“[T]he postmodern Scylla and Charybdis is a particularly unnerving one: say something
big with conviction and be accused of essentialism or universalism; say something small
with modesty and be accused of insignificance or triviality. The postmodern alternatives,
however, hide a greater calling: say something small with conviction – and listen to
“Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must
not be left to esoteric circles,” argues economist Ludwig von Mises. “It is the philosophy
of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of
civilization and of man’s human existence.”2
While one must take those defending their own vocations in such passionate language with a grain of salt, it is difficult to disagree that whether we realize it or not, economics affects each and every one of us. As such, it behooves us to become familiar with its basic tenets and principles.
And yet, the study and comprehension of the subject is something increasingly relegated to “statistical offices” and “esoteric circles.” The high-level calculations associated with economic study at the graduate level distance the observer and the observed from one another, creating hermetic environments aimed with alchemical diligence at the impossible – predicting the future impact of economic action.
There are those, however, who speak against this pursuit from within the field of economics itself. Mises was one of those figures. The school of thought he helped build, Austrian economics, uses the language of neoclassical economics – the dominant view in the field – to critique the conclusions reached by that language and the direction taken to arrive there. It is in this manner that the language of the Austrian school serves the function of a minor literature – a postmodern concept that highlights the role of voices sidelined by the mainstream.
While both neoclassical and Austrian economic thought are products of the modern era, many of the views of the Austrian school better mesh with postmodern understandings of reality. As neoclassical economics struggles to retain relevance in a world increasingly skeptical of its claims to universal truth, its advocates would do well to open the door to discussion with those of the Austrian school. We all would all benefit from such a discussion.