What Economics Is Not

The most common misunderstanding about economics is that it is only about money and commerce. The next step is easy: I care about more than money, and so should everyone, so let’s leave economics to stock jobbers and money managers and otherwise dispense with its teachings. This is a fateful error, because, as Mises says, economics concerns everyone and everything. It is the very pith of civilization

This is a confusion sown by economists themselves, who postulate something called «economic man» who possesses a psychological propensity to always behave in ways that maximize wealth. Their mathematical models, predictions, and analysis of policy are based on this idea.

In the real world, however, we know this not to be the case. The world as we know involves profit seeking but also extraordinary acts of charity, sacrifice, non-pecuniary giving, and voluntarism (though I dislike that term since all commercial exchanges are voluntary too!).

How to account for these? The Austrian approach to economics dispenses with the idea of «economic man,» or rather broadens the meaning of economics to include all action, which takes place in a framework of scarcity. Scarcity requires that we economize on something in all that we do, even when wealth is not the motivation. For this reason, Austrians analyze acting individuals, not maximizing prototypes.

Why is this important? A common complaint against the free market is that it needs to be supplemented by laws that restrict the power of materialism unleashed. The market does «greed» well, people admit, but we need government to provide charity, order, law, and restraint of all sorts, as if these areas lie outside the domain of economics.

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Πηγή: mises.org

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