Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies: Volume 6

Cover of Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies

Table of contents

(22 chapters)

Publication of Advances in Austrian Economics has been interrupted for several years. This volume marks the return of the series to regular publication. We anticipate a new volume at least once a year. We wish to connect the Austrian tradition of economics with other research traditions in economics and related areas. To that end, we are planning a series of special issues, each devoted to a separate theme. The current volume is devoted to “Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies.” We are planning future volumes on “Austrian Economics and the Dynamics of Interventionism” and “Austrian Economics and Evolutionary Psychology.” We invite both Austrian and non-Austrian contributions that establish fruitful links between the Austrian tradition and other perspectives on important theoretical and practical problems. We seek articles from authors who are interested in constructive exchange between Austrian economists and specialists in the theme area. All submissions are subject to double-blind refereeing. Potential guest editors are invited to submit proposals to the editor.

Austrian economics and entrepreneurial studies have both expanded greatly in the last 20 or 30 years. Unfortunately, they have developed more or less independently of each other. Austrian economics has enjoyed a revival since 1973 or 1974. In 1973 Israel Kirzner published his classic book, Competition and Entrepreneurship, which outlined an entrepreneurial theory of the market process. In 1974 F. A. Hayek was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. The same year saw the famous South Royalton conference, which is the traditional origin of the “Austrian revival.” The intellectual history of entrepreneurial studies reaches back at least as far as Richard Cantillon (1755). As an intellectual movement, however, entrepreneurial studies began about the same time as the Austrian revival. The beginnings of the entrepreneurship movement might be dated to sometime before 1978 when Babson College established its Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the first such center in the U.S. In all this time, however, there has been limited exchange between Austrian economics and entrepreneurial studies. It is high time we expanded trade across the border between Austrian economics and entrepreneurial studies.

In recent years, the topic of entrepreneurship has attracted increasing attention from academics and policy makers. Although much of the debate has taken place in business schools, its protagonists are sociologists, psychologists, organization theorists, and, of course, economists. The purpose of this paper is to take stock of this debate and of what we have learned so far about entrepreneurship. Using Kirzner’s theory as the starting point and unifying theme, the paper reviews works about entrepreneurs and what they do, the socio-economic factors influencing entrepreneurial decisions, the relationship between entrepreneurship and organizations, and the possible links between entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a link between entrepreneurial activity on the one hand, and industry evolution and economic growth on the other. The role that entrepreneurship plays in innovative activity is explained. The link between entrepreneurship and industry evolution through the spillover of knowledge in generating entrepreneurial activity is analyzed. This implies that the relationship between entrepreneurship and growth is identified. In particular, this paper finds that entrepreneurship generates a positive pulse in the evolution of industries in such a way that fosters economic growth.

All of economics recognizes the importance of entrepreneurship, but until the work of the Austrians, little was done about it. Neoclassical economics could not deal with it in its models, because formal optimization is largely irrelevant and because the entrepreneur’s innovation is, by definition, purely heterogeneous. The Austrians, with their flexibility of method, were able to break through, following Schumpeter’s great contribution. My own work on the subject solved the method problem by discussing not what activities the entrepreneurs undertake, but how their services are allocated between such things as contributions to production and rent seeking.

This paper discusses the inherent tension in the notion of entrepreneurship as developed by Ludwig von Mises and Israel Kirzner. Given that entrepreneurship is an omnipresent aspect of human action, it cannot also be the “cause” of economic development. Rather, for economic development to take place, certain institutions must be present in order for the entrepreneurial aspect of human action to flourish. After further developing this theoretical insight, an in-depth analysis of the institutions necessary for entrepreneurship is considered.

The effective working of market economies is dependent, for reasons not fully recognised, on the existence, and on the relative stability, of differences in the capabilities of individual firms. General equilibrium theory abstracts from these circumstances and is therefore unable to explain how economic adjustment actually takes place; a proper appreciation of the role played by differentiation and continuity enables to do this and to assess the scope and limitations of the process.

The received Austrian theory of entrepreneurship is considered in light of the generation of knowledge. It is suggested that learning involving more than the discovery of profit opportunities provides a way to endogenize knowledge and to expand the scope of entrepreneurial activity. The theoretical and applied aspects for entrepreneurial studies of this approach are discussed.

This paper attempts to recast the entrepreneur by synthesizing ideas from personal construct psychology and systems-based evolutionary economics. It retains an Austrian subjectivist emphasis but focuses on rapid product innovation rather than arbitrage. Profit opportunities are mental constructs that link products and revenue streams. Entrepreneurs develop new products by forming novel connections between existing product elements and diverse technologies, mindful of the connections between these products and the complex structures of consumer lifestyles. These linkages are often formed in the context of large multi-product firms, as well as being the basis of new enterprises, so entrepreneurship overlaps with strategic management.

In pursuing profit opportunities, entrepreneurs often use multi-person firms. Since employment contracts leave some discretion to the employees, organizational coherence requires that they are coordinated on the entrepreneurial business conception as their own frame of action. Accordingly, the entrepreneurial reorganization of production and trade implies two different coordinating tasks: the exploitation of market opportunities and the seeing through of the business conception in the firms’ daily organizational grind. The former has been center stage in the Austrian school of economics. For the neglected latter task a cognitive theory is suggested which highlights an Austrian, or entrepreneurial, approach to the firm.

