The Core of Austrian Theory
[This essay is a selection from “Why Austrian Economics Matters.”]
The concepts of scarcity and choice lie at the heart of Austrian economics. Man is constantly faced with a wide array of choices. Every action implies forgone alternatives or costs. And every action, by definition, is designed to improve the actor’s lot from his point of view. Moreover, every actor in the economy has a different set of values and preferences, different needs and desires, and different time schedules for the goals he intends to reach.
The needs, tastes, desires, and time schedules of different people cannot be added to or subtracted from other people’s. It is not possible to collapse tastes or time schedules onto one curve and call it consumer preference. Why? Because economic value is subjective to the individual.
Similarly, it is not possible to collapse the complexity of market arrangements into enormous aggregates. We cannot, for example, say the economy’s capital stock is one big blob summarized by the letter K and put that into an equation and expect it to yield useful information. The capital stock is heterogeneous. Some capital may be intended to create goods for sale tomorrow and others for sale in ten years. The time schedules for capital use are as varied as the capital stock itself. Austrian theory sees competition as a process of discovering new and better ways to organize resources, one that is fraught with errors but that is constantly being improved.
This way of looking at the market is markedly different from every other school of thought. Since Keynes, economists have developed the habit of constructing parallel universes havi
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