HOME
        TheInfoList






The Austrian School is a heterodox[1][2] school of economic thought that is based on methodological individualism—the concept that social phenomena result exclusively from the motivations and actions of individuals.[3][4][5]

The Austrian School originated in late-19th and early-20th century Vienna with the work of Carl Menger, Eugen Böhm von Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser and others.[6] It was methodologically opposed to the younger Historical School (based in Germany), in a dispute known as Methodenstreit, or methodology struggle. Current-day economists working in this tradition are located in many different countries, but their work is still referred to as Austrian economics. Among the theoretical contributions of the early years of the Austrian School are the subjective theory of value, marginalism in price theory and the formulation of the economic calculation problem, each of which has become an accepted part of mainstream economics.[7]

Since the mid-20th century, mainstream economists have been critical of the modern day Austrian School and consider its rejection of mathematical modelling, econometrics and macroeconomic analysis to be outside mainstream economics, or "heterodox". In the 1970s, the Austrian School attracted some renewed interest after Friedrich Hayek shared the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.[8]

History

Etymology

The Austrian School owes its name to members of the German historical school of economics, who argued against the Austrians during the late-19th century Methodenstreit ("methodology struggle"), in which the Austrians defended the role of theory in economics as distinct from the study or compilation of historical circumstance. In 1883, Menger published Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics, which attacked the methods of the historical school. Gustav von Schmoller, a leader of the historical school, responded with an unfavorable review, coining the term "Austrian School" in an attempt to characterize the school as outcast and provincial.[9] The label endured and was adopted by the adherents themselves.[10]

First wave

The school originated in Vienna in the Austrian Empire. Carl Menger's 1871 book Principles of Economics is generally considered the founding of the Austrian School. The book was one of the first modern treatises to advance the theory of marginal utility. The Austrian School was one of three founding currents of the marginalist revolution of the 1870s, with its major contribution being the introduction of the subjectivist approach in economics.[11][page needed] Despite this claim, John Stuart Mill had used value in use in this sense in 1848 in Principles of Political Economy:[12]

Value in use, or as Mr. De Quincey calls it, teleologic value, is the extreme limit of value in exchange. The exchange value of a thing may fall short, to any amount, of its value in use; but that it can ever exceed the value in use, implies a contradiction; it supposes that persons will give, to possess a thing, more than the utmost value which they themselves put upon it as a means of gratifying their inclinations.[13]

While marginalism was generally influential, there was also a more specific school that began to coalesce around Menger's work, which came to be known as the "Psychological School", "Vienna School", or "Austrian School".[14]

Menger's contributions to economic theory were closely followed by those of Eugen Böhm von Bawerk and Friedrich von Wieser. These three economists became what is known as the "first wave" of the Austrian School. Böhm-Bawerk wrote extensive critiques of Karl Marx in the 1880s and 1890s as was part of the Austrians' participation in the late 19th-century Methodenstreit, during which they attacked the Hegelian doctrines of the historical school.

Early 20th century

Frank Albert Fetter (1863–1949) was a leader in the United States of Austrian thought. He obtained his PhD in 1894 from the University of Halle and then was made Professor of Political Economy and Finance at Cornell in 1901. Several important Austrian economists trained at the University of Vienna in the 1920s and later participated in private seminars held by Ludwig von Mises. These included Gottfried Haberler,[15] Friedrich Hayek, Fritz Machlup,[16] Karl Menger (son of Carl Menger),[17] Oskar Morgenstern,[18] Paul Rosenstein-Rodan,[19] Abraham Wald,[20] and Michael A. Heilperin,[21] among others.

Later 20th century

By the mid-1930s, most economists had embraced what they considered the important contributions of the early Austrians.[1] Fritz Machlup quoted Hayek's statement that "the greatest success of a school is that it stops existing because its fundamental teachings have become parts of the general body of commonly accepted thought".[22] Sometime during the middle of the 20th century, Austrian economics became disregarded or derided by mainstream economists because it rejected model building and mathematical and statistical methods in the study of economics.[23] Mises' student Israel Kirzner recalled that in 1954, when Kirzner was pursuing his PhD, there was no separate Austrian School as such. When Kirzner was deciding which graduate school to attend, Mises had advised him to accept an offer of admission at Johns Hopkins because it was a prestigious university and Fritz Machlup taught there.[24]

After the 1940s, Austrian economics can be divided into two schools of economic thought and the school "split" to some degree in the late 20th century. One camp of Austrians, exemplified by Mises, regards neoclassical methodology to be irredeemably flawed; the other camp, exemplified by Friedrich Hayek, accepts a large part of neoclassical methodology and is more accepting of government intervention in the economy.[25] Henry Hazlitt wrote economics columns and editorials for a number of publications and wrote many books on the topic of Austrian economics from the 1930s to the 1980s. Hazlitt's thinking was influenced by Mises.[26] His book Economics in One Lesson (1946) sold over a million copies and he is also known for The Failure of the "New Economics" (1959), a line-by-line critique of John Maynard Keynes's General Theory.[27]

