Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Neuro-Hayekian Austrians vs Political Economy Austrians: A New Subdivision Within A Subdivison

Among the wannabe Vienna coffeehouse chatterers of the mostly US-based (neo) Austrians, there has already been a subdivision for some time between "Misesians" (really Rothbardians) based at the Mises Institute at Auburn University with their flagship Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, and the "Hayekians" (most of whom profess to admire Mises, if not always some of the followers of Rothbard at MI), based at George Mason University with their flagship Review of Austrian Economics. Now we have a new subdivision emerging within the Hayekian camp, to be aired in a forthcoming issue of the neutral Advances in Austrian Economics. Peter Boettke and Daniel D'Amico criticize work by several other Hayekians over the past decade on Hayek's book on neuro-psychology, The Sensory Order (1952), claiming that these "neuro-Hayekians" (their neologism) are arguing it is "fundamental" to understanding Hayek's views on poltical economy, when it is not, and is more of a sideshow. Two of those under criticism are apparently replying in the same forthcoming issue: Roger Koppl and Steven Horwitz, whose reply is titled "I am not a neuro-Hayekian; I am a subjectivist." What is going on here?

Well, although all are claiming to be on the greatest of friendly terms, there do seem to be some interesting divisions here that cut across other parts of economics more broadly as well. Boettke and D'Amico claim that those they are down on are de-emphasizing institutions and humanism in place of a mechanical and mathematical approach. Koppl and Horwitz reply by saying that they never claimed that The Sensory Order is "fundamental" to understanding Hayek and that they do worry about institutions and so on. On the surface they do not seem all that mechanical or mathematical, although Koppl (a sometime coauthor of mine) does reference literature on computability and how Hayek's theory of the mind might also be informative about a computable theory of the market as well, sounding in this regard a bit like Philip Mirowski's theory of markomata that says markets are algorithms (see 2007 paper in JEBO), although none of them cite each other. Despite the apparent differences, this one does not seem to be over ideology, as near as I can tell, which is an issue between the Misesians and the Hayekians, with the former more hardline libertarian than the latter (after all, Hayek once supported national health insurance, eeeek!).


Roger Koppl said...


I do deal briefly and unfavorably with Mirowski's markomata arguments in a manuscript on the epistemological implications of complexity that is having a hard time seeing the light of day. You seem to think my views on such things are close to his. Maybe, but it doesn't seem so to me.

I think it would be easy to exaggerate the gap you speak of. I am more into "scientific" stuff like Hayek's The Sensory Order, neuroeconomics, complexity and computability than Boettke seems to be. Pete is more excited about "humanistic" stuff like hermeneutics and ethnological methods. Sounds like a huge schism until you learn a couple of things. First, Pete certainly thinks economics is science and completely accepts the idea that, as Mises put it, we must study the laws of economics as we study the laws of physics. Second, I have been a long-time contributor to the hermeneutics literature in Austrian economics and even co-authored a paper on "Rational Choice Hermeneutics" that appeared a journal called the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, which you may have heard of. :-) Pete and I co-edited a volume of the Review of Austrian Economics dedicated to Alfred Schutz, the phenomenological sociologist. One of my "things" is how Hayek is "scientific" and "humanistic" at the same time. Thus, I think we're talking mostly about emphasis.

I'll let Steve speak for himself, of course, but I think he probably falls about halfway between Pete and me in terms of his use of "scientific" vs. "humanistic" methods.

Steven Horwitz said...

Roger has it about right. Barkley is making a mountain out of a molehill. The breathlessness of this post is way out of proportion to the reality of the disagreement.

And, fwiw, the differences between the MI and GMU crowds are NOT primarily, if at all, about "ideology". Both groups average around the same place on the libertarian spectrum. The differences are about strategy, methodology, and some finer points of theory (esp. on money and spontaneous order). Yes, there are different points of emphasis politically, but we are all equally radical libertarians on average.

Seriously Barkley, you're finding a "schism" where none really exists. said...


Guess I can't argue too much about what you say. However, I suspect that you are not as far in reality as you think you are from Mirowski, although, well, guess I need to look at that some more. Even if you are far apart, at least you are partly operating in a ballpark together that most economists are not playing in.


What can I say, breathless in Harrisonburg (gasp! choke!).

On the mountain out of a molehill, maybe, but as someone I know said, publicity never hurts.

Regarding the ideology matter, well, I am not going to argue about who is where on the libertarian spectrum among the participants in these groups too much. It may be that the larger differences were indeed between Mises and Hayek themselves, with Hayek somewhat more "social democratic" than Mises, who had no truck at all for such things as national health insurance.

Regarding the participants, well, there is one Rothbardian who is reported to have spoken at the MI and labeled Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman (but not Rothbard) all as "communists." But, on average, maybe there is little difference in substance, with the differences more in style.

Of course, the issue here for this post is not about ideology, as I said, but other matters, which in the end may also be more about style than substance. said...

It has been suggested to me offlist by someone who will remain anonymous (unless that individual chooses to appear and remark openly) that my characterization of the respective positions of the journals I named is way overdone, and that they are all devoted to the pursuit of scientific truth, if within the framework of Austrian economics.

Roger Koppl said...

Hm . . . I see what you mean about Phil and me operating in the same ballpark. OTOH I can't make out what it means to say a market is a finite automaton. Plus he sometimes switches to saying that finite automata are the genes and markets the phenotypic consequences. I don't think he can have it both ways. But perhaps I'm being too fussy when we're all still wondering what it adds up to? Anyway, I'll reflect on your ballpark point.

