What is so Austrian about Austrian Economics?: Volume 14

Cover of What is so Austrian about Austrian Economics?

Table of contents

(16 chapters)

The papers collected here were written for the second biennial Wirth conference on Austrian Economics. The Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies sponsored the conference in cooperation with the University of Toronto in Mississauga. The conference was held from 17 to 18 October 2008 in Mississauga. The Wirth Institute has a natural home in Edmonton on the campus of the University of Alberta, which is a leading center for Central European Studies. The fact that the Institute has received support not only from government of Austria, but also from the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia reflects its historically minded recognition of the unique intellectual milieu of the Habsburg Empire. This intellectual milieu lasted beyond the breakup of the empire right through to the Anschluss in 1938. It is this milieu that shaped the Austrian school of economics and helped shape the context for the conference.

Modern mainstream economics is a plurocracy in which there is no orthodoxy of ideas, only an orthodoxy of method. Given the training it provides its students, mainstream economics' natural domain is science. With the mainstream's acceptance of complexity views of the economy, Austrian economist's views can now get a hearing within the mainstream. Thus, within the science of economics, there is no need for a separate Austrian economics. However, there is a need for Austrian economics in political economy, the branch of economics that takes the insights of science and relates them to policy. The paper urges Austrian economics to embrace political economy as its domain and to position its work within political economy.

In general, the term “Austrian Economics” has been used both descriptively and normatively. It has either designated a set of ideas about the fundamental nature of economic theory and its logical implications or it has been viewed as a conception of society and the market with certain policy implications concerning the limits to and dangers from government intervention and control.

F. A. Hayek's contribution to economic science is broadly remembered as relating to the “use of knowledge in society” but his contribution to economics of knowledge are often summarized differently. We emphasize the contextual nature of the knowledge. Hayek says the market economy is capable of eliciting and utilizing in the process of coordinating economic activities. There is, however, a double meaning of context that we explore. Hayek developed his argument about the use of knowledge in the context of the socialist calculation debate, and the aspect of knowledge he came to focus on was the contextual nature of knowledge in human action in markets, politics, law, and society. This paper traces out the development of Hayek's focus on the epistemic foundations of the complex coordination in an advanced market economy and shows that his critique of classical and market socialism led to a refined, subtle approach to understanding spontaneous order. Furthermore, it is precisely Hayek's focus on the role of institutions in creating the conditions for the utilization and transference of knowledge through the price system that continues to shape the progressive research programs in economic science and public policy analysis that is his legacy.

Today, there is no academic or sociocultural context in which Austrian Economics (AE) is described as being dominant. AE is and remains, for better or for worse, a heterodox current. In the United States, however, but probably nowhere else in the world, AE is heterodox without being invisible or inconsequential. American scholars for whom AE is their preferred paradigm have been able to participate actively in the sort of “discussions” that Arjo Klamer (2007, p. 4) wishes to encourage. They are taken seriously by fellow economists. The vitality of American AE has no equivalent in the rest of the world.1 Obvious constraints of time and space prevent us from offering supporting evidence for this sweeping statement, but in this paper we propose to take a close look at the French case. AE has made few inroads in France. There was a brief period in the 1980s when it was the object of some short-lived enthusiasm; since then interest has waned, although there are indications that the tide might yet again be turning, and in fact, as compared to many other western European countries, France may turn out to be, all things being relative, a less infertile ground than might a priori be thought.

