Rational Wiki is a site using the Wikia technology to expound science and positivism as though they are the right and true answer to literally everything in life. Atheism, empiricism and unreasoned dismissal of alternatives are par for the course. Now, I am not statist about religion, so I am not mentioning their atheism as a criticism in itself, but rather to highlight a few little problems with the approach Rational Wiki articles take to points of views other than their own. Empiricism is terrific and useful for analysing things like anatomy and physiology (I thoroughly enjoy my copy of Tortorra and Derrickson) but it does not, alone, bring in the goods when describing what is moral and immoral, or why humans respond in certain ways to certain circumstances. Thus, ethics and economics do not offer quite the same empirical satisfaction as natural science.

But this shouldn’t be terribly surprising, as the positivists themselves already have a field where they do not use empirical testing of hypotheses. I am referring to that branch of academia we call formal science. It’s all deduction, principally because the formal sciences include logic itself, mathematics and computing. Austrian economics uses praxeology, a formal tool that operates from the basis of the action axiom – that humans act to satisfy goals of changing their state from a present, less satisfying one to a future, more satisfying one – to describe the laws of human behaviour in response to scarcity. And to be clear, human behaviour in response to scarcity is economics. Why should this be invalid? The Rational Ones didn’t deign to say. Since our great paragons of rationality are being so disingenuous I guess a reasoned and informed response is warranted, if only to provoke a decent rebuke, rebuff or rebuttal from these gatekeepers of all wisdom.

First and foremost I am to defend my intellectual hearth against incomplete and vicious criticisms levelled against it. Now, first of all it’s important to recognise what an argument is, and what a criticism, as part of an argument, is. You must start with premises, otherwise you have no starting point from which to launch an argument. The simplest arguments include syllogisms, where you say something like; “First; all men are mortal. Second; Matthew John Hayden is a man. Therefore; Matthew John Hayden is mortal.” A thesis, antithesis and synthesis are right there, making a fine argument that is true in a way that is rational and absolute, like the truths demonstrated by logic, an thus by good praxeology. Now, why logic of this sort should be acceptable in philosophy but not in economics probably has everything to do with big data envy! It certainly ain’t because of any failing of logic in economics.

That Rational Wiki page gives us a list of Austrian keywords followed by mocking explanations designed to trivialise and insult the Austrian School as a whole. The purpose is humorous, and I get where they’re coming from a lot of the time, but the way in which the site’s standard Austrian School, Murray Rothbard and Hans Hermann Hoppe articles attempt to assassinate the characters of the school and these men is gravely disingenuous. I only hope the reader is similarly affronted. Austrians are panglossian to a fault, according to the unsubstantiated Rational Wiki attack. So maybe somebody else offers something resembling actual arguments.

What is the argument against the Austrian School? Don’t be too disappointed by all this. A chap or chapette writing under the moniker LK (Lord Keynes) writes volubly on a blog disputing the claims and methodology of the Austrian School. One post claimed that Mises, having failed to understand the difference between entirely formal statements and those which are both formal and empirical, had created a self-defeating intellectual framework. This all hinges on descriptions of geometry. I reckon you see what is really at stake here. LK is drawing an insuperable barrier between the rational and the empirical. This may superficially seem like a good idea because I can’t deduce the present condition of my kidney by thinking really hard. But there’s another dimension to this, because our real actions have motivations which are matters purely of mind, and consequences, which are matters of empirically verifiable reality. Lost yet?

If not, hurrah! Since your real life crosses the rational empirical boundary every moment of your life, including right now as you are thinking about the word you’re reading on this page, arguing that formal methodology can describe the external world is now demonstrably at least as possible as the opposite, and in fact far more so, because the external world consists of unconscious matter and natural and human-made systems. And those human-made systems – like roads, buildings, clothing, bicycles, domestication of animals – were all conceived rationally and then realised in a way that was empirically verifiable. Since the formal rational process – that of logic, mathematics and computing – can be said to be internal and intrinsic to every human mind and to inform their choices and actions in the external world, but on the other hand one human’s internal mind cannot be perceived by another human mind, the formal takes precedence over the empirical in establishing and testing propositions about how we behave in response to certain stimuli, such as cheap or dear credit, bountiful or lean harvests, and so on.

LK goes after David Gordon’s take on praxeology as well, and accuses Mises of being a third-rate philosopher for reasons that are very difficult for anyone who doesn’t read a lot of philosophy or mathematics journals to understand. Why? Because praxeological axioms are so true they’re tautological. This apparently makes Mises third-rate. But tautological truths derived from an axiom that human action is goal- or future-oriented behaviour, that humans have goals, and they meet these ends using the means of action are not invalid for being tautological. Remember, tautologies are still true, and we’re talking about the fundamental truth of human nature which every one of us lives every second from birth to death, so why can’t we discover the existing truth through deduction? Riddle me that… LK instead simply asserts that;

Mises’ theories are not falsifiable empirically…

LK, Mises’ Praxeology: A Critique

Now, as an Austrian I would gladly use empirical data to confirm or falsify historical facts, but not economic or sociological laws. Thinking you can arrive at laws of human behaviour with data when we have not yet proved how the human brain even works, let alone found the source and nature of consciousness or controlled for all internal and external factors affecting human choice, is a base and self-defeating absurdity. I will say no more on this matter for now, as it is demonstrated that critiques attacking formal methodology in the social sciences are misrepresenting the very thing they’re critiquing. We have already found the formal method to beat the positivist one on grounds of crossing between the rational and empirical, and we have demonstrated that a rational tool can be tautological while still saying useful things about human-beingness. What remains to ensure we are being sound in our approach to social science?

