Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics
What's Love Got to Do with It? Action, Exchange, and Gifts in Economic Theory
Symposium: Is There A Missing Element in Economics?
ABSTRACT: John Mueller believes economics is fatally flawed because it cannot account for charitable love between persons. It therefore lacks an explanation of gifts, and thus, of “final distribution.” Mueller’s argument is especially important for Austrians because it draws on a shared heritage in the history of economic thought, namely, ideas from Scholastic political economy. In this article, I survey some of the major points that emerged from the symposium on Mueller’s work, and suggest additional criticisms of his thesis. First, love and gifts can be explained with reference to the exchange element in human action. Second, Mueller’s four-part economic system is based on a somewhat arbitrary classification of basic concepts, including a faulty conceptualization of distribution. Third, love, which Mueller claims economics must explain, can be accounted for through Mises’s notion of thymology. I close by posing some questions for future research, especially regarding the contributions of pre-classical schools to the history of economic thought.