Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Keeping Up With The Miseses, Rothbards, Schumpeters and McCloskeys

Two days ago I graduated from the beautiful University of Glasgow with a degree to my name and tons of knowledge in my head. Many years ago, a very different, dedicated and self-proscribed politically-aware youngster set out to understand what people were talking about in financial magazines  what this thing called 'The Economy' was  and he decided to push through struggling instances of a nonsensical economics classes for the reward of a piece of paper with the 9 letters E-C-O-N-O-M-I-C-S written on it. Now that I've got that, almost spot-on my 26th birthday, I realized that some comparisons are in order. There are certain academic giants on upon whose shoulders I one day would be honoured to stand. Then: how am I currently measuring up against them?

In no particular order, I'll begin with this Moravia-born wonderchild (moved to Vienna at the age of 10) who propelled himself to world fame at the age of 25 with his treatise Wesen und Hauptinhalt der Theoretischen Nationalökonomie ("The Nature and Essence of Theoretical Economics")  which Hülsmann appropriate calls a "600-page case for positivism in economics" (p. 167). In March 1909 (age: 26) he earned his Habilitation Degree (Doctorate), so I guess I'm quite behind there. Hülsmann (2007: 163) continues:
Six months later, the twenty-six-year old Schumpeter became Austria’s youngest professor of political economy, in the provincial capital of Czernowitz. Two years later, after publishing his second, even more influential book Theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung ("Theory of Economic Development")—he received a full professorship at the prestigious University of Graz. 
If he wasn't famous already, Theory of Economic Development brought him virtually overnight fame, according to Robert Allen (1994: 110), which Salerno (1999: 41-2) echoes. Perhaps most disturbingly, Schumpeter's ambitions far outstrip mine; Swedberg's biography (1994: 71) reports that he had set three goals for himself: "The greatest economist in the world, the greatest horse rider in Austria and the greatest lover in Vienna". I also read somewhere that he considered two of those accomplished  which ones are not entirely clear.

According to John E Elliot's introduction (2011: viii) to the Theory of Economic Development, Schumpeter at the age of 31 had published 20 articles, 50 book reviews and 3 major works. If I get to count my meager and self-published book reviews, I have 10 with about 2 articles (if you're being nice). Pretty sure, no matter what the challenge I set for myself, another 40 reviews and 18 article in 5 years is impossible. And according to Thomas McCraw's review of Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpeter's productivity remained that way for the rest of his life:
[Schumpeter] was a phenomenally productive scholar, despite occasional forays into business and government in addition to a plethora of romantic liaisons that included three marriages. His first published article appeared in 1905, his last in 1950. His output included fifteen books (several of immense length), six pamphlets, about one hundred book reviews, and 148 articles, comments, and occasional pieces.
His first article was thus published at the age of 22. The Austrian Economics Centre published my essay on the socialist calculation debate before my 24th birthday, so even there I was behind Schumpeter.

Mises' contributions warranted a 1049-page story, way above what I could ever deserve. However, his early achievements seem to loosely mirror mine  the quantities are at least in the same ballpark, while the quality surely isn't. He enrolled at university and sat his first Staatsexamen at the age of 20, but didn't receive his doctorate until the age of 30 (which seems doable). Hülsmann (2007: 67-74, 162) mentions what is probably his first published work at the age of 21 (a "notable 1902 study on the pre-1848 relationship between Galician lords and peasants" in the publication Wiener Staatswissenschaftliche Studie). Before his 26th birthday he had at least one more article published in Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitk und Verwaltung. So I guess we may be even there, 2-2. Until the age of 28, he has another 2 or 3 publications, which gives me some margin and serious challenge.

Problem is, of course, that I didn't have to do military service or intern for two years of paralegal work before I receive a doctorate, so the comparison is clearly unfair. Not to mention the obvious issue that Mises' career absolutely skyrockets from there  albeit with certain bumps and disaster during the Great War  and the fact that I have very small chances (read zero) of producing something as incredible as Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel ("Theory of Money and Credit") at the age of 31, or the remarkable insights that kept fuelling his scholarly work until his dying breath.

Reading about Rothbard's life may be even more inspirational, if possible, than Mises'. Most of the events of his early life occured in the 1940s and 1950s  when my grandfather was growing up. Clearly, there's somewhat more of a temporal connection than to the purely scholarly interest I take in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Rothbard enrolled at Columbia University in 1942 at the age of 16(!), graduating in 1945 and earned an M.A. in economics around the age of 20. Ouch.

