I am in NZ to give the 2006 Sir Ronald Trotter Lecture. This is my first time in NZ and while we haven't had the best of luck with weather yet, both my wife and I have enjoyed greatly the harbor views of Auckland and look forward to our visit to Wellington and elsewhere. NZ is a beautiful country. I know little about the country's history and geography, but I am learning. Today Rosemary and I visited the Auckland Mueseum and even attended the Maori exhibition of song and dance, including a finale featuring the warrior dance the Haka.
I have often suggested to my students that there is an interesting tension between rational choice theory and anthropology that represents a largely unexploited opportunity for Austrian economists. Traveling and learning go together precisely because of this interesting tension. Extreme versions of rational choice theory and anthropology would prevent such learning. If all there was in the human experience was the universal logic of choice then there would be no need to travel and study the history of different peoples. On the other hand, if every culture was a unique island of language, belief and experience, then travel and study couldn't bridge the gap between us and alien cultures would forever remain alien. But it is precisely because there is both the uniqueness and the universal in the human experience that we must respect and yet learn from what history and cultural study can offer. Rational choice enables us to understand alien ways, and a respect for historical details and culture context enables us to see the multiple ways in which these rational choices can manifest themselves in practice. Ira Katsnelson and Barry Weingast published a book groping at this tension under the title Preferences and Situations: Points of Intersection Between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalism. Here is another case in point where Mises had identified the basic position well ahead of his peers --- dating back at least to his essays in the 1920s and 1930s on the relationship between sociology and history published in Espistemological Problems and culminating in his 1956 book, Theory and History.
Pete Leeson and I edited a two volume reference work entitled The Intellectual Legacy of Ludiwg von Mises, which will be published by Edward Elgar Publishing shortly, and in the second volume devoted to historical scholarship we make precisely this point about how Mises's ideas about the relationship between theory and history foreshadowed both the new economic history and analytic narrative movements in the social sciences. This may very well be interpreted as a wildly controversial claim that we make, but perhaps that will serve as a catalyst for people to consider carefully the thrust of Mises's teachings on the subject and the approach that best follows to promote the empirical research agenda in a political economy informed by the teachings of the Austrian economists.
P.S.: Travel also afords me a great opportunity to read for many uninterrupted hours so I am able to get through pleasure books quickly. My pleasure books don't include novels that often, but do include sports books ... mainly basketball related, but also baseball and tennis. This summer I've read nice biographies on Roberto Clemente and Babe Ruth. For this trip I went through rather quickly John Feinstein's Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four. This is really a wonderful book for the basketball fan and especially those who like me have been fascinated not only by great players but the superstar coaches of the game as well. My favorite line in the book is a quote from Mike Krzyzewski concerning the great John Wooden: "What I remember about meeting him as a young coach is the way he acted as if you were just as important, if not more important, than he was. He would look you in the eye, make sure to remember your name, and actually genuinely interested in whatever you were asking or wanted to talk about. I've always tried to remember that as I've gone up the coaching ladder." (p. 87) Well, as is typical of John Wooden, he gives all teachers an enduring lesson from his behavior.
In the economics world, Israel Kirzner is the closest thing I ever met to a John Wooden in terms of his behavior towards others and his ethical stance he held as a teacher.* And I could say that same thing as Coach K said about Wooden with regard to the way Kirzner meets aspiring young economists.
*James Buchanan also exhibited a similar behavior when he was my teacher in the mid 1980s.