The reputation of the Austrian School rose in the late 20th century due in part to the work of Israel Kirzner and Ludwig Lachmann at New York University and to renewed public awareness of the work of Hayek after he won the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.[28] Hayek's work was influential in the revival of laissez-faire thought in the 20th century.[29][30]

Split among contemporary Austrians

The Austrian theory of the business cycle (ABCT) focuses on banks' issuance of credit as the cause of economic fluctuations.[69] Although later elaborated by Hayek and others, the theory was first set forth by Mises, who posited that fractional reserve banks extend credit at artificially low interest rates, causing businesses to invest in relatively roundabout production processes which leads to an artificial "boom". Mises stated that this artificial "boom" then led to a misallocation of resources which he called "malinvestment" - which eventually must end in a "bust".[69]

Mises surmised how government manipulation of money and credit in the banking system throws savings and investment out of balance, resulting in misdirected investment projects that are eventually found to be unsustainable, at which point the economy has to rebalance itself through a period of corrective recession.[70] Austrian economist Fritz Machlup summarized the Austrian view by stating, "monetary factors cause the cycle but real phenomena constitute it."[71] For Austrians, the only prudent strategy for government is to leave money and the financial system to the free market's competitive forces to eradicate the business cycle's inflationary booms and recessionary busts, allowing markets to keep people's saving and investment decisions in place for well-coordinated economic stability and growth.[70]

A Keynesian would suggest government intervention during a recession to inject spending into the economy when people are not. However, the heart of Austrian macroeconomic theory states the government "fine tuning" through expansions and contractions in the money supply orchestrated by the government are actually the cause of business cycles because of the differing impact of the resulting interest rate changes on different stages in the structure of production.[71] Austrian economist Thomas Woods further supports this view by arguing it is not consumption, but rather production that should be emphasized. A country cannot become rich by consuming, and therefore, by using up all their resources. Instead, production is what enables consumption as a possibility in the first place, since a producer would not be working for nothing, if not for the desire to consume.[72]

Central banks

According to Ludwig von Mises, central banks enable the commercial banks to fund loans at artificially low interest rates, thereby inducing an unsustainable expansion of bank credit and impeding any subsequent contraction and argued for a gold standard to constrain growth in fiduciary media.[69] Friedrich Hayek took a different perspective not focusing on gold but focusing on regulation of the banking sector via strong central banking.[73]

Criticism

General criticism

Mainstream economists generally reject modern-day Austrian economics, and have argued that modern-day Austrian economists are excessively averse to the use of mathematics and statistics in economics.[74]

Economist Paul Krugman has stated that they are unaware of holes in their own thinking because Austrians do not use "explicit models".[75]

Economist Benjamin Klein has criticized the economic methodological work of Austrian economist Israel M. Kirzner. While praising Kirzner for highlighting shortcomings in traditional methodology, Klein argued that Kirzner did not provide a viable alternative for economic methodology.[76] Economist Tyler Cowen has written that Kirzner's theory of entrepreneurship can ultimately be reduced to a neoclassical search model and is thus not in the radical subjectivist tradition of Austrian praxeology. Cowen states that Kirzner's entrepreneurs can be modeled in mainstream terms of search.[77]

Economist Jeffrey Sachs argues that among developed countries those with high rates of taxation and high social welfare spending perform better on most measures of economic performance compared to countries with low rates of taxation and low social outlays. He concludes that Friedrich Hayek was wrong to argue that high levels of government spending harms an economy and "a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness".[78] Austrian economist Sudha Shenoy responded by arguing that countries with large public sectors have grown more slowly.[79]

Economist Bryan Caplan has noted that Mises has been criticized for overstating the strength of his case in describing socialism as "impossible" rather than as something that would need to establish non-market institutions to deal with the inefficiency.[80]

Methodology

Mainstream economists generally reject modern-day Austrian economics, and have argued that modern-day Austrian economists are excessively averse to the use of mathematics and statistics in economics.[74]

Economist Paul Krugman has stated that they are unaware of holes in their own thinking because Austrians do not use "explicit models".[75]

Economist Benjamin Klein has criticized the economic methodological work of Austrian economist Israel M. Kirzner. While praising Kirzner for highlighting shortcomings in traditional methodology, Klein argued that Kirzner did not provide a viable altern

Economist Paul Krugman has stated that they are unaware of holes in their own thinking because Austrians do not use "explicit models".[75]

