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« Links from Organizations & Markets | Main | Institute for New Thinking in Economics -- First Conference Agenda »


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I have not read Mirowski's new book, so will not comment on it as such. I have a lot of agreement with Pete's more general view of Phil, that he is brilliant but also flawed. Machine Dreams is a highly original take on the history of economic thought with many profound insights, even as there are places where he goes quite off the rails about certain people and ideas. When it first came out I stopped by the Cambridge University Press stand to see if I could look at it, and they told me somebody had walked off with their display copy. They joked that they did not know if it was an admirer or somebody angry about how he treated them in the book.

I would note that at times Phil has actually made efforts to make innovative arguments regarding economic theory. In my view, the most important such effort came in a target article that was accompanied by vigorous commentaries (some favorable, some very much not so) that appeared in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, June 2007, 63(2), 209-242, entitled "Markets come to bits: Evolution, computation and markomata in economic science." It is essentially the extension of his most important arguments in Machine Dreams into an attempt at a full-blown theory, whatever one may think of that theory.

At the recent ASSA meetings he presented a paper at a joint AEA/HES session that I organized to try to explain the financial crash. Frankly, I thought he did a better job than many other efforts I have seen, although as usual he overdid his critiques of some individuals. BTW, there is nothing about the Mt. Pelerin Society or "neoliberalism" in either of those papers.

Thanks Pete!
In one of his other essays he offered some thoughts in one of my areas of interest; for my take on his take on Popper, check out the first part of this post
This is a new blog set up by Matt Dioguardi as a vehicle for critical rationalism and Popperism.

Phil Mirowski is critical of autodidacts (see his comments on Wik) but he has some of the characteristics of the autodidact himself, like covering too much ground and not doing the essential reading in many areas. You need good colleagues to get away with that, or you need to go back and fill in the gaps.

Still this approach is better than the timid and over-specialised pedant who knows nothing outside his niche.

Why the "neoliberalism" talk? Don't mimic degeneracy.

People who use the term neo-liberalism usually want to convey the idea that statist liberalism is the norm from which the revival of classical liberalism is the deviation.

Barkley mentions a special issue of JEBO that is well worth reading. I like it in part because it pushes a general area of inquiry I think is important. Plus the whole discussion is illuminating.

But I must confess that Mirowski's take does not look like progress to me. I can't quite make out what it really means to say that a market is an automaton. Plus, he says in the target article that markets are finite automata, but then he says in his response to comments that the finite automata he refers to are not markets, but analogs to genes. Markets are the phenotypic consequences of these automata. I don't see how he can have it both ways. Complicating matters is the fact that markets can reach uncomputable outcomes as Da Costa and Doria have argued.

It sounds like the TV documentary "The Trap". It did something similar to Hayek and Buchanan.

Roger raises a point that indeed is a loose end in Mirowski's theory. Nevertheless, Mirowski does now have a theory beyond accusing people of conspiracy theories and making wisecracks that may not be appropriate about the ideas and personalities of various people.

BTW, his paper presented in Atlanta is called "Complexity as excuse versus complexity as inspiration," and is forthcoming in the Journal of Institutional Economics, edited by Geoffrey Hodgson.

I think I discussed this here before, but whatever Mirowski says about neoliberalism and the Mt. Pelerin Society, there is a rather complicated and tangled tale involved. The term was indeed originally coined by a German Ordo-Liberal who helped found the Mt. Pelerin Society and it was used for a short period of time by people associated with the society then. However, the society experienced some splits early on that were probably involved with the cessation of that use and foreshadowed a later complication. So, that split was between those who were more purely libertarian versus those who were more into the German vision of sozialmarktwirtschaft, thus allowing for a generous social safety net along with free markets and private ownership and no central planning and so on.

Apparently the current usage that seems to imply libertarianism continuously existed from that early usage in Latin American literature, where it was picked up by leftist economists and led to its current usage by Mirowski and (many) others.

However, there was a revival in the late 1970s early 1980s of the other meaning of the term by Charles Peters in Washington, with me unclear if he knew of the earlier usage or just made it up on his own. In any case, it has been and still is used among some US commentators and journalists to refer to center left Democrats who are "liberal" on social policy, but more free market "conservative" on economic policy. This showed up in the 80s with competition with "new" "Atari" Dems such as Gary Hart, presumably a "neoliberal," against "old" Dems or "liberals" such as Walter Mondale. In this terminology, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the "Third Way" gang in the UK such as Tony Blair would all be "neoliberals." That these folks often supported the "Washington Consensus" internationally, made it easier for non-US leftist critics to merge the two together.

It's worse than that. Read any leftist periodical and you'll find neoliberal, neoconservative and neocolonial all used to mean "people we don't like."

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