Saturday, 15 September 2012

Advice to young Austrians

From George Selgin and thus well worth thinking hard about:
Here it is: search for the word "Austrian" in your research papers, delete it, and rewrite where necessary. Next ask yourself whether what's left can stand on its own merits. Would your fellow Austrians find it interesting and persuasive without the help of all the winking, nodding, and fraternal handshaking aimed at declaring yourself one of the team, and at thereby evading friendly fire? Would they find the conclusions firmly attached by a series of solid links to some indisputable premises, as they should if you are really a competent praxeologist? Are they likely to find the evidence you supply persuasive, should you be so bold as to offer such? Would they, in short, find merit in what you've written even if they had no reason to suspect that you are one of the gang, or even a fellow traveler? If not, then your paper is good for nothing but joining a club that is, face it, all too willing to have you as a member.

But being able to win over Austrians without declaring yourself one of them is the least of it. The more important question you need to ask is, "Can my stealth-Austrian paper not only sneak past mainstream radars, but do some persuading once across enemy lines?" It surely will not be less persuasive than it would be with all that Austrian flag-waving, since the flags might as well be bright red so far as the rest of the profession is concerned. But if it still can't persuade at least some persons who aren't pals of yours at the Mises Institute or at GMU or at some other Austrian hang-out, what good is it?

Persuading non-Austrian economists with what are, in substance, "Austrian"-style arguments is, admittedly, rough going: all too many so-called economists today are mere technicians who care only for the latest mathematical and statistical gimmicks, and give not a jot for genuine economics. But there are thank goodness also plenty of real economists who aren't Austrians and who don't want to hear about Austrian economics, but are willing to hear any good argument and to be persuaded by it and by evidence that seems to support it. Persuading them is hard too. It's also every economist's job.
I'm not sure just how true this is today "many so-called economists today are mere technicians who care only for the latest mathematical and statistical gimmicks". Once I think it was true but since the 70s the approach to doing economics by most economists has been changing. Less of the maths for maths sake and more of, what Selgin calls, "genuine economics". As an example I have written the following in a working paper on the theory of the firm:
A final point about the models of the firm discussed in this essay is that they highlight a general issue to do with post-1970 microeconomics, that is, the retreat from the use of general equilibrium (GE) models. All the models considered above are partial equilibrium models, but in this regard the theory of the firm is no different from most of the microeconomic theory developed since the 1970s. Microeconomics such as incentive theory, incomplete contract theory, game theory, industrial organisation etc, has largely turned its back, presumably temporarily, on GE theory and has worked almost exclusively within a partial equilibrium framework.

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