Starting from Hayek’s distinction between spontaneous and man-made orders, we attempt to analyze the role of the entrepreneur in business organizations. The business firm shares important elements of both categories, thus we describe it as a hybrid order. We proceed to construct an account of the entrepreneur that is consistent both with the attributes of the firm that reflect its affinity with man-made organizations, as well as those that reflect its affinity with spontaneous orders. We highlight the concept of entrepreneurial leadership as the major factor for the existence of business organizations and we discuss why the actual mode in which entrepreneurial leadership is exercised has important implications for the development of the firm.

Recognition of a profit opportunity requires a framework of knowledge to place information about a profit opportunity in a context where it can be recognized. The same information about a profit opportunity could be revealed to many people, yet only a few with the appropriate knowledge will be able to place this information into a context that suggests to them a profit opportunity. This paper discusses how entrepreneurs gain knowledge to enable them to be more entrepreneurial, and shows how an economy generates information about entrepreneurial opportunities. Entrepreneurship adds to an economy’s knowledge base, making it easier to recognize profit opportunities when they arise.

This essay introduces the first translation of Schumpeter’s article Entrepreneur, originally published in 1928. We describe the background of Entrepreneur and use new archival sources to situate the article in time. Entrepreneur marks a transition of Schumpeter’s conception of entrepreneurship that took place between 1911 and 1926. Entrepreneur also contains Schumpeter’s most profound vision on economic selection, a vision that Schumpeter never elaborated further. We consider the most important implications of the new material in Entrepreneur and the reasons for the apparent shift in Schumpeter’s thought.

The collective2 economic process is always a coherent phenomenon whose lines can be comprehended by the interlocking of its distinguishable elements. Not always, however, does the social whole – be it a modern nation or a “culturally poor” horde – run directly according to a comprehensive, conscious plan, carried out, for the whole, by the whole: Where this is the case – in a completely pure form, it would be in a socialist community – distinguishable tasks, facilities, etc. exist, even if the expression of economic life has not achieved any particular form.3 If, on the contrary, the social whole is leaving the responsibility for economic activity to subgroups or individuals, then the collective production process is separated into units that, seen from the outside, appear independent, autonomous, in principle left to themselves, and forthwith only oriented towards their own concern for survival – enterprises.

Markus Becker and Thorbjørn Knudsen have rendered a valuable service by bringing the attention of the English-speaking academic world to Joseph Schumpeter’s important 1928 article on the entrepreneur.

Schumpeter is popular these days among the economic policy makers and politicians in Washington, DC. In “high tech” America, Schumpeter’s felicitous phrase “creative destruction” is on many lips. The recent meltdown of numerous firms on the NASDAQ exchange has taught formerly optimistic baby boomers how hard the “creative destruction” process can hit their pocketbooks and wipe out their accumulations of “shareholders value.” Yet for many, “creative destruction” is still the guidepost to a better and more prosperous future.

The English translation of Schumpeter’s essay on entrepreneurship, written around the time when he prepared the second edition of Theorie der Wirtschaftlichen Enwicklung (1926), from which the English translation The Theory of Economic Development (1934) was made, contains many of the ideas found in The Theory of Economic Development and in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942). Since the essay, “Entrepreneur” (1928) is relatively short, yet contains most of the central ideas developed in his later works, the essay can be regarded as a blueprint for his life’s work. The task of evaluating the significance and the value of the translation in addressing the questions of whether or not, and the extent to which, Schumpeter had changed his ideas on entrepreneurship since the first edition of Theorie (1912), however, falls on Schumpeter scholars (e.g. Elliott, 1983; Shionoya, 1997). My comment here, instead, will be limited to Schumpeter’s concept of entrepreneurship as stated in the essay.

Let me start by thanking Markus Becker and Thorbjørn Knudsen for making this important article available to us all and for providing such a careful translation. “Entrepreneur” is a central piece in Schumpeter’s production, and it is a sad fact that it has not been available in English till now. This article, to be more precise, is one of Schumpeter’s key writings on entrepreneurship. It is only rivaled, in this respect, by Chapter 2 in Theory of Economic Development (1911, 1926, 1934), some passages in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), and a few articles from the late 1940s. The sections on entrepreneurship in the two books I just mentioned are subordinate to the wider themes of these books and integrated into these; and the articles from the late 1940s represent primarily an attempt from Schumpeter’s side to forge a union between the economic theory of entrepreneurship and the economic history of entrepreneurship. When it comes to a single, comprehensive work that is exclusively devoted to entrepreneurship, “Entrepreneur” is unique and alone.

This paper argues that the well-known “two Schumpeters” thesis, as understood in the Anglo-American literature on technological change, is clearly wrong. Equally wrong is the idea that the fundamentals of Schumpeter’s thought on entrepreneurship were influenced importantly by his observation of large firms in the United States after 1931. The obsolescence thesis speaks to a distinction between early capitalism and later capitalism, perhaps, but not to an earlier and later Schumpeter. A more important point is that the obsolescence thesis is wrong. It rests on a confusion – or perhaps a bait-and-switch – between two quite different kinds of economic knowledge.

Cover of Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies
Publication date
Book series
Advances in Austrian Economics
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN