The feared 7-letter term

From[Bill Williams 25 May 2004 4:30 AM CST]I have been at work finding
where Bill Powers called my least favorateeconomists Ludwing von Mises an
"asshole." Bill Powers denied havingdone so, but he did. Here is what he has
to say about von Mises,> man for whom the term "self-centered idiot" was
surely invented

(that was originally a shorter, 7-letter, term). But as I say, can we let
our interests and efforts be dictated by such people, who must be suffering
some form of mental illness?Did you catch it? Clever wasn't it? Bill

Williams

[From Bill Powers (2003.12.06.9511 MST)]

Bill Williams (12.05.03.1109 CST)]

I guess my first question would be "Who do you know who really
wants an "Economics Testbed?"

Well, I: know of one person who does, from inside of whom I am writing.
Perhaps you do, too, considering your interest in a "two-commodity model."
I agree that within the groups you describe, the median attitude is not
likely to include a welcome of tests of beliefs, But I think that in any
group so characterized by its typical properties, there is a distribution,
ranging from far worse than anything you have described to far better. We
can't look for any interest within such a group's middle or its worst
fringe, but it's not impossible that we could peel off a few adherents to
orthodoxy from the other fringe, the better one for our purposes.

One thing to consider is that if someone is ardently in favor of some model
of the economy, it might be that this person would welcome a Test Bed,
being absolutely certain that it would prove him or her right, or prove
opponents wrong.. But I don't think we could count on that. As you say, why
should such a person risk a test?

It would, of course, be convenient if we could think of an investigation of
economic theory that would attract enthusiastic support from the economic
community. Considering how many belief systems there are even just within
economics, however, it doesn't seem too likely that such support would
exist for any idea. My idea of the Test Bed is designed to make it as
non-partisan as possible, so at least we might appeal to a number of
different less-orthodox fringes and get a little support from each. If
there were six major schools of economics, and we got the support of the
most liberal 1/6 of each group, we would suddenly have a plurality.

If you've got time on your hands and feel like making the effort to get
such a model running for some purposes of your own that's one thing. But,
it seems to me that you may be mistakenly assuming that there are readily
availible
people somewhere who are interested in "testing economic ideas."

I hadn't really thought in terms of finding readily available people, no
more than I did when I got interested in control theory via cybernetics. It
was nice to think (however mistakenly) that there were other people I could
work with on such ideas, but that wasn't the reason I was interested. I was
fascinated by the idea that control theory explained things about human
behavior and wanted to know more, for my own sake as much as anyone else's,
maybe more. Same thing for economic theory: it's something that vitally
affects me and others dear to me, and I would really like to understand how
an economy works.

Of course we could always appeal to greed. The person who understands how
the economy actually works, presumably, can manipulate it to his own
advantage better than the person whose understanding is flawed or flatly
incorrect. Correct knowledge is always to be preferred by the entrepreneur
over illusions and misinformation, Aren't businessmen supposed to be the
ultimate pragmatists and unsentimental realists? If a belief is costing you
money, trash it, no matter how attached you are to it, right? Christianity
is for Sundays. Maybe it's not economists we want support from, but
businessmen.

However, for me, just figuring out a good model is the main point of this
-- in company with others who have similar interests if at all possible,
but not just to have their companionship. The matter of trying to get it
right is important to me. There's a lot of satisfaction in making a model
that works, and even works like the real system. In fact, if I get hung up
on other possible satisfactions like fame and fortune, I begin to worry
about making unpopular hypotheses or drawing conclusions that might offend
the wrong committee, and then I can't think freely any more. Think how far
I would have got with PCT if I had worried about what B. F. Skinner or
anyone else in psychology thought.

If there is going to be a "test" concerning economic ideas, maybe
the assumption that somewhere there is a perception that economic
ideas should be subject to test ought to be the first item that
is subject to test.

I don't think I'm in any doubt about that. I certainly perceive that they
need testing, whether anyone else does or not. I can't worry if Herr Doktor
Professor Joe Blow believes his theory is too perfect to need testing. Why
should a nutty idea like that concern us?

I've known for a long time that that there have been people who
are of the opinion that the criteria of truth should be an _a
priori_ standard. Ludvig Von Mises is an example of a frankly
_a priori_ theorist. In _Epistemological Problems of Economics_
196O he says,

  p. 24. "There can be no doubt whatsoever concerning the
  aprioristic character of these disciplines [concerned with
  the science of human action]."

    "...the elementary laws of value are valid without exception
  for all human action. p. 27.

    (That is no Giffen effect, all demand functions slope downward.)

Yes, I have a few of Mises' writings on my hard disc, including that one, I
think. A man for whom the term "self-centered idiot" was surely invented
(that was originally a shorter, 7-letter, term). But as I say, can we let
our interests and efforts be dictated by such people, who must be suffering
some form of mental illness?

I think we should just worry about trying to get it right, and not let
other people's problems rub off on us.

Now, as I understand it you are proposing, or at least considering
rolling your "econmics test bed" into this domain of belief in
which there are no rules. It looks to me like a massive category
mistake.

I think it would be, too. What you're saying is that there is really no
point in trying to introduce a real theory of economics to economists,
because they are impervious to reason, unable to test their ideas against
reality, caught up in irrational belief systems, and capable only of
thinking of their own safety. In short, they are psychotic, or so severely
unbalanced as to be incapable of normal thinking.

But remember the fringes. There must be a "non-lunatic fringe" there with
whom one can have a normal adult conversation. We would be best off, I
agree, avoiding the others.

Well, anyway, I intend to get as far with this Test Bed idea as I can,
though my practical experience is too limited to take it all the way. I
keep asking people if they'd be interested in seeing what I have so far.
George Soros wrote me that I was on the right track, so much so, he said,
that it has already been done. Snotty jerk. Others haven't replied yet, and
probably won't. But what can one do? Trolling for support is just like
fishing. You can say you're fishing for bass, but you wouldn't turn down a
bite from a pike.

I'd settle for a bite from Williams.

Best,

Bill P.