Academic Publications

The Real Purpose of the Program: a Case Study in James M. Buchanan’s Efforts at Academic Entrepreneurship to "Save the Books" in Economics

Peter Boettke and John Kroencke 

Public Choice 183, 227–245 (2020).

Abstract: 

Using archival material from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Political Economy and first-person recollections from relevant figures, we reconstruct James M. Buchanan’s mission (in partnership with G. Warren Nutter) to “save the books” in the related but distinct disciplines of economics and political economy. From his graduate days at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s, Buchanan was worried about dominant trends in mainstream economics which would carry the field away from its core. In particular, Buchanan was worried that political economy was becoming unmoored from the types of philosophic and institutional analysis which were previously central to the field. In its flight from reality, Buchanan feared economics was in danger of abandoning social-philosophic issues for exclusively technical questions. More than this, Buchanan feared that economists were asserting their authority as benevolent social planners. In response to these fears, Buchanan sought to (re)create an economics which would balance the science of economics and the art of political economy—an economics which began with an explicit commitment to democracy and would integrate philosophy, institutional thinking, and technical, price-theoretic economics, into a coherent working paradigm for research and graduate education.

Methodological Confusions and the Science Wars in Economics

Jayme Lemke and John Kroencke

Rev Austrian Econ 33, 87–106 (2020).

Abstract: 

The “science wars” are a contentious, ongoing series of debates about the nature of knowledge and the proper role of the scientific method. The participants take many forms, but always central to the controversy are postmodern ideas that challenge commonly accepted understandings of the objectivity of data, science, and sometimes even reality. In this paper, we consider the relevance of these debates for the practice of economics. Ultimately we propose that these debates present two opportunities and a significant challenge to the discipline of economics. The opportunities are: 1) to incorporate post-positivist philosophy of science as a way to better interpret the meanings that become attached to institutions, which is particularly important for studies of political hierarchy and oppression, and 2) to do better empirical work by robustly incorporating interpretation into the gathering and analysis of data. The challenge is to do this work without abandoning economic theory itself, preserving the critically important insights of the universal logic of human choice while abandoning the illusion of a single best scientific method.

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