Thursday, 6 September 2012

Cato Unbound

The September 2012 issue of Cato Unbound is on the Theory and Practice in the Austrian School.
Ludwig von Mises's Human Action is still the key summation of the Austrian school of economics. In it, Mises describes certain conclusions, those of praxeology, as having a special epistemological status: They are deductive conclusions that are not subject to falsification. In plain language, they cannot fail to be true: While the findings of history may always be subject to revision—if new evidence is discovered, say, or if old evidence is found to be unreliable—the conclusions of praxeology will always be valid.

This move has brought critics of Austrian economics to cry foul. Such critics are apt to see the Austrian school as a group of almost cartesian rationalists, deducing economic theorems that, while perhaps interesting in their own right, can by definition have no purchase in the real world of economic policy and the study of human events.

Professor Steven Horwitz begs to differ. In his lead essay he argues that logical deduction has a strictly limited role to play in economics, and that Austrian economists are indeed making important empirical contributions to the field. Further, he argues that the Austrian school stands to teach mainstream economics a good deal about how to conduct empirical observations and interpret them properly. To discuss with Horwitz, we have invited three other distinguished economists, each of whom has been influenced by the Austrian school — while ultimately settling elsewhere methodologically: Bryan Caplan, George A. Selgin, and Antony Davies.

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