Quotations of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 12, 2011

in Science, Scientism

… are a complementary duo.  The first is from the English translation of Ludwig Lachmann’s 1966 essay “The Significance of the Austrian School of Economics in the History of Ideas,” which appears on pages 45-64 of Ludwig M. Lachmann, Capital, Expectations, and the Market Process, Walter E. Grinder, ed. (1977); the quotation is from page 46 (original emphasis):

[T]he ideas and aims of the representatives of the Austrian school, perhaps unconsciously, were always directed not only toward the discovery of quantitative relationships among economic phenomena but also toward an understanding of the meaning of economic actions.

The second quotation is from page 15 of Brian Loasby’s fine 1976 book, Choice, Complexity and Ignorance:

If Galileo had accepted the advice of contemporary Friedmanites [regarding the proper method of doing science], he would have been spared his troubles with the Roman Church, which was perfectly ready to acknowledge, and indeed to make use of, the predictive success of Copernican theory; but for Galileo the structure of a theory mattered as much as its predictions.

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Greg G December 12, 2011 at 7:58 am

Thank you. It’s about time Friedman got his share of the credit/blame for the dominance of macroeconomics.

Dom December 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

Can you fill in some missing elements in the second quote? What is (Milton ?) Friedman’s method of doing science? Are you sure the Catholic Church was happy with the predictive success of Copernicus? And what was Galileo’s “structure” of a theory that was so objectionable?

Don Boudreaux December 12, 2011 at 9:11 am

Milton Friedman argued that a scientific theory should be judged exclusively (or, at any rate, predominantly) by its success at predicting observable outcomes.

I take Loasby’s word for it that the Vatican in the 17th century was willing to concede the predictive superiority of Copernicus’s theory (but I don’t know that fact with any greater degree of certainty).

Galileo, of course, insisted (til his run-in with the Vatican) that the earth revolves around the sun – rather than the sun revolves around the earth in a geocentric universe. The Vatican did not wish to concede that the earth is not the universe’s center.

Dom December 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

Wow. That’s service. Thanks for the reply. I guess I’m still not sure how one can accept the predictive value of Copernicus without also accepting the heliocentric universe. But I guess that’s not an economic point.

I never knew Friedman had a theory of science at all.

Randy December 12, 2011 at 9:35 am

Interesting. Applying the idea to my world, I frequently have to tell customers how to do it to get good results, and how not to do it to avoid negative results… but then, when I see negative results I want to know why… so I’ll recognize the situation when I see it again.

Gordon Richens December 12, 2011 at 9:50 am

It was a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemiatre who first proposed what later came to known as the “Big Bang” theory, as well as estimating Hubble’s constant. John XXIII named him prelate in 1960.

Not to say that the Roman Catholic Church was as enlightened in the 17th century as the 20th. But evidence suggests that the Vatican is capable of moving with the times in some respect.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools December 12, 2011 at 10:24 am

Not to say that the Roman Catholic Church was as enlightened in the 17th century as the 20th.

Who was?

khodge December 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

Galileo had friends in high places, including the Pope. There are plenty of similarities between the status quo of today in macroeconomics, where Keynesian economics is taught as fact, and the status quo of Galileo’s time where a geocentric universe was taught as fact. Entrenched schools of though never want to be unseated; that is the first rule of science.

ThomasL December 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

My understanding is that Galileo was even supported by the Church in his heliocentric research early on.

While the controversy hardly does the Church much credit in any form, I think it has nevertheless been overblown.

The popular version is roughly that the Church was staunchly unwilling to change its position on geocentricism in the face of Galileo’s proof of helocentrism.

A bit closer to the real world is that the Church was staunchly unwilling to do give up its own wrong view at the insistence of someone their own scientists could demonstrate (quite correctly) was also wrong.

While Galileo was right about heliocentricity in broad strokes, he was still quite wrong about how it actually worked. When the Church leveled legitimate criticisms at his work, he not only ignored the criticisms he insisted he was right all the more loudly.

Mix arrogance and obstinacy on the side of the Church officials with Galileo’s arrogance and obstinacy, and you get what we got.

Incidentally Galileo just as obstinately refused to consider Kepler’s notion of elliptical orbits. He was not one for criticism it seems.

The Church gave a noticeably friendlier reception to Kepler and his elliptical heliocentric theories, particularly the Jesuit order, though how much direct communication Kepler had with Jesuit astronomers like Scheiner (who constructed the first telescope on Kepler’s lines) is a little unclear.

I’m doing this from memory, so some of that may be open to correction.

I Miss Nixon December 12, 2011 at 9:33 am


So glad to see you misuse Galileo such seem to be a Lost Cause thing.

Correy Robin wrote about a recent debate:

The most arresting moment of the debate was when Rick Perry invoked Galileo in defense of his skepticism about climate change. Here’s what he said:

The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense. Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.
That line has got everyone spinning; google Rick Perry and Galileo, and you get 471,000 results. But while everyone churns out their pet theories, let’s remember that Galileo has long held a special place in the mind of the Old South. Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, famously invoked Galileo in defense of the slaveholders’ conviction that “the negro is not equal to the white man” and “subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

The comparison between Galileo and the slaveholder was as far-fetched as Perry’s, but like Perry, Stephens defended it on the ground that his position was a fugitive knowledge, a heresy that would one day become orthodoxy. “This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.”

Other slaveholders (Josiah Nott, John C. Calhoun) made the same comparison; Calhoun also invoked Francis Bacon, Stephens also invoked William Harvey. Their point was that like those great heresies of early modern science, the southern science of race would one day triumph and be recognized the world over. It’s the way the white southerner has always negotiated his contradictory self-understanding of being both victim and victimizer. Again, Stephens:

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests?”

