Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis.) A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)
At this year’s PorcFest, Bob Murphy and David Friedman (Milton’s son) debated Austrian vs. Chicago School economics. The debate is below.
As usual, each side thinks it crushed the other one. And of course my own bias is in favor of Bob. But here’s the trouble with debates: the more assertive, even more obnoxious, side is invariably perceived by those without much background in the subject matter as having won the debate.
Thus the Friedman side thinks Friedman won, even though to my ear Friedman repeatedly misunderstood Bob’s arguments, and then proceeded to score points against his own misunderstandings.
We see this right at the outset. The PorcFest brochure itself said the debate would focus on Austria vs. Chicago, in terms of (1) each school’s method and (2) the basis on which economists of each school tend to justify their libertarianism (e.g., natural rights or utilitarianism). Therefore, it made sense that Bob’s opening statement focused on both.
Friedman then responded that he couldn’t understand why Bob wanted to discuss ethics or would confuse the two issues. But the brochure itself expected the speakers to cover both. Yet Bob now looks as if he has confused two separate things, when he was in fact just following the directions.
Bob later said that praxeology had been dismissed by the mainstream as “too scholastic” and rooted in the Middle Ages. Friedman then insisted on defending the Middle Ages, as if Bob had insulted them.
On another occasion, Bob explained that no student trying to derive the Pythagorean Theorem by going out and measuring actual triangles could be thought of as having understood the nature of geometry. So Bob said something like, “To understand what Misesians are doing with praxeology, and why it’s not just a useless exercise in definitions, think about geometry. We start with axioms and then deduce theorems. If a junior high teacher asked the kids to prove the Pythagorean Theorem, and a kid said that he went out and measured a bunch of triangles to test it, the teacher would explain that that was totally wrong; that’s not how you derive theorems in geometry. And yet, nobody doubts that geometry is useful, and teaches us about the ‘real world.’ Same thing in economics.”
Friedman then came back with something like, “I’m surprised that Bob used that example, because physicists have known for decades that the universe is not Euclidean.”
Whether the universe is Euclidean or not has nothing to do with Bob’s point, which involves how geometry works. But again, to the neophyte, it sounds as if Bob had been bested. Bob hadn’t even been understood.
Here’s the debate: