Mises Quote of the Day
| Peter Klein |
Mises is known for his uncompromising defense of apriorism in economics, yet he began his career as a historicist, trained by Karl Grünberg, a Marxist and prominent member of the German Historical School. (Mises’s first publications were on land reform in his native Galicia and child-labor laws in Austria, both tediously empirical and inductive.) It was only later, after encountering Menger’s Principles, that Mises turned to social theory.
One of this week’s Mises Dailies features an excerpt from Mises’s 1957 book Theory and History and I can’t resist passing along this nugget, which is hopelessly out of touch with today’s enthusiasm for all things experimental:
[H]istorical experience is always the experience of complex phenomena, of the joint effects brought about by the operation of a multiplicity of elements. Such historical experience does not give the observer facts in the sense in which the natural sciences apply this term to the results obtained in laboratory experiments. (People who call their offices, studies, and libraries “laboratories” for research in economics, statistics, or the social sciences are hopelessly muddle-headed.)
Mises isn’t talking about the literal laboratories used by today’s experimental economists, but the casual use of such scientistic jargon when collecting and analyzing non-experimental data, whether or primary or secondary. (He likewise rejected the language of “hypothesis testing” and the like when applied to social science.) Anyway, agree or disagree, you have to admit there are a lot of hopelessly muddle-headed people on university campuses.