Perspective-taking is a social competency to consider the world from other viewpoints (Galinsky, Maddux, Gilin, & White, 2008); it “allows an individual to anticipate the behavior and reactions of others” (Davis, 1983, p. 115) and helps to balance attention between self- and other-interests (Galinsky et al., 2008). Though often used interchangeably with the term empathy – “an other-focused emotional response that allows one person to affectively connect with another” (Galinsky et al., 2008, p. 378), clear evidence exists that demonstrates that the two concepts are distinct (Coke, Batson, & McDavis, 1978; Davis, 1983; Deutch & Madle, 1975; Hoffman, 1977; Oswald, 1996). Although both concepts refer to a social competency of taking another's perspective, empathy tends to be more affective while perspective taking leans toward the cognitive (Galinsky et al., 2008). For example, perspective taking is associated with personality characteristics such as high self-esteem and low neuroticism as opposed to emotionality (Davis, 1983). Perspective-takers are more capable of stepping outside the constraints of their own immediate, biased frames of reference (Moore, 2005) to reduce egocentric perceptions of fairness in competitive contexts (without it being at the expense of their own self-interest; Epley, Caruso, & Bazerman, 2006). Perspective taking has also been shown to be a more valuable strategy than empathy in strategic interactions because it helps negotiators find the necessary balance between competition and cooperation, between self- and other-interest (Galinsky et al., 2008). Achieving such a balance facilitates creative problem-solving (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986). For instance, in negotiation, a focus only on self-interests is associated with excessive aggression and obstinacy whereas a focus only on other-interests encourages excessive concession making to the detriment of one's own outcomes (Galinsky et al., 2008). In contrast, perspective takers have the capacity to uncover underlying interests to generate creative solutions when an obvious deal is not possible (Galinsky et al., 2008). Consequently, the cognitive appreciation of another person's interests is capable of facilitating economically efficient outcomes by acting as a discovery heuristic that reveals hidden problems or solutions and as a tool that enables individuals to capture more value for themselves (Galinsky et al., 2008).

Experimental economics has been treated with skepticism by some Austrian economists. We argue that experimental methods are consistent with strong versions of praxeology, and are therefore not methodologically problematic for Austrians. We further argue that experimental research methods have illustrated many uniquely Austrian themes and provide a fruitful method for future Austrian-inspired research.

Roger Koppl (2009, p. 1) argues that “Austrian economics is a school of thought within the broader complexity movement in economics.” Is he correct? Although there are many who have argued for some overlapping between the two, I shall argue that this is probably an overly strong statement. The main reason is that there are substantial elements and strands within Austrian economics that do not fit in with any of the multiple varieties of complexity theory, even though there are some that clearly do.

The logic of economic inquiry requires two distinct research programs. One program treats economic life in terms of invariant formal categories across time and place. The other program treats the continual generation of novelty and turbulence through time and human interaction. These programs are not commensurable: one cannot be reduced to the other. The former program must be conveyed by a theory of equilibrium; the latter program requires a process-based theory of emergent phenomena. Roy Weintraub articulated a neo-Walrasian research program in his General Equilibrium Analysis, and here I sketch a complementary neo-Mengerian program. In presenting this sketch, I also explain that needless analytical confusion and antagonism can result from a failure to recognize that economic analysis requires two distinct research programs. As a historical side-bar, Carl Menger probably recognized this situation, as evidenced by his correspondence with Léon Walras.

The Austrian theory of the business cycle (henceforth ABC) frequently has been a target for critics of Austrian economics. In particular, a number of economists who are generally appreciative of other Austrian themes have singled out ABC as being, in one such critic's words, an “embarrassing excrescence” marring the otherwise generally sound body of modern Austrian thought.1 Despite such criticisms, many Austrian economists persist in forwarding ABC as the best available, or perhaps even the only valid, explanation for the cycles of boom and bust regularly occurring in most modern, national economies.

The fatal conceit is the assumption that the world can be shaped according to human desires. This chapter argues that the logic of the fatal conceit can be applied to foreign interventions which go beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed by reason alone. In suffering from the fatal conceit, these interventions are characterized by: (1) the realization that intentions do not equal results, (2) a reliance on top-down planning, (3) the view of development as a technological issue, (4) a reliance on bureaucracy over markets, and (5) the primacy of collectivism over individualism. These characteristics explain why interventions extending beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed tend to fail.

Cover of What is so Austrian about Austrian Economics?
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Advances in Austrian Economics
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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