Friday, May 17, 2013

Was There an “English Subjectivist School”?

Here is an interesting anecdote from Rothbard on British economists who were influenced by George L. S. Shackle whom Rothbard called the “English Subjectivist School”:
“An amusing but instructive event occurred on the occasion of the conference of American Austrians at Windsor Castle in the summer of 1976. Under the good offices of Professor Stephen C. Littlechild of the University of Birmingham, a kind of summit conference was arranged so that some of the American Misesians could meet the English Subjectivist School, as the Shackleians call themselves. The eminent Subjectivists at the meeting included the doyen of that school, Shackle himself, as well as Terence W. Hutchison, Jack Wiseman, and Brian Loasby. At one point, the Subjectivists were lamenting that they could not offer a program of graduate economics courses as alternatives to the neoclassical paradigm, since all they had produced were a few critical essays but no substantial body of economic theory. I replied in some surprise that there was indeed a great deal of systematic Austrian literature available, including works by Mises, the early Hayek, and my own work, in addition to volumes of Böhm-Bawerk and Frank A. Fetter, among others. The blank looks of incomprehension on the faces of the distinguished Subjectivists were a revelation of the enormous extent of the inherent gulf between Shackleian Subjectivists and Misesians.” (Rothbard 2011: 176–177, n. 21).
So who were these English Subjectivists? Economists in the tradition of Shackle?

Shackle, the so-called doyen of the school, was associated with Post Keynesianism, but the others seem to be regarded as Austrians, e.g., Jack Wiseman (1919–1991), Stephen Littlechild, Terence W. Hutchison, and Brian Loasby.

Rothbard’s “English Subjectivists” are a peculiar group of economists, apparently influenced by Shackle who was linked to Post Keynesianism, but affiliated with the Austrian school. Excepting Shackle, perhaps they are better called “British Austrians.”

Moreover, Rothbard’s idea that they were unfamiliar with the writings of the Austrian school (especially Hayek) is nonsensical.

My final point concerns George L. S. Shackle and Lachmann. Lachmann at one point called Shackle an “Austrian” (Lachmann 1978: 15), even though Shackle was a Keynesian in his policy prescriptions. Some classify Shackle as a hybrid Austrian/Post Keynesian (or someone who drew “Keynesian conclusions from Austrian premises”). But an equally valid question might be: how should Lachmann be classified? I have to admit that Lachmann intrigues me. He is the most interesting Austrian. He was willing to endorse Keynesian stimulus in a depression. Is it possible that some radical subjectivists like Lachmann could be regarded as almost “Keynesian” Austrians?

On Shackle
“Bibliography on George L. S. Shackle,” March 4, 2011.

“Interview with G. L. S. Shackle,” August 2, 2011.

“Shackle on Keynes on Equilibrium,” October 11, 2012.

On Lachmann
“Mises versus Lachmann on Equilibrium Prices,” December 17, 2012

“Caldwell on Lachmann on Equilibrium Prices,” November 6, 2012.

“Lachmann on Hicks on Fixprices,” May 13, 2013.

“Lachmann and Menger on the Law of Demand,” January 20, 2013.

“Ludwig Lachmann on Government Intervention,” July 9, 2011.

“A Startling Admission from Ludwig Lachmann,” July 11, 2011.

“Austrians on Public Works and Fiscal Stimulus,” November 20, 2011.

“Audio Lecture by Ludwig M. Lachmann,” December 21, 2011.

“Ludwig Lachmann: Bibliography and Resources,” December 31, 2011.

“Lachmann Endorsed Keynesian Stimulus in a Depression,” February 8, 2012.

“Who Said this About Austrian Economics?,” July 2, 2012.

“Lachmann and Post Keynesianism on Prices,” August 1, 2012.

Lachmann on Liquidity Preference, October 26, 2012.

“Caldwell on Lachmann on Equilibrium Prices,” November 6, 2012.

Further Reading (Off Site)
Isaac Marmolejo, “Some Comments on Rothbardian Criticism,” The Radical Subjectivist, August 29, 2012.

Isaac Marmolejo, “A Forgotten Austrian: Jack Wiseman,” The Radical Subjectivist, June 16, 2012.

Lachmann, L. 1978. “An Austrian Stocktaking: Unsettled questions and Tentative Answers,” in L. M. Spadaro (ed.), New Directions in Austrian Economics. Sheed Andrews and McMeel, Kansas City. 1–18.

Rothbard, M. N. 2011. Economic Controversies. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.


  1. Huh. I wonder what Hutchison tried to get out of the conference with (American) Austrians, considering his 1938 essay seemed (to me, at least) as a rebuttal to any kind of equilibrium economics.

  2. Well, I have been called an Austro-Keynesian, though I am not sure how valid that is. I mean just because you think government should have an active role to play doesnt mean one is Keynesian. Is Menger 'Keynesian' for thinking monetary policy should be in the hands of government, or for thinking that government should be active in reduces some negative externalities (like forest regulations and policies to establish reasonable working conditions)? Lachmann was simply a conservative (right winged)* who thought of economics in a Austrian kind of way. Lachmann's differences in his view of the State from other Austrians (who were influenced by libertarian philosophy) probably had to do with his schooling in Germany, where he was taught by the heads of the German Historical School.

    *I talked to Peter Lewin about Lachmann's general political views and he labeled Lachmann as a conservative, though Lewin stressed that he hardly ever stated his political views

  3. Actually Lk, if you want to know more of Lachmann's views on economic policy, I would strongly suggest you look at Part 5 of Capital, Expectations, and the Market Process especially these articles: "Causes and Consequences of Inflation of Our Time" and "Cultivated Growth and the Market Economy". Those two articles also fit well with your recent discussions on fixprices/ flexprices

    1. I will take a look at both of these chapters.


    2. Jan: Classification is always hard,and not the main thing of course but i always seen Shackle as one of the more ardent followers of Gunnar Myrdal,he is one is of the few i read call him self a "Myrdalian",among the early Keynsians,he often refer to Myrdals importance for the development of his,ideas over time,useing much of Myrdal´s ideas on uncertainty, time preference and ex-ante ex-post language,as an example check :(Shackle, G.L.S. (1989) "What did the General Theory do?", in J. Pheby (ed), New Directions in Post-keynesian Economics, Aldershot: Edward Elgar)..But i am maybee a little Swedish biased i don´t know :) ??