Economist Benjamin Klein has criticized the economic methodological work of Austrian economist Israel M. Kirzner. While praising Kirzner for highlighting shortcomings in traditional methodology, Klein argued that Kirzner did not provide a viable alternative for economic methodology.[76] Economist Tyler Cowen has written that Kirzner's theory of entrepreneurship can ultimately be reduced to a neoclassical search model and is thus not in the radical subjectivist tradition of Austrian praxeology. Cowen states that Kirzner's entrepreneurs can be modeled in mainstream terms of search.[77]

Economist Jeffrey Sachs argues that among developed countries those with high rates of taxation and high social welfare spending perform better on most measures of economic performance compared to countries with low rates of taxation and low social outlays. He concludes that Friedrich Hayek was wrong to argue that high levels of government spending harms an economy and "a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness".[78] Austrian economist Sudha Shenoy responded by arguing that countries with large public sectors have grown more slowly.[79]

Economist Bryan Caplan has noted that Mises has been criticized for overstating the strength of his case in describing socialism as "impossible" rather than as something that would need to establish non-market institutions to deal with the inefficiency.[80]

Critics generally argue that Austrian economics lacks scientific rigor and rejects scientific methods and the use of empirical data in modelling economic behavior.[81][82] Some economists describe Austrian methodology as being a priori or non-empirical.[74][83][84]

Economist Mark Blaug has criticized over-reliance on methodological individualism, arguing it would rule out all macroeconomic propositions that cannot be reduced to microeconomic ones, and hence reject almost the whole of received macroeconomics.Mark Blaug has criticized over-reliance on methodological individualism, arguing it would rule out all macroeconomic propositions that cannot be reduced to microeconomic ones, and hence reject almost the whole of received macroeconomics.[85]

Economist Thomas Mayer has stated that Austrians advocate a rejection of the scientific method which involves the development of empirically falsifiable theories.[82][84] Furthermore, economists have developed numerous experiments that elicit useful information about individual preferences.[86][87]

Although economist Leland Yeager is sympathetic to Austrian economics, he rejects many favorite views of the Misesian group of Austrians, in particular "the specifics of their business-cycle theory, ultra-subjectivism in value theory and particularly in interest-rate theory, their insistence on unidirectional causality rather than general interdependence, and their fondness for methodological brooding, pointless profundities, and verbal gymnastics".[88]

Economist Paul A. Samuelson wrote in 1964 that most economists believe that economic conclusions reached by pure logical deduction are limited and weak.[89] According to Samuelson and Caplan, Mises' deductive methodology also embraced by Murray Rothbard and to a lesser extent by Mises' student Israel Kirzner was not sufficient in and of itself.[83]

Mainstream economic research regarding Austrian business cycle theory finds that it is inconsistent with empirical evidence. Economists such as Gordon Tullock,[90] Milton Friedman[91][92] and Paul Krugman[93] have said that they regard the theory as incorrect. Austrian economist Ludwig Lachmann noted that the Austrian theory was rejected during the 1930s:

The promise of an Austrian theory of the trade cycle, which might also serve to explain the severity of the Great Depression, a feature of the early 1930s that provided the background for Hayek's successful appearance on the London scene, soon proved deceptive. Three giants – Keynes, Knight and Sraffa –

The promise of an Austrian theory of the trade cycle, which might also serve to explain the severity of the Great Depression, a feature of the early 1930s that provided the background for Hayek's successful appearance on the London scene, soon proved deceptive. Three giants – Keynes, Knight and Sraffa – turned against the hapless Austrians who, in the middle of that black decade, thus had to do battle on three fronts. Naturally it proved a task beyond their strength.[94]

[90][95] Milton Friedman objected to the policy implications of the theory, stating the following in a 1998 interview:

I think the Austrian business-cycle theory has done the world a great deal of harm. If you go back to the 1930s, which is a key point, here you had the Austrians sitting in London, Hayek and Lionel Robbins, and saying you just have to let the bottom drop out of the world. You've just got to let it cure itself. You can't do

I think the Austrian business-cycle theory has done the world a great deal of harm. If you go back to the 1930s, which is a key point, here you had the Austrians sitting in London, Hayek and Lionel Robbins, and saying you just have to let the bottom drop out of the world. You've just got to let it cure itself. You can't do anything about it. You will only make it worse. You have Rothbard saying it was a great mistake not to let the whole banking system collapse. I think by encouraging that kind of do-nothing policy both in Britain and in the United States, they did harm.[96]

[91][92] Referring to Friedman's discussion of the business cycle, Austrian economist Roger Garrison argued that Friedman's empirical findings are "broadly consistent with both Monetarist and Austrian views" and goes on to argue that although Friedman's model "describes the economy's performance at the highest level of aggregation, Austrian theory offers an insightful account of the market process that might underlie those aggregates".[97]

See also