don't do Austrian economics because it is career suicide." I cannot believe that Pete's colleagues at GMU would say "Austrian economics is the correct framework but do not use it because it is impossible to get a job as an Austrian economist." Firstly, if they thought Austrian economics was correct they would be Austrian economists. Secondly, to say it is impossible to get a job as an Austrian economists would be to deny the existence of some of their own colleagues, a truly bizarre position.

I can believe they would say "do not do Austrian economics because many of its defining claims are false" and might further add "if you do Austrian economics, you will find it difficult to get a job at most universities compared to if you did conventional economics" which is an uncontroversial claim. Pete, don't you agree that this is what the critics actually mean?

"Firstly, if they thought Austrian economics was correct they would be Austrian economists."

Isn´t it a bit naive to believe that?

"Secondly, to say it is impossible to get a job as an Austrian economists would be to deny the existence of some of their own colleagues, a truly bizarre position."

It needn´t be such a black-and-white matter, but surely some career choices are more _risky_ than others. It also depends on what you want to achieve. If your aim in life is to become a professor at MIT, clearly Austrian economics is not the wisest choice to make...

Zac writes:

"It would be hypocritical to encourage them to do Marxian economics. If your student said "I want to do Marxian economics," and you responded "Great! I know a school in Massachusetts where you will find Marxian professors to work with. You should go there and follow your passion," then yes that is hypocritical. Why? Because Marxian economics is based on false claims."

Well guess what Zac? That's exactly what I did. He and I had a long conversation about heterodox programs and he had already thought about U Mass-A and I encouraged him to apply there for exactly the reason you point out: "that is where your passion will be be fulfilled."

That is what good teachers do and I certainly hope you don't have academia in your future.

And I certainly hope I never hear you complain about left-wing professors indoctrinating their students or being purveyors of political correctness. You have just demonstrated that you are no better than they are.

Seriously, Zac, I don't think you have clue about what teaching is really about. Not a clue.

Steve says the role of the teacher is to encourage students to use whatever sort of analytical framework they want when studying economic topics. In that case there cannot be a correct economic way of thinking, or if one exists at least it is not really that important to use it. What is really important is that you are following your "passion" and not that you are thinking correctly. Call this position 'economic relativism.'

A comparison is drawn between my position on pedagogy and left-wing ideological indoctrination, suggesting they are equivalent and equally contemptible. What Steve is saying, therefore, is that economics is indistinguishable from ideology, being both matters of opinion and not fact. Furthermore, he is saying what is contemptible about these positions is that they insist their ideology is the correct one when there is no such thing, not that their ideology is actually wrong. I disagree on both counts.

I'm an economic objectivist. To me, teaching economics should be about communicating to students basic truths about the economic way of thinking and encouraging them to apply that way of thinking to a number of topics. "One true theory, many applications" as Pete has said. According to Steve I have "no clue about what teaching is really about," so much so that he wishes ill upon my academic aspirations.

When I was an undergraduate, I had teachers one might consider purely "Austrian" and some that were neoclassical. When I expressed interest in graduate study, those Austrians I knew encouraged me to use the Austrian framework to conduct research and those neoclassicals encouraged me to use that framework. I would expect nothing else, since none of my teachers were economic relativists, and all had my best interests at heart when giving advice.

My idea of what teaching is really about comes from my own teachers. Maybe none of them knew what teaching is really about, either.

Simply put Zac: I was not going to change this young man's mind no matter how hard I tried to force a different paradigm down his throat. His intellectual commitments pre-dated our mentor-mentee relationship. In fact, I never had him for class. We "hooked up" because he wanted to write on the calculation debate and I'm the local expert.

What was I supposed to do? Refuse to supervise his thesis because I think he's wrong? Refuse to give him grad school advice because I'm giving aid and comfort to the enemy? What a good teacher does is this situation is two things:

1. Continually throw critical questions at the student to challenge his preconceptions and push him the best you can to see other sides of the issue.

2. Help him construct the best argument he can, if you are satisfied that he correctly understands what he's read.

To attempt to force him over to my point of view and/or to decline to work with him because he sees the world differently are both to abandon the role of the teacher and to become an ideologue.

I'm not an economic relativist. I believe there is economic "truth" out there, or at the very least that AE approaches it best. But I don't believe it's my job as a teacher to ram my perceptions of the truth down my students' throats. I can continue to gently persuade and give them the tools, but they ultimate have to, and get to, make up their own minds.

Would any of my fellow faculty members who blog or comment here disagree?

Sorry to post again.

LVDH rhetorically asks if it is naive to believe that if faculty really thought Austrian economics was correct, they would be Austrians. I would say, maybe in general this is a naive belief but in the specific case of GMU faculty probably no. If you are freshly minted assistant professor at Princeton, maybe you don't come out of the Austrian closet because you think that it will hurt your career. If you are a tenured faculty member at GMU you have little reason to be in the Austrian closet.

LVDH also says "surely some career choices are more _risky_ than others". I agree. I think this is what people are saying when they say "doing Austrian economics is career suicide" or something to that effect-- that compared to mainstream methods and popular topics, it is risky to do Austrian economics. Since they are not saying it is _impossible_, a handful of examples of professors who do Austrian economics does not make the claim 'WRONG'. Is the fact that doing Austrian economics is risky a good reason not to do Austrian economics? Not in my opinion. Getting your PhD at GMU is risky in comparison to getting your JD at GMU, but it does not follow that all GMU PhD students should try to enroll in law school.

I'm going to stop participating in this thread, especially since I've been personally insulted. I actually think Pete gives very good advice: if Austrian economics is correct, and you believe it is correct, and you believe you can do good work, you should do Austrian economics. By all accounts, Pete is an amazing teacher with the best interests of his students at heart. However, I disagree that anyone is wrong to point out that approaching a research agenda as an Austrian is more risky career wise than approaching it with the mainstream framework. I also disagree that it is wrong to discourage students from doing Austrian economics if you believe Austrian economics is wrong. Pete says that is not what the post is about, but I think it is implicit in most recommendations not to do Austrian economics.

Sorry you're insulted Zac, but now maybe you know how I feel, having had my teaching labeled hypocritical by you before I said one word to you.

You know, I've been at this teaching thing for a long time. I'm looking up at my shelf with my awards. Faculty member of the year in 2003. Recognition for being in the top 10% of student evals last fall university-wide (first time we've recognized that). Six years as the associate dean of a program nationally recognized as a leader in liberal arts pedagogy. A year directing our teaching and learning center. All of those at an institution where I am constantly in awe of the teaching skills of many of my colleagues.

I'm pretty sure I have this whole teaching thing right. Sorry if you feel insulted by my rejection of your apparent teaching philosophy. And my apologies if this sounds arrogant, but I just want to provide the empirical data to back my claims.

Both schoolmates and teachers should respect and learn from each other.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Our Books