Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Robert Leonard

Robert Leonard's latest working paper, part of his magisterial project on the history of game theory, is "The Collapse of Interwar Vienna: Oskar Morgenstern's Community, 1925-1950." It is, as is everything else of his I have read, brilliant. What Toulmin and Shorske did for culture and philosophy in doomed interwar Vienna, Leonard does for the economic and mathematical community. If you have any interest in the history of economic thought, you must read him!

One focus of the paper is the growing rift between Morgenstern and Mises during the 30's. Morgenstern started out as a self-identified Austrian but pulled away. A big influence here was Karl Menger, the mathematician, not to be confused with his father, Carl Menger, the economist, founder of the Austrian school and indeed one of the troika usually credited with the Marginal Revolution. Anyway, Karl with a "K" thought Mises was presenting his normative libertarianism as scientific description and Morgenstern increasingly agreed. (Menger thought Neurath was doing the same thing on the Left.)

Another fascinating figure in the story is Abraham Wald, the general equilibrium pioneer to be, for whom Morgenstern found money in his capacity as head of the Institute for Business Cycle Research, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here again it was Menger who saw Wald's genius and clued Morgenstern in. Wald was from Romania, Jewish, and made it out of Vienna after the Anschluss to Colorado to work for the Cowles Commission. Eight of his immediate family members were victims of the Nazis in Rumania.

I can't do Leonard justice here, but read him by all means!

1 comment:

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Interesting. For what it is worth, as near as I can tell, most Austrian economists consider Morgenstern to be sort of one of theirs, at least more so than Schumpeter, whom they mostly revile, but also occasionally claim. However, this may be more the Hayekians than the Misesians.