Harvard economist: old books are irrelevant

Is academia about objectively seeking the truth? If so, doesn’t that require reading a representative sample of all the schools of thought on a particular subject, and then coming to a conclusion? Apparently not. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw admits he hasn’t read much Mises, but regularly offers strong advice on monetary policy issues regardless. Mankiw explains that mainstream economists think “[t]hings written more than twenty or thirty years ago are…irrelevant”. To his credit, he then goes on to say that Hayek’s Road to Serfdom contains many important insights.

7 thoughts on “Harvard economist: old books are irrelevant

  1. Mankiw is appallingly ignorant. Thats why it was so shocking to me when I deduced that Humphreys and virtually all the Catallaxians seemed to be reading his blog every morning to figure out what they were supposed to think. Davidson went so far as to confirm the non-existent Keynesian multiplier effect to the Senate, using Mankiw as the reference.

    90% of any subject is the history of that subject. You might think logically that this not need be so. But this is the case just the same. And it is those economists (physicists, medical doctors …..) that don’t realise the above who are the really pig-ignorant ones. I submit to you Andrew Leigh as exhibit one. A truly ignorant man who contradicted me on the above point.

    This is one of the magnificent things about the Mises institute as they follow the Rothbard-Mises practice of heavy emphasis on the history of any idea.

    You find also that the better economists that are not of the Austrian school have a background in the history of economics. Tom Sowell a case in point.

    Our best economic commentator (Gerry Jackson) has made an extensive study of the history of economics. And of history as such. And the greatest living economist (George Reisman) is a master of the histories of both the Austrian school, and the British Classical school and has made refinements and extensions of both.

    Mankiw is really a non-entity, and is best thought of as a fellow who can put together a reasonable text-book. The Catallaxians who ignore the history of economics don’t even know enough to know that NOTHING worthwhile in economics has ever come out of Harvard.

  2. Is academia about objectively seeking the truth? If so, doesn’t that require reading a representative sample of all the schools of thought on a particular subject, and then coming to a conclusion?

    I’m not an academic but looking in from outside it does not seem as linear as that. People acquire knowledge and experience and insight incrementally. However they don’t wait until the end of their career before drawing conclusions. Conclusions are drawn and revised at every stage.

  3. Look at this from Mankw:

    “We rarely focus on something like the Mises book (written in 1949) for the same reason that physicists don’t read Newton in the original.”

    So they don’t read the old stuff because its written in Latin? Or what? Any physicist who hasn’t read Newton in the original, or at least an English translation, ought to be deemed ignorant.

    But Mankiiw, being ignorant, imagines his crowd has surpassed Mises. Thats what he means by his statement. The problem with being ignorant is that you don’t know enough to know what it is you have no idea about. So you wind up making such statements with glorious obliviousness.

  4. “NOTHING worthwhile in economics has ever come out of Harvard.”

    Jeffrey Miron says hi.

  5. “Jeffrey Miron says hi…..”

    What is your point? Are you making some sort of claim that Miron features in the history of economic ideas? A post should have a point to it Andrew. Its pretty unlikely that Miron would be writing such tickets on himself. He’s a teacher at Harvard. Not some canoninical scholar.

  6. Graeme,

    He might not be a “canonical” scholar but you specifically claimed that NOTHING worthwhile in economics has ever came out of Harvard.

    Moving Goalposts is not a good way to conduct arguments.

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