And so, I assume, says Rick Perry to himself and his followers about their equally dubious science of climate non-change

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 11:52 am

If Perry said that there is no climate change, then he is mistaken.
The debate is over anthropogenic climate catastrophe for which the science is most definitely not settled.

Jon Murphy December 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

I’m afraid I don’t understand the Copernicus-Galileo quote.

From my understanding (and keep in mind I am an economist, not an astronomer), Copernicus started the theory of a heliocentric universe and the Church was non-hostile to the idea. Galileo came along, refined and proved the theory and the Church was very hostile. What changed between the two theories that made Copernicus’ acceptable and Galileo’s heresy?

carlsoane December 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

It wasn’t the difference in the theories that mattered as is clear from the name of the work which got Galileo in trouble: “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World-Ptolemaic and Copernican.” The problem was that Galileo mocked the pope by putting the pope’s words in the mouth of the foolish character, Simplicio, in the Dialogue. Speculation is that had he not done that, the Church would have accepted the Copernican view of the Universe.

Jon Murphy December 12, 2011 at 11:28 am

Gotcha, thanks.

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 11:53 am

The church won on argument from authority.

Younger Cato December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Actually, Galileo “just” demonstrated that not all heavenly bodies orbit the Earth by showing clerics and other Catholic higher-ups Jupiter’s moons orbiting, not earth (directly), but Jupiter. This was heresy. Until then the Church taught that all heavenly bodies circled the Earth, no exceptions. By demonstrating (empirically) that that’s not always the case, he basically threw out the entrenched/received “wisdom” of the theocrats.

Kepler’s (and Tycho Brahe) actually the one that made more precise measurements regarding how heavenly bodies don’t circle the Earth, and in fact do orbit the Sun. In fact he showed that planets don’t just circle the sun, they trace out elliptical orbits. Kepler’s confirmations “enhanced” Copernicus’s model by making it correspond more accurately with physical reality.

Newton ultimately explained the whole deal (not quite) with his universal law of gravitation and his laws of motion. He provided the theoretical framework of mental constructs that are logically consistent, expandable (in order to accommodate new verifacts), and capable of powerful predictions.

I said not quite above because Einstein saw even more deeply than anyone, “enhancing” Newton’s theories by rethinking the whole concept in such a way that, if you ever have the chance to read up on what he did, you’d realize what Don’s trying to say.

Glad to see CafeHayek finally start talking about the importance of methodology, meta-economics, and epistemology.

Gil December 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

Oh goody, a use of the Galileo Fallacy!

muirge0 December 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

“Milton Friedman argued that a scientific theory should be judged exclusively (or, at any rate, predominantly) by its success at predicting observable outcomes.”

The predictions of the superiority of laissez faire aren’t tarnished by the Great Depression and this Great Recession/ Depression? And I am speaking with regards to real world history not the Rewritten Histories where Hoover was just like FDR and Barney Frank caused this recession single handedly. Those re-written histories are the equivalents to and as convoluted as the ptolemaic system was. Indeed they were used for the same reason… to uphold The Church.

muirge0 December 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

Your guys religion is dead… like the church it only lives on because it has all the money.

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

You are the religious nut.
You should learn the real meaning of Laissez Faire before you use it in your commentary.

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

The predictions of the superiority of laissez faire aren’t tarnished by the Great Depression and this Great Recession/ Depression?

When was the Fed created?
When did the Great Depression begin?
How long did the GD last after New Deal?


Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises December 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm

The logic of Sam Grove:

1) some airplanes crash

2) therefore, planes cannot fly and the science of flight is wrong

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Your comment is illogical, even as a straw man.

Do you know that one of the justifications for creating the Fed was to prevent depressions and bank runs?

Yes, sixteen years before the crash.

Sam’s argument: a central bank inflating the money supply is not Laissez Faire.

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Oh, yes anti-trust legislation opposes Laissez Faire. That legislation was created even earlier than the Fed.

Greg Webb December 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Sam’s right. George and the Luzha are wrong. Again.

muirge0 December 12, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Recessions were LESS frequent and less prolonged AFTER the FED was created and even less so after FDR. If it were’t for you Repulitarians causing the Great Depression and this Great Recession the numbers would be even more slanted.

Here’s reality biting you in the ASS again Sam;


Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 11:49 pm

So how long did the great depression last after FDR took office?
Was it not the loooongest and severest depression on record?

Sam Grove December 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm

And the Fed was not the first central bank in the U.S.

Dances with Wolves December 13, 2011 at 12:02 am

Stupid Muirgeo, the Fed lengthens and extends the boom and bust cycle with its easy money monetary policies.

carlsoane December 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Those cycles are debatable

The NBER’s pre-WWI chronology of annual peaks and troughs has the remarkable implication that the U.S. economy spent nearly every other year in recession, although previous research has argued that the post-Civil War dates are flawed. This paper extends that research by redating annual peaks and troughs for the entire 1796-1914 period using a single metric: Davis’ (2004) annual industrial production index. The new pre-WWI chronology alters more than 40% of the peak and troughs, and removes cycles long considered the most questionable. An important implication of the new chronology is the lack of discernible differences in the frequency and duration of industrial cycles among the pre-Civil War, Civil War to WWI, and post-WWII periods.

SmoledMan December 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

The 1929 crash did not create the Great Depression. It was government interference in markets that turned what would have been a minor recession into a depression.

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