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4. Real Man as a Datum
Economics deals with the real actions of real men. Its theorems refer neither to ideal nor to perfect men, neither to the phantom of a fabulous economic man (homo oeconomicus) nor to the statistical notion of an average man (homme moyen). Man with all his weaknesses and limitations, every man as he lives and acts, is the subject matter of catallactics. Every human action is a theme of praxeology.
The subject matter of praxeology is not only the study of society, societal relations, and mass phenomena, but the study of all human actions. The term "the social sciences" and all its connotations are in this regard misleading.
There is no yardstick that a scientific investigation can apply to human action other than that of the ultimate goals the acting individual wants to realize in embarking upon a definite action. The ultimate goals themselves are beyond and above any criticism. Nobody is called upon to establish what could make another man happy. What an unaffected observer can question is merely whether or not the means chosen for the attainment of these ultimate goals are fit to bring about the results sought by the actor. Only in answering this question is economics free to express an opinion about the actions of individuals and groups of individuals, or of the policies of parties, pressure groups, and governments.
It is customary to disguise the arbitrariness of the attacks launched against the value judgments of other people by converting them into a critique of the capitalist system or of the conduct of entrepreneurs. Economics is neutral with regard to all such statements.
To the arbitrary statement that "the balance between the production of different goods is admittedly faulty under capitalism,"6 the economist does not oppose the statement that this balance is faultless. [p. 652] What the economist asserts is that in the unhampered market economy this balance is in agreement with the conduct of the consumers as displayed in the spending of their incomes.7 It is not the task of the economist to censure his fellow men and to call the result of their actions faulty.
The alternative to the system in which the individual's value judgments are paramount in the conduct of production processes is autocratic dictatorship. Then the value judgments of the dictators alone decide although they are no less arbitrary than those of other people.
Man is certainly not a perfect being. His human weakness taints all human institutions and thus also the market economy.
- 6. Cf. Albert L. Meyers, Modern Economics (New York, 1946), p. 672.
- 7. This is the general feature of democracy whether political or economic. Democratic elections do not provide the guarantee that the man elected is free from faults, but merely that the majority of the voters prefer him to other candidates.