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Zac Gochenour
Baltimore, MD
Interests: technology, philosophy, economics, geek culture
Recent Activity
Zac Gochenour is now following Thracx
Sep 10, 2009
There is little difference between the clerics of the Catholic Church and politicians like Kennedy. Both seek power where they can find it, and manipulate people through demagoguery. They appeal to the worst in people - they are, quite simply, evil. They are concerned with power and control - of spreading their beliefs and imposing their will on others. They preach their slave morality from their high pulpits and expect the world to fall in line. I agree with Sautet that it is nigh impossible to be a libertarian politician. Once you realize this it is simple to realize that it is just as difficult to be a libertarian Christian - a religion that preaches salvation gained by prostating before the teachings of "wise" men and the imaginary god they worship. Believe without question and without reason, they ask, and forsake the pleasures of this world for a higher calling. Is it not plain that the voices are one in the same? So long as men bow down to gods and kings they remain in chains of their own design. They may find themselves content, but they will never find themselves free.
Toggle Commented Sep 1, 2009 on Senator Edward Kennedy at Coordination Problem
I disagree that students today wouldn't get the S/D and IS/LM totem distinction. IS/LM is still taught in intermediate micro classes the world over, and has a strong presence in popular texts like Mankiw. I think it is interesting to talk to undergraduates from other fields who have had experience with economics beyond intro but have not delved too deep. My general impression is that they see micro and macroeconomics as completely separate disciplines with basically no overlap. I believe that the econ have evolved considerably. But one would not necessarily think that was the case judging by the commonly used resources the econ have created to communicate their culture to outsiders. The micro-macro caste distinction still dominates there, and is not helped by some of the most vocal and influential econ (sometimes, but not always, of the macro caste) making prophecies (with the support of the priestly caste, of course) that clearly contradicts the fundamental observations of the micro.
Toggle Commented Aug 12, 2009 on Life Among the Econ at Coordination Problem
Any recognition and praise is well deserved. Bryan Caplan is his generation's best political economist and his work on voter (ir)rationality should inspire work for years to come. His blog (at least his posts) are the best sort: expanding on his academic research agenda with commentary on new data and the work of other researchers, all made accessible to the intellectual public. He strives for common-sense appeal, and achieves it, but refuses to water-down his commentary for the sake of mass appeal, which is the key reason he's so great. They say good bloggers make good teachers (or at least, someone has said that) and in this case it is certainly true; Bryan Caplan is the best teacher I've ever had, which is saying a lot considering the quality of teachers I've been fortunate enough to have.
To any who missed it (for shame), Jeff Miron gave a talk on the subject posted here: For my money, there is no one writing better commentary on this subject than Jeff Miron, without question. And his latest academic work, on the mortality effects of the minimum drinking age (Economic Inquiry), continues his long tradition of good empirical papers that make the drug prohibitionists look exceedingly silly.
As a frequent blog commenter, I like the idea that by commenting I become "part of the discussion." However, just because I like the idea doesn't make it true, and blog comments are not "the discussion," they're just comments. It is not an effective way to have a conversation, and not an efficient way to address a mass audience. As a blogger, it is a good way to get a sense of your audience's interests and concerns, and as a reader it can be a good way to share your thoughts. In my opinion, the best bloggers monitor the comments but do not respond to them directly (except in rare cases of direct responses to questions that are of interest to the general audience). In the event that a comment is truly provocative, they create another post and reference it. To a commenter there is no greater honor than a front-page feature ;) Don't get me wrong- I think it is very cool that I can say "I'm interested in Austrian economics" and within minutes be trading posts with top minds in the field like Prof Boettke and the other authors here. But such interactions are almost always disappointing, because it is very difficult to communicate in this way. I remain surprised that the authors here continue to engage the audience in this manner, especially with such high frequency. "I wonder whether Austrian economics disproportionally attracts the low productivity and conspiratorial sort of individual to its ranks." Disproportionately might not be the best word. I find that minority positions attract these sorts if for no other reason than the smaller audience means their voice has more prominence regardless of the merit of their words. Also, the assumption is that people care less about credentials if they hold views outside the mainstream. It is an interesting topic though, especially for a contrarian like me.
Pete (and others), what was your impression of Besley's reply?
