Economics 101

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8. Mises in One Lesson

  • Economics 101
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Tags BiographiesWorld HistoryAustrian Economics OverviewCalculation and KnowledgePhilosophy and Methodology

03/01/2004Murray N. Rothbard

Austrian economics has nothing to do with the economics of Austria. Austrian Economics (AE) began with Carl Menger in 1871. It is based on an analysis of individual action, not aggregates or groups.

Economics predated Adam Smith. The British classical economics school could not solve the value paradox. It also embraced the labor theory of value. Another big fallacy was a focus on long-run equilibrium. Additionally, they separated micro and macroeconomics into two hermetically sealed spheres.

Menger and Bohm-Bawerk focused systematically on individual action. The purpose of production is consumption. Value is inferred by the consumer in a subjective marginal unit value theory. This solved the value paradox. Economics is not really a quantitative subject. Value is subjective and cannot be measured. Preferences are ordinal, not cardinal. There is no separate process called distribution. Distribution comes right out of production. People prefer present goods immediately available. Production is a time structure. Capitalism is a network by which the free market responds to constant feedback. Equilibrium economics does not mention this.

Austrians only talked about micro, but had not included macro until Mises’ The Theory of Money and Credit in 1912. Mises shows that more money (as opposed to more of other commodities) destroys economic calculation. Mises explains the origins of money through his regression theorem. Money must originate as a valued market commodity, not by government edict. His ideal system would be 100% reserve banking, or a true Free Banking system.

Mises’ business cycle theory was a simple model. Increases in the money supply and credit go first to those close to the source and mess up the capital structure. Increases are not helicoptered out simultaneously to all. Commercial bank credit expansion, unbacked by private savings, leads to malinvestments. Recession is a necessary process by which bad investment is liquidated. Resources shift out of capital goods back into consumer goods.

Mises taught his views at the University of Vienna in private seminars. He warned about the Great Depression.  Socialism arose after WWI. Most recognized immediately that Socialism had an incentive problem, like “Who will take out the garbage?” Mises was one of the few who saw the real problem of Socialism was that it could not calculate. There was no price system. It couldn’t work. Neither does interventionism work. Only laissez-faire capitalism works. Mises’ crowning accomplishment was Human Action. However, Keynes’ General Theory in 1936 swept Mises aside. Hayek did not refute Keynes’ book, as he had a prior work. Mises could not find an academic post, yet he cheerfully established a teaching seminar at NYU. Mises died in 1973. Hayek got the Noble prize in 1974 based upon work that he did on Mises’ business cycle theory.

The final of eight sessions of Murray Rothbard's Economics 101 series. This lecture may be the most concise overview of the core ideas of the Austrian School of Economics.

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