Posts filed under ‘History of Economic and Management Thought’
| Peter Klein |
Former guest blogger Steve Postrel weighs in on the future of the dynamic capabilities approach (reprinted, with permission, from a thread on Academia.edu). Steve responds to the question, “Is the dynamic capabilities approach outdated?” with some typical insightful remarks.
Since DC is primarily an ex post facto construct measured by sampling on the dependent variable — i.e., if the firm successfully adapts, then it had DC — its prominence is not a sign that it is doing much intellectual work. . . .
[T]o a first approximation, arguments for the importance of DC have tended to be of the form “We know a priori that firms need to be able to change their operational capabilities from time to time; we have examples of successful firms that have adapted in this way and examples of less-successful firms that haven’t; therefore we can say that the successful adapters had more of this valuable thing we will call ‘dynamic capability.’”
Certainly there have been empirical papers that do better than that, by, for example, trying to look at firms that have adapted multiple times, or by identifying specific organizational structures and practices that might enhance adaptability. The difficult issue with looking at a “precursor” like experience is that theoretically experience could reduce DC by causing specialization and lock-in. Other putative precursors suffer from the ex post measurement problem — how do we know if a firm has the right knowledge for adaptation until we see whether it succeeds?
I suspect there are also deeper conceptual problems because DC is equivocal even with perfect measurement. It would be pretty hard to specify what one meant by the “amount” of DC a firm has or to compare the “amounts” that any two firms have. DC is certainly not a completely ordering relation and I’m not sure it’s even a partial order. Without presenting formal models and going back and forth between those and peoples’ intuition about what DC is “supposed” to mean, however, one really can’t pin these problems down enough to tell if they are serious. . . . (more…)
| Peter Klein |
Per Bylund and I have written a paper on Israel Kirzner’s influence on the entrepreneurship literature. It’s titled “The Place of Austrian Economics in Contemporary Entrepreneurship Research” but deals mainly with Kirzner. Comments are appreciated.
The paper was written for a forthcoming special issue of the Review of Austrian Economics on Kirzner’s contributions. We take a nuanced position: While Kirzner’s work underlies the dominant opportunity-discovery perspective in the entrepreneurship research literature, this perspective is increasingly challenged among entrepreneurship scholars, for some of the same reasons that Kirzner’s theoretical framework has been criticized by his fellow Austrian economists. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make progress in entrepreneurship studies, or the Austrian analysis of the market, without engaging Kirzner’s ideas.
| Peter Klein |
Further to my earlier post on Veblen at Missouri, here’s a newly discovered photo of the university’s Faculty of Commerce from the mid nineteen-teens, featuring Dean Herbert J. Davenport in the center with Veblen to his right. (Thanks to @MizzouBusiness for the find.)
| Peter Klein |
We’ve previously discussed attempts to blame the accounting scandals of the early 2000s on the teaching of transaction cost economics and agency theory. By describing the hazards of opportunistic behavior and shirking, professors were allegedly encouraging students to be opportunistic and to shirk. Then we were told that business schools teach “a particular brand of free-market ideology” — the view that “the market always ‘gets prices right’ and “[a]n individual’s worth can be reduced to one’s worth in the market” — and that this ideology was partly responsible for the financial crisis. (My initial reaction: Where to I sign up for these courses?!)
The Guardian reports now on a movement in the UK to address “the crisis in economics teaching, which critics say has remained largely unchanged since the 2008 financial crash despite the failure of many in the profession to spot the looming credit crunch and worst recession for 100 years.” If you think this refers to a movement to discredit orthodox Keynesianism, which dominates monetary theory and practice in all countries, and its view that discretionary fiscal and (especially) monetary policy are needed to steer the economy on a smooth course, with particular attention to asset markets where prices must be rising at all times, you’d be wrong. No, the reformers are calling for “economics courses to embrace the teachings of Marx and Keynes to undermine the dominance of neoclassical free-market theories.” To their credit, the reformers appear also to want more attention to economic history and the history of economic thought, which is all to the good. But the reformers’ basic premise seems to be that mainstream economics is too friendly toward the free market, and that this has left students unprepared to understand the “post-2008″ world.
