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Is Objectivism Compatible with Austrian Economics?

There have been a number of papers comparing Objectivism to Austrian Economics.  The motivation appears to be Rand’s relationship with Ludwig Von Mises, since both are known for advocating Laissez Faire Economics.  Most of these papers have focused on ethics, particularly whether the subjective theory of value in Austrian Economics (AE) is consistent with Objectivist ethics.  The majority of these papers have argued that AE (at least the Menger-Mises side) and Rand are actually very similar and compatible, but not all including Rand herself.  In order to arrive at these conclusions, the authors have often provided nuanced explanations of what the Austrians or Rand said.  For instance, Richard Johnsson argues:

It seems to be a well-established fact that there are similarities between Rand and Menger, despite the objectivist/subjectivist issue.  Once we concede that something can be intrinsic value, in Moore’s sense, I believe the differences between Austrian subjectivism and Rand’s Objectivism vanish.[i]

Roderick Long concludes in his paper, Praxeology: Who Needs It:

I have argued that the features of Misesian praxeology that Rand found most objectionable—its aprioristic methodology, its value subjectivism, and its claims about motivational psychology—can be reinterpreted in ways that make them congenial to Rand’s philosophical principles while still preserving the essential points that Mises was seeking to make. Hence there is no reason for those of a Randian philosophical bent to deprive themselves of the powerful methodological instrument developed by Mises and his fellow Austrians: praxeology, the a priori science of human action.[ii]

And Ed Younkins argues:

Objectivism’s Aristotelian perspective on the nature of man and the world and on the need to exercise one’s virtues can be viewed as complementary with the praxeology of Austrian economics.[iii]

Objectivists are generally more critical of the Hayek branch of AE.  For instance, David Kelley writes “if a defense of freedom depends on individualism, and individualism presupposes individuals capable of genuine self-direction, Hayek cannot successfully defend freedom.”[iv]  Ed Younkins says this about Hayek, “Hayek is primarily concerned with the nature, scope, limits, use, and abuse of reason in human life. For Hayek, a man’s knowledge of the world and himself is at best limited, incomplete, and uncertain.”[v]

This paper will focus primarily on the similarities and differences of the epistemology of various Austrian Economists (Menger, Mises, Hayek) and Rand.  Rand and the economists will be taken at their word.  Unlike many previous researchers, this paper will argue that the epistemological theories of Austrian Economists are incompatible with Objectivism and inconsistent with the science project of the Enlightenment.

 

Menger

Menger lays out his epistemology in his book Investigations into the Method of Social Sciences.[vi]  Lawrence H. White in the introduction to the book, explains.

Fortunately, Menger draws and even emphasizes a suitable distinction between the “realist-empirical orientation of theoretical research” and the “exact” orientation (p. 59). The search for so-called ,”exact laws” alone is more appropriately considered the task of purely theoretical research in economics. We can make sense of “exact laws” as theoretical propositions which (necessarily) take an “if-then” form: if conditions A and B hold, then condition C must also obtain. Menger rightly insists (pp. 70, 215) that realist-empirical generalizations (e.g., A and B are usually accompanied by C) can by their nature never attain the strictness that necessarily characterizes logical implications. The two sorts of “laws” are on different epistemological planes. So without too much dissent from Menger’s thought we may divide economic theory from economic history where he divided strict theory from what he considered an empirical sort of theory. What is empirical is really historical, and this accounts for its different status from what is deductive.[vii]

Lawrence H. White goes on to explain:

But this is not because, like some economists, he (Menger) sees empiricism or positivism or falsificationism as the only proper method for both social science and natural science. Instead he argues (p. 59 n. 18) that both the search for empirical regularities and the formulation of non-empirical, non-falsifiable (“exact”) theories are methods common to both economics and such natural science fields as chemistry. In viewing theoretical research in every field as having a non-empirical proposition at its core, Menger’s position bears some resemblance to that of modern philosophers of science. [viii]

As a person who has a masters’ degree in physics and a BS in Electrical Engineering and has worked with scientists and engineers his whole life, I am unaware of any so-called theoretical side of chemistry or other natural science that is ‘non-empirical, non-falsifiable (“exact”)’ nor have I ever heard such an idea proposed by others.

Ed Younkins describes Menger’s epistemology as:

Menger distinguishes between the empirical-realistic orientation to theory and the exact orientation to theory (36–44). Whereas the empirical-realistic branch of economics studies the regularities in the succession and coexistence of real phenomena, the exact orientation studies the laws governing ideal economic phenomena. He explains that empirical-realistic theory is concerned with regularities in the coexistence and succession of phenomena discovered by observing actual types and typical relationships of phenomena. Empirical realistic theory is subject to exceptions and to change over time. Theoretical economics in its realistic orientation derives empirical laws that are valid only for the spatial and temporal relationships from which they were observed. Empirical laws can only be alleged to be true within a particular spatiotemporal domain. The realistic orientation can only lead to real types and to the particular. The study of individual or concrete phenomena in time and space is the realm of the historical sciences.[ix]

Younkins and White both seem to agree that according to Menger there is theoretical side of economics that is exact and cannot be tested empirically.  Menger argues there is also an empirical side of economics, which is not exact and subject to change over time.

Menger’s epistemology should be familiar as it is a restatement of the analytic-synthetic distinction.  “Analytic propositions are true by virtue of their meaning, while synthetic propositions are true by how their meaning relates to the world.”[x]  Not surprisingly the origin of this distinction can be found in Kant and comes from his metaphysics, in which he argues there is a noumenal and phenomenal realm.[xi]  The noumenal realm is a realm of pure ideas and phenomenal world is a realm where our senses are engaged.  This logically gives rise to an epistemological analytic-synthetic distinction.

Leonard Peikoff states, “The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy presents men with the following choice: If your statement is proved, it says nothing about that which exists; if it is about existents, it cannot be proved.”  Menger seems to disagree with at least the analytic (theoretical) side.  Menger seems to argue that theoretical laws of economics can be derived by just thinking about them.  Somehow these theoretical laws can tell us something empirical about economics.  Whether that is true or not, it is not consistent with Objectivist epistemology and it is not science.  The philosophy of science is a complex topic especially now days when Karl Popper is supposed to be the foremost philosopher of science and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics appears to undermine objectivity and even the law of identity.   However, even these deviations in the philosophy of science do not suggest that science can be divorced from empirical evidence.

