Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Disagree (Can we still be friends?)

A Direct Quote

Hoppe, page 9:

“Could it be that Blaug’s and others’ rejection of Mises’s apriorism may have more to do with the fact that the demanding standards of argumentative rigor which anapriorist methodology implies, proves too much for them?"

I can't resist calling the author on this point. The critics he speaks of have often been studying economic theory for decades, building on the contributions of their mentors and colleagues. The author needs to be reminded that disagreeing is not a character flaw.

The Quarrel

Here it is: I do not agree that praxeology and logical constructions are the only acceptable methodology in economic theory. Hoppe offers what I believe to be in incomplete interpretation of the methods of natural sciences in order to contrast them with the field of economics. There are two questions that must be considered. Is it true that the hypotheses of natural science force infinite examination, and do economic activities fall victim to the same troubles?

If I am forced to respond to the first question, I would need to clarify after saying yes. There should be continuing confirmation that the natural sciences have evaluated in interaction and predicted the outcome of the events. Given this, why don't we see physicists trying to confirm the effect of gravity through continuing experimentation. Why are baking soda volcanoes not being documented in the leading peer-reviewed journals of our time? The reason our experiments are not infinitely repeated is that we have more interesting things to do than continue to deal with the same hypotheses (or hypotheticals, in the vernacular of Hoppe). We have theories, identified through past experiments and generally accepted by well informed persons. Every field of the natural sciences allows for generally accepted ideas that cannot be fully confirmed.

With their theories, natural scientists take on questions and attempt to make predictions. Certainly these predictions can be flawed, skewed, or made difficult by chaos and randomness. Still, there can be value in the predictions. Consider the example of the Citric Acid Cycle, the process which breaks sugar apart to make energy available in a cell. Each sugar may yield somewhere between 29 and 38 ATP units, depending on the efficiency of conversion and random, chaotic factors (did someone sneeze?). There is uncertainty in exactly the number of energy units produced, and further study is likely to try to reduce uncertainty, but certainly the aggregated evidence is substantial enough to claim that the Citric Acid Cycle breaks down glucose and yields more than 20 energy units.

In the same way, a price floor has resulted in surpluses when economists have seen examples of the practice. We accept that unemployment can stem from minimum wages, and we accept that wheat could end up rotting if the mandated price is too high for the market. Although I accept these concepts, I cannot agree with Hoppe that these ideas are absolute and ineffable fact. I believe there is still some chance that possibly a situation exists where these examples are not true. Now, I am not interested in setting up an infinite volume of market studies with price floors in every conceivable setting and reviewing the results of this potentially infinite series of confirmations of my opinion. Someone else can stress about that while I sort out my sock drawer.

Self Evident Axioms

Hoppe cites Kant and Mises to support the division of economic thought into some basic unit where it would be self-evident. Mises in particular proposes the axiom of action, which clarifies for anyone who was confused that humans act. I will admit that there is an elegance in the derivation of economic concepts from the simple idea that people act, this axiom of action. Certainly there are useful conclusions to be drawn from this application of praxeological thought, but theories can be flawed and still be useful.

This is not the only such axiom of a metaphysical activity pondered throughout the ages. Cogito, ergo sum is one particularly popular one. I think, therefore I am (after all, if I am thinking than something must exist that as able to think). One may continue and build a praxeological universe, with axiology defining every meticulous existence and event. In that praxeological universe, guided by metaphysics and logic, I hope you'll find some value in inviting me to exist. I'll tell you that I know that I know nothing, and this sentence is false; you can derive an axiom of faction so we are allowed to have opposing views on the question.


We can admit that the Periodic Table doesn't need to be flawless (it's not), the 54th digit of pi is irrelevant (it's 0), and the exact number of unemployed people from minimum wage laws is impossible to determine. We can study market trends without presuming to have a perfect awareness of the actions. We can make economic predictions if we acknowledge the uncertainty inherent in our predictions.

No comments:

Post a Comment