To a non-Keyensian and non-Marixian like me, these arguments seem to come from a bizarro world where the sky is green, water runs uphill, and Janet Yellen is seven feet tall. It’s true that most economists reject economy-wide central planning, but the vast majority endorse some version of Keynesian economic policy complete with activist fiscal and monetary interventions, substantial regulation of markets (especially financial markets), fiat money under the control of a central bank, social policy to encourage home ownership, and all the rest. We’ve pointed many times on this blog to research on the social and political views of economists, who lean “left” by a ratio of about 2.5 to 1 — yes, nothing like the sociologists’ zillion to 1, but hardly evidence for a rigid, free-market orthodoxy. I note that the reformers described in the Guardian piece never, ever offer any kind of empirical evidence on the views of economists, the content of economics courses, or the influence of economics courses on economic policy. They simply assert that they don’t like this or that economic theory or pedagogy, which somehow contributed to this or that economic problem. They seem blissfully unaware of the possibility that their own policy preferences might actually be favored in the textbooks and classrooms, and might have just a teeny bit to do with bad economic policies.
I’m reminded of Sheldon Richman’s pithy summary: “No matter how much the government controls the economic system, any problem will be blamed on whatever small zone of freedom that remains.”
| Peter Klein |
The University of Dundee’s Scottish Centre for Economic Methodology is hosting a conference 18 November 2013, “Origins of the Theory of the Firm: Ronald Coase at Dundee, 1932-1934.” The program looks really interesting:
- Keith Tribe, “Dundee and Interwar Commercial Education.”
- Billy Kenefick, “‘A great industrial cul-de-sac, a grim monument to “man’s inhumanity to man.” ‘ Dundee by the early 1930s.”
- Carlo Morelli, “Market & Non-Market Co-ordination: Dundee and its Jute Industry – The Case Study for Ronald Coase?”
- David Campbell, “Agency, Authority and Co-operation in the Firm: Coase, Macneil, Marx.”
- Alice Belcher, “Coase and the Concept of Direction: How Valuable are Legal Concepts in the Theory of the Firm?”
- Brian Loasby, “Ronald Coase’s Theory of the Firm and the Scope of Economics.”
- Alistair Dow & Sheila Dow, “Coase and Scottish Political Economy.”
- Eyup Ozveren & Ilhan Can Ozen, “Coase versus Coase: What if the Market Were One Big Firm Instead?”
- Neil Kay, “Coase, The Nature of the Firm, and the Principles of Marginal Analysis.”
| Dick Langlois |
Surprisingly, the following passage is not from O’Driscoll and Rizzo (1985). It is the abstract of a new paper by Brian Arthur called “Complexity Economics: A Different Framework for Economic Thought.”
This paper provides a logical framework for complexity economics. Complexity economics builds from the proposition that the economy is not necessarily in equilibrium: economic agents (firms, consumers, investors) constantly change their actions and strategies in response to the outcome they mutually create. This further changes the outcome, which requires them to adjust afresh. Agents thus live in a world where their beliefs and strategies are constantly being “tested” for survival within an outcome or “ecology” these beliefs and strategies together create. Economics has largely avoided this nonequilibrium view in the past, but if we allow it, we see patterns or phenomena not visible to equilibrium analysis. These emerge probabilistically, last for some time and dissipate, and they correspond to complex structures in other fields. We also see the economy not as something given and existing but forming from a constantly developing set of technological innovations, institutions, and arrangements that draw forth further innovations, institutions and arrangements. Complexity economics sees the economy as in motion, perpetually “computing” itself— perpetually constructing itself anew. Where equilibrium economics emphasizes order, determinacy, deduction, and stasis, complexity economics emphasizes contingency, indeterminacy, sense-making, and openness to change. In this framework time, in the sense of real historical time, becomes important, and a solution is no longer necessarily a set of mathematical conditions but a pattern, a set of emergent phenomena, a set of changes that may induce further changes, a set of existing entities creating novel entities. Equilibrium economics is a special case of nonequilibrium and hence complexity economics, therefore complexity economics is economics done in a more general way. It shows us an economy perpetually inventing itself, creating novel structures and possibilities for exploitation, and perpetually open to response.
