I am pretty sure that, had I taken economics in school, I would never have developed an interest in it.
One of my hobbies is collecting economics textbooks. They are not uniformly bad — I have gained insights from those by Alchian and Allen, David D. Friedman, Gwartney and Stroup, and a few others — but they are not as good as the old “Principles”-style texts from days of yore. You know, general theory books covering a lot of ground for a wide audience including amateurs, written (in the best cases) in readable English (or other common tongue) and not littered with Q&As and “work problems” and “call-out” boxes of biographies of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and the ever-present Keynes. The best of the old-fashioned treatises, such as by F.W. Taussig, and especially the “anachronistic” efforts by Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) and Murray Rothbard (Man, Economy and State), outshine all econ texts used in colleges today.
Part of the problem is that the textbook industry is a mostly corrupt adjunct to the university system, the main idea being to milk as much money as possible from students. The often-annual revisions in textbooks are usually trivial . . . but quite necessary for the planned obsolescence of the media, allowing universities to renege on buy-backs, thus keeping multi-hundred dollar purchases coming into their revenue streams. Change a few pictures, charge $300+.
This perverse industry has arisen, in part, in response to the near-unlimited demand stemming from subsidized tuitions and student loans. [Keep reading…]
Cato Institute has launched a new website: libertarianism.org. In a previous incarnation, the domain served as a promotion page for David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer.
Designed to be an introductory and exploratory — if not quite a portal — site, it sports an elegant, stylized dove-wing logo. This is Cato’s version of what the Advocates for Self-Government offer at libertarianism.com. But Cato’s new site offers more links and videos on its front page, so it is bound to get more hits. The site offers a basic banner introduction:
LIBERTY. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. THEY’RE CALLED LIBERTARIANS.
Well, that’s one way of putting it.
Just below the banner, a video of an F.A. Hayek lecture on why ethics not arise from our reason. A familiar Hayekian topic, and I just started listening to it. Below that are three other videos, one by Milton Friedman on humility, a short (and terrific) Murray Rothbard lecture on economic recessions, and Joan Kennedy Taylor on feminism. Today’s featured essays are by George H. Smith (“Religious Toleration Versus Religious Freedom”) and Tom G. Palmer (“Myths of Individualism.”) [Keep reading…]
David Graeber and Robert Murphy have been debating the validity of the monetary regression theory. They seem to be talking past one another. Graeber is assuming that Austrian theory agrees with neo-classical theory in areas where it does not, and Murphy is assuming that Graeber is substantially more familiar with Austrian ideas than he seems to be. To clear up the confusion, we need to take a step back and start at the beginning.
When Michelle Bachmann confessed to taking the writings of Ludwig von Mises with her on vacation, I assumed she used the august Austrian economist as a soporific — not because Mises isn’t worth reading, or not exciting to read (I can’t tell you how my heart pounded when I first unleashed myself onto The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science), but because Bachmann has never said anything to suggest a scholarly or subtle mind, the kind of mind best suited for pleasure in reading Mises.
But a Salon writer, Andrew Leonard, has proven himself less dismissive of Bachmann than I. He, knowing nothing of Mises, set out to read Human Action. His conclusion? Well, he didn’t get very far into the book. But he did get far enough to tell us what he found. After reading a few chapters, he was struck by
A few years ago in honor of Arthur C. Clarke’s then-recent birthday, I wrote on my own blog that he must never have read Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard,
because according to this quote cited by Gregory Benford in his happy-birthday letter in Locus Magazine (January 2008), he claims that “there are some general laws governing scientific extrapolation, as there are not (pace Marx) in the case of politics and economics.” Well, far be it from me to disagree that Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but Clarke is wrong here. Sir Clarke, you may be 90 years old now, and happy birthday by the way, but it’s never too late to acquire a firm grasp of sound economic theory.
As disappointing as it is, it’s not surprising that he had a natural-scientistic bias against economics. Sadly, he died only a few months after my post.
In a more recent article in the Sri Lanka Guardian, more of Clarke’s economic ignorance is on display:
While researching for this article I came across a searing indictment by Clarke on the American capitalist system. After observing that the structure of American society may be unfitted for the effort that the conquest of space demands he continued, “No nation can afford to divert its ablest men into essentially non-creative and occasionally parasitic occupations such as law, insurance and banking”. He also referred to a photograph in Life Magazine showing 7,000 engineers massed behind a new model car they had produced as ‘a horrifying social document’. He was appalled by the squandering of technical manpower it represented. All this indeed makes one wonder whether he really was a closet socialist.