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10 thoughts on “Epistemological Problems of Economics

  1. says:

    For now, I am gonna stop reading this book around its half. I am not ready to read directly from the viewpoint of individual epistemological approach to economic concepts. However, as an unorthodox economist, Ludwig von Mises is my recent discovery and I will look up to him again and again.

  2. says:

    Mises, once again, starts with clarifying the purpose and methodological approach to sound economics, namely that of the subjective theory of value. By placing the result of prices on individual valuations, he removes the perpetual question of where does prices arise: individual value goods and services through a hierarchical, ordinal ranking system at each point of their life. For Mises, as explained further in his magnus opus Human Action, all individual action is rational. Humans attempt to move from a state of less satisfaction to a state of greater satisfaction. However, due to the fallibility of human reasoning and knowledge, individuals may be mistaken or through unfortunate events and arrive at a state less satisfactory than they imagined. This does not refute the point all of human action is rational, as the action was intentional and purposeful.

    In the first half of the book, Mises expounds the differences and similarities between history, economics, and sociology. History is an ad hoc explanation of past events, created by specific individuals, under specific circumstances, at a specific geographical location. Although useful in other academic pursuits, it can not be used to deduce economic nor any other universal scientific law. Sociology attempts, as the father of sociology August Comte intended, to formulate universal laws of human society. Modern sociological research, however, has attempted instead the same path of history, in that it studies only specific human groups, in specific locations and times. Economics is a branch of sociology, specifically pertaining to the goal of finding universal laws between individuals and their relation with scarce resources, including most importantly, time.

    In clarifying economic laws, Mises attacks the senselessness of historicism, empiricism, naturalism, Marxism (particularly, socialism and polylogism), and the classical economic assumptions of a homo economicus. Throughout the book, Mises repeatedly crushes the doctrine of interventionism. By pursuing government policies into the economy, the advocates ignore economic laws, perpetuating the ills of the world they seek to alleviate. For example, the imposition of mandatory minimum wage controls, will undoubtedly create greater unemployment for the poor and the unfortunate workers, rather than increasing their standard of living. Price controls must, at some level, create less than what would normally be produced, if the price control is below market pricing. Interventionists have attempted to transform economic ideas which support their views that such policies will help, but when they inevitably fail, they blame economics for political bias. Furthermore, economics has refuted the belief held that merchants and businessmen must, through the accumulation of their wealth, have harmed other(s). Wealth generated voluntarily and without coercion, explained through economic theory, has a net benefit, for both the seller and the buyer. Though wealthy merchants and businessmen often collude with the powerful and the state to enact detrimental policy, this is the fault of allowing the state to interfere which results in this problem. Always, the wealthy, the influential, the authoritarians will try to sway the state to favor their interests. The goal of the common people should be that of limiting the state and thereby constricting such influence. Human prosperity can only exist and continue to exist through voluntary, cooperative, and peaceful measures.

    Often, in Mises' works, particularly his later ones, he may seem frustrated, seeing the capability and potential of human society bleed into waste, through ideas which he, and other notable thinkers, spent a lifetime fighting and refuting. The epistemological problems of economics continue to perpetuate among the economic field, and Mises himself, through no fault of his own or by any detriment to his reputation as a great economist and thinker, also contributes to some incorrect economic thinking. For instance, a small example, Mises introduces and uses the distinction between monopoly and competitive pricing, when no such distinction exist.

    With the existence of natural laws, biological, chemical, and physical, it should be no surprised there should be social and economic laws, though the methods for discovering these laws differ, though scientists and philosophers disagree, sometimes widely, on how methods between natural and social sciences should operate. Utopians who attempt to implement their world on everyone else disregard such universal laws and consequently revolt against reason, logic, and science. Science, if the goal is to discover truth and knowledge, should be, most importantly, value free. It can only say if such an action, phenomenon, or event should occur, then another action, phenomenon, or event should follow; not whether this is good or bad. Individuals may hold such beliefs and argue such events would be beneficial, but not the scientific theory. In other words, only humans can giving meaning to events and ideas in our lives, science cannot go beyond its own sphere.

    Mises is enlightening to read and touches upon interdisciplinary fields, including epistemology, philosophy, political science, economics, history, sociology, and others. Mises deals with thinkers and ideas whose origins may be forgotten but the underlying ideas still exist in current academia. In reading Mises, it will become apparent the parallels of problems and thinking between his time and contemporary time.

  3. says:

    More crystal-clear philosophy of knowledge from Mises.

  4. says:

    A brilliant book about the nature and scope of economics and a brilliant attack on those who want to smuggle socialism into economics as a political tactic.

    However, didn't enjoy too much the last sections of the book, which seemed out of place.

  5. says:

    Epistemological Problems of Economics by Ludwig von Mises (2003)

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