Arthur does acknowledge that people like Marshall, Veblen, Schumpeter, Hayek, and Shackle have had much to say about exactly these issues. “But the thinking was largely history-specific, particular, case-based, and intuitive—in a word, literary—and therefore held to be beyond the reach of generalizable reasoning, so in time what had come to be called political economy became pushed to the side, acknowledged as practical and useful but not always respected.” So what Arthur has in mind is a mathematical theory, no doubt a form of what Roger Koppl – who is cited obscurely in a footnote – calls BRACE Economics.
| Nicolai Foss |
In my Hayek Lecture at last year’s Austrian Economics Scholars Conference I argued that Austrian capital theory is deserving of a comeback as an absolute integral part of Austrian economics. I argued that ACT directs attention to the essential importance of heterogeneity and I argued that notions of capital heterogeneity serves to bring the entrepreneur, transaction costs and institutions directly into our understanding of the growth process.
An essential part of ACT is, of course, the work of Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. On the one hand, Böhm’s work is absolutely seminal, on the other hand, its too strong emphasis on aggregates and simplifying assumptions arguably side-tracked the development of ACT in some key ways. Needless to say, to mainstream economists ACT is Böhm-Bawerkian capital theory because it lends itself to formalization.
A recent example of formalizing Böhm’s theory is Renaud Fillieule’s “A comprehensive graphical exposition of the macroeconomic theory of Böhm-Bawerk.” Fillieule makes a strong case for Böhm’s theory as a precursor of Solowian growth theory and of macroeconomics in general. In contrast to many other commentators on ACT, he is familiar with modern Austrian work on the subject. A very elegant article and most definitely worth a read. Here is the abstract:
This paper offers a comprehensive graphical exposition of Böhm-Bawerk’s formalised macroeconomic theory. This graphical model is used here for the first time to study the effects of the changes in the explanatory variables (quantity of capital, number of workers and level of technical knowledge) on the dependent variables (interest rate, wage and period of production). This systematic application of the model shows that some of the conclusions drawn by Böhm-Bawerk are incorrect and need to be amended. A comparison with Solow’s model also shows that Böhm-Bawerk can legitimately be considered as one of the main originators of the standard contemporary approach in macroeconomics of equilibrium and growth.
| Peter Klein |
I am wary of adding yet another conceptual margin for entrepreneurial action but I highly recommend a new (and for the moment, ungated) paper in the Scandinavian Economic History Review by the distinguished economic historian Joel Mokyr on “cultural entrepreneurship.” Starting from a broadly Schumpeterian perspective, Mokyr focuses on individuals who introduce and disseminate novel ideas:
[E]ach individual makes cultural choices taking as given what others believe. It is not a priori obvious how that affects one’s choices. It may affect them positively because conformism implies that there is some social cost associated with deviancy, or because people may reason that if the majority believes a certain thing, there may be wisdom in it (thus saving on information costs). But there can be a reverse reaction as well, with non-conformists perversely rebelling against existing beliefs. What matters for my purposes is that for a small number of individuals, the beliefs of others are not given but can be changed. I shall refer to those people as cultural entrepreneurs. Their function is much like entrepreneurs in the realm of production: individuals who refuse to take the existing technology or market structure as given and try to change it and, of course, benefit personally in the process. Much like other entrepreneurs, the vast bulk of them make fairly marginal changes in our cultural menus, but a few stand out as having affected them in substantial and palpable ways.
Succinctly expressed: “cultural entrepreneurs are the creators of epistemic focal points that people can coordinate their beliefs on.”
Mokyr’s focus, like Schumpeter’s, is not entrepreneurship per se, but its effects, particularly on long-run economic growth, and his entrepreneurship construct is somewhat undertheorized. But he provides fascinating examples, ranging from Mohammed and Luther to Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Adam Smith. He focuses in particular on Bacon and Newton, describing Bacon’s work as “the coordination device which served as the point of departure for thinkers and experimentalists for two centuries to come. The economic effects of these changes remained latent and subterranean for many decades, but eventually they erupted in the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent processes of technological change.” Newton and the Royal Society “raise[d] the social standing of scientists and researchers as people who should be respected and supported and [provided] them with a comfortable material existence.” (Mostly good.)
