The Age of Constructivism
| Craig Pirrong |
I am reading Vernon Smith’s Rationality in Economics. I highly, highly recommend it. Largely a homage to Hayek, it explores the implications of Hayek’s distinction between constructivist rationality and what Smith relabels ecological rationality. It contains a wealth of methodological and substantive insights. Smith is knowledgeable and thoughtful. He is almost John Stuart Mill-like in his even handed and fair characterizations of competing views, even those he disagrees with. He integrates experimental economics, game theory, institutional economics, neoclassical economics, neurology, and much, much more.
What fascinates Smith is the ineffable process by which an ecologically rational order emerges from the actions of myriad imperfectly informed and incompletely rational (in the constructivist sense) individuals. This process — a sort of economic transubstantiation — is the most fascinating economic mystery. It is also, alas, one that has received far too little attention from economists whose formal tools permit them to analyze (constructively) equilibrium, but which are virtually powerless to analyze the process of getting there; the proverbial drunks looking for their keys under the lamppost.
We live in an era of constructivism regnant. In health care and finance, especially, constructivist schemes will reshape for better or worse — and almost certainly worse — vast swathes of the American economy. What’s more troubling still, this is constructivism refracted through the flawed lens of politics and public choice. Appreciation of the emergent order, the ecologically rational, is sadly rare. Vernon Smith appreciates it, deeply, with an almost religious sense of awe. Read his book and you will appreciate it too.