The Strategic Advantage of Bad Writing

7 July 2007 at 9:38 pm 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Murray Rothbard’s concise and typically witty explanation for the triumph of Keynesian macroeconomics:

How was the Keynesian Revolution accomplished? How was this mare’s nest of discredited Mercantilist fallacies put over? In the first place, by intellectual intimidation. The old fallacies were dressed up by Keynes in such a wilderness of unclear writing and pretentious jargon, in such a bewildering morass of strange concepts, that the Keynesian disciples claimed to be the only ones able to understand the Master.

From a 1959 article included as the introduction to a new edition of Henry Hazlitt’s Failure of the “New Economics”. I feel better now about my bad writing. If I only had disciples. . . . 

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Ephemera.

A World Without Supermarkets Routines or Practices?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joseph Mahoney  |  8 July 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Having had the privilege of having Sidney Weintraub teach Keynes’ General Theory line-by-line to us students at the University of Pennsylvania, I would maintain that Keynes’ was successful DESPITE the book’s difficult writing style and not because of it.

    Also to lump Paul Samuelson’s questionable translations of Keynes with Keynes’ General Theory would be highly objectionable to many.

  • 2. Student  |  9 July 2007 at 12:47 pm

    But do you really believe that “Keynesian Economics” (however you want to define that term) is/was a load of dressed-up fallacies?

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  9 July 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Well, yes. Keynes was a brilliant and clever man but not, in my judgment, a very good economist. (Joe Salerno attributes this to Keynes’s “parochial and stunted training in economic theory — one course in economics and the study of Alfred Marshall’s clunky and disjointed textbook.”) Keynes’s Treatise was crushed by Hayek’s devastating critique in Economica in 1931 and 1932 and mostly disappeared. As for the General Theory, its reliance on crude aggregates instead of meaningful economic variables, its rehabilitation of naive underconsumptionist fallacies and money-crankism, its ignorance of basic capital and investment theory, all contributed to set business-cycle theory back for decades. (I’m not sure it has ever recovered). The Hazlitt book mentioned above discusses all this, and of course there is a huge secondary literature on Keynes that you can consume at your leisure. (One of Rothbard’s points is that the emergence of this secondary literature — and all the buzz about what Keynes “really meant” — is exactly the result of Keynes’s confusing exposition.)

    Now, if by “Keynesian economics” you mean Samuelson or Hicks or Hansen or New Keynesian economics or something else, then my answer would be different. (Joe, I didn’t mean to lump together Keynes and Samuelson — far from it!) I have no problem with menu costs, overlapping-generations models, and other deviations from the instantaneous market clearing that characterizes real-business-cycle theory (but not efficiency-wage models). However, these concepts don’t seem to me to have much to do with Keynes.

  • 4. Robert Vienneau  |  9 July 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Some time ago, I pointed, Hazlitt doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Authors

Nicolai J. Foss | home | posts
Peter G. Klein | home | posts
Richard Langlois | home | posts
Lasse B. Lien | home | posts

Guests

Former Guests | posts

Networking

Recent Posts

Categories

Feeds

Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

%d bloggers like this: