Lars Syll On Methodological Critique of Austrian Economics

By Lars Syll [h/t] Jan Milch

This is a fair presentation and critique of Austrian methodology. But beware! In theoretical and methodological questions it’s not always either-or. We have to be open-minded and pluralistic enough not to throw out the baby with the bath water — and fail to secure insights like this:

What is the problem we wish to solve when we try to construct a rational economic order?… If we possess all the relevant information, if we can start out from a given system of preferences, and if we command complete knowledge of available means, the problem which remains is purely one of logic…

This, however, is emphatically not the economic problem which society faces…The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is…a problem of the utilization of knowledge which is not given to anyone in its totality.

This character of the fundamental problem has, I am afraid, been obscured rather than illuminated by many of the recent refinements of economic theory…Many of the current disputes with regard to both economic theory and economic policy have their common origin in a misconception about the nature of the economic problem of society. This misconception in turn is due to an erroneous transfer to social phenomena of the habits of thought we have developed in dealing with the phenomena of nature…

Read rest here (and be sure to check out the comments made by Paul Davidson!).


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