Mitch on Hoselitz

3 May 2011 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

The following is a guest post from David Mitch, Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and an expert on Bert Hoselitz.


The reasonably recent postings on this blog on Bert Hoselitz prompt me to post a correction to my biographical piece on him for the Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics (2010) edited by Ross Emmett and also to make some further comments regarding Hoselitz’ “Austrian” origins. Both the correction and futher observations stem from Yvan Kelly’s very interesting article “Mises, Morgenstern, Hoselitz, and Nash: The Austrian Connection to Early Game Theory” published in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 12, no. 3 (2009).

The correction to my piece is as follows. On p. 274 of my piece, I state that “Prominent leaders of the Austrian School of Economics such as Ludwig Mises and F. A. Hayek had departed Vienna by the time Hoselitz began his university studies.” Yvan Kelly indicates on p. 38 of his article that Hoselitz attended two of Mises’ seminars in 1933 and 1934 based on correspondence that Hoselitz sent to Mises in 1941. I have not yet seen copies of this correspondence. However, I was clearly in error in stating that Mises had departed Vienna by the time Hoselitz began his university studies. Klaus Herdzina’s (1999) biographical essay on Hoselitz cited in my piece indicates that Hoselitz studied at the University of Vienna between 1932 and 1937. I do not know from what sources Herdzina obtained this information; but I based the statement in my own piece that Hoselitz studied at the University of Vienna between 1932 and 1937 on Herdzina’s essay. Hulsmann’s 2007 biography of Mises (p. 678) indicates that Mises stopped his private seminar and left Vienna in 1934. Thus, it would appear that Hoselitz’ studies at the University of Vienna did overlap with the period that Mises was in Vienna and leading his private seminar. And this would thus be consistent with the possibility that Hoselitz attended some of Mises’ seminars. So again, the statement in my piece for the Elgar Companion that Mises had departed Vienna by the time Hoselitz started his studies at the University of Vienna would definitely seem to be in error assuming the Herdzina is correct in his dating of when Hoselitz studied at the University of Vienna.

The issue remains as to how much influence Mises had on Hoselitz either during the latter’s studies at the University of Vienna or in Hoselitz’s subsequent career and teaching. My own take on Hoselitz in my biographical piece emphasizes the breadth of Hoselitz’ intellectual interests and influences; he appears to have been quite widely read in all of the social sciences including sociology and psychology as well as economics and economic history. As I document in my piece, many of his articles reflect the influence and intellectual framework of Talcott Parsons. Some of his pieces also reflect the influence of psychologist David McClelland. One indication of some on-going connection to Austrian Economics is that Hoselitz was one of the co-translators of Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics; however,  this could have reflected Hoselitz’ ability to supply translation services as well as any demand on his part to maintain a connection with Austrian economics.

Also, Kelly acknowledges (pp. 38-39) that at the start of WWII citing Hulsmann’s biography (p. 797), that “Mises was often asked for help — by friends, acquaintances, and often people who only knew him indirectly.” Hulsmann (p. 797, n21) lists Hoselitz as an example of someone in this category for whom Mises wrote letters of recommendation.

In his article, Yvan Kelly relates the fascinating story that John Nash’s one course in Economics prior to writing his path breaking article on bargaining was a course taught by Hoselitz on International Trade at Carnegie Tech circa 1947. On p. 40, Kelly quotes Nash from the nobel.org website as noting that “By coincidence the one person who taught the course was someone that came from Austria. . . . Austrian Economics is like a different school than typical American or British. So by coincidence I was influenced by an Austrian economist which may have been a very good influence.”

Kelly goes on in his article to note Mises’ distrust of game theory and acknowledges that the link “between Mises through Hoselitz to Nash is one that future research could examine more closely to determine the depth of influence” (p. 40).

Nash’s statement points to the basic ambiguity as to whether that Hoselitz came from Austria or even attended Mises’ seminar made Hoselitz an Austrian economist. Nash’s statement also does not make it clear whether or not Hoselitz taught Austrian principles in his Carnegie Tech course on international trade. Given that I missed in my Elgar Companion piece that Hoselitz had attended Mises’ seminars in 1933 and 1934, I don’t think I claim enough detailed knowledge of Hoselitz’s intellectual development to comment definitively on these issues. But given the evidence for Hoselitz breadth of knowledge of the social sciences and as Peter Klein noted in his comment on one of Hoselitz’ pieces on entrepreneurship, the polyglot character of the work Hoselitz’ surveys, I think it still requires further investigation to establish some direct chain of links from Mises to Hoselitz to Nash. All the same, I was delighted to come across Yvan Kelly’s article and find it quite worthwhile.

– David Mitch

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Austrian Economics, History of Economic and Management Thought, People. Tags: .

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