Prof Boettke writes, "But what we cannot do is "test" theories with statistical tests." If the observed world does not match up with theory, then the theory is wrong. So yes, empirical study (including statistical tests) can "test" theory. The classic Austrian Business Cycle Theory, for instance, was tested against the evidence and is found to be false. I cannot understand why Austrians continue to say things like "you cannot test theory" instead of working on a viable synthesis supported by empirical evidence, ( Let me be fair: that empirical studies are rarely, if ever, conclusive is a point that should be well taken in the profession and cause economists to present their empirical findings with the appropriate degree of humility as well as shift their focus. In many cases, empirical studies are overvalued by many (particularly when the results support their prior beliefs), and they are often presented as far more conclusive than they are. @Adam, it does not seem you actually read the responses from Cowen and Caplan. As to the comment from Redland Jack that "it takes a theory to defeat a theory" - huh? It takes an example to defeat a theory. If you posit a theory of motion that says F=mv, I do not necessarily need to show you that F=ma to prove you are wrong, just that F!=mv. Or, if you say all penguins are red and I show you a black penguin, I have disproved your penguin theory, I do not necessarily need to say all penguins are black. For any phenomena of interest, ideally a correct theoretical model is developed at some point, but that's something different. And once you have two competing theories, which one "defeats" the other is the one that is confirmed by observing the world (empirical study).
I think there may be a transitional period where this is common, but the future of publishing is online entirely. In my mind if you need to have a blog to supplement your book, why bother with print publication at all? In other words, the advantages of online publication are clear, the advantages of print are a mystery to me. I find it amusing that you can still buy a book on computer programming with a packaged CD. I sometimes wonder who buys such books, since they are so obviously inferior to online resources.
Nice try, Greg Ransom, but I don't buy your deflection of Gordo. If the crisis was so easy to predict, you should be rolling in dough, laughing at the rest of us silly people who believe the weak-form EMH is basically true. Your contention that in order to have made money from this there is some requirement to "be in the financial industry" makes no sense, and your statement that "one guy did" make a lot of money means absolutely nothing: it is the same thing as saying "anyone could predict the powerball numbers, if I were in the lottery industry I could have made millions, one guy did." The reality is neither you nor I nor Greg Mankiw foresaw the crash. Some people may have - or, at least, they thought it was more likely than the rest of us did - and they made money. Don't pretend otherwise. Now, "Where's the evidence that Greg Mankiw understands the principles of economics, or how to use them to provide a sound and proper economic explanation?" Other than his often insightful blog and well-written principles texts? How about "A Contribution to the Empirics of Economic Growth" or several of his other journal articles? Plus less obvious proof that comes from looking at the work of his best students, some of whom are doing the most interesting work in economics today. The work of Hayek has a lot to say about the current economic situation. However, understanding Hayek does not give you mystical powers of precognition, and such powers are not required of good economists. N.B. the Justin Fox book is called "Myth of the Rational Market" - a few years ago, he joked that he and Bryan Caplan would coauthor a book called _Good Times: Why Absolute Monarchy and the Feudal Economy Weren't So Bad After All_ :)
Moldbug, about which topic does no one know anything? You do realize you are making no sense, right? I wish you did, since I like to read smart debate about topics I am interested in. I agree with you that there doesn't seem to be enough genuine intellectual hostility. There's plenty of unintellectual hostility to go around, though.
Toggle Commented May 22, 2009 on Reply to Moldbug at Overcoming Bias
Congratulations to Pete. I have known, and been taught by, many of his students, and none of them have said anything less than that he was the best mentor anyone could ask for. This is also somewhat promising news for the department. Getting a university-wide recognition like this counteracts some of the bad recent news of attrition of some of the best faculty. @Nick (the 2:35 AM Nick) You might try using your full name to avoid confusion. My name is relatively uncommon but I learned this lesson the hard way. Also, you say "As this blog is mainly for Austrianist movement members, I should leave the comment section for them" - I have never thought of the comment section this way, the authors here are not Brad DeLong, they do not allow comments specifically so that everyone can note their passive agreement with everything that's said.