I’m not an expert on cultural theory or history and am not sure how much the “cultural entrepreneur” construct ads to our understanding of cultural change (other than relabeling, a frequent worry in entrepreneurship studies). But the paper is a great read, highly provocative and informative, and addresses big questions. Check it out.
| Peter Klein |
As the Niall Ferguson kerfuffle begins fading from memory it’s worth revisiting the underlying issue: What kind of person was John Maynard Keynes, and (how) did his social, cultural, moral, and aesthetic views affect his scientific work?
Here are a few recommended readings:
- Ralph Raico, “Was Keynes a Liberal?” (Independent Review, 2008)
- Schumpeter’s obituary of Keynes (AER, 1946)
- Murray Rothbard, “Keynes the Man” (in Dissent on Keynes, 1992)
These works are not kind to ole’ John Maynard (I’m posting them, what did you expect?). Rothbard, for example, emphasizes Keynes’s “overweening egotism, which assured him that he could handle all intellectual problems quickly and accurately and led him to scorn any general principles that might curb his unbridled ego,” also referring to Keynes’s “deep hatred and contempt for the values and virtues of the bourgeoisie,” including savings and thrift. It’s hard to imagine that Keynes’s personal views on thrift could be unrelated to the now-ubiquitous, über-Keynesian idea that spending, not savings and capital accumulation, is the driver of economic growth.
On time preference, and its social and cultural causes and consequences, I recommend Time and Public Policy by T. Alexander Smith (University of Tennessee Press, 1988), which unfortunately appears to be out of print. Here is a brief review by Israel Kirzner.
| Peter Klein |
Armen Alchian passed away this morning at 98. We’ll have more to write soon, but note for now that Alchian is one of the most-often discussed scholars here at O&M. A father of the “UCLA” property-rights tradition and a pioneer in the theory of the firm, Alchian wrote on a dizzying variety of topics and was consistently insightful and original.
Alchian was very intellectually curious, always pushing in new directions and looking for new understandings, without much concern for his reputation or legacy. One personal story: I once asked him, as a naive and somewhat cocky junior scholar, how he reconciled the team-production theory of the firm in Alchian and Demsetz (1972) with the holdup theory in Klein, Crawford, and Alchian (1978). Aren’t these inconsistent? He replied — politely masking the irritation he must have felt — “Well, Harold came to me with this interesting problem to solve, and we worked up an explanation, and then, a few years later, Ben was working on a different problem, and we started talking about it….” In other words, he wasn’t thinking of developing and branding an “Alchian Theory of the Firm.” He was just trying to do interesting work.
Updates: Comments, remembrances, resources, links, etc.:
- Robert Higgs
- David Henderson (1, 2)
- Jerry O’Driscoll
- Alex Tabarrok
- Doug Allen
- Dan Benjamin
- A 1996 Alchian symposium (gated)
- Alchian and Woodward’s review of Williamson (1985): “The Firm Is Dead, Long Live the Firm”
| Peter Klein |
That’s the title of a new review paper by Nicolai and me for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organizational Studies, edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed (Oxford University Press, 2013). No, we haven’t gone over to the Dark Side (I mean, the good side), we just think Hayek’s work deserves to be better known among all scholars of organization, not only economists. Unlike many treatments of Hayek, we don’t focus exclusively, or even primarily, on tacit knowledge, but on capital theory, procedural rules, and other aspects of Hayek’s “Austrian” thinking.
You can download the paper at SSRN. Here’s the abstract:
We briefly survey Hayek’s work and argue for its increasing relevance for organizational scholars. Hayek’s work inspired aspects of the transaction cost approach to the firm as well as knowledge management and knowledge-based view of the firm. But Hayek is usually seen within organizational scholarship as a narrow, technical economist. We hope to change that perception here by pointing to his work on rules, evolution, entrepreneurship and other aspects of his wide-ranging oeuvre with substantive implications for organizational theory.
| Peter Klein |
Hayek defined “scientism” or the “scientistic prejudice” as”slavish imitation of the method and language of Science” when applied to the social sciences, history, management, etc. Scientism represents “a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed, and as such is “not an unprejudiced but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it.” (Hayek’s Economica essays on scientism were collected in his 1952 Counter-Revolution of Science and reprinted in volume 13 of the Collected Works.)