In regards to his publications, he started writing book reviews for a libertarian newsletter in the late-1940s, at the age of 23, on his journey towards "twenty-eight books and thousands of articles" a target well in-line with, and equally insane as, Schumpeter's above. Mises was fully in support of Rothbard, deeply impressed by his abilities; Hülsmann (2007: 941, fn 121) quotes a letter written in 1956 fully endorsing Rothbard's research:
Mises supported him unequivocally, stating that he was “fully convinced that [Rothbard] will one day be counted among the foremost economists.”
I still have a few years to achieve that, but I'm pretty sure that none among the few letters of recommendations academics have written for me said such mindblowingly adjective-defyingly great things. Hülsmann also quotes a letter to Cornuelle stating that the manuscript to his groundbreaking magnum opus Man Economy and State was finished by the mid-1955, a few months after his 29th birthday. The good news is that I still have about 3 years until then. The bad news is that I only have 3 years to produce something that brilliant. Three hundred years wouldn't be enough.

The only area in which I could feasibly compete with Rothbard is the following: according to Jim Powell's eulogy, Rothbard probably first heard of Ludwig von Mises in 1949, at the age of 23, an age at which I had already "studied" Mises for a year, and soon-thereafter attended my first Mises University. It's the small things that matter. Rothbard, however, quickly made up for that "loss" by attending the actual Mises' Seminars at New York University, learning directly from the master  and Joseph Stromberg in his great introduction to the 2004 Scholar's edition of Man, Economy and State suggests that Rothbard first met Mises at a FEE lecture in 1948 (Rothbard 2004: xxvi), a few months after turning 22. Great. So, even here I lose out.

For other reveiws of Rothbard's intellectual life, see  Lew Rockwell, Justin Raimondo and John Kelley's review

Having long been one of my foremost idols (not solely for the virtue of still being alive as opposed to these gentlement above), I can't but help adding a short section of her achievements. The pure quantity of her scholarly work definitely merits her a space next to Rothbard and Mises, and the quality must at least be in the same ballpark  and her productivity can definitely rival all three of them. The great work she's done with the Bourgeois trilogy is fascinatingly detailed and ridiculously comprehensive, all delivered with her perfect and beautiful prose. My favourite is still the second volume, Bourgeois Dignity, which in 2006 outlined and destroyed every single explanation for the Industrial Revolution there is, gradually building up and hinting at her own explanation delivered last year: a change in rhetoric and how normal people perceived gains of innovation.

She received her Bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1964 at the age of 22, followed by PhD in economics also from Harvard in 1970, although she managed to impress Friedman, Stigler and Fogel enough in 1968 to become assistant professor at the University of Chicago (aged 26). Ye, I'm behind.

Her first scholarly breakthrough came with the 1970 article Did Victorian Britain Fail? at the age of 28, an article which Nicolas Crafts himself called "extremely influential" some years later. The following years see an absolute avalanche of important scholarly work on the economic history of Britain, an outpour of inspiration and brilliant essays of which I may have read maybe 5%. In all honesty, discovering her works is what made me want to become an economic historian in the first place.

Let me just add my latest fangirl crush before I conclude: Tyler Goodspeed, an Economics lecturer at King's College London and a Juniour Research Fellow at Oxford's St John's College. Some time well-spent on google has informed me that he received his PhD at Harvard in 2014 under Niall Ferguson, although his age seems impossible to find. Looking through his insane CV for an unhealthy dose of envy and inspiration, I estimate it to be roughly thirty, which fits neatly with his Bachelor's at Harvard in 2008 (aged ~22), MPhil in Cambridge as a Gates Scholar the year after, and about five years to finish his PhD by 2014. 

His writings are one of those that keeps popping up. He hits that precise spot between economic history and history of economic thinking that I find most fascinating. What bothers me is his insane productivity: every time I turn around, he's written something new and incredible, of absolutely outstanding quality. His 2012 book, Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution which I've heard rumoured is originally his undergraduate thesis(?), is about a hundred times more advanced than mine. Not to mention the even more fascinating work he has published during the last few years: On Adam Smith and the 1772 Ayr Bank crisis (Legislating Instability: Adam Smith, Free Banking and the Financial Crisis of 1772) as well as a fresh book from this year: Famine and Finance: Credit and the Great Famine of Ireland

Bottom line  don't get me wrong, I'm really happy and proud to graduate, moving on with my career. I'm glad for the small things I've done, the minor achievements I've accomplished, how far I've come. But those things hardly even compare to what these idols of mine have managed, even if I barely and only sometimes manage to stay on par with them.

Happy graduation  and let's all look forward to the many amazing things yet to come!

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