McCloskey on Bauer
By Alberto Mingardi
On March 27, the Danube Institute in Budapest has hosted a conference on P.T. Bauer (1915-2002), to me a very often underrated intellectual giant. If I understand it right, it was the first conference ever in Hungary to be centered upon the thought of this distinguished Anglo-Hungarian economist. Nemo propheta in patria.
Bauer ‘s journey as a scholar and as an economist begun in 1934, when he entered Caius College in Cambridge at age 19. As he himself remembered, “my father was a bookmaker, and one of his clients suggested to him that his industrious son might benefit from a British university education, possibly Cambridge”. Having “no contacts” in that country, he “simply turned up” in Cambridge in March 1934 and “presented himself at half a dozen colleges”. He entered Caius with little English: he recalled that he “found it very difficult to follow the lectures or even ordinary conversation”. At the conference, Norman Stone, who was also a lecturer at Caius College, gave a marvelous talk on how the political and bureaucratic shortcomings of the Austrian Empire may have possibly shaped the way in which Bohm-Bawerk and Mises thought about politics. Stone also reminded the audience that before Cambridge, Bauer attended a distinguished Catholic school in Budapest- being a Jewish boy, not the easiest of feats. His father however forgave the betting debts of the headmaster, thereby paving his son’s way to scholarship.
There were a number of notable speeches, including those of Anthony Daniels/Theodore Darlymple and former Czech President (and free market reformer) Vaclav Klaus.
While not sharing Bauer’s “cultural pessimism”, McCloskey admires Bauer as “a classical liberal at the height of a statism of the left or the right or the middle”.
“Bauer’s great advantage”, she points out, “was that unlike many economists he understood “price theory,” as we called it in the good old days at the University of Chicago”. He was not misled “by the litany of ‘imperfections’ in the market, of which I have recently counted fully 110 imagined since 1848 — monopoly, externalities, inadequate aggregate demand, irrational consumers, informational asymmetries, and on and on”.
Read the whole thing, it’s well worth it.