All Commentary
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Austrian Progressive Research Agenda

A few years ago Peter Leeson wrote 10 Austrian Vices and How to Avoid Them. The vices Leeson discusses are nothing new. There has been much debate, at least as far back as the Austrian renaissance in the mid 70s, regarding the progressive research programs Austrian economists need to pursue and the mistakes they need to watch out for.

One such example can be found here in Murray Rothbard’s comment on Louis Spadaro’s paper “Toward a Program of Research and Development for Austrian Economists,” which was presented at the 1976 Austrian Conference at Windsor Castle.

Rothbard agrees with the basic thrust of Spadaro’s argument–namely, that Austrians should pursue the line of research in what makes us unique. This, of course, is the importance placed upon subjectivity in economic analysis. From there, however, Rothbard found many problems with Spadaro’s proposed program. Most notable was Spadaro’s belief that Austrians spend too much time attacking anti-Austrian fallacies. Rothbard believed that the refutation of such fallacies serves the purpose of giving Austrians a dialogue in the mainstream journals, convincing young economists and students, encouraging young economists to hone their skills in Austrian methods, and helping young Austrians to shake off the economic flaws they learn in graduate school.

These flaws or vices are not really important. All economists, including the Austrians, have their vices. The question is whether we are moving forward in progressive research. Rothbard wanted to add to Spadaro’s proposal, of further development of subjective theory, by placing importance also on political institutions and the use of history. Modern Austrian economics is indeed moving forward. Many young Austrians have followed Rothbard’s advice by working on applied topics using history and discussing the importance of institutions. One example is Chris Coyne’s fantastic book After War, which uses praxeology and history to analyze reconstruction efforts.

Rothbard’s points are important. The interaction of government and market participants plays a large part in human action and there is so much we can learn by just simply looking out the window. Young students interested in Austrian economics should read both Spadaro’s piece and Rothbard’s comment because, despite the mistakes we will undoubtedly make, we need to make sure we are still moving forward.

Download Rothbard’s Comment on Louis Spadaro’s Toward a Program of Research and Development for Austrian Economics here.

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.