Steve Horwitz delivered a nice talk on “Austrian Economics Today” at a FEE Seminar on June 8, 2009. In the talk, Horwitz is very complimentary of the Mises Institute [6:14 et seq., et pass.]. He focuses on their online publications and resources as their main contribution.
It’s interesting that he describes [7:25-] the Mises Institute “approach to Austrian economics” as “an internalist strategy” (he is careful to note that this is his, not their, terminology). By “internalist” he means they are interested in “building Austrian economics from the inside out”–putting together an expanding core of Austrian economics. Now I do not really object to this way of looking at it–except note that he views an “approach to economics” as a strategy. I think the approach to economics is and ought to be how you think it is best understood. It is first and foremost an attempt to understand what is true about economics. It is not a strategy. It is about understanding the truth; not a strategy about the best way to persuade others. In fact I think a focus on “strategy” tends to corrupt the pursuit of substantive truth. I wonder if Horwitz is letting too much of his own libertarian orientation–libertarians are too often overly focused on strategy and tactics–which would be ironic, given his criticism later in the talk of combining or linking politics/norms/values with economic science.
Anyway, I found it curious Horwitz not only talked about different strategies–I can understand that–but he seemed to so closely identify Austrian economics ideas or methodology, which have to do with substantive ideas, with the strategy. Seems off to me. (Also, it is interesting to note that Horwitz makes these comments about the “internalist” strategy at Leonard Read’s FEE–the Leonard Read who wrote Talking To Myself, a theme of which is “I am the only part of society I have been commissioned to save.” and “…each must look inside himself…Thus do individuals ‘reform’ society.”)
Also, later in this talk [40:00-], Horwitz talks about how Austrian Economics should be about interaction and engaging with the mainstream economists–Brad DeLong and others feel compelled to respond to Austrian cycle theory, for example, because Austrians are out there, engaging–via blogs and other means. He mentions the Marginal Revolution blog, for example. Now he is talking about the impact of Austrian bloggers here… and emphasizes we are part of the economic profession, and that this is a means of engaging. Of course, as he acknowledges earlier in his talk, the Mises Economics Blog is very influential… so does this mean we in fact engaging with the outside world? If so, whence “internalism”?
Also, regarding the term “Austro-libertarian”–he says he hates it. But he admits he’s fine with the idea of libertarianism influenced by Austrian economics. But he dislikes the term because it may turn off non-libertarians who may be potentially interested in Austrianism… and be swayed in our libertarian direction later (and even though he admits most of his audience here is libertarian too!). He tries so hard to distinguish libertarianism, a political philosophy, from economics… even though the latter used to be called political economy. I don’t understand this critique. He admits most Austrians are libertarians–like he is. He admits that there is nothing wrong with libertarians drawing on Austrian economics. He acknowledge non-libertarians who learn Austrian economics might be nudged in the libertarian direction. He realizes his very audience here and his fellow faculty members are virtually all libertarians. So what do I care that it bugs him that some strategy he has in mind may be hampered by my calling myself–quite accurately, as he admits–an Austro-libertarian? I am an Austro-libertarian: it’s the type of libertarian I am. And I frankly think any Austrian who is not a libertarian must be a misanthrope–and I bet Horwitz thinks so too. He says we should keep economics and politics separate. Sure. We do. We Austro-libertarians understand wertfrei. But AE can contribute to libertarianism; and most Austrian economists are libertarians for a reason: for the reason that if you are not a misanthrope, if you want peace, harmony, prosperity, and you understand economics, then you will reach libertarian conclusions. So I disagree that the term “Austro-libertarian” is “problematic.” Calling an accurate label that describes ones own views, and he views one hopes others will adopt, problematic, is an odd way to simply make the uncontroversial recomendation that we should distinguish fact and value. If we thought Austrian economics and libertarianism were the same thing, the very term “Austro-libertarian” would make no sense: it would mean “libertarian libertarian” (or Austrian-Austrian?).
Strangely, in the Q&A, he likes “anarcho-capitalism” because the “in-your-faceness” of it “leads to interesting conversations.” More strategical concerns. What if “Austro-libertarian” “led to interesting conversations”–would it be okay then?