Austrian Economics and Empirical Research

Economist Steve Horwitz has a great lead-off in this month’s Cato Unbound. It’s all about the Austrian School of economics and its various detractors and factions. Some highlights:

Rather than being anti-empirical, modern Austrian economists are trying to open up the box of what counts as “empirical evidence” to include forms normally dismissed out of hand by the rest of the profession. Arguably, then, modern Austrians might well be more empirical than other economists, at least as judged by their professional work […]

Good economics for Austrians means sound arguments, not just valid ones. Too much of modern economics consists of valid reasoning from false premises about human action. The accuracy of those premises matter greatly for Austrians.

That is one reason why subjectivism is more important than praxeology for understanding Austrian applied research. Economics is radically subjectivist in the sense that human action depends upon the perceptions of the world held by the actor […]

Subjectivism also explains Austrian skepticism about statistical correlation being the privileged form of empirical evidence. It only provides correlation, and to provide causation requires a theoretical explanation. If such explanations must start with actors’ perceptions of the world, then forms of empirical evidence that capture such perceptions would be at least as useful. Austrians therefore frequently turn to primary source material and interview and survey work as well as quantitative data to tell a complete story of how a particular economic phenomenon came to be and functioned. How did actors perceive their options and constraints and what sorts of consequences emerged from their choices?

Dr. Horwitz goes on to give readers a brief list of introductory readings for those who are interested in the academic side of the Austrian School, rather than just the political and popular side. Highly recommended. You read the whole thing here.

Update: Longtime reader (and admin of NOL’s Facebook page) Hank points us to a rebuttal over at the Mises Institute’s blog. I didn’t find it convincing, but it’s still worth a look.

2 thoughts on “Austrian Economics and Empirical Research

  1. This is an excellent short piece which anyone who takes Austrian economics seriously should read. Steve Horwitz is sharp!

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