If anyone is inclined to read the attack on futarchy TGGP notes, I can save you some time. The author makes one valid but noncontroversial point about decision markets: that the US Government is unlikely to be very receptive to them, so Robin's efforts to peddle the idea to them (e.g. PAM) was probably destined for eventual failure. I did like this quote: "After all, those who know USG know that daring procedural innovation is not exactly its strength. If futarchy or predictocracy is truly an effective new way to make decisions, don't you think our good professors would have better luck in marketing it to, say, Apple?" (nb: both Google- with help from the awesome Hal Varian- and Microsoft claim to use predictive markets internally for decisionmaking, so if Apple is not, perhaps they are falling behind their industry competitors) The rest of the article, unfortunately, is big on bile and rhetoric and short on reasoning. The author understands nothing about prediction markets, does not even seem to wholly understand elementary probability. He uses a lot of words, many of which he clearly does not understand the meaning of. There may be a brilliant critique of futarchy out there worthy of serious attention, but I have not read it, and this is not it.
"This video has been removed by the user." Fail! See the trailer here fwiw I agree with commenter Chad. I guess book trailers have a long way to come. Still, good to see they're promoting the book.
"I am certain that Caplan is indeed an Austrian" Read "The Austrian Search for Realistic Foundations" (Southern Economic Journal, April 1999) and see if that weakens your certainty at all Or you could just talk to him, he does not equivocate. "Why shouldn’t you be an Austrian economist? The fundamental reason is that their main original claims are incorrect."
K Sralla and Samantha hit the nail on the head. Steve Horwitz continues to demonstrate a lack of understanding about the difference between truth and ideology, which is related to the distinction between normative and positive judgments. It would indeed be wrong to give a student a bad grade because that student made a normative judgment you don't agree with. Only an ideologue would do such a thing. It is not wrong to give a student a bad grade because that student made a positive statement that was false. Indeed, that is what is required of a good teacher. It would be wrong to not write a recommendation to a student to a program where the faculty make normative judgments different from your own. It would not be wrong to not write a recommendation to a student for a program where the faculty teach blatant falsehood that they claim is economic truth. Economic relativism is the position that all economics is normative- that is, there are no economic truths, only economic opinions. Steve Horwitz claims not to be an economic relativist, but acts in such a way that is only consistent if all economics is normative. I believe him because I am sure that in his microeconomic principles class, some students get bad grades because they do not understand economic truths. I also assume he would have no problem with a biology teacher giving bad marks to a student who, on a test about evolutionary biology, steadfastly declared that evolution was a myth and that the earth, universe, and all the life forms in their current form were created by God about 3000 years ago. And if that student came to a biology professor and asked for a recommendation to study "creation science" at Liberty University, if that professor has any shred of integrity he will say no. So, Dr Horwitz acts as if he holds beliefs that he does not really have. They should create a word for this sort of behavior
Toggle Commented May 13, 2009 on Sorry Charlie at Coordination Problem
Sorry to post again. LVDH rhetorically asks if it is naive to believe that if faculty really thought Austrian economics was correct, they would be Austrians. I would say, maybe in general this is a naive belief but in the specific case of GMU faculty probably no. If you are freshly minted assistant professor at Princeton, maybe you don't come out of the Austrian closet because you think that it will hurt your career. If you are a tenured faculty member at GMU you have little reason to be in the Austrian closet. LVDH also says "surely some career choices are more _risky_ than others". I agree. I think this is what people are saying when they say "doing Austrian economics is career suicide" or something to that effect-- that compared to mainstream methods and popular topics, it is risky to do Austrian economics. Since they are not saying it is _impossible_, a handful of examples of professors who do Austrian economics does not make the claim 'WRONG'. Is the fact that doing Austrian economics is risky a good reason not to do Austrian economics? Not in my opinion. Getting your PhD at GMU is risky in comparison to getting your JD at GMU, but it does not follow that all GMU PhD students should try to enroll in law school. I'm going to stop participating in this thread, especially since I've been personally insulted. I actually think Pete gives very good advice: if Austrian economics is correct, and you believe it is correct, and you believe you can do good work, you should do Austrian economics. By all accounts, Pete is an amazing teacher with the best interests of his students at heart. However, I disagree that anyone is wrong to point out that approaching a research agenda as an Austrian is more risky career wise than approaching it with the mainstream framework. I also disagree that it is wrong to discourage students from doing Austrian economics if you believe Austrian economics is wrong. Pete says that is not what the post is about, but I think it is implicit in most recommendations not to do Austrian economics.
