Art Carden  

The Austrian Tradition on Mises' Birthday

PRINT
The Use of Force in Society: D... Pious Thinking...

Pete Boettke has a great post on the intellectual legacy of Ludwig von Mises at Coordination Problem (HT: Pete Boettke via Twitter). With speculation about the possibility of a shared Baumol-Kirzner Nobel Prize, this is an interesting time to be working in the Austrian Tradition. Two years ago, I wrote about why Mises is "The Greatest Thinker You've Never Read." His explanation for why socialism cannot work stands, I believe, as one of the most important intellectual achievements of the social sciences. Here is the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics on Mises.

I believe with Milton Friedman that there's Good Economics and Bad Economics, and therefore I don't care that much for labels. That said, the Austrian tradition remains a vibrant research program that is pushing at the frontiers of the social sciences very broadly. For one example, see this Atlantic article that spotlights David Skarbek's work on prison gangs. For more, see Christopher Coyne's important work, including his breakthrough analyses of why we cannot build liberal democracy or liberal capitalism at gunpoint. I could go on for hours. What are the elements of this research program in economics and politics today? Here's Boettke (with a typo fixed):

There should be little doubt that there is a Mises-Hayek research program to be developed in economics and political economy. Kirzner is the heir apparent to that program in technical economics, and I'd argue that Buchanan was the heir apparent to that program in political economy. Thus, the legacy of Ludwig von Mises lives on through the further development of the Mises-Hayek-Kirzner theory of the entrepreneurial market process, and in the Smith-Mises-Hayek-Buchanan continual restatement of classical liberalism.

At the end of Human Action, Mises catalogs a litany of mistaken ideas that have led to disastrous consequences. He concludes:

These are sad facts. However, there is only one way in which a man can respond to them: by never relaxing in the search for truth.

I couldn't agree more.


Comments and Sharing


CATEGORIES: Austrian Economics




COMMENTS (2 to date)
Andrew_FL writes:

I understand the apprehensiveness about labels of economic schools of thought, although mainly because the terms can tend become controlled and monopolized by certain subsets or even taken outright by outgroups (think the term "liberal") because no property rights exist over words.

What I'm getting at here is that the only reason I would hesitate to call myself an "Austrian" without any qualification is that the term invariably conjures up the image of a "Rothbardian" which I emphatically am not.

That being said I have almost nothing but praise for Mises. From what I can tell the only serious error in his economics was an erroneous belief that fractional reserve banking could not survive without government support. As opposed to the Rothbardians, who would have it that a private court system would prosecute fractional reserve bankers for fraud.

The only other complaint I have is that the accusation that a priori-ism was unscientific would have been better countered by recognizing praxeology as a field of applied logic, and logic as a particular branch of mathematics. He does note (in Human Action) a certain kinship between the three:

The modern natural sciences owe their success to the method of observation and experiment. There is no doubt that empiricism and pragmatism are right as far as they merely describe the procedures of the natural sciences. But it is no less certain that they are entirely wrong in their endeavors to reject any kind of a priori knowledge and to characterize logic, mathematics, and praxeology either as empirical and experimental disciplines or as mere tautologies.

But here he misidentifies logic as something separate from mathematics, rather than a branch of mathematics. Doing so would have perhaps lead him to characterize the situation a bit differently. Praxeology as applied logic in the same way Mechanics is applied Calculus. And thus he could have immunized economic theory from the charge of failure to be sufficiently mathematical.

Again, other than that, Mises served well both economics and the cause of liberty. I'd say your assessment of him as the "Greatest Thinker you've never read" is only something I can't agree with because I have and therefore he can't fall into the category of thinkers I haven't read. ;)

John T. Kennedy writes:

"there is only one way in which a man can respond to them"

Sounds normative.

Doesn't that conflict with the book?

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top