Including a Symposium on Ludwig Lachmann: Volume 37B
Table of contents(15 chapters)
Part I A Symposium on Ludwig M. Lachmann
Capital, Calculation, and Coordination
Ludwig Lachmann’s Capital and Its Structure ( 1978) is a classic in the literature in Austrian economics. It is mainly discussed in relation to the Austrian contributions to the macroeconomics debates of that time – from Hayek’s dispute with Keynes to the capital controversies of Cambridge UK and Cambridge US. Among Lachmann’s many ideas developed in that work, critical is his idea that the capital structure of an economy consists of heterogeneous capital goods that have multiple specific uses. This fact of the world makes the intertemporal coordination of economic plans a complex phenomenon and not a simple phenomenon. In the standard macroeconomic account, the coordination failure results from a distortion to the interest rate which miscommunicates to economic actors the underlying savings and consumption pattern in the economy at that time. This results in a boom/bust cycle, as the malinvestments in production projects are revealed in time and must go through a costly correction. But this discussion is simply an illustration of a much broader set of problems of relative prices as guides to productive activity in an economy and the problem of economic calculation. Our chapter explores the capital theoretic side of the socialist calculation debate and highlights the importance that an understanding of the capital-using economy consisting of production plans made up of heterogeneous goods with multiple specific uses is to the argument about the calculation problem being the lynchpin argument against the feasibility of socialist economic planning.
In this chapter, we present fragments of previously unpublished correspondence between Ludwig Lachmann and G. L. S. Shackle on the nature of institutions. This correspondence allows us to rationally reconstruct a theory of institutions, which extends Lachmann’s theoretical work. Shackle pointed out to Lachmann that institutions might be inputs into economic activities and that they themselves may be reproduced and transformed by these activities. Lachmann in turn contended that institutions consist of “instruments of interpretation.” We develop the concept of “instruments of interpretation” as a subset of institutions. These instruments are mental models and cognitive tools which are (1) inputs complementary to capital goods (2) jointly produced, reproduced, and transformed through economic activity. We suggest that in contrast to privately produced capital goods, parts of the institutional infrastructure are produced jointly as shared goods because the use of certain institutional elements is non-exclusive and non-subtractable; these elements – instruments of interpretation – are produced and reproduced by sharing and contributions through a process of joint production. This chapter explicitly connects two different but essential themes in Lachmann’s work: capital, and institutions. By combining these two strands of Lachmann’s work, we are able to demonstrate that there is a cross-complementarity between institutional orders and capital structures. This connection in turn provides a thicker understanding of the workings of markets.
Lachmann and Schumpeter: Some Reflections
In this work, I deal – based on my memories and reflections on Lachmann’s teaching and the ideas that I discussed with him as my dissertation supervisor and member of his weekly departmental seminar – with the following two topics: first, what Lachmann understood by his subjectivist approach to economics and some of its consequences, including the use of the concept of equilibrium in economics; and second, my understanding of Lachmann’s intellectual relationship with Schumpeter. The work also raises questions about the absence in Lachmann’s work of an examination of the role of innovation in the economic process that he analyzed.
Ludwig Lachmann and the Austrians
Ludwig Lachmann looked to the Austrian School of economics as an intellectual space of refuge from the sterile formalism that constituted the academic work of the mainstream economics establishment. From an early interest in capital theory, he moved to broader epistemological, methodological, and institutional concerns – specifically from the subjectivism of values to the subjectivism of expectations and the implications thereof for human action. Human action in disequilibrium was his central focus. This chapter examines the relationship of Lachmann’s views to the Austrians, those who preceded him, those of his time, and those who have come after him. During his lifetime, his views sometimes provoked controversy. I examine this from the perspective of 2017 and the concerns of the modern Austrian intellectual community and find that Lachmann’s views are surprisingly much more complementary to those of his contemporary Austrians than have perhaps hitherto been realized.
Lachmann, Keynes, and Subjectivism
The Austrian economist Ludwig Lachmann claimed that Keynes was a lifelong subjectivist. To evaluate this, we start by distinguishing Keynes’ writings on probability theory from his writings on economics. In the General Theory (1936), Keynes’ treatment of expectations provides the basis for Lachmann’s view that Keynes was a subjectivist at heart. In his Treatise on Probability (1921), Keynes refers explicitly to the subjectivism–objectivism divide in probability theory and pins his colors to the objectivist mast. In this essay, we present the objectivist slant in Keynes’ earlier writings on probability theory. Thereafter, we evaluate the criteria Lachmann employed to cast Keynes as a subjectivist.
Reminiscences of Ludwig M. Lachmann
The Symposium on “The Legacy of Ludwig Lachmann: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Institutions, Agency and Uncertainty” stood out also because of a plenary session organized as a roundtable discussion on “Reminiscences of Lachmann” with the participation of Martin Fransman, Peter Lewin, Jochen Runde and Christopher Torr, and Giampaolo Garzarelli as moderator. The text that follows reports the interesting views about Lachmann’s public as well as private persona that emerged from the roundtable.
Part II Essays
The 40-letter correspondence concerning the French translation of The General Theory, between John Maynard Keynes and his translator, Jean de Largentaye, is a testimony of their close collaboration, which also involved Piero Sraffa in 1938 and 1939. Largentaye’s lexicon appears at the end of the French edition, providing definitions in French of technical terms used by Keynes. After its publication by Payot in 1942, the French edition of The General Theory was well received in France and no doubt contributed to the economic and social successes of the country in the subsequent 25 years.
