the Rathouse
Rafe Champion
Draft, November 2007

The Even More Austrian Research Program or Critical Rationalist Program are terms that I am using to sum up a mixed strategy of scholarship, teaching, critical thinking, theoretical speculation and field research in economics, politics and sociology. Previously I have used the term George Mason Program as a convenient shorthand but that is too restrictive because the kind of work that I have in mind is underway at many other places in addition to the George Mason University.

The idea of this particularresearch program" can be used to contrast two very different lines of research. One is under way in sociology inspired by a "strong program in cultural theory", the other in political economy is sponsored by various shades of neoclassical and Austrian ideas. The original name came from the George Mason University where many elements of the program can be found, especially in the Economics school and other facilities such as the Institute for Humane Studies, the Mercatus Center and the Center for the Study of Public Choice. Several bloggers are associated with the program as well. The elements include a workshop in philosophy, politics and economics, basic undergraduate and graduate training in economics, and wide-ranging research programs including studies of governance among the pirates, critiques of the export of peace and
freedom to foreign lands, the management of local disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, cultural studies focussed on popular music and food, field studies in Third World development and free market environmentalism, and comparative political economy.

Some links to various references and resources

The strong program in cultural theory vs George Mason
Economics at GMU
GMU bloggers

A challenge to formalism in political economy

At the theoretical level of the program there is tension between those who think that the best of the Austrian ideas can be smoothly incorporated into neoclassical thinking (or already have been) and others who think that a significant and possibly fundamental shift in orientation is still required. The second line is pursued in the Antipodean branch of the program which is sometimes called the Australian or Even More Austrian school of thought to signal the numerous strands of thought from Austria and parts nearby that can be recruited to understand important social processes like the sequence of events in a ball game.

It will help the rogram to draw on the impressive body of work from Larry Boland. The Australian school has a low profile and a publicist has been engaged to address this situation.

Even Wittgenstein could have contributed to the program with his doctrines of  "games" and "forms of life" however neither he nor his followers ever got around to analysing real games in a critical and problem-oriented spirit that would have complemented the GM program of critical appraisal of the rules of the game of social and political life.

More references

Boettke's challenge to formalism
Boettke's reply to commentators
Three strands of Austrian thought
More Austro-Hungarians
Thinking cricket
Larry Boland
Barnes advertising

The Barnes Advertising philosophy.
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Our agency philosophy is "play to win". On one level, this means that if you're going to get in the game, you should aim to win it...
But on another level, "play to win" is also about keeping a level of playfulness when you try to solve problems - no matter how important they seem to be.
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A framework for the GMP

Frameworks by themselves do not solve problems but good frameworks ensure that essential elements of the situation are taken into account, while defective frameworks ensure that research programs will be limited because key aspects of the situation are overlooked or misrepresented. Any attempt to comprehend human
affairs that leaves out of  account both ideas and general principles or rules will be a very strange business. Ideas include moral and metaphysical principles, self-images, plans, aspirations, intentions and assumptions about learning, belief and crtical thinking.

Rules come in at least three categories (1) laws of the natural sciences (2) laws of the catallaxy including economics and (3) manmade rules or norms that can be broken or disobeyed; these are not universal and unchanging, far from, it, they evolve by conscious and unconscious human action.

A framework for the program can be drawn from Ludwig Mises (praxeology), Talcott Parsons (the voluntarist frame of action) and Karl Popper (situational analysis). More work is required to compare and contrast these approaches and generate a plain English, user friendly operating system for the program.
Praxeology is dogged by some unhelpful formulations, Parsons lost the plot after a promising start and some of Popper's presentations of his model caused confusion instead of clarification.

Parsons, methodological individualism found and lost.\

It will be interesting to see how the framework that comes from Mises, Parsons and Popper articulates with the "unified framework for the behavioural sciences" developed by Herbert Gintis and colleagues.

Policy Implications

At the policy and planning level the GMP consists of unpacking the consequences of the second and third kind of rules in specific contexts, ranging from the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression to the appraisal of trade or fiscal policy, the Marshall Plan, aid to the Third World or the location of an ethnic restaurant or reverting to the eight ball over in cricket or the unlimited tackle rule in rugby league. You name it.

Important work along these lines has been done on law and economics, and the public choice school of thought fits here as well.

This could be described as situational analysis where particular aspects of the situation, like the rate of level of inflation, tariffs, the wage fixing system and the tax and regulatory environment, are examined to work out the way they impact on the decisions that people make about spending and investing. It could also be described as an ecological approach to look "downstream" in time and space to find the more remote consequences of policies and especially consequences that are both undesirable and unexpected.

This kind of analysis is not new, it was practiced with devastating effect by the French liberal (free trader) Bastiat over a century ago to demolish some of the standard arguments for state interference that are still rolled out by politicians to justify their support of special interest groups.

Invisible railway lines of thought: getting the metaphysics right

The special focus of the Australian school of thought (that is, the Even More Austrian program) is another kind of framework that consists of philosophical and metaphysical presuppositions. Work in this area does not have great appeal for practical people and the critical appraisal of these framework assumptions is very difficult because positivism has rendered several generations of would-be scientists blind to these issues. Others who take metaphysics more seriously tend to lapse into unhelpful discourse from a combination of essentialism (obsession with definitions and conceptual analysis) and failure to link the debate to testable theories and practical problems. "The more fruitful debates on method are always inspired by certain practical problems which face the research worker; and nearly all debates on method which are not so inspired are characterized by that atmosphere of futile subtlety which has brought methodology into disrepute with the practical research worker." (The Poverty of  Historicism, page 57).

A "check on the metaphysics" is recommended as an alternative to the methodology of scientific research programs (MSRP) advocated by Lakatos and the paradigm studies pursued by followers of Kuhn. The reason for this check is to try to locate what might be called "railway lines of thought" that tend to lock people
into their favorite framework or paradigm. Case studies are required to make this discourse less abstract and more concrete. There are examples in physics and an example that come to mind is Burrt on the metaphysical foundations of modern physical science but it will be more helpful to have case studies from the social sciences.

Metaphysical Research Programs, drafted for a book by Colin Simkin

Rafe Champion

The Even More Austrian Program