Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Economic Minds: Keynes as Top-Down Thinker, Hayek as Bottom-Up Thinker

As I have been thinking of the varieties of thinking, from top-down to bottom-up, with solipsism and autism being the extremes of each, respectively, it seems we should perhaps try to identify various thinkers regarding where they would fit on the spectrum.

If we look at a few economists with whose personalities I am familiar, I think it is very safe to say that J. M. Keynes was at the solipsistic end of the spectrum. Certainly this short bio strongly suggests that interpretation. Keynes was not an analytical thinker in the least; rather, he was an extremely strategic thinker. His every move, his every idea -- and change of ideas -- was a strategic move. Criticize him, and he had already changed his mind, thank you very much (that this resulted in people like Hayek not taking on his ideas enough was no coincidence).

But what about Mises? An interesting case. His apriorism would seem to suggest a level of solipsism, since Mises claimed that an internalistic apriorism would allow one to understand how the economy works for everyone. Is this a claim that there is really no difference between the individual thinker and the outside world? I do believe there are interpretations of Mises that go in this direction, but I think that Mises' propensity for analytical thinking saves him from this. He was perhaps a more balanced thinker -- both top-down and bottom-up.

Hayek, of course, is the main proponent of spontaneous order theory explicitly stated, and spontaneous orders are themselves bottom-up orders. It may be that one needs to be a bottom-up thinker in order to most clearly see bottom-up processes. Hayek's tendency to actually change when he received new information (vs. Keynes, for whom this was a strategic statement) is also suggestive of his being a primarily bottom-up thinker. Throw in his pattern thinking and interdisciplinarity, and you have a standard strong bottom-up thinker.

I would be curious as to what others think of this quick analysis. I am most confident of my observations on Keynes and Hayek than I am on Mises. I would also be interested in how other economists, philosophers, etc. might be categorized along the top-down to bottom-up continuum.
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