Part III A Collection of Reviews and Commentaries on Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains
Introduction to a Collection of Reviews and Commentaries on Nancy MacLean’s
Democracy in Chains
The Allure and Tragedy of Ideological Blinders Left, Right, and Center: A Review Essay of Nancy MacLean’s
Democracy in Chains
Nancy Maclean’s Democracy in Chains (2017) is an attempt to provide a narrative arc for the rise of free market ideas in political action during the second half of the twentieth century and into the first decades of the twenty-first century. The central character in her narrative is neither F.A. Hayek nor Milton Friedman, let alone Adam Smith or Ludwig von Mises, but James M. Buchanan, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics. MacLean argues that rather than extol the virtues of the market economy as Hayek and Friedman did before him, Buchanan focused on the dysfunctions of politics. Due to a series of argumentative fallacies and failures that follow from her ideological blinders, I argue that MacLean’s attempt is a missed opportunity to seriously engage some very pressing issues in public choice and political economy and understand how James Buchanan attempted to resolve them in a democratic manner. As such, Democracy in Chains is not only a mischaracterization of Buchanan and his project but also a poignant lesson to us all about how ideological blinders can subvert even the sincerest effort to unearth truth in the social sciences and the humanities.
James M. Buchanan and Democratic Classical Liberalism
Nancy MacLean’s book, Democracy in Chains, raised questions about James M. Buchanan’s commitment to democracy. This chapter investigates the relationship of classical liberalism in general and of Buchanan in particular to democratic theory. Contrary to the simplistic classical liberal juxtaposition of “coercion vs. consent,” there have been from Antiquity onward voluntary contractarian defenses of non-democratic government and even slavery – all little noticed by classical liberal scholars who prefer to think of democracy as just “government by the consent of the governed” and slavery as being inherently coercive. Historically, democratic theory had to go beyond that simplistic notion of democracy to develop a critique of consent-based non-democratic government, for example, the Hobbesian pactum subjectionis. That critique was based firstly on the distinction between contracts or constitutions of alienation (translatio) versus delegation (concessio). Then, the contracts of alienation were ruled out based on the theory of inalienable rights that descends from the reformation doctrine of inalienability of conscience down through the Enlightenment to modern times in the abolitionist and democratic movements. While he developed no theory of inalienability, the mature Buchanan explicitly allowed only a constitution of delegation, contrary to many modern classical liberals or libertarians who consider the choice between consent-based democratic or non-democratic governments (e.g., private cities or shareholder states) to be a pragmatic one. But Buchanan seems to not even realize that his at-most delegation dictum would also rule out the employer–employee or human rental contract which is a contract of alienation “within the scope of the employment.”
A review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America focuses on the implications of her historiographic method in reading Jim Buchanan’s work and the resulting failure to take seriously the underlying framework of constitutional political economy that informed both Jim Buchanan’s and Frank H. Knight’s work. MacLean’s historiography is that of social movement history, which sublimates the interests and motivations of the individual to that of the movement. The real scholar disappears into simply an agent of the movement’s master plan. Because MacLean is suspicious of the movement she believes Buchanan to be part of, his work is interpreted solely in light of what she assumes to be the master plan. In particular, she ignores Buchanan’s habit of returning to key themes in order to develop new modes of analysis. MacLean focuses solely on his public choice work, ignoring the latter developments of constitutional economics and even moral order.
Two issues in MacLean’s account are the focus on the review. The first is simply a research mistake that she drew unwarranted conclusions from regarding Buchanan’s connection to the “massive resistance” movement against desegregation of Virginia public schools. The second issue reveals MacLean’s unwillingness to consider the changes in Buchanan’s scholarship over his career. Taken together, the issues indicate that she refused to read Buchanan on his own terms in order to understand the progress of his work, even if she disagreed with him at the end.
In Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean draws attention to the influence that James M. Buchanan’s work has had on the political economic discourse of the past half century. Buchanan and his collaborators in the Virginia Political Economy tradition have provided intellectual firepower for efforts to delegitimize democratically sanctioned policies aimed at alleviating the dysfunctional consequences of market activity. While MacLean’s account contains some well-documented inaccuracies, her characterization of Buchanan’s agenda is broadly accurate. This chapter assesses Buchanan’s economics in light of the themes raised by MacLean. His work, we shall argue, is a modern manifestation of what Marx termed “vulgar economy,” that is, ruling-class ideology posing as science.
Freedom of Association and Its Discontents: The
Calculus of Consent and the Civil Rights Movement
Does the classical liberal emphasis on freedom of association provide an intellectual cover for bigotry? We formulate this question in economic terms using James Buchanan’s economic approach to ethics, according to which moral values can be understood as preferences about other people’s behaviors. We discuss two possible market failures associated with freedom of association: inter-group externalities and Schelling-type emergent segregation. We show that the classical liberal position about freedom of association, as elaborated in Buchanan and Tullock’s Calculus of Consent, is fully equipped to deal with the first one, but not with the second. The progressive view that some preferences are so offensive that they should be dismissed rather than engaged or negotiated with can be reframed as an attempt to solve the emergent segregation problem, but it is vulnerable to political economy problems of its own, in particular to an inherent tendency to over-expand the meaning of “bigotry.”
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- Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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