Spotlight: John Cochran

Professor John P. Cochran, author and scholar, discusses the path that brought him to the Austrian school of economic thought.

John P. Cochran
Dr. Cochran has spent a lifetime learning the practice and theory of economics.

Dr. John P. Cochran was born in Fort Collins, Colorado and raised in Phoenix a Arizona. He received his B.A. in economics at Metro State College of Denver and completed his M.A. and PhD in economics at University of Colorado. He is currently Dean, School of Business and professor of Economics at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He is also the co-author of The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research.

If you were not a scholar then what do you think you would be doing now? Do you have any hobbies?

I really cannot imagine what I would be doing outside the academy. It truly has been a privilege to have spent nearly 30 years in higher education where I have been paid to not only pursue the scholarship that goes with the vocation of being an economist but to also been able to share that passion and my understanding of economics and the economy with students and the public. That being said, my hobby for the nearly seven years since I moved into administration has been my scholarship with some time left over for travel and opera. I retire next May and look forward to moving the ‘hobby’ back to a vocation with more flexibility for quality time with my wife.

What drew you to the Austrian school?

I had some exposure to the Austrian School in a PhD level History of Economics (sadly a requirement dropped by CU in the mid 1980s) class taught by Fred Glahe, fall 1978. I had not given the school much thought after that until Frank Vorhies, who was finishing his dissertation under Fred’s guidance on Mises, Marx and Money, suggested I talk to Professor Glahe about a possible dissertation topic. Fred handed me 2 -3 pages of notes from commentary he had done at the 1975 Mont Pelerin Society meeting on the Hayek-Keyes debate (“Additional Light on the Drama”) and suggested I turn it into a dissertation. Thus began 3-4 years of a ‘second’ graduate program and a mentorship from Fred that grew into a long collaboration and friendship. I was already relatively well versed in Keynes and the Keynes versus Keynesian literature of the time, but developing an understanding of Hayek became a full time obsession. The study of Hayek lead me to first, Mises and Lachmann, and then to Rothbard. How much easier (but maybe unnecessary) the task would have been with the wealth of materials now available through the Mises Institute (and others) on the web. I had to survive with Kelley reprints, Sheed Andrews and McMeel books, books found in used book stores, and original resources available through the CU-library and intra-library loan. The results of the study eventually became The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research (with Fred R. Glahe, 1999).

Who is your greatest inspiration?

As you might guess from above, number one would have to be Fred Glahe, a truly valuable fellow traveler for the Austrian school and its revival. His personal integrity and commitment to a search for truth in scholarship were remarkable and I hope some of it has worn off and has shown up in my own work. Tracy Mott, now at the University of Denver, was also influential both for his insights on the Keynes aspect of my earlier studies and for his willingness to allow scholarly pursuit, even where the conclusion might differ from his own. I also drew inspiration from my mentors and colleagues at Metro State, Gerald Stone and Steven Call. From the giants, I was influenced by Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, and Kirzner, not only for their contributions to economics, but for their being living examples of how broad the reading and scholarship across disciplines must be for someone to be a competent economist.

One of your works was a co-authorship called The Hayek-Keynes Debate – Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research. What do you believe are some of the lessons individuals could apply from that debate to current economic events?

1. Money and credit expansion accompanying economic growth is not benign as per Real Business Cycle models and other endogenous money models. Credit creation distorts the structure of production and creates boom-bust cycles. If this lesson had been learned from Hayek and the experience of the 1920s leading to the 1930s we would not now be experiencing the current crisis.

2. The Austrian model was then (the 1930s) and is now a true alternative to analysis of Keynes and to the ‘classical’ model of Keynes and its more modern versions which are the basis of monetarism, the neoclassical synthesis, the natural rate and rational expectations models, and real business cycle models. Better understanding on the workings of the economy would be best developed using the Austrian capital-structure approach.

Do you have any new works on the way?

I have a QJAE article coming out later this year providing Austrian insights on the nature of recession/recovery as applied to this current crisis, “Capital in Disequilibrium: Understanding the “Great Recession’ and Potential for Recovery.” I will be retiring next May as dean and hope to become more active again and perhaps complete 2 projects I was beginning to think about seven years ago before most of my time got devoted to administration; work to turn some of my articles and working papers into a book length manuscript on ABCT , and to work with Fred Glahe and Frank Vorhies to update Frank’s study on Marx, Mises, and Money to make it more readily available to today’s scholars. As 2011 will be the 70th anniversary year for Hayek’s Pure Theory of Capital, I’d like to complete a review essay on the book that I had been working on in 2008 right before I had heart valve replacement surgery.

What kind of impact do you hope to make with your work?

Sometimes I feel; like Hayek; to be a muddler. I hope my work has made Austrian Business cycle more accessible and better understood by some and has pointed the way for others to advance the theory, support it with historical studies so that it becomes more and more recognized as THE explanation of the boom-bust cycle. Some of the recent discussion of the current cycle certainly are encouraging here.

In my most recent paper, thanks to a suggestion from Mark Thornton, I suggest framing the Austrian approach as a capital-structure based approach which I think more clearly distinguishes the Austrian approach from real business cycle theory and some modern growth s theories that emphasize capital. Roger Garrison’s response to some critics who consistently asked “What about expectations?” was “What about capital?” The response might better be reflect the foundation of the approach if instead we asked , “What about capital structure? Peter Lewin’s marvelous Capital in Disequilibrium: The role of capital in a changing world (Routledge 1999) is a great place to start for any interested in further developing this line of inquiry.

Are there any words of wisdom you wish to pass onto the next generation of Austrian scholars?

I am really excited and optimist about what I see going on from the new generation of young Austrians (see Art Carden’s reason for being I optimistic at ) .

With Art, Alex Padilla here at Metro State, and the work being done by them and among others, Ben Powell, Ed Stringham, Chris Coyne, Peter Leeson, Scott Beaulier, Robert Subrick, and Andrew Young the future is in good hands. Compared to the wilderness I thought I was in out in Colorado working from books with Fred and Frank as my primary sources for discussion and feedback things have really improved for opportunities in the past 30 years.

My only words of advice, not wisdom, is do your work so that you not only advance Austrian economics, but your results make Austrian economic synonymous with good economics.

See John Cochran’s books
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