Monday, February 07, 2011

An Email Assertion: Austrianism is Dead

In a recent email debate I wrote the following, which I thought some might find interesting:

I remain somewhat puzzled at the notion of an Austrian resurgence as, in my view, Austrianism is dead.  When modern nation-states were emerging in Europe in the 19th Century the views of Menger had a chance to make policy differences.  Once the welfare state promoters won WWII Austrianism, due to intransigence on the part of party intellectuals, died as a political guide. 

Austrians, in my view, argue from a tabula rasa perspective, yet the slate is already full.  Achieving Austrian goals would require a cultural revolution akin to that seen in Russia and China within the past century, the Confederate States of America in the 19th, or, more ominously, the downfall of the Roman system of slave labor.

In Menger's time peasantry was still common.  A culture existed which could provide for itself (or at least which was believed to do so well enough that the devil taking the hindmost wasn't a concern).  Importantly, populations were much smaller then.  Without industrial food production etc. large numbers would starve long before they learned to farm, and small farms would ensure that populations (and profits derived from commerce therewith) remained at those lower levels. 

Debating whether we should have a welfare state is like debating whether we should have TV or the internet- the Rubicon was crossed long ago and humanity has adapted thereto.  The issue now is how to manage the system we have, regardless of how one would create a system ex nihilo, given those extremely rare opportunities in history when slates are truly clean.

Of course, in the event of some nasty, protracted and globally destructive war, dusting off their books would seem a wise decision (with the understanding that no welfare means a hands off approach on indigenous ways of life).

On a related note, Keynesianism, under the same head, is just as dead.  Policy was implemented with his views in mind, but where to from here remains to be seen.

Will the next ├╝ber-Economist please stand up!