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Rafe Champion
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Slow reading on Catallaxy
Toggle Commented Sep 26, 2018 on Talking About the Hayek Book at Coordination Problem
Add Peter Bauer and Bill Hutt to the list of victims of Scientism?
It is unfortunate that the most important economist of the 20th century did not have a serious and ongoing engagement with the leading philosopher of science of the time. von Mises and Popper were colleagues in the Mont Pelerin Society and there is a brief reference by Popper in a Cato publication to their occasional talks. Popper wrote that the took on board the major theorems of Mises but it would be good to find out what that means. Mises for his part dismissed Popper's ideas in a casual and disparaging manner on the few occasions where he referred to them. Does anyone have more information on the Popper/Mises relationship?
Wishing you many more happy birthdays Don!
A reason to take the history of ideas seriously, from a reconstruction of Popper's lecture on understanding in the series of 15 lectures that he delivered for a decade or more at the LSE. "Most books on science talk about theories. Only a few of the best books even mention the problems. For this reason, the feeling arises that science actually consists of theories, and that understanding science means understanding these theories. But understanding a theory, I assert, is understanding how it is a solution of certain problems. So you can’t understand a theory if you do not know the problems that the theory his been developed to solve. Anything else is only scratching the surface. You may be able to follow the words in which the theory is formulated. You may be able to understand the mathematical formulae in which it is expressed. But a real understanding of the theory is achieved only when you relate the theory to the problems that it is supposed to solve. To understand how a theory is supposed to solve certain problems is really to understand the theory... ...I also think that there is a problem of understanding in the sciences, and that the biggest part of the problem of understanding is that we don’t teach our students to understand problems. This, in fact, is one of our great faults in teaching mathematics. Mathematics teachers, as a rule, introduce their theories with no mention of the original problems that these theories were supposed to solve. And it is usually very difficult to correct this. One really has to give a sketch of the history of a science in order to explain how we came to be where we are. And one has to talk about problems — about the problems that led to a theory, about the problems within the theory, about the problems within the higher developed theory, and about the problems within the still higher developed theory. A physicist or an economist may begin by teaching his class the latest and most sophisticated theory that has been developed. But unless he explains the problems that his new theory is supposed to solve, he will exclude a large number of people — and very valuable people who really want to understand. But few teachers seem to do this. And so we very often get into this situation where people have learned to use a theory without really understanding it. The theory may be the result of many hundreds of years of development. But the whole past is more or less forgotten. And then, when the theory breaks down, they are more or less lost. They don’t understand the new problems because they didn’t understand the old problems. And in this way, the whole past can be more and more and more forgotten."
The durability of Keynesian macro and the "consensus" in climate science suggest that the we need to be very alert to the power of the paradigm. Hence the need for constant attention to the "rules of the game" of science and the way they can be subverted in the modern age of Big Science and especially Big Science funded by Big Government. I am not sure that Polanyi and Kuhn provided the ideas required to maintain the creative and crtical side of the "essential tension".
Pete, I don't know the agnotology book but this looks like a horse from the stable you mentioned in that context.
The wonderful Polish refugee Stanislav Andreski supplemented Peter Bauer's work with books on South America "Parasitism and Subversion" and Africa "The African Predicament", not to mention his little classic "Social Sciences as Sorcery". On the way that methodology determines the way we frame our questions and evaluate the answers, that was a function that Popper assigned to the "metaphysical research program". Stanley Wong's critique of Samuelson's revealed preference theory is a paradigm case of advanced Popperian analysis. Read the preface to the revised edition and weep for the institutional situation that drove Wong out of academic economics into the legal profession. The influence of methodology and metaphysics in choosing and evaluating questions and answers is supplemented or complemented by the role of rhetoric as described by Deirdre McCloskey. One more footnote: the work in the Bourgeois trilogy picks up a theme that Popper threw out in a paper that he delivered to the Mont Pelerin Society in Italy circa 1954. In "Public Opinion and Liberal Principles" he noted the overwhelming importance of what he called the "moral framework" of a society or a culture. Like the assumptions or presuppositions of research programs, the framework exerts decisive influence, especially when it is not brought out into the open so it can be subjected to critical appraisal with the hope of improvement. That process could not happen under the rule of positivism which decreed that non-empirical propositions are just meaningless.
Toggle Commented Apr 20, 2015 on Preparation for Sachs at Coordination Problem
Terence Kealey devastated the Stiglitz thesis in a massive, historically informed book on the economics of scientific research, summarized here On the agricultural revolution in England he showed that innovations such as crop rotation and systematic improvement of crops and pastures were driven by gentleman farmers such as “Turnip” Townsend and associations such as the Lunar Society which consisted of a mix of scientists, engineers and industrialists. By 1850 agricultural productivity in Britain was increasing by 0.5% per annum, unprecedented in history. Laissez faire ruled (almost) and there was no state involvement in research or industry policy. He described the way science Czars used the wars of the 20th century to advance Big Science on the back of Big Government. One of the results is the scandal of climate science, driven by the politics of the IPCC and massive government funding of research.
We can see what happens when both the rule of law and the traditional moral framework are effectively absent for two or more generations, compared with the diminished damage in Eastern Europe where they were only missing for a generation or so. Attention has returned to the moral framework with the work of Deirdre McCloskey. It was flagged in a passing moment by Popper in a 1954 paper at the Mont Pelerin Society. Something else that we have discovered especially from Hayek is the importance of traditions, rules and institutions that were notoriously overlooked in the kind of economics that has flourished under the triumph of positivism/empiricism and the cargo cult of inductive science, as described by Boettke and O'Donnell, Critical Review, last year.
Just for a start, the public education system and inflexibility in the labour market, plus the victim/entitlement mentality and the welfare system.
Yes, misplaced education is not just a problem in the Third World, a great many of the people in western universities would do better with on the job training. Too many courses make people come out more stupid than they went in, and far too many people in ok courses are not genuinely interested enough to get real value from the course. How many people in non-vocational courses attend the lectures because they are really interested in the subject, and how many are there just because they need the points to complete the course? Jacques Barzun saw it all happening between 1943 when he published Teacher in America and 1968 when he published The American University who took any notice? By the way you can get his books these days for next to nothing.
Ngoc, it is not just a matter of spending more money on education. It has been quite clear since Peter Bauer's work which commenced in the 1940s that foreign aid to governments of the Third World has for the most part (leaving out direct medical care) done more harm that good. No just no good. Harm. The point of this argument on education is that the education has to be relevant to the needs of the people where they live and work. That is most effectively delivered by educators who respond to the immediate needs of the people where they live and work. Simply putting more funds into a government line item called Education means next to nothing in terms of delivering the specific kind of education that is required on the ground.
Check out the Ed West Centre where Pauline is based. West was a Canadian-born libertarian. He did some great historical work on the amount of private education provided by "penny schools" in Britain and the American colonies prior to the statist public education movement. In some places the literacy rate was higher due to the penny schools than the results from modern public education. Go figure!
An alternative to the Krugman view.
It is strange that the idea of the hidden hand is usually invoked as Smith's signature idea, in fact The Wealth of Nations looks like institutional analysis, all the way down. Not to mention the moral framework which was the subject of his first book, a matter that Deirdre McCloskey is bringing back to life, following a tip from Karl Popper in his 1954 address to the Mont Pelerin Society.
Nobody can deny his influence, just look at the way his textbook was standard for many years. The result of that is rather alarming if you think that he scored a trifecta of errors (abuse of maths, Keynesianism and the welfare state). How long will it take to wash Keynesian thinking out of the system if so many generations of students (now citizens) grew up on Samuelson's standard text?
How does Samuelson rate as an economist in view of his commentary on the Soviet economy? When will Stanley Wong get proper recognition for his demolition job on Samuelson on revealed preference? Interesting to note, despite Mirowski's dismissal of Wong's reference to Popper, the "little gem" is Popperian through and through, due to the influence of Larry Boland. It is an outstanding illustration of the power of Popperian/Austrian Situational/Institutional Analysis and the reconstruction of intellectual/scientific problem situations. Incidentally Wong's experience, described in the preface to the new edition, also illustrated the dysfunctional intellectual climate of the economics profession, to the point where he quit and made a career in the law.
That was very generous of Samuelson, if only he could have been equally civil about Friedman and von Mises! Hazlitt made an impression on the not so young Karl Popper: he reviewed "The Open Society and its Enemies" and gave it a big tick apart from some of the economics. Popper wrote a letter to Hazlitt which is reproduced in "After the Open Society" eds Shearmur and Turner, saying he had revised his ideas on the desirability of full employment. I probably should mention that the latest volume of Critical Rationalist Papers is "Karl Popper and the Austrian Economists". Published last week, with a five star ecological rating, it is made from recycled electrons!
Daniel, another thought bubble, for how much of that 200 years of relative stability did you have something like 50% of the people who think they are entitled to live off the other 50%?
Daniel, most of the 200 years was before Keynes and the New Deal and the very rapid expansion of Government activity, both in spending and in regulation. Someone pointed out that when the State accounted for a modest percentage of GDP we could afford some slack. We appear to be at a tipping point where we do not have a very long time to generate a wide-ranging and adult conversation about the future of the republic.
It is good to see more appreciation of the compatability of Popper and the other Austrians. A preliminary statement along those lines was presented at the 2002 Popper Centenary Conference in Vienna but did not make the cut for the published proceedings. One of the problems is the situation where it is possible to spend a career in academia and not encounter a straight feed on Popper's ideas. This came about because the Continental diaspora of positivists took all the key posts in the Anglosphere while Popper was on an extended vacation in the south Pacific. It is helpful to take on board the idea of "fallibillistic apriorism" from Barry Smith, which is more or less the same as "conjectural knowledge". This contribution did better and was accepted for an Italian journal. It is possible to discern a "gang of three" in the 1930s, Talcott Parsons, von Mises and Popper, but Talcott Parsons lost the plot after his (1937). This paper was rejected by an Australian history of ideas journal after a split decision with the first two referees. It also had a split decision with the Review of Aust Ec and more work is required. It also helps to see the similarity in the presuppositions of Menger's economics and Popper's "metaphysical research program". Thanks again to Barry Smith.
Rafe Champion is now following Matthew Schiros
Apr 29, 2013
The pirate ship sounds like a company after a worker buyout. What is the international experience of firms owned by the workers?
Interesting to see the way that Keynes (admittedly not original but very influential) changed the "rules of the game" and the "forms of life" of economists and policy-makers. What a shame that Wittgenstein and followers, who were so interested in those concepts, seldom applied them in a critical and problem-focussed manner to substantive issues in science and public policy.