Are You an Austrian?

There is a detailed explanation of Austrian economics at The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. In summary:

  1. Only individuals choose.
  2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
  3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
  4. Utility and costs are subjective.
  5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
  6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
  7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
  8. Money is nonneutral.
  9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multispecific uses that must be aligned.
  10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

Read the whole thing. Then take the 10-question quiz about Austrian economics at the website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. I took the quiz a few years ago, and found that I was 95-percent Austrian in my economic views. Upon sober reflection, I remain obdurate in my “Chicago” answer to question 6, and therefore 95-percent Austrian.

If you don’t want to bother with the quiz, the questions and Austrian answers are below the fold.1. What is the correct economic status of private property?

Property is a naturally arising relationship between human beings and material things. Property and enforceable property rights make possible economic calculation, a wider and more productive division of labor, and therefore increasing levels of prosperity. Indeed, civilization itself is inconceivable in absence of private property. Any encroachment on property results in loss of freedom and prosperity.

2. What is money and how does it originate?

Money always emerges out of barter. The difficulties of finding trading partners under barter systems results in the emergence of commodity monies. Durable, portable, and divisible commodities, like gold and silver, typically fit the bill as money best. Money and related institutions emerge as an unintended consequence of self interested trading. The evolution of such institutions is best left to the competitive market forces that created them in the first place, as governmental intervention will result in inflation and other distortions.

3. What is the proper method to conduct research in economic science?

The economist should not mimic the behavior of the natural scientists, because the social sciences involve human beings. Human action is characterized by intentional behavior, which involves the rational use of means to achieve desired ends. The very subject matter of economics—capital goods, money, wage rates, etc.—is not defined by physical or chemical properties, but instead by the mental or subjective attitudes that human minds take toward these things. Consequently, the proper method for an economist is to start with self-evident axioms—such as that people try to achieve the highest utility at the lowest cost—and logically deduce conclusions from them.

4. What is the reason for the interest rate, and should it be regulated?

Interest payments reflect the higher value of present goods over future goods. Other things equal, everyone wants to consume sooner rather than later. The current price of a computer might be $1,000, but the price of a claim to a computer delivered in one year would currently sell for less than that, say $900. An entrepreneur might invest $900 in labor and raw materials in order to sell a product next year for $1,000; his implicit interest return is due to the fact that the factors of production represent technological “claims” on future consumption goods, and thus their current price (the $900) is less than their ultimate sale price ($1,000). Obviously the government need not interfere with the market interest rate, since it merely reflects the subjective premium individuals place on a marginal present good over a marginal future good.

5. What is the economic impact of saving?

Saving (which means forestalling current consumption) is essential for capital formation, but there is no socially optimal ratio of consumption to saving that should predominate in society. It all depends on the social rate of time preference, that is, the extent to which people prefer goods sooner to later. Individuals may choose consumption over investment or vice-versa. Government intervention can skew these choices, subsidizing or taxing savings or consumption or both. In order to have the mix reflect the most economical choices, government should have no policy toward saving, even in the case of saving for old age.

6. What is the source of economic value?

Physical objects such as a banana or an automobile do not possess intrinsic economic value. On the contrary, only a human mind can attribute value to such items, and only then do economists classify them as goods. An object is valuable only because there is at least one human being who believes that this object can help satisfy his or her subjective desires. For example, even if a particular root cures cancer, if no one knows this fact, then the root has no economic value, and people will not trade money for it. Consequently, value is caused by an individual’s subjective desires and his or her beliefs about the causal properties of a particular item.

7. What causes the business cycle?

Expansion of the money supply artificially reduces interest rates. This causes a boom in consumer and investor spending. With businesses thinking longer term, and consumer thinking shorter term, a discoordination emerges in the economy. The time relationship between saving and investment, production and consumption, is disrupted. Market processes reveal that many investments are not really profitable but instead are clusters of errors. Businesses then liquidate these investments, causing a recession.

8. What causes economic growth?

The source of economic growth is mutually beneficial, voluntary exchange. Within the exchange economy, consumers spend part of their income on goods and services to satisfy their most immediate wants. This drives current production. Consumers save part of their income according to their less immediate wants. This drives entrepreneurial investment in future production and leads to the development of sophisticated capital markets. Private contracts, competition in markets, and private institutions that allow for capital investment and accumulation are all you need to attain optimal economic growth.

9. Do markets create and sustain monopolies and what should be done about it?

Economists of the classical school were right to define a monopoly as a government-grant privilege, for gaining legal rights to be a preferred producer is the only way to maintain a monopoly in a market setting. Predatory pricing cannot be sustained over the long haul, and not even the attempt should be regretted since it is a great benefit to consumers. Attempted cartel-type behavior typically collapses, and where it does not, it serves a market function. The term “monopoly price” has no effective meaning in real market settings, which are not snapshots in time but processes of change. A market society needs no antitrust policy at all; indeed, the state is the very source of the remaining monopolies we see in education, law, courts, and other areas.

10. What is the role of equality and inequality?

Equality is a term that properly relates to mathematics but not to social science. Human beings are unequal in their endowments, opportunities, and will to achieve. Unequal does not mean inferior or superior; it merely means different. Differences are the very source of the division of labor, and, within a market setting, lead not to conflict but cooperation. While differences should be celebrated, property owners have every right to treat people unequally because it is owners that bear responsibility. Legislators, however, should not have any concern for bringing about equality of result or opportunity, either between individuals or groups of individuals classified according to any criterion. The only place for equality concerns the law, which should treat all individuals the same without regard to their station in life.