Which Economists Should I Teach In My Philosophy Class?

 
Marx

On the left: Marx

I teach the Modern to Contemporary Philosophy class at my university.  I have decided to add a new lesson next time: After we cover Marx, we’re going to survey some other economist-philosophers from Marx’ time and afterwards.

Smith

On the right: Smith

Which economists should I cover? At present, my plan for this lesson covers Bastiat, Von Mises, Keynes, Hayek, and Friedman.  If you’re going to cover, say, six to eight economists of the 1800s and 1900s in a philosophy class, does the best list consist of these guys + Marx?

I have no intention of dropping Marx; he’s just too influential to ignore.  But I would love to hear your list of five to seven others.  (Many of you know more economists than I do, and others who may be as uninformed as I am may be uninformed in a different direction!)

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  1. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Coase

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ricardo

    • #2
  3. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Thank you, Guru and Misthiocracy!

    That’s one vote for Ronald Coase and one for David Ricardo!

    Maybe I should articulate the criteria for selection here (again, aiming at 5 to 7, plus Marx).  It would help me (being not very well informed in economics) if commenters tell me how well you think your recommendations measure up on these criteria.  The criteria are these:

    • influence on politics in the 1800s, the 1900s, and beyond;
    • influence on the field of economics;
    • overall insightfulness;
    • and, mainly as a tiebreaker in the event of conflict based on other criteria, usefulness in providing a contrary perspective to Marx.
    • #3
  4. user_1121313 Inactive
    user_1121313
    @AnotherLawyerWaistingTime

    Marx was not an economist. I disagree with you using him or claiming that he was an economist – politician, terrorist, hatemonger, yes; economist no. Did he have influence on the world culture, yes but so did the Golden Khan and we do not revere him as a economist. Marx was no scientist. He did no real research to support his ideas. He never reevaluated his position in the face of contradictory evidence. If you want to show why communism/socialism is contrary to human nature and wrong, sure use him but as a model for an economic system, I think not. All his ideas have been proven not just wrong but so damaging to society and human spirit as to be evil.

    • #4
  5. user_1121313 Inactive
    user_1121313
    @AnotherLawyerWaistingTime

    Von Mise & Friedman if you are looking for votes

    • #5
  6. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    I second Ricardo and Coase. I’d also suggest Gary Becker.

    • #6
  7. jpark Member
    jpark
    @jpark

    Is Adam Smith too early?

    • #7
  8. jpark Member
    jpark
    @jpark

    Art Laffer maybe.

    Some time ago, Laffer (and Robert Mundell) came to Heritage. In his talk, Laffer was Laffer, engaging, breezy, and accessible. After one of his comments, he riffed, “that just Ricardo, as you know” or words to that effect.

    • #8
  9. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    jpark:Is Adam Smith too early?

    Smith is too early.  The course is (mostly) chronological, the way I like it.  I’m not going to add Smith in the earlier portions, at least not this year.  (We’re already not reading Spinoza and Leibniz, and the students generally know a tiny bit about Smith, and we cover Locke pretty well.)

    • #9
  10. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    jpark:Art Laffer maybe.

    Some time ago, Laffer (and Robert Mundell) came to Heritage. In his talk, Laffer was Laffer, engaging, breezy, and accessible. After one of his comments, he riffed, “that just Ricardo, as you know” or words to that effect.

    My lesson plan, at the end, lists a few people I’d like to mention if we have time, just to give students a sentence or so of information on them: LafferDambisa MoyoPicketty, and Grudem/Asmus.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Another Lawyer Waisting Time:Von Mise & Friedman if you are looking for votes

    Glad to hear you agree on including Von Mises and Friedman!

    (I think, on at least two of my criteria, Friedman and Keynes are automatically included; I can’t drop them.  The same is probably true of Hayek.)

    • #11
  12. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    The tally so far:

    • 2 votes for adding David Ricardo;
    • 2 votes for adding Ronald Coase;
    • 1 vote for keeping Von Mises;
    • 1 vote for keeping Friedman;
    • 1 vote for adding Gary Becker;
    • 1 vote for elevating Laffer from the “honorable mention if we have time” category to part of the main lesson plan;
    • 1 vote for not calling Marx an economist (though not for kicking him out of the course of study).
    • #12
  13. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Dear people who know less economics than I do,

    Would it be helpful if I put up some information from my lesson plans overviewing Bastiat, Von MisesKeynesHayek, and Friedman?