 

Mises

Mises’ epistemology is described in his praxeology, which is supposed to be the study of human action.  The Action Axiom is the fundamental starting point of praxeology and it states “that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals.”[xii]  According to Mises the principles (axioms) “are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts.”[xiii]  Mises continues, “A fashionable tendency in contemporary philosophy is to deny the existence of any a priori knowledge. All human knowledge, it is contended, is derived from experience.”[xiv]

According to Long, Rand objected to this idea of a priori knowledge in her marginalia of her copy of Human Action.  “There is no ‘a priori’ knowledge,” Rand insisted in the margins; “[t]here is no knowledge not derived from experience” (Rand 1995a, 113–14).”[xv]

Long argues that Rand’s definition of axioms is the same as Mises’ a priori.  Long admits that Rand ultimately bases her axioms on reality while Mises does not, but relies on Rand’s explanation of an axiom as “a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.”[xvi]

According to praxeology the attempt to deny the action axiom necessarily means that you are acting towards a purpose.  While it might be true that the person arguing against the action axiom is taking action toward a goal, it is not true that a person having a seizure is taking ‘conscious actions toward chosen goals’.  A person in an abusive relationship suffering from ‘battered person syndrome’ is not engage din conscious actions toward chosen goals.  Advocates of praxeology might argue that the abused person feels responsible for the abuse they are suffering and therefore they are working toward the goal of relieving their guilt.  Any impartial observer would say that the abused person’s actions are not working toward relieving their guilt or getting out the abusive relationship.  In economics it is at least an open question whether the idea of unintended consequences fits the action axiom.  In that case the result obtained was not those the person(s) was striving for.

Note, Rand says that an axiom requires a person accept it in any attempt to deny it.  Arguing that person having a seizure is not engaged in conscious actions toward chosen goals, does not mean that they have accepted the action axiom.

Another part of Mises’ action axiom is, human action is necessarily always rational.  According to Mises, “the term ‘rational action’ is therefore pleonastic and must be rejected as such.  When applied to the ultimate ends of action, the terms rational and irrational are inappropriate and meaningless.”[xvii]  Mises further states, “however one twists things, one will never succeed in formulating the notion of ‘irrational’ action whose ‘irrationality’ is not founded upon an arbitrary judgment of value.”[xviii]

This is a clear contradiction between Rand and Mises on an epistemological and ethical level.  This is not a minor disagreement, but goes to the very fundamentals of Mises’ praxeology and Objectivism.  Long however argues that this is not the case.  “Mises of course did not mean that people always pursue the most rationally defensible ends (for Mises there are no such things) or even that, given their ends, people always choose the most rationally defensible means to their ends. In part, what he meant was simply that human action is purposeful.” [xix]  According to Long, when Mises says people always act rational, he means “in a manner appropriate to their situation in the way of actually seeing it that is constitutive of their action. And this is a claim that Rand has no reason to reject”[xx]

Rand defines reason as, “reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach.  The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.”[xxi]  Thus for Rand to act rationally is to act in accordance with reason.  This does not include all purposeful actions.  Hitler acted purposively to kill off the Jews, but this action cannot be considered rational according to Rand.

All the massaging of what Rand and Mises meant cannot reconcile these two radically different positions.  While English was Mises’ second language, his ideas about praxeology were fundamental and Mises never retracted his statements or reinterpreted them and neither did Rand.  An informal review of video lectures by Austrian Economists shows that they take Mises at his word.  It is very dangerous to reinterpret what people are saying.

Mises is clear that praxeology is a type of philosophical rationalism.

“[Praxeology’s] cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and particular features of the actual case. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori.”  Mises, Human Action, p. 32

“All theorems of economics are necessarily valid in every instance in which all the assumptions presupposed are given.” Mises, Human Action, p. 66

“Apart from the fact that these conclusions cannot be “tested” by historical or statistical means, there is no need to test them since their truth has already been established. Historical fact enters into these conclusions only by determining which branch of the theory is applicable in any particular case.”  Murray N. Rothbard https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics.

Philosophical rationalism is defined as “the doctrine that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience.”[xxii]  Philosophical rationalism is commonly associated with Descartes and Spinoza.  Here is what Rand said about rationalism.

[Philosophers came to be divided] into two camps: those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)—and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists).[xxiii]

Mises’ epistemology is not science.  At a minimum science always requires that concepts (hypothesis) are checked against reality and reality is ultimate determiner of what is true.  William Thomas, Director of Programs at The Atlas Society, argues that Mises was not a philosophical rationalist and shows that some of the concepts Mises uses, such as money, can only be derived from experience.  This is another attempt to massage the words of Mises.  What this shows is that Mises’ praxeology and his ideas about money result in a logical contradiction.  Rand’s response from Atlas Shrugged might be “contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

An interesting point is that Mises’ subjective theory of value is fundamental to his ideas on praxeology.  “Let us note that praxeology does not assume that a person’s choice of values or goals is wise or proper . . . “[xxiv]  “However one twists things, one will never succeed in formulating the notion of ‘irrational’ action whose ‘irrationality’ is not founded upon an arbitrary judgment of value.”[xxv]  As a result, it is impossible to separate the subjective theory of value from Mises praxeology.

George Reisman makes some important point about Mises’ contention that economics (science) should be value-free.

The notion that science and value should be divorced is utterly contradictory. It itself expresses a value judgment in its very utterance. And it is not only self-contradictory, but contradictory of the most cherished principles of science as well. Science itself is built on a foundation of values that all scientists are logically obliged to defend: values such as reason, observation, truth, honesty, integrity, and the freedom of inquiry. In the absence of such values, there could be no science. The leading historical illustration of the truth of these propositions is the case of Galileo and the moral outrage which all lovers of science and truth must feel against those who sought to silence him. [xxvi]

 

Hayek

F.A. Hayek’s epistemological ideas are contained in his ideas on “cultural evolution”.  Hayek was proud of his ideas on cultural evolution and considered them central to his ideas on economics.  “The theory (cultural evolution), of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project”[xxvii]

Cultural evolution is the idea that social institutions, such ethics, law, and economic systems are created by a non-rational evolutionary process.  “According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups.”[xxviii]

Bruce Caldwell describes cultural evolution as:

The term “cultural evolution” refers to the evolution of a tradition of learnt rules, norms, ethical precepts, and practices, “especially those dealing with several property, honesty, contract, exchange, trade, competition, gain, and privacy” (Hayek 1988:12). This cultural heritage emerged through “a process of winnowing and sifting, directed by the differential advantages gained by groups from practices adopted for some unknown and perhaps purely accidental reasons” (Hayek 1979:155). The traditions and institutions that resulted allowed the development of a vast extended order, one capable of sustaining huge increases in population, an order that would have been considered fantastical to earlier humans existing under more primitive conditions.[xxix]

According to Hayek, no individual is capable of using reason to determine which social institution will end up with the best result beforehand or why a particular set of social norms does work well.  Linda C. Raeder in Humantis makes this point and also points out that David Hume’s ideas entered the mainstream libertarian movement through Hayek.

“The picture of man as a being who, thanks to his reason, can rise above the values of civilization, in order to judge it from the outside . . . is an illusion.”  For Hayek, morals, values, and reason are entirely natural phenomena, evolutionary adaptations which have enabled man to survive and flourish in his particular kind of world.

