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Declaration of interest

December 18th, 2002

Before making a substantive post on Keith Windschuttle, I’ll declare an interest. Windschuttle’s press, MacLeay Press published a book by William Coleman and Alf Hagger (2001), entitled Exasperating Calculators: The Rage over Economic Rationalism and the Campaign against Australian Economists. I was criticized in the book (though not as sharply as others) and responded in kind in my review., which also covered a book by Wolfgang Kasper A short snippet:

lthough the authors claim to be responding to a ‘campaign against Australian economists’, their book contains more personal attacks on Australian economists, living and dead, of all schools and persuasions, than any other volume I have read. Those denounced include H.C. Coombs (‘elderly’ and ‘nostalgic’), Russel Mathews (‘frenzied’), Geoffrey Brennan (an ‘appeaser’), Stephen King and Peter Lloyd (‘indefensible’), Clive Hamilton (‘florid irrationalism’), Ted Wheelwright (‘insignificant’) and even Wolfgang Kasper, among many others. (The present reviewer gets off relatively lightly, as a ‘distinguished economic theorist’, who is prone to ‘foolishness’ in matters of policy).

My reaction to Windschuttle’s work is no doubt coloured by this book, which shares many of the faults he displays. It’s obviously polemical, but claims to be unbiased. The authors pick up trivial errors in the writings of those they want to attack, but (inevitably) their book is riddled with similar errors itself. They complain that opponents of economic rationalism haven’t defined the term, but offer no definition of their own.

In addition, although I didn’t want to waste the Fin’s review space on a personal gripe, I’ll use the freedom of blogging to suggest that the authors pinched the idea for their title from me. It’s a quote from W.K. Hancock’s Australia about the traditional Australian hostility to economists. In my book, Great Expectations: Microeconomic Reform in Australia, I quoted Hancock’s observation that ‘The Australians have always disliked scientific economics and (still more) scientific economists’ – I’m pretty sure I was the first to mention Hancock in the context of the microeconomic reform debate. Hancock’s reference to exasperating calculators is in the chapter following the one I quoted.

More generally, the historical discussion of economic rationalism in Exasperating Calculators draws heavily on my work and also on the work of Michael Schneider, without attribution (certainly in my case, and I think also in Schneider’s). It doesn’t rise to the level of plagiarism, a sin of which Windschuttle has been accused, but Coleman and Hagger are at least guilty of biting the hand that feeds them.

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