Steve says the role of the teacher is to encourage students to use whatever sort of analytical framework they want when studying economic topics. In that case there cannot be a correct economic way of thinking, or if one exists at least it is not really that important to use it. What is really important is that you are following your "passion" and not that you are thinking correctly. Call this position 'economic relativism.' A comparison is drawn between my position on pedagogy and left-wing ideological indoctrination, suggesting they are equivalent and equally contemptible. What Steve is saying, therefore, is that economics is indistinguishable from ideology, being both matters of opinion and not fact. Furthermore, he is saying what is contemptible about these positions is that they insist their ideology is the correct one when there is no such thing, not that their ideology is actually wrong. I disagree on both counts. I'm an economic objectivist. To me, teaching economics should be about communicating to students basic truths about the economic way of thinking and encouraging them to apply that way of thinking to a number of topics. "One true theory, many applications" as Pete has said. According to Steve I have "no clue about what teaching is really about," so much so that he wishes ill upon my academic aspirations. When I was an undergraduate, I had teachers one might consider purely "Austrian" and some that were neoclassical. When I expressed interest in graduate study, those Austrians I knew encouraged me to use the Austrian framework to conduct research and those neoclassicals encouraged me to use that framework. I would expect nothing else, since none of my teachers were economic relativists, and all had my best interests at heart when giving advice. My idea of what teaching is really about comes from my own teachers. Maybe none of them knew what teaching is really about, either.
Aren't formal debates already an engagement swap? Each speaker presents an overview of his side in turn, where he will focus on the strongest points in favor of his side. Then each speaker responds directly to the points made by the other side. To just continue to talk about your strongest points and blatantly ignore the points made by the opposing side is an exceptionally poor debating tactic. If one side consistently refuses a request for formal debate, they are most commonly accused of (4), probably rightly so. For the set of disagreements in which neither side ever proposes a debate, the reality is probably (1).
Toggle Commented May 5, 2009 on Engagement Swaps at Overcoming Bias
Steve, I don't have all the information to judge. It would not be hypocritical to encourage your student to write on, say the economic calculation debate. It would be hypocritical to encourage them to do Marxian economics. If your student said "I want to do Marxian economics," and you responded "Great! I know a school in Massachusetts where you will find Marxian professors to work with. You should go there and follow your passion," then yes that is hypocritical. Why? Because Marxian economics is based on false claims. What would not be hypocritical is to tell the student to study the topic of economic calculation using a correct analytical framework. This is the process of teaching. The Labor Theory of Value is one claim of Marxian economics - as teacher your job is to say this theory is wrong, and marginalism is true and explain why. It is appropriate to have a discussion about why the LTV is false but not appropriate to encourage the student to go out and do "good work" using the LTV as a part of their analytical framework. Roger, in the case of Hayek and Shackle I know even fewer details, but I doubt Hayek actively encouraged Shackle to embrace ideas that he (Hayek) thought were false. Pete says "in the particular cases that started this discussion thread the claim was not don't do Austrian economics because it is wrong, it was instead, don't do Austrian economics because it is career suicide." I cannot believe that Pete's colleagues at GMU would say "Austrian economics is the correct framework but do not use it because it is impossible to get a job as an Austrian economist." Firstly, if they thought Austrian economics was correct they would be Austrian economists. Secondly, to say it is impossible to get a job as an Austrian economists would be to deny the existence of some of their own colleagues, a truly bizarre position. I can believe they would say "do not do Austrian economics because many of its defining claims are false" and might further add "if you do Austrian economics, you will find it difficult to get a job at most universities compared to if you did conventional economics" which is an uncontroversial claim. Pete, don't you agree that this is what the critics actually mean?
