"...What distinguishes the new generation [e.g., Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and Richard Freeman] of policy-relevant mainstream economists? They are not, alas, philosophical Keynesians. But they often arrive at Keynesian policies by elaborate neoclassical routes - by building asymmetric information or increasing returns or externalities into an otherwise orthodox model and tracing through the implications. They combine a facility with this method and an openness to empirical observation, the choice of important cases, and a willingness to tackle hard problems of policy design and to consider ingenious solutions to particular policy problems. Moreover, they are willing to devote time and energy to explaining the issues to a larger public - whether in economic policy journals like Challenge or broader public forums like The New York Times. In these respects they do resemble Keynes, who remains the ultimate example of a modern economist who could do it all.Galbraith's paper is part of a symposium. The symposium is organized around comments on a paper by Daniel B. Klein. Gordon Tullock, Deidre McCloskey, Israel Kirzner, Charles Goodhart, Robert Frank, and James Galbraith provide the comments.
So what is the problem over there on the libertarian side? Klein is right: there is a problem - the libertarians are strangely quiet these days. One might think that new libertarian voices would emerge in the Bush era, when many actual libertarians are closer to state power than ever before. But no. There are no new Friedmans, no Hayeks, no Wanniskis, no Gilders to chorus in the new regime, to lend it an air (badly needed one might add) of intellectual authority.
I think I know the reason. The libertarians, let me suggest, have lost the courage of their convictions. Libertarian followers of Lucas, unlike, say, those of Tullock, rarely speak on public questions for a simple and well-considered reason. What they do is, indeed, very implausible. It cannot be conveyed to the ordinary literate and sensible person because, once the assumptions are spelled out, the ordinary literate and sensible person will reject them.
Furthermore, no one any longer believes Milton Friedman's old methodological saw about false assumptions being irrelevant - so long as the 'implications' are valid. The point made against Friedman long ago by Tjalling Koopmans - that this allows one to escape difficulties by reclassifying unpersuasive implications as assumptions - is elementary enough to be grasped intuitively by those who will never read Koopmans. Better to be a scholastic, in short, than a figure of fun.
A second group of scholastics is silent on policy questions for a different reason: the scholasticism that is increasingly up-and-coming inside economics no longer supports the libertarian view. It would be quite dangerous for a serious student of, say, game theory or non-linear dynamics or of models with multiple equilibria to delve too deeply into the policy implications of such work. Such forms of modern economics simply no longer support the libertarian political viewpoint, and to make this too widely known would greatly jeopardize right-wing support for mainstream economic research..." -- James K. Galbraith (2001). "Response from an Economist who also Favors Liberty", Eastern Economic Journal, V. 27, Iss. 2: 227-299.
7 months ago