The History of Economic Thought: From Marx to Hayek

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5. Mises and Austrian Economics

The History of Economic Thought: From Marx to Hayek

Tags Austrian Economics OverviewHistory of the Austrian School of EconomicsOther Schools of Thought

01/13/2006Murray N. Rothbard

The essence of Austrian economics is based on the analysis of individual action. In other words, it is about individuals doing things, having purposes and goals and pursuing them. Other schools of economics deal with aggregates, groups, classes, wholes of one sort or another, without focusing on the individual first and building up from there.

Austrian economics builds on an earlier French and Italian tradition, really beginning with the Spanish scholastics in the 16th century, and then proceeding on in France with Cantillion and Turgot in the 18th century. Economics not only predated Smith by several centuries, but also was much better than Smith.

It seems not to be an accident that labor value came from Scotland because Scotland was the classical home of Calvinism, and Calvinist doctrine is that labor is a key thing. Everybody is doomed to work and consumer enjoyment is evil. Three fallacies are embedded in the British classical school: labor theory of value, aggregate class struggle of shares of income, and a focus on nonexistent, unreal, long-run equilibrium.  Additionally, Ricardo totally divided macro from a micro sphere. There is no talk about entrepreneurs.

Subjective value theory, individuals making their valuations in marginal units, preferences are ordinal (by ranking), and economics is more a philosophic subject, not mathematical, are four Austrian issues.

Capital takes time. Interest is determined by a person’s time premium rate on present goods immediately available. The entrepreneur is the key figure in the profit and loss system.

Mises healed the micro-macro split, by applying the marginal utility theory to money. The only thing an increase in the money supply does is to dilute the purchasing power of the money unit. First receivers of new money benefit to greater degrees than final recipients. Money must originate out of the free market, not by government edict. Fractional reserve banking is fraud.

Mises created his Austrian theory of the business cycle. Increasing the central banking supply of money not only causes inflation, but also causes other disturbances. Mises singlehandedly stopped Austrian inflation in the 1920s, stopped it from becoming hyperinflation. He also warned about the Great Depression. Prices were being kept level, but they should fall in free markets due to increased productivity (as they do in computers).

Mises became the uncompromising, hardcore laissez-faire capitalist. Human Action is the great work of the 20th century.

The fifth in a series of six lectures on the History of Economic Thought.


Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.