Thursday, March 28, 2013

Kling on Tullock on Hirschman

I'm impatiently awaiting delivery of the new biography of the late Albert Hirschman, who passed away last December at the age of 97. In the meantime, conservative-libertarian economist Arnold Kling has penned a dismissive review of the book (here), in an apparent attempt to match the derision Gordon Tullock displayed in his own nasty review of one of Hirschman's two masterworks, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970).

I suspect I'll like the Hirschman bio a lot more than did Kling, just as I would suspect Kling would enjoy reading a biography of Gordon Tullock more than would I. After all, we all prefer reading about people whose work we admire. For the most part, I suspect, scholars are loathe to read biographies of other scholars we either disdain or simply find uninteresting (unless for the express purpose of tearing them a new one, so to speak).

In dismissing Hirschman's biography, Kling discounts Hirschman's influence, noting that he leaves behind few followers and no "school" of thought of his own, unlike (to take Kling's favored exemplar) Gordon Tullock. At least a few relatively objective reasons exist, however, to doubt Kling's claims about the relative influence of the two scholars:

For one, if you type the name "Albert O. Hirschman" into a Google Scholar search, it turns up 25,100 references, approximately 8,000 more references than are associated with a search of the name "Gordon Tullock." If, instead, one types in the name of their most famous books, respectively, Exit, Voice and Loyalty and The Calculus of Consent, the former has approximately twice as many references on Google Scholar as the later. Meanwhile, over at Amazon.com, Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty (the book Tullock ridiculed) currently ranks in sales 6,629 among all books, while Tullock's The Calculus of Consent (co-authored with James Buchanan) ranks 105,824.

I don't take these rough and ready indicators to suggest either that Tullock is not influential or that Hirschman is the more influential of the two (although I believe he is). I hope only to raise doubts about Kling's casual and disparaging implication that Hirschman is a relatively insignificant social scientist. Time may prove me wrong, but I expect that Hirschman's books (especially Exit, Voice and Loyalty and the hugely underrated The Passions and the Interests) will still be widely read and praised a century from now.

As for Gordon Tullock, whether his books will still be read a century from now likely depends on whether James Buchanan's name also appears on the cover. True, Tullock's name will always be associated the "school" of "public choice," which has become very influential. But it's worth noting that several of the greatest economists who ever have lived, including for example Kenneth Arrow and Tom Schelling, are not associated with a particular "school" of thought, unless that "school" of thought is all of social science, which is the same "school" that Hirschman broadly influenced.

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