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They are both right. Mises was addressing economics; Pogge was addressing economists. Big difference.

I think the problem is simply that one person's champion speaking truth to power is another person's ideologue.


Really, anyone who wants to comment of human events needs to be an ideologue since they need to actually have a theoretical understanding of how the world works before they can talk about those events. Understanding of a world proceeds from a knowledge of causal forces, and the only people who should speak about the world are those that understand it.

True understanding just doesn't magically appear from having enough data (as the more naive critics of ideology suppose), but comes from having a theory. The only thing that really separates a theory from an ideology is whether we want to praise or insult the person having it.


The bit about ideologues being sycophants for the elites is just an absurd rhetorical tactic stolen straight from Marxism. The great thing about the truth is that statements are true or false no matter the motivation or those speaking the statements.

Ya, like Harrison I think it's largely a difference of perspective that leads each to say this (one man's ideologue is another man's standing-up-to-power). Pogge almost certainly doesn't think it's a good thing that that's what a lot of economists do, after all! So he's probably on the same page as Mises (and I'd guess Mises would agree that a lot of economists end up doing what Pogge says they do).

I started rereading Heilbroner this week and he also makes Pogge's theologian point in an interesting way. He starts off by asking why there were no economists in the modern sense until the 18th century or so, and he concludes that even though there was exchange since the dawn of man, society wasn't really structured by self-interested truck, bartering, and exchanging until more recently. Most land, labor, and capital wasn't salable in the modern sense and most contractual obligations were not transactions in the modern sense. Heilbroner argued that society was chiefly governed by either "tradition" or "command".

In a world where society was governed by tradition and command there was plenty of scope for philosophers to take up questions about the nature of man's obligations under systems of tradition and command: so political and theological theorists flourished. It was only after market exchange gained dominance that you had a need for anyone to think deeply about market relations. In that sense economists take on the role of theologians - not exactly in the way Pogge has in mind of course, but because this is how social theory operates today and that was how social theory operated back then.

I'll offer a third option (although like I said - I think Mises and Pogge are relatively close: one is making an "ought" statement and one is making an "is" statement).

Although there are certainly times when answers from economic science are useful for people who care about challenging the conceit of those in power (and God knows I'm one of those people), the role of the economist is principally to be a disinterested scientist and most economists do that tolerably well. "Disinterested" here doesn't mean some kind of positivistic boogey-man. I hope my comment and posting history makes it pretty damn clear that I'm not about that. But it does mean dedication to the scientific method motivated by a real passion to understand the world and a dedication to the persuasion of scientific peers.

The "speaking truth to power" stuff is gravely important too, but that's something that we do with the answers that we come up with as the passion strikes us. Just like we USE physics to build bridges, we USE economics to improve societies.

Pogge is wrong on both accounts. He uses “theology” as a stand in for “irrational,” but theology in Christianity, Judaism and Islam (I’m not familiar with the others) has always been highly rational. No one who has read the Scholastics would doubt it. And while bad theologians have often propped up power elites, the goods ones challenged the conceit of those in power just as good economists do.

There are good and bad economists. The good challenge power while the bad suck up to it. Hayek had a similar warning to economists to not desire power and influence in politics.
The difference in both theology and economics between good and bad lies in the unproven assumptions that lie at the foundation of each. I realize I have written this many times before, but here it is again: the difference lies in assumptions regarding human nature.

Classical liberalism rested on the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin: mankind has a natural tendency towards evil that must be overcome in order for civilization to exist. That is one of the main points of Schoeck’s book “Envy.” Adam Smith wrote that competition in free markets (assuming the rule of law) was the best defense against man’s tendency toward greed.

Socialism rests on the belief in the natural goodness of man, which says that mankind turns evil only because of oppression, private property being the greatest oppressor that inflames envy. A society in which no property exists and all property is equally distributed will destroy envy, return man to his natural state of goodness and create perfect societies. As Daniel Pipe’s has written in his book on the history of property, the fiction of a perfect society without property in prehistory is ancient an western myth and still holds enormous appeal to most people. The idea of the “noble savage” came from it.

Schoeck’s book on envy is a defense of the traditional Christian doctrine, but it is also discouraging because it destroys the possibility of utopias. The appeal of utopia is alluring. Most people would have to lash themselves to the masts to prevent surrendering to its call. Public choice theory and good economics proceed as if the traditional Christian doctrine is true without acknowledging it, but usually are just agnostic about changing human nature.

The choice theologians and economists make about human nature and the origin of evil then influence one’s selection of data, methodology and standards for proof. It makes economists place greater emphasis on some data and theories and less on others.

Mainline or mainstream?

