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Nevertheless, the sentiment is still sound.

The important question is whether the attempt to influence public policy and gain recognition from our peers necessarily indicates a choice of profession over vocation.

If Salerno's point is "don't sacrifice the truth for professional recognition," then there is no quarrel. But if his point is, "to seek professional recognition indicates something other than truth-seeking," then he is making an error. Just because you would pursue something without the recognition or the influence does not mean that you do not seek the recognition or the influence. As human beings we value many things. I value the truth. I value professional acclaim. I value making the world a better place through influence on public opinion and public policy.

Does my quest for influence somehow negate my quest for the truth? No. May I have to sacrifice one for the other? Perhaps. And if I do, I will sacrifice the influence and the acclaim. Because economics is my vocation; whether or not I seek some extroversive rewards for my efforts in addition to the introversive ones that I am already getting.

I dunno Pete: "focusing on advancement" doesn't sound so O.K. to me. I mean (as I have to repeatedly remind students who abuse the word) if you "focus" on something, you must blur something else.

With Krugman becoming ever more supercilious and snide ( toward our own free-market bent I wonder why we seemingly "focus" more of our attention on the minor differences that exist amongst ourselves, rather than giving a bold, credible, learned response to the Laureate, whose influence on public opinion grows in direct proportion said publics' ignorance on questions of economic concern.
Will any of you please refute this man cogently? For the good of the rest of us. Thanks.

re: "whose influence on public opinion grows in direct proportion said publics' ignorance on questions of economic concern"


Meeting in dialogue is great, complexphenom. I'm all for that. But this sentiment is a little obnoxious and more than a little insulting.

I agree with Jenny. The whole distinction between truth seeking (vocation) and simple professional acclaim is oversimplified.

The term "vocation" with its religious overtones connotes being called to something good and noble. However, a person with no interest in acclaim may be pusuing his studies for pure amusement -- a kind of game in the ordinary sense -- with no interest in "truth."

On the other hand, if you think the profession is comprised of smart and wise people then professional acclaim may be a sign of the successful pursuit of knowledge. After all, individuals need feedback to know if they have made errors.

The should be no surprise to economists who believe that competition is a discovery process. The key is what one thinks of the feedback mechanism. If this is defective, however, it does not necessarily mean that those who are "called" to the study of economics are pursuing truth. They may be simply spinning their wheels in place.

Krugman suffers from Laureate's Syndrome: a psychiatric disorder that causes people to imagine that they are experts in everything because they've been recognized as eminent in something.

George Selgin said: ""focusing on advancement" doesn't sound so O.K. to me. I mean (as I have to repeatedly remind students who abuse the word) if you "focus" on something, you must blur something else."

if this is really so, would not that be a proof that if you focus on truth and advancement of knowledge you necessarily must blur your career prospects and fame as well. And if your understanding of advancement of truth is such that puts you strongly against the prevailing intellectual tradition (if you are an "Austrian" for example), then you almost by definition must disregard or even sacrifice your career prospects in order to advance the science and truth as you see them.

Of course truth seeking and professional recognition are not mutually exclusive. (Certainly Joe doesn't claim this in the article linked by Pete.) Where they coincide, we all applaud, and there isn't much to talk about. The interesting cases involve trade-offs at the margin. I personally think these trade-offs are real and are important.

On a related note, I would like to push Pete to describe the historical, sociological, and/or philosophical underpinnings of his view of science. Pete takes the position, following Kirzner, that the economics profession more-or-less values truth and that Austrian economists have been marginalized because their arguments haven't been good enough, they haven't worked hard enough, they haven't been smart enough, and so on. This has always puzzled me because Pete has written much on institutions, is a student of the New Institutional Economics and of public choice, yet doesn't say much about the roles of funding, ideology, social norms, status, etc. in scientific progress. As far as I can tell, the Kirzerian view of science is entirely a-institutional. Am I wrong about this?

What Peter Klein said.

Taking up Peter Klein's point, more recognition is required for the influence of fads, fashions and funding in directing scientific efforts, usually in the wrong directions. Kuhn's descriptive work on the diffusion of scientific innovations needs to be seen as a warning and a challenge to do better, not to relax and enjoy riding the paradigm.

On the topic of institutions and exerting influence through institutions Ian Jarvie wrote a challenging paper for the "Rethinking Popper" conference in Prague 2007, now in print. He pointed out that despite Popper's gesture to the importance of institutional analysis in The Poverty of Historicism in the 1940s (a direction that North pursued with some distinction), he personally neglected the "entrepreneurial" work required in the way of networking, building coalitions of influence, using positions of influence to advance careers of followers etc that Lakatos performed so brilliantly to make a huge impact in the academic marketplace with his own defective products.

A similar failure of coalition building occurred when Talcott Parsons, von Mises and Popper developed very similar frameworks durig the 1930s for the advancement of economics and sociology but then never talked to each other to pursue their interests and work out their differences. An active partnership of those three and their associates could have saved economics from the excesses of formalism and also kept sociology and the other human sciences in touch with economics as a multidisciplinary going concern.

prof Klein,

It would be useful if you could clarify what kind of "trade-offs on the margin" you are referring to. Do you think that there is a defensible trade-off between the scientific truth-seeking and some other considerations, such as career prospects, influencing politicians or whatever?