Daniel J. D'Amico said...

Thanks for the write up Barkley. Glad you enjoyed the discussion.

6p00e39332499b8834 said...

Barkley and others,

I should point out that while I think personally that young Austrian _economists_ should devote more of their time and energy to studying _economics and political economy_ than neuroscience and cognitive psychology, I am far from critical of both of these fields and their importance for understanding the social world. I should be remembered that (a) I co-edit with Timur Kuran the book series Cambridge Studies in Cognition, Economy and Society, and (b) I co-authored with your colleage Bob Subrick a paper entitled "From the philosophy of the mind to the philosophy of the market" as well as several other paper that address cognitive framing issues, etc.

No, the differences between Roger, Steve and me and Dan are minor points of emphasis and pushing (perhaps nudging in an annoying way) colleagues to rethink the relative weights of emphasis in advancing the Austrian agenda.

On the journals --- I wrote a note to Barkley and pointed out that not only is the RAE neutral, I was also the founding editor of the AAE and that it is also neutral, and the QJAE is wide open as well. The sectarianism aspects are more evident in blog wars, than in the journals per se. Though perhaps the journals sometimes reflect differences --- QJAE Rothbardianism/Misesianism, RAE eclecticism and often more modern political economy focused (not exclusively though), and AAE reflecting the intellectual tastes of the editor since many of the volumes are put together along thematic lines.

Anyway, no real conflict here, just nudging on certain margins.

Roger Koppl said...

At the risk of boring EconoSpeak readers, I might quickly add a couple of side points on GMU vs. MI. Steve is right that both tend to be about equally radical libertarians. There are some policy differences, however, that don't correlate to how "radical" you are. In particular, several MI folks think illegal immigration is a bad thing and a big deal, whereas GMU types tend to welcome the huddled masses.

Some of the MI folks also think monarchy beats democracy, which is not a view held by any GMU types to my knowledge. As fully as I reject the MI position on monarchy (as on immigration, BTW) it has a kind of logic: the king is rational parasite who won't kill his host, whereas the people is a beast. At least that's my sense of their argument. Both issues, immigration and monarchy, suggest greater egalitarianism among the GMU types, notwithstanding the baneful influence of Bryan Caplan.

Perhaps I should also remind everyone that I am not personally a radical libertarian, only a classical liberal. I pretty much stick with Hayek's policy stance from Constitution of Liberty, which means I "leak," especially on issues of the welfare state. My work on the criminal justice system has tended to radicalize me, however, so I may not be consistent in favoring a welfare state while fearing police power. Finally, I am big on muddling through, which I call "Humean status quo bias" and attribute to Hume. You know: all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable. I believe in that sort of 18th century stuff. said...


You and Phil are not converged yet, but he has a new round where he is trying to overcome some of the problems with his finite automaton formulations, if not fully successfully yet. A performance can be seen for anyone going to Atlanta in early January at ASSA in a joint HES/AEA session on the history of complexity, which I shall also be presenting in (and will be discussing Phil's paper as well).

As for boring people here, well, you are too leaky and muddling to do that, I fear.


You are welcome.

Now all you have to worry about is that all the lovey-dovey unity and peace talk is for real after you and Pete "smashed them to pieces," as I heard someone at some point claiming was what was going on (or intended to be going on).

Weird Alphanumeric Person,

It is truly wonderful to know that AAE is (or was) "neutral" since it was founded by a cyborg named "6p0...4" whatever. That is a relief. Maybe Bob Subrick can inform me of the real ID of this founder cyborg.

Of course I appreciate that when the gang is all there in Fairfax, peace can be enforced by going to lunch at some funky restaurant in Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide of Washington (celebrate all those immigrants!), unless you all want to sneer at Tyler for his snotty elitism (not to mention Bryan Caplan's "banefulness") and go to one of your old leftover grad school neighborhood sports bar hangouts where you can chug brewskis and chow down on genuinely juicy burgers and fries with plenty of ketchup while Watching The Game. At least that will hold until the next round of "smashing each other to pieces."

Anonymous said...

These people are not libertarians. I doubt that they think "property is theft", for example! Propertarian would be a far better term.

The term libertarian was first used by the left, by anti-state socialists, in the 1850s. It was first appropriated by the right over 100 years later:

150 years of libertarian

They did so with no regard to the awkward fact that anarchists were still using the word to describe their ideas of anti-state socialism! And Rothbard was well aware of this fact.

As for another split in the "Austrian" camp? Good news... as that implies they will spend more time attacking each other than writing nonsense about the economy!

An Anarchist FAQ

Shag from Brookline said...

I'd rather hear from the libertines. said...


You are correct about the origins of the term "libertarian," and I have commented on this elsewhere, including at length on the predecessor to this blog, maxspeak at one point.

Regarding divisions, well, my observation is that when there are divisions within a group it means that they are thinking hard and doing a lot. When was the last time there was a new division worth noticing among the Marxists? And, it is correct that these "divided" Austrians do go to lunch with each other rather than purging and killing each other as went on among the Marxists when some of them were ruling certain countries (although as an anarchist, that does not surprise you).


Yeah, the libertines are generally more fun, although I have known some people who were both, without implicating any of the persons involved in this particular debate.