    • #13
  14. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Dear people who know more economics than I do,

    I think it would be helpful if you added your own (preferably succinct, like just a few bullet points) overviews of CoaseBecker, and Ricardo.  (If you feel like it, if you have time.  It’s not like you own me anything.  But I would certainly appreciate it.)

    • #14
  15. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Has Ayn Rand been mentioned yet?

    She wasn’t an economist, but she touched on economics frequently in her work.  She’s a good bridge between the two.

    • #15
  16. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Augustine:

    jpark:Is Adam Smith too early?

    Smith is too early. The course is (mostly) chronological, the way I like it. I’m not going to add Smith, at least not this year. (We’re already not reading Spinoza and Leibniz, and the students generally know a tiny bit about Smith, and we cover Locke pretty well.)

    A theory on moral sentiments is an interesting read.

    • #16
  17. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    You should probably touch on Thomas Malthus.

    While odious, he was still immensely influential. He was in many ways the precursor to Keynes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

    • #17
  18. Wineguy13 Thatcher
    Wineguy13
    @Wineguy13

    Excellent question!  I would suggest Thorstein Veblen, for several reasons.  First, Veblen had a huge effect on the social aspect of economics and industrial organization.  His most accessible work ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’, was widely read outside of academic circles (mainly because it was social commentary instead of economics).  Secondly, his views came out of and influenced the whole industrial/social engineering concept we see in the like of Wilson, and Dewey.   Since Marx’s dialectic views also took this systemic view of the world, you can show how the entire field of Social Science came about.  Third is that he is fun to discuss, he was pretty much a Bohemian nut-job, in mid America!  Sadly, since Economics is not your primary focus, you can’t delve too much into the Labor Theory of Value, which is such a shoddy piece of work, it is fun to debunk it over and over.

    Hayek is a good choice, as is Ricardo (a personal fave, but too far back?).  Keynes’ influence on contemporary thought, sadly makes him a must.  My only concern with the likes of Von Mises, Hayek, and Ricardo is that they are really more narrow in their focus and influence.  Bastiat had definite influence on Philosophy, and was more contemporaneous to Marx.  Might I also suggest J.S.Mill?  His philosophy of Utilitarianism is a basis of much of what ‘right thinking’ people believe today (contrast the utility value theory to labor theory of value, for extra credit-oh to be in school again!).  A. Laffer is an interesting consideration.  While not exactly as significant to the cannon as the others mentioned (owing to chronology I suspect), his thoughts on ‘elasticity of compliance’ (I just made that up, so be nice), ushered in rapid growth during the last two decades of the 20th century, sadly the growth was in revenue to the state, which then had to be spent, but I digress.

    I hope my two cents were worth at least that.

    Some of these thoughts may be wide of the mark for your needs.

    • #18
  19. Wineguy13 Thatcher
    Wineguy13
    @Wineguy13

    Misthiocracy:You should probably touch on Thomas Malthus.

    While odious, he was still immensely influential. He was in many ways the precursor to Keynes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

    LOL  He put the dismal in Dismal Science’!

    • #19
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Augustine:Thank you, Guru and Misthiocracy!

    That’s one vote for Ronald Coase and one for David Ricardo!

    Not the only votes for Coase you’ve gotten lately, if you recall :-)

    Coase and David Friedman have, I think, done the best job of explaining what economic rationality really means (and doesn’t mean) in plain English. You can read two exemplary quotes of theirs here. You’re new to this site, but I believe that not being able to clearly articulate the difference between what economists mean by the word “rational” and how philosophers think of “rationality” explains a lot of why philosophers hate economists. Fortunately, Coase to the rescue!

    The rational utility maximizer of economic theory bears no resemblance to the man on the Clapham bus [the British equivalent of the man on the street] or, indeed, to any man (or woman) on any bus. There is no reason to suppose that most human beings are engaged in maximizing anything unless it be unhappiness, and even this with incomplete success…

    [W]hatever makes men choose as they do, we must be content with the knowledge that for groups of human beings, in almost all circumstances, a higher (relative) price for anything will lead to a reduction in the amount demanded. This does not only refer to a money price but to price in its widest sense.

    Whether men are rational or not in deciding to walk across a dangerous thoroughfare to reach a certain restaurant, we can be sure that fewer will do so the more dangerous it becomes. And we need not doubt that the availability of a less dangerous alternative, say, a pedestrian bridge, will normally reduce the number of those crossing the thoroughfare, nor that, as what is gained by crossing becomes more attractive, the number of people crossing will increase.