Pogge's ignorance of developmental economics is abysmal, but his attitude toward colonialism is almost funny. It's very much like the "Prime Directive" on Star Trek. He seems to think that only cultures with a similar state of development should engage each other. When the British discovered India, they should never have built railroads or any other infrastructure that would allow Indians to use their natural resources. The British should have built a bubble around the nation, treated the people as children, and allowed regular mass starvation until they developed their own industrial revolution without outside help.

How do the Pogge bashers feel about the following remarks?

"Consider the career choices facing would-be macroeconomists in the PhD programs of Chicago, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford. Most of their opportunities outside of academia will be with (1) government agencies or (2) non-government agencies working directly with government agencies. These considerations create a disincentive to criticize institutions such as the Fed or the IMF or to explain too clearly why such institutions may be bad for the populations they claim to serve. Students who do criticize may be less likely to be hired by such institutions. Discordant voices may be filtered out."

This sort of bias "in the hiring practices of non-academic demanders of economic expertise bleeds into the top-tier university economics departments for at least two reasons. First, many members of hiring committees in such departments circulate between government service and the academy and may tend to favor young candidates whose views support that practice. The important role of social networks in academic hiring reinforces the tendency. Second, the status—and, therefore, resources—of an economics department tends to be increased by professors with experience in high-level government positions."

These biases are present, to some extent, even in the natural sciences.

Our daughter earned her graduate degree in physics from CalTech, out in Pasadena.

So much research money for physicists flows from the government, that she soon found out that the theoretical and applied research undertaken was strongly influenced by what the governmental agencies were willing and interested in bestowing huge sums of money.

This not only affected on what physicists at CalTech did research, but their view that "only government" could supply such vast sums on so many things, and, therefore, an attitude that the role of government in "science" was essential and not even to be questioned.

And the university was most (though not exclusively) interested in hiring faculty and researchers who could most likely bring in the big government bucks. And the prestige that professor "So-and-So" had worked at some government research facility, and had useful "contacts" for future access to those who could advise on where the government money should go in the future.

Might this "bias" possibly "influence" some scientists about the "reality" of global warming and the degree of human "impact" on "causing" it?

The conflict makes sense when you understand that the social sciences -- including economics -- are necessarily moral sciences. The question is, what are our moral scientists doing? Trying to understand how the social network processes come about, or recommending changes? Those are two different roles that are often intermixed. Yes, too many are still confusing their IS and OUGHT.

Great remarks, Richard. While I would hardly pretend to judge the science of climate change, the biasing mechanisms you cite seem hard to doubt.

The quoted passage is from my recent paper with Will Luther in RAE. I think we should spot the basic point to Pogge, whatever other disagreements we may have with him. I suspect that Pete had a point in mind with his post. I bet he was thinking that mainline economics challenges the powerful while mainstream economics serves them. And I think there is something to that claim, however carefully we might have to qualify it to avoid all error and oversimplification. The questioning of authority is one of the things that makes Austrian economics heterodox in today's world. No wonder that Austrians scratch their heads in wonder when some folks say that we are just toadies to the elite.

Roger -
re: "No wonder that Austrians scratch their heads in wonder when some folks say that we are just toadies to the elite."

One would think this sentiment would lead you to hold back from suggesting that people you don't define as mainline serve the powerful... but I guess not.

I know you say that's an over simplification, but reverse the formula and I think you'll agree it's still pretty bad (i.e. - what would you say if someone said "the Austrians are toadies to the elite although I will acknowledge that's an oversimplification").

Roger -
One would think that someone with the ability to note this: "No wonder that Austrians scratch their heads in wonder when some folks say that we are just toadies to the elite."

Would also have the good sense not to write something like this: "I bet he was thinking that mainline economics challenges the powerful while mainstream economics serves them. And I think there is something to that claim".

But I guess not.

You are not the only one scratching your head, let me leave it at that.

Heh. Well, I love and respect you too, Daniel.

The WSJ has a good article "Ten Things Economists Won't Tell You" at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-economists-wont-tell-you-2013-06-08?pagenumber=7. Here are excerpts:

"As of 2008, nearly half of members of the American Economic Association said they were registered Democrats, while only 17% said they were Republicans. Furthermore, in the same survey (commissioned by Scott Adams, the “Dilbert” cartoonist), 60% of the economists said that among the presidential candidates at the time, they thought Barack Obama would make the most progress on important economic issues if elected."

"A 2008 article in the journal American Economist argued that economists over the past half-century have helped sell voters on bigger government. “We find that the increased role of economists in society and in policymaking has led to an increase in favorable attitudes toward government intervention,” wrote the authors, economists Scott Beaulier, William J. Boyes and William S. Mounts."

I hope you don't take it as disrespect, Roger. I always like what you've got to say. This was just to glaring not to point out.

I hope you don't take it as disrespect Roger - I didn't intend it to be. I always like reading what you have to say. This particular point was just too glaring not to point out.

