Mainstream Economics has a PR Problem

I was reading the comments on another blog, where I found someone complaining about Austrian (and Austrian-sympathizing) economists. This person’s undergraduate institution had a few Austrian (and Austrian-sympathizing) economists who would closely watch bright students (like vultures!), befriend them (how creepy!), help them to get TA-ships (oh no!), and invite them to private seminars where there would be uncritical readings of Hayek (the horror!). There were no similar opportunities offered by mainstream professors.

This person’s distaste for Austrians seems to have clouded his thinking. He thinks the Austrians were doing a bad thing, inducting people into some kind of cult. Really, all these Austrian economists were doing was mentoring students and being passionate about their field. The real complaint should be against every professor who doesn’t do these things!

Austrians in general seem to be more interested in teaching economics to the public than other economists are. To be sure, the mainstream has people like Milton Friedman and Paul Krugman addressing the public. But the comparatively small number of Austrians have a disproportionate number of proselytizers. This isn’t too hard to understand; the Austrians put a great deal of weight on public opinion as a driving force of history.

To quote Mises,

The supremacy of public opinion determines not only the singular role that economics occupies in the complex of thought and knowledge. It determines the whole process of human history. (Human Action, Scholar’s Edition, p. 863)

Mainstream economists, for the most part, just don’t think that way.