Austin L. Hughes has a thoughtful essay on scientism in the current issue of the New Atlantis (HT: Barry Arrington). Hughes thinks “the reach of scientism exceeds its grasp.” The essay is worth a careful read — he misses Hayek but discusses Popper and other important critics. One focus is the “institutional” definition of science, defined with the trite phrase “science is what scientists do.” Here’s Hughes:
The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett explicitly state that most human institutions, including “governments, political parties, churches, firms, NGOs, ethnic associations, families … are hardly epistemically reliable at all.” However, “our grounding assumption is that the specific institutional processes of science have inductively established peculiar epistemic reliability.” This assumption is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. If any human institution is held to be exempt from the petty, self-serving, and corrupting motivations that plague us all, the result will almost inevitably be the creation of a priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself.
| Peter Klein |
Ronald Coase has a short piece in the December 2012 Harvard Business Review, “Saving Economics from the Economists” (thanks to Geoff Manne for the tip). Not bad for a fellow about to turn 102! I always learn from Coase, even when I don’t fully agree. Here Coase decries the irrelevance of contemporary economic theory, condemning economics for “giving up the real-world economy as its subject matter.” He also provides a killer quote: “Economics thus becomes a convenient instrument the state uses to manage the economy, rather than a tool the public turns to for enlightenment about how the economy operates.”
I’m sure that’s true for many economists and for some branches of the field, such as Keynesian macroeconomics. But Coase seems to reject economic theorizing altogether, even the “causal-realist” approach popular in these parts. To be useful, he argues, economics should provide practical guidance for the businessperson. However, “[s]ince economics offers little in the way of practical insight, managers and entrepreneurs depend on their own business acumen, personal judgment, and rules of thumb in making decisions.”
Well, that sounds about right to me. Economics provides general principles, or laws, about human action and interaction, mostly stated as “if-then” propositions. Applying the principles to concrete, historical cases requires Verstehen, and is the task of economic historians (as analysts) and entrepreneurs (as actors), not economic theorists. Deductive theory does not replace judgment. Without deductive theory, however, we’d have no principles to apply, and nothing to contribute to our understanding of the economy except — to quote Coase’s own critique of the Old Institutionalists — “a mass of descriptive material waiting for a theory, or a fire.” To be sure, Coase’s own inductive method has led to several brilliant insights. Coase himself has a knack for intuiting general principles from concrete cases (e.g., theorizing about transaction costs from observing automobile plants, or about property rights from studying the history of spectrum allocation), though not perfectly. But, as I noted before, Coase himself is probably the exception that proves the rule — namely that induction is a mess.
| Peter Klein |
Kudos to Anna Grandori for her edited volume, Handbook of Economic Organization: Integrating Economic and Organization Theory, currently making its way through the editorial process at Edward Elgar. Blurb:
The volume distinctively aims at integrating economic and organization theories for the explanation and design of economic organization. Economic organization is therefore intended both as an object of enquiry and as an emerging disciplinary field: not economics applied to organization as an object, but a forefront interdisciplinary field attracting researches and integrating insights from economics, organization theory, strategy and management, economic sociology, and cognitive psychology. The authors are distinguished scholars at their productive peak in those fields, sharing an in interest in an integrated and enlarged approach to economic organization. Each chapter not only addresses foundational issues and provides a state-of-art, but also offers original contributions and identifies key issues for future research.
Table of Contents is below the fold. You”ll find many of your favorite authors. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
The latest issue of the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics features an interview with Gary Becker on rational choice. I am not a Chicagoite positivist, but I sympathize with Gary’s overall take on the behavioral revolution: Meh.
Interviewer: Following the crisis, many economists and methodologists have argued that more realistic behavioral underpinnings of economic theory would have made forecasts more accurate. Do you think that one of the things the recent crisis has shown us is that people just do not behave rationally? Or did the crisis rather show exactly the opposite—that people did in fact react to incentives and that the consequences of introducing new financial instruments were just not foreseeable?