Roger: Great quote from Beaulier et al.! Their article seems to fit my picture of economists as experts:
http://tinyurl.com/p9r8ab6

I am skeptical of experts in general, which includes, therefore, economic experts. Of course the problem here is that I am myself an economist and, supposedly, some kind of expert. This situation is very embarrassing! It is, as Peart and Levy point out, *hard* to oneself in one's model.

Daniel: I'm afraid you're too cryptic for me. I don't know what your "glaring" point is.

Roger: Great quote! I think the article by Beaulier et al. fits my picture of economic experts:

http://tinyurl.com/p9r8ab6

I am suspicious of experts of all sorts and, therefore, economic experts. I am an economist and I am supposed to be, therefore, some sort of expert. This situation is very embarrassing! As Peart and Levy point out, it is hard to put yourself in your model.

Daniel: I guess you are too cryptic for me. I'm afraid I don't know what your "glaring" point is.

My earlier post is not showing up. Oh well, I'll just say this:

Roger: Great quote!

Daniel: I'm afraid I can't make out what your "glaring" point is.

Roger -
That you can see how silly it is when people say libertarians are in thrall to the powers that be but you are happy to say it's reasonable to say of others.

It's precisely that sort of thing that leaves us scratching our heads, just as you scratched your head.

I don't think I'm guilty of a bogus asymmetry here, Daniel. Start with a part of my post you did not reproduce. You truncated this sentence:
"And I think there is something to that claim, however carefully we might have to qualify it to avoid all error and oversimplification." You left off the important bit about qualifications to avoid error and oversimplification. So, you know, that kinda matters for getting my meaning. I don't think I just dismissed every mainstream economist as a toady. But it seems fair to point to the incentives Will Luther and I sketched out in the quoted passage above, which Richard picked up on and elaborated for the natural sciences. And I put Austrians in company of other heterodox types in challenging authority. So, yes, there is an asymmetry here, but not a bogus asymmetry.

I don't think I suggested anything to the effect that Austrians -- oh, wait I want to say something else first. Please don't equate "Austrian" and "libertarian." It seems like you were. I'm a certified card-carrying Austrian who knows the secret handshake and everything. But I am not a libertarian. Anyway . . .

I don't think I suggested anything to the effect that Austrians are morally superior or something. I'm totally with Peart and Levy. You got to put yourself in the model, which is hard to do. But I don't think you can say, as many do, that Austrians are somehow just toadies to the cronies. When that's the charge, the usual thing is to point to the Kochs and shout "Ah hah!" Sigh. No. Whatever our sins, which others may judge better than we, it ain't serving the interests of the power elite.

This is a very interesting topic. Someone should write a paper on it. Part of the answer lies in the rejection of laissez-faire as an implication of *science* by both John Neville Keynes in 1890 and William Graham Sumner around the same time. Neville Keynes was not for laissez-faire and Sumner was but both agreed it was not a direct implication of any science. (Mises seems to have been an outlier on this matter. He thought that everyone "really" wanted the state of affairs that laissez-faire would produce.)

re: "You left off the important bit about qualifications to avoid error and oversimplification."

Actually I didn't but the comment where I quoted that and commented on it got deleted. I don't know if other people have had the same problems with the new comment system that I have but I have about half my comments deleted. When I have to retype the whole thing again it understandably gets abbreviated.

When I quoted you the first time on that I acknowledged it and noted that if a leftist similarly qualified his critique of libertarians I don't think it would warm you to the argument all that much. You'd still be scratching your head. Am I wrong?

re: "You got to put yourself in the model, which is hard to do."

Agreed, which I think is why you miss why people say the things they do and why you think there is an asymmetry when I actually think the case is more even handed than you're suggesting. Austrian economics as well as libertarian spins on any economic school of thought offers politicians who would rather ignore inconvenient realities a reason to ignore it. That's why so many Congressmen and political pundits promote Hayek. Of course "properly understood" the situation may be different but that's true of mainstream economics too and doesn't change the facts of the case.

Politicians like Ron Paul have demonstrated quite clearly that Austrian economics offers an excellent narrative for getting money and votes and many others are following in his footsteps. It's one of the major obstacles in the political discourse to getting Keynesian policy right now. Obviously you guys aren't happy either but we are at a stalemate precisely because Austrian economics serves the interests of many very powerful people. Insert pretty much any other policy issue here.

I don't understand why this is not more seriously considered by people who by all indications seem fairly interested in taking a public choice/institutionalist view of things.

Of course not all economists deserve to have these accusations laid at their feet. My prior is that most don't deserve it. But its prevalence is fairly symmetric, in my experience.

Don't confuse the argument to be me thinking you said something about moral superiority. I never said anything like that and it doesn't have anything to do with the point.

This conversation has gotten way too meta!

Once again my comment -- morally decent and intellectually perfect -- was deleted. There is a communist somewhere in this system.

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