Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I Agree With Everyone, and With No One

On the whole, I offer little contention with Brian Caplan. Rather, I would agree that Austrian school-of-thinkers tend to vigorously defend an incomplete and (sometimes) flawed body of logic, while they could, and should, just cut their losses, bolster their short-list of widely-accepted economic certainties, and drop the "Austrian School" title that associates them with the whole lot* of fallacies (and makes them sound pretentious anyway).

*lot, as in, the British colloquialism (I'll take the lot!), and not lot, as in, many (I like it a lot!)

In the Austrian School, from what I can gather from Caplan's interpretation, and what I would agree with, is that the Austrian Thinkers are too specific on things that are better (and arguably more productive and elucidative) left broad, and vague on things that require specificity. As we've seen, in cases of ambiguity, Austrian thinkers are vulnerable to a wide range of interpretations; some of which could render the idea false evidence is brought against it, and thus any kernel of wisdom that it retained would be lost. In cases of over-specification, the kernels of wisdom that could have deftly explained some economic phenomena are anchored to very specific examples or parameters, and therefore are lost for similar reasons of evidence being brought against it. It's similar with scientific theories. Once you have evidence against it, it's thrown out, even if you were on the right track.

This is not to say that this is the case with all Rothbard/Austrian School arguments. There are some in which the specificity is just right, and it still seems to be wrong. Welfare Economy, to name one, is an example that both Caplan and DocLawson discredit, with my allied support.

Moving on, there were areas in Caplan's argument where I thought he stretched to dismiss parts of the Austrian School, that may not have merited his desperate dismissal. Regarding Continuity, it seems as though Caplan was unneccessarily splitting hairs, and giving more credit of depth to Rothbard than should be deserved. Rothbard seems to suggest that people act only on what they are aware of at any given moment requiring action, dismissing minute details that they deem unimportant at the moment. And for the heck of it, let's throw in an example:
The decision to do the dishes does not require consideration of whether to later watch a movie with roommates or practice music. 
The two have virtually no connection at the margin, however the minute intermediary decisions may eventually involve the two, but how could we have known that? It's inefficient, and often impossible to predict such futures. But it is a possibility...
Possibility: By doing the dishes, our dishwasher unwittingly gains "street cred" with his/her roommates. When it's time to pick a movie, the roommates offer to let our dishwasher pick whatever movie he/she wants, which increases the value of the activity over practicing music for them.
SEEMINGLY, IMPOSSIBLY INSIGNIFICANT decision to wash the dishes has affected the outcome of a perfectly unrelated activity. Actually, I think the whole "traveling back in time and killing a gnat makes it so Hitler is never born" kind of wraps that concept up nicely. We act without accounting for EVERYTHING! Only instantaneous subjective relevance.

The point is that I think Rothbard got that one right, and Brian Caplan was just lookin' to scapegoat.


To sum all my thoughts up:
1. Prescribers to Austrian Economics are too tied to Austrian theory as a whole, and should probably let some things go in order to enter credible economic spheres.

2. But some sympathy: I believe that some of their theories, though they may be incomplete/vague/too specific, do carry elements of truth and applicability in modern economics. This is to say that they were one the right track, but maybe just missed the turn-off.

3. Yes, there are definite points in Austrian arguments where you're like, "What? What obviously false offer did you make with such verbose assertion? What idiots." Yes, they are definitely wrong in places.

4. I mostly agree with Caplan, but I think he, at times, came off as a little pompous and douche-baggy with his arguments. This, for me, colored his arguments with some bias, to which I was wary when considering his opinions. Let's get a little humility, eh?

5. Overall, I agree with that age-old Milton Freeman quote "there is no Austrian economics - only good economics, and bad economics." I mean, that's how science pretty  much does it. All accepted findings and theories are placed into the universal canon of scientific knowledge, and are removed when they are proven wrong. Nobody's taking the Theory of Relativity, "The World is Flat" Theory, and the Law of Gravity and saying "This is my school of thought," with someone else taking Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, "All Square Objects Float" Theory, and the Periodic Table, and saying "Ok, then this is mine, then." Why can't we all just get along?? Let's help a brother out, and get a unified body of economics that everyone understands is in CONSTANT FLUX! Wouldn't that be easier? Let's get it together, people.

I am apt to believe that most of what I have stated is wildly askew from what our author (and Rothbard/Mises, for that matter) actually meant in their arguments. But such is the risk of allowing someone who is neither of the Austrian or neo-classical school (or any school, for that matter) interpret information that requires a professional opinion in order to be regarded as true or false. I can only offer my pedestrian opinion, so take it or leave it.

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