Perhaps no other area of Burke’s and Hayek’s thought is as congruent as their understanding of the role of reason in human affairs; their views are so close as to suggest that Hayek’s thought on this issue is merely an elaboration, although quite an extensive one, of Burke’s theme. Hayek developed several of Burke’s most crucial insights: 1) the priority of social experience (or “tradition”) over reason; 2) the notion that inherited social institutions embody a “superindividual wisdom”  which transcends that available to the conscious reasoning mind; and 3) the impotence of reason to ‘design’ a viable social order.[xxx]

David Kelley elaborates on this point:

Hayek, by contrast, is a critic of what he calls ―constructive rationalism. His concept of rationalism is somewhat idiosyncratic, and is not equivalent to Rand‘s conception of reason. Nevertheless, it leads him to claim that ―no universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us, which is obviously not consistent with her view. For Hayek, moral rules have a status lying ―between instinct and reason.

Is Hayek anti-reason?  It’s hard to say, however arguing that reason is fundamentally limited (as opposed to making a mistake) in understanding reality without any real evidence is an attack on reason itself.  Like Hume, Hayek cannot say reason is completely impotent, because what would be the point of writing.  Writing presumes some ability to reason.

Hayek’s case for freedom is based on the limits of reason.  In order for Hayek’s cultural evolution to work, you cannot substitute the decisions of a single leader (or small group) for those of the masses.  To do so undermines the evolutionary process.  As David Kelley explains:

This case for market freedom is essentially negative. Hayek seems to think that if socialist planning were possible, socialism might be the morally ideal system. But the inescapable ignorance of would-be planners excludes that possibility: ―If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty.

Hayek does not think that reason can tell you how or why social institutions, including the law and ethics work.  This is totally inconsistent Rand’s ideas and undermines the very idea of science.

Interestingly, Hayek’s position on ‘the subjective theory or value’ is a fundamental part of his epistemology, just like Mises’.  His cultural evolution requires that we cannot formulate a rational ethics because that would undermine the evolutionary process.  As a result, every ethical system is subjective and therefore so is every law.  The most we can do is put our faith in the process and blindly hope our ethical and legal systems are better than they were in the past because of the evolutionary process of cultural evolution.

 

Economics vs. Philosophy

It is clear that Austrian Economics’ epistemological positions are incompatible with Objectivism and science more generally.  However it is entirely possible that despite this, Austrian Economics has achieved great things in economics.  For instance, David Kelley has shown that John Locke made a number of epistemological errors with respect to perception, in his book The Evidence of the Senses, and yet Locke’s ideas on Natural Rights are still profound and fundamentally sound.

In this case however, when Objectivists and Austrians are talking they are not even speaking the same language.  For instance, when Rand says she is for capitalism, she means “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights”[xxxi]  By individual rights, Rand means a moral claim based on man’s nature and discovered using reason.  Austrians do not think that a rational ethics is possible.  As a result to Austrians, capitalism is an economic system that has low levels of governmental interference, based on some utilitarian criteria.  (You cannot live without an ethical system, so most Austrians default to utilitarianism)

When Objectivists talk about property rights, they mean an ethical claim to take action with respect to something, such as land.  This ethical claim is based on a rational, natural rights system.  When Austrians talk about “property rights”, they do not really mean a “right” in any way except a purely arbitrary legal claim.  Austrians argument for “property rights” is a purely utilitarian or historical argument (Hayek) that can be fudged to meet the utilitarian goal or historical precedence.

These differences result in real differences in economic policy.  Menger, for instance, advocated 1) public works constructed by the state such as roads, railways and canals, 2) government established agricultural and vocational training institutions, 3) state intervention to stop clearing of forests on private property in the mountains of Austria when this clearing had serious and bad effects on agriculture, and 4) government intervention to stop child labour.[xxxii]           Hayek was in favor social security, some sort of government provided health care, emergency government assistance for natural disasters, and suggested that manipulating the money supply might be used to alleviate recessions/depressions.[xxxiii]

Even Ludwig Von Mises waffles on economic policies that are inconsistent with capitalism as an Objectivist would define it.

There are certainly cases in which people may consider definite restrictive measures as justified. Regulations concerning fire prevention are restrictive and raise the cost of production. But the curtailment of total output they bring about is the price to be paid for avoidance of greater disaster. The decision about each restrictive measure is to be made on the ground of a meticulous weighing of the costs to be incurred and the prize to be obtained. No reasonable man could possibly question this rule.[xxxiv]

Note that Mises justification for fire regulations is based on utilitarianism, which Rand condemns as “’the greatest good for the greatest number’ is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.”[xxxv]

The Austrians sound a lot more like modern conservatives than capitalists.  When it is a government policy that Austrians are in favor of, they are quite happy to override peoples’ individual rights.  They just want these programs to be run more efficiently.  Austrians make a number of errors in their analysis of the economy also, however there is not time in this paper to take on these issues.

 

Conclusion

Austrians often argue that if you do not support the Austrian school of economics then which school (economists) do your support then, as if this was an election or a smorgasbord with a limited number of choice.  Science is a creative endeavor and we are not limited only the existing choices.

New Growth Economics’ central point is that wealth is created by the human mind.  This should be exciting to Objectivists, because that sounds very much like Ayn Rand.  It also points to an objective basis for economics.  Every human needs to acquire and consume a minimum number of calories or they die.[xxxvi]  This provides an objective standard that is very similar to Rand’s standard for her ethics.  It also ties economics to biology, particularly human biology, just like Rand tied her ethics to biology.

Inventions are the result of applying man’s reasoning power to the objective problems of life.  The way we become wealthier is by increasing our level of technology.  I explain this in more detail in my book, Source of Economic Growth; in my Savvy Street article, entitled ‘Inventing at the Intersection of Biology and Economics’; and in my 2015 & 2016 talks at Atlas Summit.

All species are biologically designed to spend most of their existence on the edge of starvation.  The fact that human beings, starting around 1800, were the first species to permanently escape this condition, needs a profound answer based on man’s unique nature, his ability to reason.

[i] Richard C.B. Johnsson, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 317-335.

Subjectivism, Intricism, and Apriorism,:Rand Among the Austrians, Penn State University Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41560286.pdf.

[ii] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[iii] Edward W. Younkins, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 337-374, Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond, Centenary Symposium, Part II Ayn Rand Among the Austrians, http://quebecoislibre.org/younkins28.pdf

[iv] David Kelley, Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction,  Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade, Reason Papers Vol. 33, https://reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf.

[v] Edward W. Younkins, The Road to Objective Economics: Hayek Takes a Wrong Turnhttp://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Younkins/The_Road_to_Objective_Economics_Hayek_Takes_a_Wrong_Turn.shtml

[vi]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS

[vii]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xi.

[viii]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xiii, Lawrence H. White.

[ix] Edward W. Younkins, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 337-374, Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond, Centenary Symposium, Part II Ayn Rand Among the Austrians, http://quebecoislibre.org/younkins28.pdf

[x] Wikipedia, Analytic–Synthetic Distinction, Accessed  October 21, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic%E2%80%93synthetic_distinction.

[xi] Kant’s noumenal/phenomenal distinction is restatement of Plato, in which there is a realm of forms (ideas) and the imperfect world we live in.

