Chapter 10: A 2 x 2 = 4 hobby horse: Mark Blaug on rational and historical reconstructions
On the 12th of December 1998 Mark Blaug wrote a short letter from his house in Devonshire to Paul Samuelson, in his usual longhand. Dear Paul, Are you imposing your 2 _ 2 = 4 hobby horse on anyone, you ask. Yes of course: students. You remain an unrepentant rational constructionist. Nothing wrong with that if it comes to understanding the logic of economic arguments, but possibly, no invariably misleading when it comes to historical reconstruction. Yes, I do want to get as close as possible to what 1776 readers thought of Smith – and that’s my hobby horse! Best wishes, Mark Blaug. Mark responded to a letter of Paul Samuelson one week before in which Samuelson described his own approach to the history of economics as rational reconstructivist and Whig. These days for something to be called Whig History is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday a compliment, on the rest of the week a slur. My usual practice, which some might call WH, is to describe a scenario that some readers will agree approximates a scenario that various 1720–1870 writers have commonly contemplated. (Most of them were sometimes incoherent and on different pages seemed to write down partially inconsistent words.) I then work out what must be the properties of that scenario: must be in 1817; must be in 350 B.C. (under the scenario’s specifications about homogeneous labour, heterogeneous capital goods, heterogeneous or homogeneous fixed-supply land(s); non collusive, free-entry with imitation; and usually no interesting imperfect competitions); must be in 1998; must be in 2998.
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