I suppose that you did not mean to suggest such, but your language reminded me of a canonical statement offered by the late climatologist Stephen Schneider: "every one of us has to strike a proper balance between being honest and being effective" (meaning - a balance between the scientific truth and political propaganda for "climate change mitigation"). Do you think that the people working in the field of economics from the Austrian perspective should have also "to strike a proper balance between being honest and being effective" (maybe in a different sense of "effectiveness"?)? Some people think that the Austrians should avoid divisive and idiosyncratic stuff, such as the capital theory, business cycle, praxeology, talk about abolishing the Fed in order to get a “better hearing” from the profession Hayek himself said many times that he avoided mentioning the Soviet Union in “Road to Serfdom” in order to not prejudice the socialist readership against the book. Did Hayek made a service to liberty by discretely omitting comrade Stalin from a totalitarian Hall of infamy? Or by attacking laissez-faire in “Road to Serfdom”? Were all of these “trade-offs on the margin” effective or harmful? I think they were harmful.

As I understood Salerno's article, his main point was that a "vocational economist" puts truth above all other considerations and rejects the possibility of any kind of trade-off; if his work meets the acclaim of the "profession", well and good. If not, so much the worse for the "profession". No trade-offs, even "on the margin", in order to improve one's "professional standing" or have a “better hearing from the profession”.


I certainly believe institutions matter, just as I believe individual personalities matter. The "truth win out" view of Kirzner is problematic. But so is the idea that the profession is somehow skewed against truth.

My position lies somewhere between Mises and Samuelson in the article that Joe wrote. The key issue in my mind is to see under what institutional conditions the Samuelson type motivation of the scientist (applause of one's peers) can result in the Mises type discovery of truth.

Now that is my "invisible hand" type argument for science which I have presented before and gets debated in an upcoming issue of the RAE by Garnett among others.

I have mentioned before, the best book I think there is on the nature of intellectual progress is Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies. Cambridge University Press.

I also have a practical advice role as a graduate advisor to young men and women entering into the academic world. My general rules is that the more unconventional your argument is in substance, the more conventional it must be in style. I don't mean by style the form an argument is expressed --- model and measure --- what I mean is the form in terms of writing style, citation practice, etc., etc. Think like a Misesian, I have often said, but write like a Popperian.

I want my students to get the best teaching jobs they can get --- highest paying, best students to work with, greatest resources at their disposal for their own research, etc. The reality is that most students from a PhD program of GMU's rank will end up at a mid-level state university. So the idea is to prepare them to land a position above that academic tier -- high quality liberal arts colleges, or big state universities or other PhD programs. Since the goal is for them to both push out the research program of Austrian economics as they understand it, _and_ land the most highly leveraged position in academia that they can find, they have to take various steps. This is "profession" training. But I don't think it is about trading off "truth seeking".

Finally, besides Collins, I also draw my scientific understanding on "advancement" from Michael Polanyi --- besides Personal Knowledge, also and perhaps even more importantly his The Republic of Science.

It is from Polanyi where I get the idea of being a successful out-of-sync economists is to nevertheless become a productive input into the scholarly production process of others.


P.S.: How does the "truth seeker" know they have in fact discovered "truth" except for the eventual acceptance of his/her argument by their peers? We all have private confidence, and we seek truth --- but once we think we found it, don't we face a burden of trying to communicate it?

Nikolaj, I merely noted the existence of these trade-offs. I made no normative statement about how they should be evaluated, by the profession as a whole or by individual scholars.

"But this sentiment is a little obnoxious and more than a little insulting."

@ kuehn: & refering to free-market protagonists as "zombies" isn't? I stand by my honest assessment.

complexphenom -

Its usually said of specific theories, not "free-market protagonists". The reference to "zombies" is just to say that some of these ideas were debunked a long time ago, but for some reason are still held by people. Sometimes I agree with the assessment and sometimes I don't, but I don't consider that insulting. What would be insulting is if someone had said what you had said - that you'd have to be ignorant to believe, say, the Austrian theory. If anyone says THAT, then of course I'd consider that obnoxious and insulting as well. I may agree with Krugman far more often than Boettke, but I'd never suggest that you have to be ignorant to agree with Boettke.

For as dissecting as you are Daniel, I'm surprised you managed to think complexphenom was calling you or anyone else ignorant, rather than just calling attention to the public's lack of understanding of economics--which ISN'T calling them ignorant, just simply ignorant (or unknowledgable) of economic issues.

Othyem - you didn't notice the suggestion that Krugman's economics could only be bought by an ignorant public?

That's true - "ignorant" need not be insulting to the public in this case. But it's still insulting to people who think Krugman has been quite thoughtful, is it not?

That took a lot of courage to say. Happy Holidays.

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