Of plumbers, philosophers, and would-be “DeFamers”

There has been some discussion on the Mises Yahoo! Group regarding an attack that a Brad DeLong — a man who does not register on my radar — directed towards a book written by Ludwig von Mises, the dean of the Austrian school of economics. The target of the attack was The Theory of Money and Credit — a book I have not read.

What makes this particularly interesting was that the book was mentioned in the December edition of The American Spectator by unlicensed celebrity plumber Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. “Joe the Plumber.”[1] When Lew Rockwell posted this on the Mises Blog, more than a couple of regular visitors reacted with a certain degree of disbelief. What would a plumber — an unlicensed one, at that matter? — be doing reading up on an unorthodox school of politico-economic thought?[2]

I myself thought the same thing; then I thought, why not? What would a freelance jack-of-all-trades like myself be doing reading Mises? As I’m a contract laborer for the institute named after the man, I’m “closer to the action.” But Joe is not, which upon further thought makes his disclosure all the more notable. It would be interesting to discover how he discovered the writings of Mises.

I link to DeLong’s post without reading it myself only to provide the resource to readers who care to examine the evidence. However, this comment on the Mises list gives me reason not to waste the time (of course, I spent the time writing this post):

The closest he comes to a critique is declaring The Theory of Money and Credit to be “totally bats.” Which, of course, is name-calling, not a critique. If I were to “respond”, it would be by saying that DeLong’s selection of quotations seems haphazard at best. Most of it is just fragments connected by ellipses, chosen in such a way as to prevent the reader of the quotation from having much clue what Mises was actually saying. The effect is exactly what DeLong wants: making Mises look like a mad man, as the method of quotation “sounds” like someone who has lost their mind and whose rambles turn into mumbling between the disconnected thoughts.

Which is very far from what Mises’s writing is actually like.

I can confirm this with absolute certainty. I am in the middle of reading Mises’ magnum opus, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics; he writes in an impressively logical, concise, but dense manner. To use ellipses when quoting this man comes pretty close to misrepresentation; one would do well to cite full paragraphs in many cases. This makes DeLong’s selective-prooftexting attack seem pathetic, based on secondhand information.[3]

DeLong will have to try harder to have this blogger pay attention to him; indeed, I have spent too much time with this post.

Notes

[1] Wait until next month for the current issue to appear online; others have tried to locate it online and failed.

[2] However, none other than Lew Rockwell asserts,

Had progress in economic thought not been interrupted by Keynesian theory and the rise of positivism in the social sciences, we would not even be speaking of the Austrian school. Misesian theory would be economics proper (emphasis added).

[3] To be sure, Mises has a treasure trove of relatively short quotations as well. But you will need to delve into his writings to appreciate the wisdom contained in the short snippets.

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