[xii] Murray N. Rothbard, “Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics”, https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics

[xiii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, p. 32, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf

[xiv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, p. 32, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf

[xv] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 300, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xvi] Galt’s Speech,, For the New Intellectual, 155, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/axioms.html

[xvii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, 1.I.32, http://www.econlib.org/library/Mises/HmA/msHmA1.html

[xviii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 104.& https://mises.org/library/what-do-austrians-mean-rational ,  What Do Austrians Mean by “Rational”?, MISES DAILY ARTICLES, Accessed 6/9/16.

[xix] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 309, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xx] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 310, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xxi] “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 62, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/reason.html.

[xxii] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/rationalism, accessed October 22, 2016.

[xxiii] “For the New Intellectual,” For the New Intellectual, 30, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/rationalism_vs_empiricism.html.

[xxiv] Murray N. Rothbard, “Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics”, https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics

[xxv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 104.& https://mises.org/library/what-do-austrians-mean-rational ,  What Do Austrians Mean by “Rational”?, MISES DAILY ARTICLES, Accessed 6/9/16.

[xxvi] George Reisman, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, p. 36, http://www.capitalism.net/Capitalism/CAPITALISM_Internet.pdf.

[xxvii] Erik Angner, The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, p. 3, http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf.

[xxviii] Erik Angner, The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, p. 3, http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf.

[xxix] Bruce Caldwell , The Emergence of Hayek’s Ideas on Cultural Evolution, p. 6, http://www.gmu.edu/depts/rae/archives/VOL13_1_2000/caldwell.pdf.

[xxx] Linda C. Raeder, The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek: A Critical Comparison, HUMANITAS, Volume X, No. 1, 1997. National Humanities Institute,  http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm.

[xxxi] What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 19, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html.

[xxxii] Social Democracy For The 21st Century: A Realist Alternative To The Modern Left, http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.mx/2012/08/rescuing-menger-from-austrians.html, accessed October 23, 2016.

[xxxiii] Nicholas  Wapshott,  Hayek on health care, social safety nets and public housing (quoting from Road to Serfdom) https://sites.google.com/site/wapshottkeyneshayek/hayek-on-health-care-social-safety-nets-and-public-housing  accessed October 23, 2016.

[xxxiv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 741, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf.

[xxxv] Textbook of Americanism,” The Ayn Rand Column, 90, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/utilitarianism.html.

[xxxvi] Calories make a convenient catch all for all human requirements including air, water, micronutrients etc.

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May 10, 2017 Posted by | -Economics, bioeconomics, philosophy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Austrian Economics and Objectivism Panel Session

Will Thomas and I gave a talk at Atlas Summit 2016 on Austrian Economics.  The talk focused on epistemological and ethical positions of Carl Menger, Ludwig Von Mises, and F.A. Hayek.  A number of people asked for the slides and related materials.  Below I provide links to nine posts on blog that investigate some of the issues discussed in the talk in more detail.  Below that are the slides from the talk.

 

Articles

Is Carl Menger a Socialist?  https://hallingblog.com/2016/06/25/is-carl-menger-a-socialist/

 

Why Austrian Economics Subjectivity is Wrong and Condemns Economics to Being a Pseudo-Science   https://hallingblog.com/2016/06/13/why-austrian-economics-subjectivity-is-wrong-and-condemns-economics-to-being-a-pseudo-science/

 

Can “Dignity” Explain the Industrial Revolution: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s Economic Ideas  https://hallingblog.com/2016/05/22/can-dignity-explain-the-industrial-revolution-a-review-of-deirdre-mccloskeys-economic-ideas/

 

Carl Menger: Austrian Economics vs. Objectivism  https://hallingblog.com/2016/03/21/carl-menger-austrian-economics-vs-objectivism/

 

Carl Menger: Principles of Economics  https://hallingblog.com/2015/11/16/carl-menger-principles-of-economics/

 

Capital in Disequilibrium: The Austrians’ Answer to New Growth Theory  https://hallingblog.com/2015/09/09/capital-in-disequilibrium-the-austrians-answer-to-new-growth-theory/

 

Praxeology: An Intellectual Train Wreck  https://hallingblog.com/2015/09/08/praxeology-an-intellectual-train-wreck/

 

Hayek: Friend or Foe of Reason, Liberty and Capitalism?  https://hallingblog.com/2015/03/04/hayek-friend-or-foe-of-reason-liberty-and-capitalism/

 

The Austrian Business Cycle Debunked  https://hallingblog.com/2015/02/15/the-austrian-business-cycle-debunked/

 

The Irrational Foundations of Austrian Economics  https://hallingblog.com/2015/02/12/the-irrational-foundations-of-austrian-economics/

 

 

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July 21, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, philosophy, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

F. A. Hayek: Austrian Economics vs. Objectivism

I am giving a talk with Will Thomas at Atlas Summit 2016 on Austrian Economics.  I have been assigned to discuss the Austrian economists Carl econgrowth.smallMenger and F A. Hayek.  I will have about eight minutes for each Menger and Hayek.  This post presents the basic ideas I will present on Hayek.

F. A. Hayek won the noble prize in economics. He is probably best known for his book The Road to Serfdom, which was written during world war two. In academic circles Hayek is best known for his work on how prices in a market economy provide information and result in a spontaneous order.  This work is closely related to Adam Smith’s ideas about the “invisible hand.”  Ayn Rand and Hayek never met, but Rand was highly critical of Hayek.[1]

Hayek considered one of his great achievements his work on “cultural evolution”, which lays out his epistemology.  One commentator summarizes Hayek’s cultural evolution this way

According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups. The theory, of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project. (Emphasis Added)

http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf

The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, Erik Angner

Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science

Hayek’s objection to central planning is not based on individualism, but on the fact that central planning substitutes the knowledge and decisions of a few people for that of the group.  This disrupts the process of cultural evolution according to Hayek.

This group basis of evolution is based on Hayek’s belief that reason is limited at best.

Burke and Hayek, then, shared a common enemy as well as a common understanding: Enlightenment rationalism. Perhaps the most characteristic attribute of Enlightenment thought was its cavalier dismissal of ‘irrational’ tradition as mere superstition and prejudice. (Emphasis added)

http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm

The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek: A Critical Comparison, Linda C. Raeder is Associate Editor of HUMANITAS and a Research Associate at the National Humanities Institute

David Kelley summarizes Hayek’s position on Capitalism best.

