Down the Garden Path
Song - Artist - Album
Moanin' - Ray Charles - Genius + Soul = Jazz
As I have been with the station for a little over a year now and have not contributed any web content, I feel that a proper place to start would be to introduce Austrian Economics as a school of thought. Austrian Economics begins with the individual and builds up economic theory from there; herein lies it's first difference from the mainstream study of economics. The Austrians start with the individual and work upwards to society, while mainstream economics take the society and attempts to derive economic theory from social interactions.
Austrian Economics is derived as a subset of "Praxeology", which is the study of human action. Praxeology, like Austrian Economics, is explained using "a priori" truth. A priori means a statement which is absolutely true and can be confirmed by both logical consistency and empirical evidence. The phrase "humans act" is an example of this a priori true statement. Logical consistency would show that if humans did not act, that is they did not use their means to achieve ends, then the human race would not exist as it does today. If humans did not act, then we could only assume that the species would have died off a long time ago for lack of food and sustenance and shelter and everything else that needs to be accomplished through action. As far as empirical evidence goes, one only needs to examine their own life or look around at others to see that human beings do, indeed, act.
Human beings take action. Human beings use their means to achieve their ends. Action takes a specific amount of time depending on the means and the ends. Action is observable and can be seen in empirical reality. Because time is scarce and actions take an amount of time, human beings must display preference for which actions they prefer instead of other actions they could have been taking. This preference shows valuation on the part of the individual making the preference, so, if I choose to go to the movies instead of going swimming, at the specific time I took the action I valued going to the movies more than going swimming. Action can be successful or unsuccessful; if the ends aimed at are not achieved by the action, the action was unsuccessful. The ends are unknown to observers and cannot be seen; only the actor who takes the action can know whether the ends were attained or not.
All of the above statements are "a priori" true. There is no denying their validity as logically consistent and empirically verifiable. They apply universally to each individual throughout all time; they are just as true today as they were when the first human being walked on this planet. They do not require a society to be true; they are just as true when examining an individual castaway on a desert island as examining multiple individuals acting in society. When we are talking about society, however, we are introducing the possibility of interaction among those individuals.
People can interact in two different ways: violent, or hegemonic, and non-violent, or contractual. Hegemonic interactions are coercive or violent; they result in one person or group forcing the other person or group take an action under the threat of violence. Contractual interactions occur when both parties agree to the exchange or arrangement. Under hegemonic relations, the party who is being forced to take an action or threatened with violence if they take an action necessarily loses. The action they would have taken might have been preferable, but they are restricted from taking that action under the threat of violence. Likewise, if they are coerced into taking an action, we have no way of knowing if they would have taken that action if the threat of violence was not present.
An example of this would be if I pointed a gun at you and ordered you to lay down on the ground. Empirical evidence of your action would be present; you would probably, for fear of your life being taken from you, lay down on the ground. Yet, if a gun had not been pointed at you, would you have laid down on the ground in the same manner that we observe when a gun is pointed at you? Likewise, if you are told not to do something and a gun is pointed at you warning you not to, you might have been happier taking that action but are prevented from doing it under the threat of violence.
Contractual arrangements result in mutual gain and mutual benefit. Because an action taken voluntarily and without coercion being threatened displays the preferences and valuations of the individual taking the action, a contractual agreement voluntarily agreed upon by both parties shows that the preferences of those individuals are in tune with each other. In terms of an exchange, if I agree to trade a pencil for your necktie, and you agree to the exchange, I gain benefit because I valued the necktie more than the pencil. You also benefit because you value the pencil more than the necktie. In terms of voluntary and contractual exchange, both parties always benefit and gain more than they give up.
This is the basis upon which we view the world through Austrian Economics. Violence necessarily subverts decisions that would have otherwise been made by individuals and makes those individuals worse off than if they were free to choose, while non-violence results in mutual benefit and mutual gain. Austrian Economics is not charts and graphs and confusing formulaic expressions; it is the study of human actions and human preference. It is much more akin to philosophy than the natural sciences of physics and chemistry. Human beings are not pieces of matter floating mindlessly throughout the galaxy with no direction or means to change that direction; they are thinking and sentient creatures who have the ability to change their direction and attain ends through their actions.
I hope that you found this interesting, and feel free to visit the Mises Institute for free books, audio seminars, and articles.