The challenge by LK to offer some things that can be proved by stacking up praxeological axioms is about the only honest criticism on his or her entire site. This is a valid criticism because it can be hard to find a stack of axioms arranged and explained neatly for anybody to understand, and a simple reason for this is that in fact most of the theories of the Austrian School are arrived at very quickly, indeed almost directly, from the first axiom, that of action explained twice above. If humans have goals and make choices on the basis of transitioning from a present, less desirable state, to a future, more desirable one, what would that state look like? Easy. In the case of hunger, being full. In the case of boredom, doing something fun. In the case of horniness, having sex. And in the case of feeling frustrated by attacks on one’s intellectual framework, writing a long article laying out one’s stall for all to see.

To avoid confusion we’ve been discussing the application of the methods from two branches of academia, formal science and natural science, to a third, social science. Now, the fact that social science has more in common with philosophy than with positivism (a method rejected by all philosophers worth their salt as of the 21st Century) . No economic or sociological theory will ever be verified or proved empirically. The best you get is corellation. But since the same data are interpreted a-thousand different ways by different people I wouldn’t be too hasty to declare that any datum I recorded had proved or disproved a hypothesis about myself or my fellow human beings.

A further and seemingly ad-hom attack concerns Rothbard and racism. It is alleged by the author, in Business Insider no less, that Rothbard is a racist because of his friendship with one David Duke. But the leftism of the article is perhaps more representative of what can be expected in business circles than this naive author had been given to thinking, as Peter St. Onge illustrates. BI hack Gary Anderson manages to throw ad-homs Mises’ way also! Jeet Heer is a little more dispassionate in his appraisal, clearly seeing Mises’ historical statements about fascism as somehow demonstrating preference for fascism. Interestingly, one comment on the Heer blog post makes the vital distinction between approval of a human made system and recognition of its historical role. Brian Macker, the commenter in question, posits that;

Mises was a vehement anti-fascist, and your quote is not inconsistent with that. Mises merely recognized as a economist that communism would lead to more human suffering and he was right. You see under strict communism people starve to death, whereas with fascism you get economic stagnation.

“The approval that Mises gave to Dollfuss was a precursor to the squirmy support Friedrich August von Hayek and Milton Friedman gave to the Pinochet regime in Chile.”

Well now I see where you are coming from. You confuse a professor giving economic advice to a politician with “support”. That’s a little bit more than idiotic. Especially when the same advice was being given to the communists also. In fact to anyone who would listen to Freidman.

It’s doubly ridiculous charge in the case of Mises, who unlike Friedman, was giving economic advice within his own country, and was not accepted in the universities of his own country. He was a Jew looking for employment in the conditions of those times, get it?

According to Flynn:

“Why was Austria’s eminent free-market liberal advising a militant interventionist? In “The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises” (PDF), Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn offers this explanation:

Given the opposition Mises encountered at the university, he looked for steady employment in the Handelskammer, the semi-official Chamber of Commerce. After 1920, the Austrian government was mostly in the hands of the Christian Social Party, a Clerical-Conservative party, which eventually fathered the dictatorship of Dollfuss and his Patriotic Front. This party had to fight the international socialists, and, later, the National Socialists. Mises, as an agnostic and a genuine Liberal, had no innate enthusiasm for the Christian Socials, but, judging Austria’s precarious situation dispassionately, knew that a decent, responsible man had to collaborate with that government.”

The point here is that Mises identified fascism as in opposition to and slightly less irrational than communism. A fascist society, with its corporatist economic model, is less controlling of the market process than the socialist economics of a country like the Soviet Union, the exemplar par excellence of the economic calculation problem. A fascist society might leave more room for calculation and for its own demise and replacement by capitalism sooner than a socialist one. If North Korea, Laos and Cuba are anything to judge by, socialism can last a long time even when it beggars an entire population.

I have to take issue somewhat with the description of the Pinochet regime as fascist. First of all, there was no cult of personality around either Pinochet himself or the nation-state of Chile as a whole, so the ideological bedrock of fascism was conspicuous by its absence. Secondly, the was no corporatism. The mining of certain ores was heavily regulated, and one ore mining corporation remained state-owned, but the economy as a whole was left alone by the standards of the United States and Europe at the time. So the two main ingredients of fascism were missing. There were murders, there were terror campaigns, but that’s just naked despotism and political violence, and sadly an honest expression of the political means.

I don’t see any superflux of racism in any Rothbard work I’ve read. Indeed in one essay he uses racism as an example of how absurd one idea concerning enforced equality really is;

If the low percentage of women in surgery, law, management, etc., is proof that the men should posthaste be replaced by females, then what are we to do with the Jews, for example, who shine far above their assigned quota in the professions, in medicine, in academia, etc.? Are they to be purged?

THE OPPRESSED GENDER, LRC, paragraph 7

Racism, huh? Rothbard was of Jewish ancestry himself, so his statement above is clearly intended as a barb against collectivism. To accuse anti-collectivists of collectivism is a base un-argument that frankly blows my mind. If all I have to do is insult people with flowery language to be persuasive, and if I can get paid to do that, then maybe I should suspend my own morality and write more like that. For now, this is Matthew John Hayden. If you’re reading this, you’re already halfway between the gutter and the stars. Where you go now is up to you. I entreat the good reader to partake of LK’s articles. This character is the only one I have found online with anything substantial to say in criticism of the Austrian School, even if it’s ultimately non-terminal. As for Rational Wiki? Better luck next time.