This case for market freedom is essentially negative. Hayek seems to think that if socialist planning were possible, socialism might be the morally ideal system. But the inescapable ignorance of would-be planners excludes that possibility: ―If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty.‖10

 

http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf

Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade

Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction

David Kelley The Atlas Society

Hayek also accepts the Austrian economics position of subjective values and as a result rejects a rational or scientific ethics.  “No universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us,‖3 which is obviously not consistent with her view.”[2]

It is clear that Hayek is inconsistent with Ayn Rand’s metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  Hayek’s support for “free markets” or capitalism is coincidental with Objectivism, not fundamental.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXJX9StfE1g

[2] http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf, Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade, Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction, David Kelley The Atlas Society

March 21, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, philosophy | , , , | 1 Comment

The Two Most Important People to the US Presidential Election are not in the Race

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

John Maynard Keynes

Based on this quote you might think that the two most important people in the US presidential election are John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. However, both of these men were influenced profoundly by two philosophers whose importance extends far beyond economics, Immanuel Kant and David Hume.

humeKant’s influence on today’s leftist movements is hardly likely to be surprising to most people.  Kant’s attack on reason and reality started the whole German philosophical movement, which has been written about extensively.  For instance, Stephen Hick’s excellent book Explaining Postmodernism shows this connection as do many other people.  The connection between Kant and Keynes may seem more tenuous except that American leftists are inevitably Keynesians.  However, the paper “The Philosophy of John Maynard Keynes (A Reconsideration)” by Elke Muchlinski shows that Keynes and Kant shared a common epistemological approach.

Keynes delineated an epistemological approach to the theory of probability. He conceived probability in a broader sense, not only as a class which is capable of numerical measurement. He made a turning point to the categories of knowledge, ignorance, rational belief and precariousness. His method provides a background for his conception of convention which still encompasses the fragility and precariousness of knowledge. Keynes rejected formal logic as inadequate for his purposes to outline the process of acquiring knowledge. To defend his view of uncertainty inherently to all economic questions he relied to conceptions of degree of credibility, degree of confidence and conventional judgment.

Seeing Kant’s and Keynes influence on a Hillary Clinton or an Elizabeth Warren is probably pretty easy for many people.

What is perhaps less well known is David Hume’s influence on U.S. conservatives and Friedrich Hayek. The blog The American Conservative calls Hume “The First Conservative” and the First Principles, a conservative philosophical journal agrees. Hume gave us the problem of induction, denied that causality exists, and most importantly for this article, he rejected Locke’s natural rights and the idea of ethics based on reason.  Locke’s natural rights are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, form the basis for the Bill of Rights, and was the foundation of most of common law at the time. Ultimately, Hume attacks reason and science in order to make room for religion and tradition.

Hayek was highly influenced by Hume.  This paper entitled, Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University, explains:

For Hayek, the rules of morality and justice are the same as they were for David Hume: conventions that have emerged and endured because they smooth the coordination of human affairs and are indispensable, given the nature of reality and the circumstances of human existence, to the effective functioning of society. For Hayek as for Hume the rules of morality and justice are not the products of reason and they cannot be rationally justified in the way demanded by constructivist thinkers. And since our moral traditions cannot be rationally justified in accordance with the demands of reason or the canons of science, we must be content with the more modest effort of “rational reconstruction,” a “natural-historical” investigation of how our institutions came into being, which can enable us to understand the needs they serve.

It might be harder to see Hume’s influence on a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie, but it is there.  The libertarians might argue that this argument does not apply to Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz, however the libertarian movement is also profoundly influenced by Hume and Hayek.  For instance, the libertarian think tank Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEE) has a whole series of excellent lectures on the Scottish Enlightenment extolling the virtues of this philosophical movement, which definitely includes Hume and Hayek.

What is missing from this election is a candidate that represents John Locke, natural rights, reason – in other words the values on which the United States was founded.

Paraphrasing Ayn Rand, in a debate between two irrational positions, it is the one that asks its followers to believe in the most fantastical and the one that is willing to be the most ruthless that will win.

 

 

For those of us in the patent business this means we are unlikely to see any improvements as a result of this presidential election.  Patent law is based in natural rights and reason.

August 17, 2015 Posted by | philosophy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hayek: Friend or Foe of Reason, Liberty and Capitalism?

I have been accused of taking the Austrian School of Economics out of context.  Rather than range all over the topic, I will address one Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, primarily with respect to his epistemology.  However, his sense of ethics follows directly from his epistemology so this will be discussed.  As well, his metaphysics will be touched on.

My criteria of whether Hayek is a friend or foe will primarily focus on whether he is an advocate for reason (logic and evidence) as best defined by Rand and Locke.  I focus primarily on Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, which lays out his ideas on epistemology.  There are dozens of papers on this subject and below I will provide quotes from a number of papers that analyze Hayek’s theory.

 

Austrian economist, political philosopher, and winner of the 1974 Nobel memorial prize –[Hayek] spent a good part of his career developing a theory of cultural evolution. According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups. The theory, of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project. In the present paper, I explore the history of this theory of cultural evolution. (Emphasis Added)

http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf

The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, Erik Angner

Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science

 

It is clear from the quote above that ethics is a group level, not at the individual level.  The ethics of a group are random and the dominate ethical rules are determined by some sort of evolutionary success.  According to the paper this is not a side issue or something Hayek scribbled out that is separate from the rest of his ideas.

It is hard to believe that Rand or Locke would have been impressed with the idea that ethics are determined by the success of groups.

 

According to Hayek, reason was not the driving force behind cultural evolution, but rather co-evolved in the course of this process.  (Emphasis Added)

http://www.bath.ac.uk/economics/staff/horst-feldmann/feldmann-2005-hayek-theory-of-cultural-evolution.pdf

Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution a Critique of the Critiques, by Horst Feldmann

 

This paper suggests that reason is the result of cultural evolution just like ethics.  It is hard to see Rand or Locke agreeing with this.

 

 

Hayek argues, however, that the demand for rational, conscious (“political”) control of the concrete particulars of social life is based upon a misunderstanding of the process of cultural evolution and on a hubristic and dangerous overestimation of the capacity of the conscious reasoning intellect. As we have seen, Hayek contends that civilization is not the creation of the reasoning mind, but the unintended outcome of the spontaneous play of innumerable minds within a matrix of nonrational values, beliefs, and traditions. The desire of modern constructivists to “make everything subject to rational control” represents for Hayek an egregious “abuse of reason” based upon a failure to recognize the limits to reason’s sphere of competence.63 Such limits, again, stem from the fact that reason is confronted by an immovable epistemological barrier: its irremediable ignorance of most of the particular, concrete facts that determine the actions of individuals within society. The constructivist’s main error is the refusal to recognize that reason is only competent in the realm of the abstract. Hayek observes that the “rationalist . . . revolt against reason is . . . usually directed against the abstractness of thought [and] against the submission to abstract rules” and is marked by a passionate embrace of the concrete. He sums up the constructivist error in this way: “constructivist rationalism rejects the demand for the discipline of reason because it deceives itself that reason can directly master all particulars; and it is thereby led to a preference for the concrete over the abstract, the particular over the general, because its adherents do not realize how much they thereby limit the span of true control by reason.”64 (Emphasis Added)

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1513&theme=home&page=3

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University

 

“Matrix of nonrational values, beliefs, and traditions” are responsible for civilization?  It is clear that Hayek does not think there is anything special about Natural Rights or the United States or any other country or their values.  The best we can say is that it is the best based on its success at this time.

“Rejects the demand for the disciple of reason”?  This sounds like it comes straight from an environmentalist or a modern socialist.  It is clear that Hayek is not just talking about the limits of the knowledge of a central planner, he is attacking reason itself.  The best possible spin is that Hayek is only attacking reason with respect to knowledge of human affairs, i.e., economics, social sciences, ethics, law, political structures, literature and the arts.