    I highly recommend Coase’s “The Firm, the Market, and the Law”. It’s a slim volume to begin with (5 x 8 x 1/2 inches), and since it’s a collection of (thematically related) essays, you don’t even have to assign every chapter in order to expose your students to great economic thought containing a depth of wry humanity not always apparent in other economic writings.

    Bonus: The entire volume uses no computation beyond the simplest arithmetic, so it’s accessible to everyone, no matter what mathematical background.

    PM me your address and I’ll send you a copy.

    • #20
  21. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    My first question would be why are you including them at all?

    To explain: I first became interested in game theory when the subject was taught as part of the Philosophy curriculum. The general topic was “practical reason,” and game theory was presented as interactive logic, and counted as a logic course. I pursued it more when I was in grad school, as a branch of logic.

    But in turn, game theory was a bridge to several other disciplines, including (obviously) economics. I’d had a couple of basic economics courses, but in grad school the economics/game theory was all part of the same topic: practical reason.

    If I were to create a philosophy course that included economics because the purpose was practical reason, I’d likely include Jon von Neumann (who basically invented game theory). But I’d also include John Harsanyi, who won the Nobel Prize a couple years ago. Not only was he a game theory pioneer, he also was a huge figure in utilitarianism, bargaining, and incomplete information … which are staples of practical reason.

    • #21
  22. Wineguy13 Thatcher
    Wineguy13
    @Wineguy13

    Augustine:Dear people who know more economics than I do,

    I think it would be helpful if you added your own (preferably succinct, like just a few bullet points) overviews of Coase, Becker, and Ricardo. (If you feel like it, if you have time. It’s not like you own me anything. But I would certainly appreciate it.)

    Augustine,

    The reason I can’t fully support Ricardo in the lesson is that his concepts are esoteric for what I believe the class is.  I consider Ricardo to be wrong on many things, but absolutely brilliant on a few things.  The only thing I would bring up from Mr. Ricardo is the theory of Rent (it is an unfortunate term, since it has so many other meanings today, including a musical!).  Do some very simple research on Economic Rent and you will see that Ricardo did a service by identifying it, and thus allowing people to order their politics and policies to either secure rent or keep others from it.  So much of modern life is rent-seeking and that one thing orders political life.  Ricardo identified and defined the characteristics of Economic Rent, and for that he is very influential.  With a course like this, the ideas are more important than people, but Ricardo was a very interesting character too, check that out.

    Gary Becker was actually contemporary to my education in Economics, so what I know of him is less detailed.  Becker was influential in normative economics, as well as applying economics (some rent-seeking concepts, irrational behaviors, externalities) to everyday activities (addiction, and divorce), which is similar to what Freakonomics does today.  I suspect I would like to have Becker on my side in a debate, but know little of him beyond what I have said.

    Regarding Coase, I have heard of him, but that is it.  Perhaps someone will give a reason he should be mentioned.

    • #22
  23. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    You’re new to this site, but I believe that not being able to clearly articulate the difference between what economists mean by the word “rational” and how philosophers think of “rationality” explains a lot of why philosophers hate economists. Fortunately, Coase to the rescue!

    PM me your address and I’ll send you a copy.

    Thanks!  I’ll have to look over that post of yours later.  Well, I like economists.  I’ll email you the address.  Is that what PM means?

    • #23
  24. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Thank you, everybody!  There’s already too much here for me to sort out anytime soon (but keep going, please; this stuff is great!).  For now, I’ll do a current tally (counting every suggestion as a vote), and go take a break:

    • 3 votes for adding David Ricardo;
    • 1 vote for caution regarding David Ricardo;
    • 3 votes for adding Ronald Coase;
    • 1 vote for adding Gary Becker;
    • 1 vote for adding Ayn Rand;
    • 1 vote for adding Malthus;
    • 1 vote for adding Jon von Neumann;
    • 1 vote for adding John Harsanyi;
    • 1 vote for adding Thorstein Veblen;
    • 1 vote for adding Mill;
    • 2 votes for keeping Friedman;
    • 1 vote for keeping Von Mises;
    • 1 vote for keeping Hayek;
    • 1 vote for elevating Laffer from the “honorable mention if we have time” category to part of the main lesson plan;
    • 1 vote for not calling Marx an economist (though not for kicking him out of the course of study).
    • #24
  25. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @SaintAugustine

    Wineguy13:

    The reason I can’t fully support Ricardo in the lesson is that his concepts are esoteric for what I believe the class is.