Becker: I think it is mainly the latter. There were incentives, both on the borrower and on the lender side, that these subprime loans would be made available at the lowest interest rates; and there was pressure from the government to do so; and probably those involved did not understand the financial instruments. Now, is it that we have to change our theories radically with respect to their behavioral structure or even switch to a new behavioral framework? There is very little evidence that would support such a move.
A later remark supports my argument that “disequilibrium analysis” is not the defining characteristics of the Austrian school:
I have read some of the literature on the critique of equilibrium, not so much by philosophers but by the Austrian school of economics, and I could just never make sense out of it, because I do not see what they are substituting for it. Even Friedrich Hayek, who is listed as one of the top Austrians, if you read his analysis, you see that he is using equilibrium analysis.
| Peter Klein |
A very nice overview of “Austrian” capital theory and its relevance for the current economic crisis from former guest blogger Peter Lewin.
With the resurgence of Keynesian economic policy as a response to the current crisis, echoes of past debates are being heard — in particular the debate from the 1930s between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. . . . Hayek pointed out that capital investment does not simply add to production in a general way but rather is embodied in concrete capital items. That is, the productive capital of the economy is not simply an amorphous “stock” of generalized production power; it is an intricate structure of specific interrelated complementary components. Stimulating spending and investment, then, amounts to stimulating specific sections and components of this intricate structure.
See also the recent SO!APbox essay by Rajshree Agarwal, Jay Barney, Nicolai, and me, “Heterogeneous Resources and the Financial Crisis: Implications of Strategic Management Theory.”
| Peter Klein |
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of two major contributions to strategy and organization, Nelson and Winter’s Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change and Lippman and Rumelt’s “Uncertain Imitability: An Analysis of Interfirm Differences in Efficiency under Competition.” Both tried to explain inter-firm performance differences without reference to market power or random shocks. Interestingly, as Ruff Coff points out, both were aimed at economists, but had little impact there, instead becoming foundational contributions to the emerging strategy field. Here’s a concise summary of Lippman and Rumelt from Peter Zemsky:
Lippman and Rumelt (1982), in the first formal theoretical paper inspired by the distinctive concerns of the strategy literature, demonstrate how superior performance can arise without assumptions of imperfect competition and market power, which are the defining features of the IO approach. In their model there are a large number of potential entrants that can pay a fixed cost to enter an industry. The key assumption is that there is imperfect imitability so that each entrant’s cost function is determined by an independent draw from a known distribution. In equilibrium, firms with bad draws exit and the remaining firms on average must have abnormal returns even when in the case where the firms are all small and have no market power. Ex ante however expected profits from entry are zero. The paper remains an outstanding example of high quality theorizing in strategy. Barney (1986) in his paper on strategic factor markets applies the same reasoning in his verbal argument that from an economics perspective superior performance must be the result of luck.
L&$ also explain the background and context of their article in a new video.
Kirzner’s theory of entrepreneurship is another example of a contribution intended to change the conversation in economics — by shifting attention from equilibrium states to adjustment processes — that seems to have little impact upon its intended audience, while becoming hugely influential in a different field (entrepreneurship).
| Peter Klein |
Did you know this year is the semicentennial of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions? David Kaiser offers some reflections at Nature.
At the heart of Kuhn’s account stood the tricky notion of the paradigm. British philosopher Margaret Masterman famously isolated 21 distinct ways in which Kuhn used the slippery term throughout his slim volume. Even Kuhn himself came to realize that he had saddled the word with too much baggage: in later essays, he separated his intended meanings into two clusters. One sense referred to a scientific community’s reigning theories and methods. The second meaning, which Kuhn argued was both more original and more important, referred to exemplars or model problems, the worked examples on which students and young scientists cut their teeth. As Kuhn appreciated from his own physics training, scientists learned by immersive apprenticeship; they had to hone what Hungarian chemist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi had called “tacit knowledge” by working through large collections of exemplars rather than by memorizing explicit rules or theorems. More than most scholars of his era, Kuhn taught historians and philosophers to view science as practice rather than syllogism.