It is clear from Hayek’s rejection of reason that he does not agree with an Aristotelian or Objectivist idea of an objective reality that is knowable.  At best Hayek’s metaphysics is consistent with Plato’s theory of forms, where we can only get a vague glimpse of reality.

 

“The picture of man as a being who, thanks to his reason, can rise above the values of civilization, in order to judge it from the outside . . . is an illusion.”83 For Hayek, morals, values, and reason are entirely natural phenomena, evolutionary adaptations which have enabled man to survive and flourish in his particular kind of world.

 

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1513&theme=home&page=3

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University

 

Does the first sentence above sound like Howard Roark or Ellsworth Toohey?  Hayek is pushing the worst sort of collectivism.  It is a collectivist attack on the mind itself, on the independence of the mind based on reason.  Hayek would have stood hand and hand with the Catholic Church in condemning Galileo to death.

 

For Hayek, the rules of morality and justice are the same as they were for David Hume: conventions that have emerged and endured because they smooth the coordination of human affairs and are indispensable, given the nature of reality and the circumstances of human existence, to the effective functioning of society.87 For Hayek as for Hume the rules of morality and justice are not the products of reason and they cannot be rationally justified in the way demanded by constructivist thinkers. And since our moral traditions cannot be rationally justified in accordance with the demands of reason or the canons of science, we must be content with the more modest effort of “rational reconstruction,” a “natural-historical” investigation of how our institutions came into being, which can enable us to understand the needs they serve.88

 

http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1513&theme=home&page=3

Hayek on the Role of Reason in Human Affairs, Linda C. Raeder, Palm Beach Atlantic University

 

Morality is not based on reason according to Hayek, it is based on convention.  David Hume was the philosopher that came up with the ‘is-ought” problem in ethics that is the basis for moral relativism.  Solving the “is-ought” problem was one of the major accomplishments Rand’s ethics.

Hume also attacked cause and effect and therefore reason, arguing that the best we can say about events is that they are closely related or probablistic.  I consider Hume worse than Kant, partly because he is more understandable than Kant and because he inspired Kant.  Here is what Rand had to say about Hume.

“If you observe that ever since Hume and Kant (mainly Kant, because Hume was merely the Bertrand Russell of his time) philosophy has been striving to prove that man’s mind is impotent, that there’s no such thing as reality and we wouldn’t be able to perceive it if there were—you will realize the magnitude of the treason involved.”

 

F.A. Hayek was the chief conduit through which Hume’s moral, political, and social theory entered the mainstream of modern libertarian thought. In his article “The Legal and Political Philosophy of David Hume” (originally presented as a lecture at the University of Freiburg on July 18, 1963), Hayek bemoaned the fact that Hume’s legal and political philosophy had been “curiously neglected.” In addition to being “one of the founders of economic theory” and the greatest British legal philosopher before Bentham, Hume “gives us probably the only comprehensive statement of the legal and political philosophy which later became known as [classical] liberalism.”

http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/self-interest-social-order-classical-liberalism-david-hume  Self-Interest and Social Order in Classical Liberalism: David Hume, by George Smith, formerly Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Humane Studies, a lecturer on American History for Cato Summer Seminars, and Executive Editor of Knowledge Products. Smith’s fourth book, The System of Liberty, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

 

This clearly shows that David Hume was a big part of Hayek’s philosophical background.  Bentham is Jeremy Bentham, who is considered the father of utilitarianism and is known for being an intellectual father of the utopian socialist movement in England.

 

Perhaps no other area of Burke’s and Hayek’s thought is as congruent as their understanding of the role of reason in human affairs; their views are so close as to suggest that Hayek’s thought on this issue is merely an elaboration, although quite an extensive one, of Burke’s theme. Hayek developed several of Burke’s most crucial insights: 1) the priority of social experience (or “tradition”) over reason; 2) the notion that inherited social institutions embody a “superindividual wisdom” 22 which transcends that available to the conscious reasoning mind; and 3) the impotence of reason to ‘design’ a viable social order. (Emphasis Added)

http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm

The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek:A Critical Comparison, Linda C. Raeder is Associate Editor of HUMANITAS and a Research Associate at the National Humanities Institute

 

Here is another attack on reason, an appeal to collective reasoning and another statement that reason is impotent.

 

Burke and Hayek, then, shared a common enemy as well as a common understanding: Enlightenment rationalism. Perhaps the most characteristic attribute of Enlightenment thought was its cavalier dismissal of ‘irrational’ tradition as mere superstition and prejudice.

http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm

The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek:A Critical Comparison, Linda C. Raeder is Associate Editor of HUMANITAS and a Research Associate at the National Humanities Institute

This statement makes it clear that Hayek was anti-reason and anti-enlightenment.

 

Hayek, by contrast, is a critic of what he calls ―constructive rationalism.‖2 His concept of rationalism is somewhat idiosyncratic, and is not equivalent to Rand‘s conception of reason. Nevertheless, it leads him to claim that ―no universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us,‖3 which is obviously not consistent with her view. For Hayek, moral rules have a status lying ―between instinct and reason.‖4 (Emphasis Added)

 

http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf

Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade

Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction

David Kelley The Atlas Society

 

This is another case discussing how Hayek did not think that ethics were based on reason or that reason could ever tell us anything about ethics.

This case for market freedom is essentially negative. Hayek seems to think that if socialist planning were possible, socialism might be the morally ideal system. But the inescapable ignorance of would-be planners excludes that possibility: ―If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty.‖10

 

http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf

Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade

Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction

David Kelley The Atlas Society

 

Hayek is not pro-liberty, at best he is pro-tradition, which is why it is not surprising to see so many religious people affiliated with the Austrian School of Economics.  He is anti-reason and specifically bases his justification for ‘free markets’ on the limitations of reason generally and on the inability of reason to create or understand morals.  His defense of the pricing mechanism of free markets is based not on liberty but on the idea of spontaneous order.  More fundamentally, Hayek bases his justification of the pricing mechanism on tradition and utilitarian grounds.

Hayek’s metaphysics appear to be Platonic, which is incompatible with Rand and Locke.  His epistemology is more consistent with Hume or Kant than Rand or Locke.  You might argue that Hayek was only discussing the limits of reason with regard to social sciences, however at the least he applies it to all areas of human interaction, which includes ethics, the law, and the political realm.  This means he is against Natural Rights and Locke, which means he is against capitalism.  Capitalism is the economic system that arises when the law protects people’s natural rights, particularly their property rights.  Hayek does not recognize property rights, at best he recognizes societies’ property conventions, which means he cannot understand capitalism.  This is more than enough for me to damn Hayek as an enemy of capitalism and a foe.

