Thursday, 12 November 2015

Embracing Your Enemies

It’s no secret that I take a very Austrian approach to the study of Economics. I fell in love with the thinking of the school about two and a half years ago, and I have kept learning since. Last April I thoroughly researched the calculation debate while everyone else enjoyed their Easter breaks, and produced an almost-dissertation sized article for AEME (Austrian Economics Meeting in Europe) soon to be published by the Austrian Economics Centre in their Student Book Project. I had one glorious visit to the Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, for Mises Summer University 2014; and I'm hoping to get the privilege to once again learn at the foremost scholarly adventure in our tradition in 2016.

Despite that, I try to keep an open mind, be less polemic about things than I perhaps used to be, and learn the details of other strands of schools. Their thinking and contribution to our science is valuable and most of their proponents are probably smarter than me in many ways. Reading the works of people who you fundamentally don't agree with is often beneficial. It expands your understanding, and ultimately it makes me become a better scholar – not only from having a wider knowledge, but also having a more precise and accurate knowledge of my opponents’ argument. I'd be less likely to strawman them and more likely to engage with their arguments more fruitfully (I’m glad to see that my friend Stephan is driven by the same desire: see his post this morning from attending a Climate Change Panel event).

Sometimes this intellectual curiosity (and ultimately respect) has the benefit of identifying shared interest and surprises. For instance, in the work of the Post-Keynesian Economist Hyman Minsky, (famous for his Financial Instability Hypothesis) I quite regularly find applied criticism against the mainstream school that fit perfectly within an Austrian tradition and could have come from Rothbard or Mises. Moreover, his emphasis of uncertainty, business cycles originating in quantity of money and critique of econometrics sound altogether Austrian. Besides, I still think Steve Keen’s explanation for how microeconomic indifference curves make no sense is, if not more damaging, than at least more humorous than those made by Austrian scholars.

Once in a while these sorts of endeavours pay off in unexpected ways. Like for macro exam in second year back in May, when I messed up the mainstream essay question, but absolutely nailed Kalecki’s explanation of Paradox of Cost, so I ended up with an OK grade. Or yesterday when knowing the ins and outs of Woodford’s ‘Financial Intermediation’ amendment to standard IS/LM curves (despite being implicitly very anti-Austrian) saved my Business Cycle exam from complete failure.
These are the sort of moments when I thank my lucky star for having had the patience and persistence of accepting these theories for what they were, learn them and embrace them. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, as long as I can use them.
I’m hoping that embracing my enemies makes me a better student, not only in order to pass exams, but in the real world of competitive academics.

1 comment: