Monday, November 14, 2011

Why My Economics Is Austrian

I probably came to the Austrian school in the most unusual way possible. I started by academic career by majoring in recombinant gene technology and minoring in chemistry at Western Kentucky University. I had every intention, at the time, of getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology and doing biology research. But I ended up getting sidetracked – and it all started with an Intro. to Philosophy class I took with Ronald Nash. Among the works Ronald Nash taught from was his book “Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism.” Yes, among the oddities of my path, I was introduced to free market economics in a philosophy class. I found the topic so interesting, I went to the library and read everything I could find on economics. I read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and Ayn Rand’s Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. The last of course led me to Atlas Shrugged and to the rest of her philosophy. In my case, it didn’t start with Ayn Rand, but her work was an important point along the path. Through her I discovered Nietzsche, whose ideas have been vital to my journey.

At the same time, I was also reading books on chaos theory, complexity, and self-organization – topics somewhat closer to my scientific interests. Nietzsche’s philosophy made sense in light of these ideas, and certainly economics seemed to fit well into them, even if nobody I was reading at the time made the connections. Of course, chaos theory, etc. were fairly new theories, so it was not too surprising to me that the connections were not necessarily being made.

One of the consequences of my increasing interest in complexity, philosophy, and economics was that I grew increasingly bored with biology. Rand’s influence, though, resulted in my deciding to go into fiction writing rather than economics. As a result, I dropped out of a Master’s program in molecular biology to pursue a Master’s in English instead. From there, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program in the humanities at UT-Dallas precisely on the basis of my background in molecular biology, philosophy, literature and creative writing, and economics. Little did I know at the time how good a fit it actually was for me.

At UTD I first met Alexander Argyros, who had published on time, chaos theory, and literary theory, and then Frederick Turner, a poet and philosopher who has published two epic poems, several collections of poetry, and works on philosophy and on literary theory that make use of evolutionary psychology, time, complexity, and free market economics, among which is his “Shakespeare’s 21st Century Economics.” I was thus introduced to people who were thinking the same way I was. More, it was in Turner’s “Game Theory and the Humanities” class that I was truly introduced to Austrian economics, when we read Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order and Polanyi’s The Logic of Liberty. Hayek of course introduced me to Mises. And both Hayek and Mises ended up in my dissertation Evolutionary Aesthetics.

But even then, impressed as I was, I was not yet a full Austrian school economist. No, that occurred after graduation, when I was invited to attend a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference. The paper I submitted used a great deal of complexity theory, etc., but nothing of Hayek. It was suggested by the conference participants that I should really include a great deal of Hayek, since his work was what spontaneous order theory was based on. I was then invited to a Liberty Fund colloquium on Hayek, for which I read a lot on spontaneous order theory – and I was hooked. Why was I hooked? Because of everything I had learned up through that time. I view the world as a complex set of emergent processes. I gained that world view through learning about chaos theory, complexity, self-organization, the theory of time developed by J.T. Fraser, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and free market economics – tied together through the philosophies of Nietzsche and Frederick Turner. When I really encountered Austrian economics in the fullest sense of the term, I realized that it was the theory of economics I was looking for. It was the school of economics that fit the world view I had already developed before encountering it. The world is a complex set of self-organizing emergent processes. Spontaneous order theory says the economy is a complex, self-organizing emergent process. Thus, Austrian economics best fits how I understand the world to be.

I did not start off life as a libertarian. I did not start off on my libertarian path through either reading Ayn Rand or the Austrian economists. I ended up on that path, and ended up accepting the Austrian school of economics, precisely because they fit the way the world works – at least, the way I increasingly understood the world to work, as a complex, evolving, self-organizing emergent process. The result is that I now write papers on spontaneous order theory, have a view of human action that is basically Misesian in nature, and have found a home in a school of economics that fits the way the world works as whole. My recent discovery of Lavoie's work has only confirmed my connection to Austrian economics, as he brings much postmodern literary theory into the Austrian school, which obviously fits well into my interest in Austrian economics and literature. In the end, the fact that Austrian economics fits the way the world actually works is why I’m an Austrian economist.

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