In my opinion, Hayek’s esteem of Hume, Bentham, and Burke point to a much deeper antipathy to reason.  His ethics is essentially majority rules with the modifier of natural selection.  He specifically thinks it is the most absurd folly to think any one person can use reason to judge a society.  This is consistent with his intellectual compatriots Hume and Burke.  Hayek’s ethics is perfectly consistent with the moral relativists that say we cannot judge and an ISIS or a USSR or christianity.  His ethics are antithetical to Rand’s and Locke’s.  Hayek is clear that he does not think Natural Rights can be justified by reason and that Natural Rights cannot claim any special place in the world.  Hayek is not a friend of reason, liberty, or capitalism.  Rand’s estimation of Hayek is similar to mine, although I think I have spent much more time analyzing the issue.

 

 

 

 

I am willing to entertain any serious evidence that I have mischaracterized Rand or how the sources I am citing mischaracterized his arguments.  I am not interested in unsubstantiated claims that I have misunderstood or mischaracterized Hayek.  Do not complain that my standard is Rand and Locke, I told you that upfront.  I am not interested in arguments that talk about other leading figures in the Austrian School of economics.  Stick to the subject and provide actual evidence.

 

March 4, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, -History | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Austrian Business Cycle Debunked

This video, The Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle | Roger W. Garrison, from the Von Mises University does a good job of explaining the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT).  The key point is that increasing the rate of savings (capital) results in increased economic growth in the future.  The theory was worked out by Von Mises and Hayek.  The foundation of the theory is very similar to classical economics, which held that economic growth was the result of increases in capital.  The video has a number of charts and graphs to make it look more scientific, however no empirical evidence is provided to support the theory.  Other work may provide empirical evidence, but I know of counter evidence as well.

This article will first discuss ABCT of recessions and some small errors in the theory.  Then I will show that ABCT is incorrect about what causes economic growth and its failure to explain economic history, particularly the Industrial Revolution.

Austrians are always focused on showing that Keynes economic theories are wrong, and they are certainly right about this.  Austrians argue that there is a trade between investment and consumption, which they call the sustainable Production Possibilities Frontier.  Keynesian theory would say there is no difference between consumption and investment.  Certainly there is a trade between investment and consumption.  The Keynesians somehow argue that by eating your seed corn you will be wealthier.  However, a minor problem with ABCT is that it equates savings with investment.  The two are not necessarily the same.

ABCT then states that recessions are caused by Central Banks (the Federal Reserve in the US) arbitrarily lowering interest rates below the market rate, which causes mal-investment and reduces the saving rate.  Unless we narrowly define saving as putting money in a bank, savers have a number of choices which are not directly affected by interest rates.  For instance, savers can put their money in stocks or corporate bonds.  The return on stocks and corporate bonds is more related to the success of the underlying company than the interest rate set by the Central Bank, so the disincentive to save is not a strong as suggested by the ABCT.  The second question is why does this cause mal-investment but increased saving does not.  In both cases the investment intermediary is a commercial bank.  Now if we were talking about direct government spending then the case is clear.  In that case the government is not subject to the market.  However, commercial banks are subject to the market.  If interest rates are lower because of additional savings or because the Central Bank set them lower does not change their loan approval process.  In addition, the ABCT completely ignores tax and regulatory policy.  Are Austrians really saying that recessions can only be caused by Central Banks setting interest rates too low?  Why not too high?  This is why Austrians are obsessed with what Central Banks are doing and seem somewhat oblivious to other issues.

These are not my real complaints with the ABCT however.  My real complaints are 1) recessions happened before there were Central Banks and 2) economic growth is not caused by increases in capital.  Central Banks are a fairly new creation and fractional reserve banks did not exist in the world until around 1650s.  The United States did not have a Central Bank until 1913, but there were recessions before that in the US.  There were certainly recessions in the world before there were banks, including one huge one called the Dark Ages.  ABCT fails to explain the source of all recessions, including the recession of 2001.

ABCT is also wrong on what causes economic growth.  Robert Solow did an econometric study of the US economy to determine how much of the growth was due to increases in labor, how much was due to increases in capital, and how much was due to increasing levels of technology.  According to Wikipedia

[This] technique has been applied to virtually every economy in the world and a common finding is that observed levels of economic growth cannot be explained simply by changes in the stock of capital in the economy or population and labor force growth rates. Hence, technological progress plays a key role in the economic growth of nations, or the lack of ithttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_accounting

Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics for this work.  (This is not an endorsement of everything Solow says)

I would change the bolded part to state that the only way to obtain real per capita increases in wealth is through increasing levels of technology.  This becomes more apparent if you look over longer timeframes.  If we had the same technology as our ancestors in 1600, even with today’s total capital, would we be any wealthier than our ancestors?  We would not live longer, we would not be able to produce any faster, the only difference might be that we had more savings to fall back on or disseminate existing technologies.  However there was very little technological change at the time, so the increase in technological dissemination would have been small.  As a result, we would be essentially no wealthier than our ancestors.  Our standard of living is defined by our level of technology.  I discuss this in much more detail in my upcoming book, “Source of Economic Growth.”

Note that the ABCT does not account for technological change.  As a result, the theory should hold up in a technologically static world.  However, this is totally inconsistent with economic history.  The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain and the United States.  There is no evidence that these countries had larger savings or capital stocks than say France or China or Holland or Japan.  The Industrial Revolution was really a perpetual invention machine, driven by inventions not by capital.  The source of all wealth is the human mind.  The application of the human mind to problems of survival is called inventing, which is how we increase our technological level.

Austrian Business Cycle Theory does not hold up under scrutiny.  Austrians have misidentified the source of economic growth and have a defective model for what causes recessions. Naturally they prescribe the wrong medicine.  Austrian Economics is not pro-capitalism, it is not consistent with the enlightenment, reason, and science, which I have described in other posts.

 

 

PS: I mentioned above that the Austrians misdiagnosed the recession of 2001.  They love to say that Greenspan created a bubble economy, which implies that in fact there was no real economic growth in the late 1990s.  The narrative that Greenspan created a credit bubble by holding interest rates too low does not fit the facts.  The economic growth of the late 1990s was built on new technologies that have made our life immeasurably better.  Real incomes and industrial production rose significantly in the late 1990s.  In addition, the effective Fed funds rate in the late 1990s was between 5.5 and 6.5%, which looks tight by today’s standards.  The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet was stable.  There was an inverted yield curve in 2000, which happened as Greenspan was increasing interest rates.  The commodities index was falling slightly in 1999 and rose slightly in 2000.  M1 was essentially flat in the late 1990s and M2 was growing slowly.  The evidence is overwhelming that the recession of 2001 was not caused by Federal Reserve “printing” too much money.  In fact the evidence points to the idea that Greenspan was too restrictive and caused an inverted yield curve in his desire to cause the stock market to cool off, which caused the recession.  It is true that the stock market had gotten ahead of earnings, but recent experiments in economics show this is a common with new investors and is not necessarily the result of easy credit.

