Three Essays In the History of Political Economy



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This dissertation explores two perspectives in the history of economic thought––that of Frank Knight and that of the Austrian tradition. Chapter 1 puts Frank Knight in conversation with pragmatist philosopher John Dewey in order to better understand Knight’s views on the role of science in a democracy. Knight criticized Dewey for relying on a concept of intelligence that was too scientific to be relevant to the democratic process of discussion. He viewed Dewey’s project as fundamentally illiberal because of the role he laid out for intelligence in a society. Knight believed that this perspective opened the door for expert rule, which would be the antithesis of democracy. It was because of Knight’s commitment to democracy as “government by discussion” that Knight took issue with these elements of Dewey’s project and proceeded to develop a more social and democratic concept of intelligence. Chapter 2 explores the intellectual tradition of the Austrian school of economics, beginning with Carl Menger. It details the central tenets of Austrian economic analysis, such as methodological individualism, andsubjectivism. This chapter then examines the historical relationship between positive Austrian economics and the normative philosophy of libertarianism, which must be understood as distinct traditions. It then goes through the major figures of the school and their contributions, before mentioning contemporary examples of Austrian scholarship. Finally, Chapter 3 compares the Austrian perspective with that of Frank Knight. Knight shared in the liberal tradition of the Austrians, but he held some strangely divergent views, especially on the topic of socialism. Knight believed that there could be no economic analysis on the question of socialism. He believed that all economics could tell us about socialism was the same as what it could tell us about capitalism. For Knight, economics assumed efficiency and perfect competition. Knight’s insistence on this point stems from his view of the restricted role science must play in a democracy. After detailing the controversy over socialism, this chapter compares Knight’s concerns about what he called “scientism” with those of Hayek, who is more closely associated with the word “scientism.” Though they used the same word, their concerns were very different. This difference can explain the difference in their views on socialism.



Austrian, Frank Knight, Intelligence, Scientism, Socialism