Economics

What Are the Best Books About Austrian Economics?

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At The Browser's great Five Books interview series, George Mason University economist Peter Boettke recommends some important works written from the perspective of Austrian economics. Not surprisingly, the names Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek figure prominently in his list. Here's a snippet from the long and very interesting interview:

Are you saying mainstream economics can't handle the complexities of the real world?

This is why methodology of the social sciences matters. It defines not only what we consider to be good questions, but probably more importantly what we consider acceptable answers. A lot of people within mainstream economics would like to handle complexity, and we see them constantly striving to do it, but they constrain their efforts by certain methodological straitjackets. They claim they have to fit things into formalistic models, otherwise it's not a good answer. One of my favourite books is by Richard Nelson, who teaches at Columbia, about evolutionary economics. In that, he makes a distinction between what he calls "appreciative" theory and "formal" theory. What he means is that there is a theory that all economists agree to when they talk to one another about what goes on in markets, about entrepreneurship, about innovation.

Schumpeter uses the phrase "creative destruction". For example, you have Tower Records, it does very well, then innovation comes in and eventually Tower Records goes out. We can tell the story about how markets operate in that way, and we can develop an appreciation for it. What we can't do is put it in a model, and our formal, official theory is the modelling exercise. So there is this disjoint between the appreciative theory we can talk about, and the formal theory which limits what we can talk about to only those things that we can formally prove in a deductive model. Austrians aren't challenging the appreciative theory of neo-classical economics. In fact they're very much part of the neoclassical tradition. It's just that the Austrians want to talk about things like dispersed knowledge, heterogeneity, uncertainty – not just risk, but real uncertainty – and institutions, how institutions arise to allow us to cope with our ignorance and our uncertainty and to ameliorate the frictions that exist in the world. Rather than seeing the frictions as the thing that destroys the model we have, or prima facie evidence that the market is not very efficient, they play a positive role.

Read the whole thing here.

Elsewhere in Reason: Hayek biographer Bruce Caldwell on Hayek's enduring lessons about bad planning, distributed information, and the liberating power of choice, and Sheldon Richman on the left's campaign to discredit the Austrian school.