    Maybe I should clarify one thing before I try to escape and take a break for a while.  At the moment I have no plans to assign any readings.  (Later I may look into assembling a few classic paragraphs and illustrative quotations.  This is just one lesson, and it’s merely a survey, and my plan is just to give a few of the main points on a few major economist-philosophers.

    To be succinct, you might say that this lesson is just enough to make my students aware of the vast fields of their own ignorance.

    Kind of like what this thread is doing for me!

    • #25
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KC Mulville:My first question would be why are you including them at all?

    To explain: I first became interested in game theory when the subject was taught as part of the Philosophy curriculum…

    Because real-life economics, where interactions are diffuse and repeated, is typically rather different from the abstracted, often isolated, and rather artificial scenarios studied in introductory game theory. Game theory has contributed to economics, no doubt, but there’s probably a reason that its contributions haven’t been as revolutionary as its proponents had hoped.

    Game theory is a type of mathematical modeling. Mathematical modeling is awesome, I’m glad we have it, and the math itself can be a lifelong passion for the right sort of mind. That said, it’s relatively easy to be expert at making models on the blackboard, yet inept at relating those models to real life. Coase called this phenomenon “blackboard economics” – such ironclad blackboard reasoning “proves” that lighthouses can only be public goods, while real history shows (as Coase discovered, because he bothered to check) that lighthouses in England began as privately-owned fixtures financed by private subscription. Oops.

    • #26
  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Regarding game theory, consider the ever-popular prisoner’s dilemma:

    Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The prosecutors do not have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to: betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. Here is the offer:

    • If A and B each betray the other, each of them serves 2 years in prison
    • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
    • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison (on the lesser charge)

    It is implied that the prisoners will have no opportunity to reward or punish their partner other than the prison sentences they get, and that their decision will not affect their reputation in the future.

    As a mathematical exercise, it’s great fun. But ask yourself whether the italicized portions bear much resemblance to the real world.

    In the real world, it seems prisoners are much cleverer at covertly communicating with each other than their wardens would like. And the implied assumptions that the prisoners cannot find alternate means of rewarding/punishing each other, and that the decisions they make won’t affect their reputations, are almost certainly false.

    We math geeks have the luxury of laughing off such unrealistic assumptions. Economists, though, do not.

    • #27
  28. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:  That said, it’s relatively easy to be expert at making models on the blackboard, yet inept at relating those models to real life.

    No. Game theory has the same relationship to action that logic does (it is indeed a variant of logical study). If you demand that logic must have a one-to-one relationship with actual experience in order for it to be valuable, then you’re misunderstanding it.

    Game theory, like logic, works on the premise that if you were perfectly rational, given a set number of known factors, this is what one ought to do. The very fact that human experience doesn’t correlate perfectly with rationality is no excuse to dismiss rationality. If anything, rationality is the path to improving one’s performance. You study the logic so that you can have better results than “the real world.” The real world is the world that keeps behaving illogically.

    • #28
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KC Mulville:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: That said, it’s relatively easy to be expert at making models on the blackboard, yet inept at relating those models to real life.

    No. Game theory has the same relationship to action that logic does (it is indeed a variant of logical study). If you demand that logic must have a one-to-one relationship with actual experience in order for it to be valuable, then you’re misunderstanding it.

    Why do you think I called mathematical modeling awesome? Because I do understand that.

    For all I know, our level of expertise in mathematical logic and game theory is about the same. Let’s not get into a credentials war here, but the reason I’ve done what I’ve done with my life so far is because I enjoy mathematical reasoning, believe it’s important for understanding reality, and people told me I was unusually good at it.

    • #29
  30. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    KC Mulville:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: That said, it’s relatively easy to be expert at making models on the blackboard, yet inept at relating those models to real life.

    No. Game theory has the same relationship to action that logic does (it is indeed a variant of logical study). If you demand that logic must have a one-to-one relationship with actual experience in order for it to be valuable, then you’re misunderstanding it.

    Game theory, like logic, works on the premise that if you were perfectly rational, given a set number of known factors, this is what one ought to do. The very fact that human experience doesn’t correlate perfectly with rationality is no excuse to dismiss rationality. If anything, rationality is the path to improving one’s performance. You study the logic so that you can have better results than “the real world.” The real world is the world that keeps behaving illogically.

    Wait a sec. Isn’t Midge’s point that the given set of factors used in the dilemma don’t comport with reality? It’s not just that the correlation is not perfect, it’s that it barely exists?

    • #30
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