 

 

February 15, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, -History, Innovation | , , , , | 7 Comments

The Irrational Foundations of Austrian Economics

The Austrians, such as those on the Von Mises website, like to tout that they are pro-freedom, capitalists, and arch enemies of the socialists and Keynesians.  Strangely enough this means that they have aligned themselves with socialists in opposing property rights for inventors and attacking Locke’s ideas on property.  Even more fundamentally the Austrians seem to share intellectual roots with the socialist or more broadly the post-modernist movement, which is a reactionary movement opposing the enlightenment, reason, and science.  I have written on Fredrick Hayek’s anti-reason, anti-natural rights, moral relativist positions in Hayek vs. Rand: Patents and Capitalism.

However, Hayek was not the only Austrian with post-modernists roots.  Von Mises was clear that values and prices are subjective.  By this the Austrians do not mean that they are personal or that each person puts a different value on things, they mean unconnected in anyway with reality.  Von Mises also said that economics is a value-free science.  This may sound high-minded, but science is not value free.  Science starts with an objective reality, demands logic and evidence, and morally requires that scientist report data accurately.  These positions of Von Mises place him firmly in agreement with the post-modernists (socialists, Keynesians).  Some people think I am misinterpreting the Austrian position so here is a video of a talk from the Mises University that demonstrates that the Mises people are serious about the subjective theory of value.  They are not saying it depends on your circumstances, they are saying there is no connection to reality between prices or values in economics.  The meat of the video starts at 7:35 in which the speaker states “value is just a state of mind.”  At 7:57 he is clear that value has no extensive property, which means it is not related to the real world.  8:16 the speaker states that all we have is a state of mind – that value exists only in the mind of the individual.  9:23 value is a state of mind.  9:54 there is no relation between the external world (reality) and the judgments of our minds – this is as clear as it will get that the Austrians are ignoring reality and believe economics is separate from reality.  11:14 The speaker describes profit as subjective.

Of course this position cannot logically be held to be true so you will find contradicting statements in the talk.  Just like people who deny reality, meaning they deny A is A, the position cannot be held without contradiction.  But since they deny reality matters in economics, they free themselves from the science of non-contradictory thinking – logic.  This makes the Austrians consistent with the post-modernist (socialist) movement.  I cannot say that every Austrian economist makes this mistake, but it is the accepted position of the modern Austrian school of economics and it got its start with Von Mises.

The speaker is trying to destroy the intrinsic theory of value.  Classical economists followed the labor theory of value which is an intrinsic theory of value.  According to this theory the value of an item is the sum total of the labor that went into the item.  The Austrians are correct that the classical economists’ position was incorrect, but their solution is no better.  They want to say value is determined without reference to the real world – that is it is all in the mind of the valuer, while the classical economists said value could be determined without reference to the valuer.  Both are nonsense.  Objective valuation has to take the position of the valuer and the item being valued into account.  Ayn Rand has a great explanation of this topic in Capitalism the Unknown Ideal starting on page 13 I believe.

Capitalism is based in reality, reason, and the ethics of natural rights.  Austrians are not capitalists.

February 12, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, -Philosophy, Patents | , , , | 1 Comment

Ayn Rand & Economics

Many people first become interested in economics because of Ayn Rand’s works such as Atlas Shrugged.  Ayn Rand did not develop a science of economics, she defined the moral codes for an economic system – specifically capitalism.  In the very first sentences of Capitalism: The Unknown Idea, Rand states:

This book is not a treatise on economics.  It is a collection of essays on the moral aspects of capitalism.

As a result, when students of Rand want to understand the science of economics they would often start examining the works of classical economics.  Adam Smith explained that the invisible hand resulted in people pursuing their own interest efficiently allocating scarce resources.  He also explained how specialization resulted in increased wealth using the example of a pin factory.  Commonly, people will then read Hayek who explains the limits of bureaucrats’ knowledge and how the price system is an information system for organizing resources.  Friedman who explains the problems of manipulating the money supply and Austrian economists who show that the value of a product (service) is subjective.  This study usually leads to two organizing principles of economics: supply and demand and that wealth is created in a free market by competition driving down the price of goods.

This leads to certain conflicts between economic science and Ayn Rand’s Philosophy.  For instance, if competition is an unqualified good then antitrust laws that encourage competition should be good.  But Ayn Rand believed that antitrust laws interfered with the free market and property rights.  If competition was constantly squeezing profit margins how could any person or firm become significantly wealthier than the average person unless they subverted the market.  The extreme version of this was set forth in the book “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.”  The stock market has already priced in all generally available information, so there is no way to beat the market.[1] This is related to the efficient market hypothesis, which is the application of perfect competition to the stock market.  The conclusion from economic science is that those people who get wealthy somehow subvert supply and demand by excluding competition and therefore are not competing fairly.  In other words, people who become wealthy in a free market are acting immorally.  The common solution to this dilemma is to note that human skills vary significantly from one person to the next.  Those with higher skills are able to consistently stay ahead of their competition.  We should not demonize them because those people who get rich do so by providing pleasure to a large number of people.

Alternatively, people who have enjoyed Any Rand’s works usually are interested in business and consider running a successful business, virtuous.  When they start to study business, they find that the last thing you want to do as a business is compete on price with a commodity product or service.  The whole goal of a business is to find or create a market where you can have a competitive advantage.  This is in complete contradiction to what they have learned from economic science.  Markets where a business is able to sustain a competitive advantage result in misallocation of resources, according to economic theory.  However, these are exactly the conditions a successful business seeks.  Ayn Rand says that capitalism and creating wealth in a free market are both virtuous.

By now our objectivist is completely confused.  One solution is to concentrate on personally creating wealth and ignore the free market theorists.  Their ideas of perfect competition are not consistent with Rand’s ideas anyway.  This person will then spend more time studying business.  As they start studying business they will learn that all the really tough problems involve management of people, either customers or employees.  Great business ideas and inventions are a dime a dozen, right?.  A successful businessperson needs to concentrate on the motivations and goals of customers and employees who may not be rational.  Because people are not rational we need to concentrate on their emotions.  This is beginning to sound more like Ellesworth Toohey or James Taggart than John Galt, Dagny Taggart or Howard Roark.

Finding this line of thought a little too emotive our objectivist will search for the real bastions of capitalism.  This search will lead them to Wall Street and the stock market, where no one is afraid to say they are trying to make money.  Here they will find fundamental and technical analysis of stocks.  Fundamental analysis is based on a detailed understanding of a company’s financial statements.  So real wealth is created by finance, right?.  When they study technical analysis they learn that the art of divination is not dead.  Nevertheless with economics focused on the money supply, government debt, tax rates, supply and demand and business focused on venture capital, stock prices, initial public offerings, and bond rates it appears that real wealth is created by finance.  Funny John Galt was not an financier instead of an inventor[2].  How could Ayn Rand have gotten things so wrong?


[1] Of course this does not apply to insider trading.

[2] There are inventors in finance and despite the bad name financial innovation has gotten recently, financial inventions have been critical to the modern economy.  For instance, fractional reserve banking is key to unlocking dead assets and more recently swept banking accounts increased the value of banking deposits.  Even collateralized mortgage obligations probably decrease risk and increase access to capital, when they are not manipulated by GSEs and given false bond ratings by government sanctioned ratings agencies.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | Innovation | , , , , | Leave a comment