Pete, thanks for clarifying your position for me. When critics say that students should not use the Austrian framework, I think it is likely that most of them do so because they think the Austrian approach is incorrect. In this case, it is perfectly reasonable that they counsel their students or fellow graduate students to not pursue it. Just as you do not counsel your students to pursue the Marxian approach, or the neoclassical approach, since you believe Austrian economics to be better than the alternatives for tracking truth. But you say "The concerns that some faculty and your fellow graduate studetns are voicing are WRONG and can be proven to be wrong by a simple examination of the facts of the fate of GMU graduate students over the years." Yes, it proves that it is possible to have what most of us would consider a successful career while doing Austrian economics, possibly even because your work is Austrian and not in spite of it. But that does not mean the Austrian approach is correct. Other students will do neoclassical economics, do it well, and achieve success. This does not mean that their approach is correct, either. Wouldn't your colleagues who discourage students from doing Austrian economics be hypocrites to do otherwise, if they think the Austrian approach is wrong and do not identify as Austrians or use the Austrian approach in their own work? Likewise the students who do not find Austrian claims convincing should tell their fellow students that they should not do Austrian economics. That is the basis for a healthy debate on the real question: are the important and distinguishing (unique to) claims of Austrian economics, which are foundational for understanding of all sorts of phenomena, true or false? This is not the proper forum for that debate of course. It so happens I think false but that's coincidental. I agree that it would be inappropriate to tell someone what topic to study. But when you say "I am not an Austrian economist" it is not inappropriate to add "and you shouldn't be either." Indeed that should be implied.
Pete asks why there is a disjoint in my mind between encouraging students to study in a topic like public ignorance and encouraging them to study Austrian economics. What is "Austrian economics"? This is what I am trying to get at. It cannot be "unusual things associated with Austrian economics --- methodology, method, history of ideas, comparative, etc." because it is possible to write about those topics and not be Austrian. In any case that would be a very strange definition of Austrian economics. So that is the disjoint. When you counsel interested students to "do Austrian economics" you are not just advising them to study the topics that interest them. You are advising them on which analytical framework to use to study the topics they are interested in. When critics say "do not do Austrian economics" I hope they are not saying "do not study topics which Austrian economists study, like economic history or business cycles." If they are that is very silly. Just like if a critic of Marxism says "do not do Marxian economics" they are not saying "do not study topics which interests Marxists like labor economics or monetary economics" they are saying "do not use the analytical framework of Marxism." Also note that even if you could have a good career as a Marxian economist it does not follow that you should do Marxian economics. The idea that you should be encouraged to use an analytical framework because you are interested in it or you can have a good career doing it is bizarre. So I am asking the question because I want to know and I do not think it has been made clear. When you say "Do Austrian economics," (in 2009) what are you saying, and why?
Jared Barton makes the same point that Bryan Caplan made in 1997 "The simple fact is that M&E [mathematics and econometrics] are the language of modern economics, much as Latin was the language of medieval philosophy. These professional languages waste a lot of time and make it difficult for laymen and academics to communicate. But once mastered, even dissident scholars can use these tools to speak their minds." The conclusion should be the same as well. "The reasonable intellectual course for Austrian economists to take is to give up their quest for a paradigm shift and content themselves with sharing whatever valuable substantive contributions they have to offer with the rest of the economics profession - and of course, with the intellectually involved public." As I learn more about Austrian economics today, it seems to me that increasingly the Austrians hear Bryan. Pete Leeson has an empirical paper forthcoming in _American Journal of Political Science_ using spatial econometrics (several of his other papers use mathematical models and econometrics as well). Ben Powell is writing (has written?) a paper on how experimental economics is consistent with praxeology (I suspect it to be along the lines of what Vernon Smith wrote in Cato Journal, 1999). So.. wait. What's the point of the "Austrian" label in 2009? Pete, why don't you give a message to your students to do GOOD economics and stop worrying about whether or not you are Austrian?
George Selgin writes "I doubt there's a specialist in any field of economics right now who hasn't felt some need to be conversant with macro," but is this true? Pete's colleague Robin Hanson, for instance, is a specialist in prediction markets. The school where he got his PhD, Caltech, has never offered courses in "macroeconomics" and it is certainly not part of their core curriculum ( To me, this is a perfectly reasonable approach. In most PhD programs, microeconomic theory and "macroeconomics" are taught concurrently. This is particularly egregious because it suggests that there are really two "economic ways of thinking" - one applicable to "macro" topics and one applicable to "micro" topics, both "foundational" and required for further study in any subfield. Also implied is that these foundational courses are essentially of equal importance. When I was an undergraduate at GMU I often chatted with grad students about their research, the curriculum, etc. Many complained about the macroeconomics courses and prelim, saying it had no relevance to their research agenda. Some, though, had nothing to complain about: at the time, students studying experimental economics were exempt from the requirement to take macroeconomics. I suspect their careers are no worse off from it. (I understand the exemption is no longer offered, though)