March, 2019

On Emancipators, Engineers, and Students

The Appropriate Attitude of the Economist
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This paper presents an original conceptualization of the different attitudes economists have expressed toward their object of study. It distinguishes between a humanist and a scientist tradition in economics and argues that both stances can be combined with an active and a passive attitude. This results in four different positions or attitudes, that of the positive scientist (passive scientist), the social engineer (active scientist), the student (passive humanist) and the emancipator (active humanist). The paper explores the implications of the four positions and it argues that there are many threads within Austrian economics and Virginia Political Economy that point toward the attitude of the active humanist. As such it is an extension and a correction of the distinction drawn between the student and the scientist in my book Viennese students of Civilization (2016). It is argued that the emancipator position has to explicitly engage with what Buchanan calls ‘might-bes’, that is hypothetical changes in rules, institutions, or human behavior, and as such has important links with the critical tradition on the left.