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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Mises and the Completion of His System

Jonathan Finegold Catalán notes that Mises seemed to dismiss Keynes without even really bothering to read him, and wonders why. I suspect the answer is that Mises was done learning new things by the time The General Theory appeared. We see a similar reaction to the emergence of game theory, where the only thing I am aware he ever said about it was the rather dismissive remark: "'Patience' or 'Solitaire' is not a one-person game, but a pastime, a means of escaping boredom. It certainly does not represent a pattern for what is going on in a communistic society, as John von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern assert." (As if a pastime might not have a similar pattern in it as some serious activity! Solitaire would still have the exact same game pattern if it was played as part of a death match, but it would hardly still be a pastime!)

I don't think there is really even anything wrong with the fact he was not interested in these new avenues of research, except that he ought to have said, "I really don't have time to look into these things," rather than dismissing them without really looking into them. Hayek did that explicitly with Oakeshott in the introduction to Law, Legislation, and Liberty, where he says he thinks On Human Conduct is an important work that any future scholars interested in civil society must address, but he is just to far along for it to be him.

We only have so many years on earth: at some point, we may all take a look around and say, "You know, I've learned all I have time to learn: I have to spend the rest of my time writing it all up."

2 comments:

  1. From the little I've read of biographical material on Mises, it seems that he didn't like being wrong and that he didn't like others accusing him of being wrong. Maybe that's a reason why he's not as humble as someone like Hayek, who oftentimes accepted criticism and improved his theories as a result. Whereas Hayek might embody what you write in your last paragraph, maybe Mises' opinion was more along the lines of, "Regarding the depth of Keynes' writing, I already know everything there is to know, and so if his theory is at odds with mine it must be completely wrong."

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    1. In fact, Hayek was afraid Mises would break with him over, as I recall, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," and was surprised he praised it instead.

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