Bob Higgs Gets It, Why Doesn't Everyone?
That statement is true for many things ranging from the growth of government to the failure of government interventions to fix the economy to the implications of the permanent war economy for our freedom and our prosperity. But what I want to focus on today is Higgs's understanding of work within contemporary Austrian economics.
I happen to be a historian of economic thought -- teach in the field, publish in the journals, participate in the professional meetings, etc. At NYU, I taught the history of the Austrian school --- from Menger to Mises --- at GMU I currently teach modern history of economic thought which is quite heavy in its treatment of the Austrian school of economics. But I don't confuse history of thought with doing economics per se. It is an important aspect of scholarship within the discipline of economics, but the actual doing of economics is something different.
Following Mises, I believe the purpose of theory is do better history (including contemporary history). Economic theory provides the necessary framework for producing historical narratives. Mises's discussion of Theory and History finds contemporary relevance in the call for Analytic Narratives in my interpretation. And this is what I have stressed to my students. Austrian economics is not about writing essays on what Mises, or Hayek, or Rothbard, or Kirzner, or Lachmann, etc. said, and how they differ from others or one another --- though that may be a useful intellectual exercise. But it is not doing economics. Doing economics is something different than scholarly criticism. Instead, I think the doing of economics is about appropriating or developing the ideas you find important into a coherent analytic framework, and then applying that framework to render the world around us intelligible. Putting Mises and Hayek to work is making a contribution to economic science, discussing Mises and Hayek is scholarship in intellectual history.
As Murray Rothbard once said to me about different "fellow travelers" to the Austrian tradition, you don't need citations to prove an Austrian work, you can tell by reading the work --- if it looks like an Austrian book, if it sounds like an Austrian, it is an Austrian book. I suggest all the young students of Austrian economics to spend sometime looking at the footnotes in Man, Economy and State to see the breadth of knowledge in economics Rothbard relied on in developing his treatise. It is about substantive propositions concerning the economic forces at work, not citations to particular authors. Though, of course, there is some correlation between who you cite in your work, and who you think have made advances in understanding economic processes. But the correlation is not by any means necessarily 1 to 1, as in many cases you will simply appropriate the arguments you most believe in as your own (so measured intellectual influence is often less than actual intellectual influence).
I was reminded of this recently when reading Bob Higgs's review essay on Chris Coyne's After War. I think what Bob has to say about Chris, is also true for Pete Leeson, Ben Powell, Ed Stringham, David Skarbek, and several other former GMU students who are now making their way through the economics profession.
Economists will gain enlightenment from Coyne's compact, well-documented presentation of a great variety of relevant facts about some of the leading cases of national reconstructions in which the US government has engaged in during the past century. Although the analysis as a whole is eclectic rather than strictly Austrian, it makes apt use of key Austrian ideas --- Hayekian knowledge problems, unintended consequences, and the Misesian dynamics of interventionism. It does so unobtrusively, however, without needlessly provoking non-Austrians, and thus it exemplifies nicely how Austrians may engage in mutually beneficial intellectual exchange with other economists.
Bob Higgs gets it, so should you.