The Beginning of Economic Wisdom

Two primers on economics reveal a lingering philosophical divide in the intellectual imagination of our time.

Issue: Spring 2003

Since they affect to work scientifically, economists usually insist that the vast majority of the propositions in their writings report what virtually all other economists would report; principles and facts rule, and virtually all concur on "the basics." Experience shows, however, that reading John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman are two qualitatively different experiences, both in regard to the principles involved and to the facts observed. Robert Heilbroner and Israel Kirzner, again, seem to live and move in utterly different economic universes.

Still, it must be granted that this particular affectation adds a certain civility to conversations among economists. They do not treat each other as badly, say, as analytic philosophers still treat continental phenomenologists or metaphysicians who lived before 1920. Furthermore, economists who strongly disagree seldom engage in direct confrontation; they rather tend to act as if proximity might end in mutual exasperation. Sometimes we non-economists positively burn to know just how Y would answer the arguments of X--especially those dramatic arguments that have the sound of aces slapping on the table.

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