Academic journal article Journal of Private Enterprise

The Political Economy of Peter Boettke

Academic journal article Journal of Private Enterprise

The Political Economy of Peter Boettke

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

This year marks the 50 anniversary of one of the most important books in classical liberal political economy: F.A. Hayek's Constitution of Liberty (1960). It also marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important contemporary scholars in classical liberal political economy: Peter J. Boettke. The coincidence (?) of these halfcentury landmarks provides occasion to note the contributions of both giants of classical liberal political economy and to highlight the important connections between them.

My purpose is not to reiterate Hayek's research program. Many others have done that. My purpose is twofold: to describe, in brief, the unique political economy agenda of Peter Boettke and to highlight Boettke's other area of remarkable contribution - his inspiration of students. I argue that these contributions are not separate or individualized phenomena. They are inseparable and intimately connected. The central features of Boettke's political economy at once establish the analytical apparatus for generating insights into social phenomena of importance to a variety of social science disciplines and, together with Boettke's special personal characteristics, provide the levers to enable graduate students with diverse interests and strengths to make contributions in the political economy program that Boettke lays out.

The result of Boettke's dual contributions is an ever-growing group of scholars who are adding to our understanding of the "world outside the window" in a variety of disciplines. It is this overlooked connection between F.A. Hayek, whose research program facilitated contribution to knowledge in the disciplines of economics, political science, philosophy, history, and even neuroscience, and Peter Boettke, whose research program has facilitated contributions to an equally impressive variety of disciplines, that forms the most important and, as time no doubt will tell, longest-lasting bond between these two inspiring figures of classical liberal political economy.

II. Venn Diagrams, Mimes, and Price Theory

Boettke runs a workshop at George Mason University called the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Workshop. As the workshop's name suggests, the papers presented there are interdisciplinary in nature. The "logo" for this workshop is the same one that graces the cover of the New Thinking in Political Economy book series that Boettke edits for Edward Elgar. That logo is a Venn diagram depicting the intersection of three circles - one representing philosophy, another politics, and the third economics.

Pete is exceptionally pleased with this image, and rightfully so. It illustrates a core component of his research program: the idea that the "interesting action" in the social sciences is located where philosophy, politics, economics, and one might also add history, law, and sociology, overlap. There is one crucially important feature missing from this diagram that must be included to capture Pete's political economy agenda, however. A supply and demand curve should be superimposed over the lens that where the "subject circles" intersect. Let me explain.

As for Hayek, at the core of Professor Boettke's approach to political economy is an emphasis on how social institutions do or do not facilitate the coordination of human decision making and thus permit or retard societal advance. According to that approach, to understand these institutions, political economists must look to subject matter typically explored outside the bounds of economics proper. It is here where the political economist searches for, leams about, and "collects" the raw material needed to understand the institutional detail that makes real-world political economies tick.

But as Boettke often emphasizes, collecting and describing the raw material from these other disciplines is only the first step in the political economist's process. If this step is among the first he takes, the next step is the most important. …

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