Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How much praise is enough?

An interesting exchange between Buchanan and Shackle (via The Filter);

Dear Professor Buchanan,

I have just this morning received and read your paper on "The domain of subjective economics." I think it equal in its clarifying power to the greatest insights of theory of the last fifty years. I am thinking of such ideas as ex ante ex post and liquidity preference. Like these, your idea by a brilliant union of subtlety and simplicity strikes fetters from our thought. Your paper will be a classic once-for-all dissolver of confusion. It is a masterly incision of intellectual surgery. You have shown invincibly that the two domains, the subjective and the predictive, are mutually exclusive and must be kept wholly distinct from one another. Your argument proceeds in a manner deserving to be called majestic. Step by step the notions and methods essentially belonging to one domain but found occupying the other are removed to their proper place. What scientific economics, of its essential, inherent nature cannot do and must not attempt is shown inexorably. It cannot and must not be used to predict and therefore cannot be used to advise. I have never volunteered economic advice, but I have not attained or expressed the logic of total distinction and difference of nature of the two domains with any approach to your absolute clarity. I have felt an ever more compelling conviction that the world of thought contains everything that gives significance to choice, value and action. Economic theory has been transformed, or bodily shifted, from being about things to being about thoughts. …

I come to the end of my letter. How can I give you any conception of the feeling wrought in me by the last section of your paper? It is said that we live our span of life for the sake of a few glinting, gleaming golden threads in a homespun fabric, brief glimpses of entire felicity. You have given me one such.

I send you my utmost gratitude, my very best thoughts and wishes,

Yours sincerely,


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