Kuhn did not, to my knowledge, say much about the social sciences, though in a later essay he described them in somewhat unflattering terms:
[T]here are many fields — I shall call them proto-sciences — in which practice does not generate testable conclusions but which nonetheless resemble ph9ilosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patters. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-eighteenth century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or many of the social sciences today. In those fields, . . . though they satisfy [Popper's] demarcation criterion, incessant criticism and continual striving for a fresh start as primary forces, and need to be. No more than in philosophy and the arts, however, do they result in clear-cut progress.
Murray Rothbard took an explicitly Kuhnian approach to his history of economic thought, agreeing with Kuhn that there is no linear, upward progression and condemning what he called the “Whig theory” of intellectual history.
| Peter Klein |
Our QOTD comes from the 2002 version of Hayek’s “Competition as a Discovery Procedure.” (Thanks to REW for the inspiration.) Hayek delivered two versions of the lecture, both in 1968, one in English and one in German. The former appeared in Hayek’s 1978 collection New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas, and is the version most familiar to English-speaking scholars. In 2002 the QJAE published a new English translation of the German version which includes two sections (II and VII) omitted from the earlier English version. In this passage from section II Hayek distinguishes macroeconomics (“macrotheory”) from microeconomics (“microtheory”):
About many important conditions we have only statistical information rather than data regarding changes in the fine structure. Macrotheory then often affords approximate values or, probably, predictions that we are unable to obtain in any other way. It might often be worthwhile, for example, to base our reasoning on the assumption that an increase of aggregate demand will in general lead to a greater increase in investment, although we know that under certain circumstances the opposite will be the case. These theorems of macrotheory are certainly valuable as rules of thumb for generating predictions in the presence of insufficient information. But they are not only not more scientific than is microtheory; in a strict sense they do not have the character of scientific theories at all.
In this regard I must confess that I still sympathize more with the views of the young Schumpeter than with those of the elder, the latter being responsible to so great an extent for the rise of macrotheory. Exactly 60 years ago, in his brilliant first publication, a few pages after having introduced the concept of “methodological individualism” to designate the method of economic theory, he wrote:
If one erects the edifice of our theory uninfluenced by prejudices and outside demands, one does not encounter these concepts [namely “national income,” “national wealth,” “social capital”] at all. Thus we will not be further concerned with them. If we wanted to do so, however, we would see how greatly they are afflicted with obscurities and difficulties, and how closely they are associated with numerous false notions, without yielding a single truly valuable theorem.
The reference is to Schumpeter’s 1908 book, Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt der theoretischen Nationalökonomie which, to my knowledge, has never been translated (though an excerpt, and some commentary, are here). For more on the different versions of Hayek’s essay see here and here.
NB: Krugman blogged over the weekend about microfoundations, offering a remarkably (sic) shallow and misguided critique based on what Hayek would call the scientistic fallacy. E.g.: “meteorologists were using concepts like cold and warm fronts long before they had computational weather models, because those concepts seemed to make sense and to work. Why, then, do some economists think that concepts like the IS curve or the multiplier are illegitimate because they aren’t necessarily grounded in optimization from the ground up?” Ugh.
| Peter Klein |
This is from a study of economics PhD dissertations at one French university, the EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales).
In the 1960s, three-fourths of economics PhD dissertation committee members were from another discipline, and in the 1990s, less than 15 percent. Other disciplines have also become more self-reliant, but in much less dramatic fashion.
The paper, “The Mainstreaming of French Economics” by Olivier Godechot is here and the pointer goes to Art Goldhammer. The paper focuses on the transformation of the French profession led by US-trained or -oriented economists such as Jacques Mairesse, Jean-Jacques Laffont, and Robert Boyer. Godechot concludes that “scientific life in general and, moreover, paradigmatic change are not only a question of truth, of evidences, and of proofs but also of politics. Evaluating, influencing, building coalitions, voting, and selecting are regular practices both within disciplines and in wider interdisciplinary arenas when articles are submitted, grants are distributed (Lamont, 2009), positions are opened (Musselin, 2005), and candidates are selected.” Right on that.