Reputations Die Hard

23 February 2007 at 12:33 am 2 comments

| Peter Klein |

This debunking of Pythagoras (via Lew Rockwell) reminded me of our recent attempt at Galileo revisionism. Apparently Pythagoras was a cult leader and political activist but not a serious mathematician or philosopher. He didn’t even discover the Pythagorean Theorem!

As debunker M. F. Burnyeat observes, “beloved historical traditions die hard.”

Other debunkings that might interest our readers: Murray Rothbard on Adam Smith, Richard Rumelt on the “Honda Effect,” Ronald Coase on Fisher Body, and Phil Rosenzweig on Peters and Waterman.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

A Classroom Experiment in Organizational Economics The A..hole Factor in Economics

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dick Langlois  |  23 February 2007 at 9:33 am

    There is, of course, a difference between debunking and reinterpretation. You can debunk only by showing that the facts are different from what was claimed — that passing ships were in fact charged for lighthouse services, or that the terms of the GM-Fisher Body contract were actually different from what Klein had claimed. In this respect it may be “debunking” — albeit well-agreed-upon debunking — to say that Adam Smith got his ideas largely from others and that he missed the Industrial Revolution (in the early 1770s!). But it is quite another thing to claim, as Rothbard does, that Smith was wrong, confused, and not the great synthesizer. The Wealth of Nations is in fact a great synthesis of Enlightenment thought, and it is brimming with fertile ideas that have stood the test of time. If you will forgive me for saying so, Peter, it has far more to tell us about the process of economic growth and industrial development than does Human Action. If we look close enough at the feet of our idols, we always discover clay caught between the toes. But that is not debunking.

  • 2. Peter G. Klein  |  23 February 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Dick, fair enough. But there are mild reintrepretations and strong reintrepretations, and the latter are awfully close to debunkings. Rothbard’s purpose, as you know, is not merely to show that Smith had feet of clay, but to argue that on the core theoretical issues of value, exchange, price, and the welfare properties of markets Smith was actually worse than his predecessors and that his influence and reputation retarded the development of “correct” economic doctrine. You may agree or disagree, but given Smith’s iconic status as the “father” of economics, the criticism hardly seems out of bounds.

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