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A Critique of Mises's Praxeology (Part 1?)

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Fool on the Hill Posted: Sat, Jul 28 2012 7:12 PM

It’s been over a year since I joined this site. I have to admit that I’ve learned a lot from Mises and these boards. I never expected that I would spend this much time here. However, I think my knowledge of Austrian economics is now almost sufficient for my purposes, and it’s nearing time to move on and explore other schools of economic thought. But before I do, I would like to take all that I’ve learned and develop it into a thorough critique of what I think is wrong with the fundamentals of Austrian economics. Many have tried to critique Austrian economics before, but so many of these critiques seem peripheral and miss what is at the core of the school—its praxeology. While praxeology is invaluable when correctly understood, I think that Mises’s conception of human action is fundamentally flawed right from the first chapter of his magnum opus.  

This thread will seek to explain Mises’s misconception and how it applies to several basic concepts. I would also like to explore how it relates to other concepts (e.g. value, money, economic calculation, division of labor), but those critiques will have to wait until later. This thread will contain the following sections:

I. The Category of Human Action

II. Means and Ends

III. Exchange

IV. Profit

V. Time Preference

There are several posters here who I have a good deal of respect for. I hope to hear from them. Any honest feedback will be useful, as I plan to eventually revise and complete this critique to publish elsewhere.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 7:27 PM

Good luck, I'll be interested to see what you come up with, just so long as it's interesting and well thought out. With that said I will not go easy in a critique of your critique :P

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Jargon replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 7:28 PM

You know, you're not obligated to disagree with Mises.

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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Rcder replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 7:31 PM

With all due respect, praxeology is regularly criticized by professional economists from competing schools of thought, so though I'm interested to hear what you have to say I have my reservations that your critique will add anything original to the conversation. 

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Neodoxy replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 7:34 PM

He is if he doesn't accept his conclusions.

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The Category of Human Action

Mises begins Human Action with a definition:

Human action is purposeful behavior. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals, is the ego's meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment, is a person's conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life.

So “human action” is will and behavior. We might say that it is behavior caused by will. But we must be careful with this, for it is not causation in the normal sense of the word. The relationship between will (or reason) and behavior is not a temporal relation. Properly speaking, reason does not precede behavior—though thought might. To see why this is the case, it is useful to look to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, an important predecessor of Mises’s project.

Kant distinguished between noumena (the things-in-themselves) and phenomena (the appearances of things-in-themselves). He considered space and time to be transcendentally ideal—that is, space and time are not properties of the outside world, but the means by which our intuition perceives the relationship between objects of the outside world. In his Third Antinomy, Kant considered the problem of free will. He concluded that if we are considering only appearances, than determinism is indeed true. All appearances follow from other appearances according to natural law. However, since the will is a function of reason, of noumena, it is not of the empirical world nor bound by its laws. Thus, in this sense, the will can be said to be free. This concept is of vital importance to Mises’s category of action—of the relationship between reason and behavior. Kant explains:

The action, in so far as it can be ascribed to a mode of thought as its cause, does not follow therefrom in accordance with empirical laws; that is to say, it is not preceded by the conditions of pure reason, but only by their effects in the [field of] appearance of inner sense. Pure reason, as a purely intelligible faculty, is not subject to the form of time, nor consequently to the conditions of succession in time. The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not, in producing an effect, arise or begin to be at a certain time. For in that case it would itself be subject to the natural law of appearances, in accordance with which causal series are determined in time; and its causality would then be nature, not freedom. Thus all that we are justified in saying is that, if reason can have causality in respect of appearances, it is a faculty through which the sensible condition of an empirical series of effects first begins. For the condition which lies in reason is not sensible, and therefore does not itself begin to be. And thus what we failed to find in any empirical series is disclosed as being possible, namely, that the condition of a successive series of events may itself be empirically unconditioned. For here the condition is outside the series of appearances (in the intelligible), and therefore is not subject to any sensible condition, and to no time-determination through an antecedent cause.

The same cause does, indeed, in another relation, belong to the series of appearances. Man is himself an appearance. His will has an empirical character, which is the empirical cause of all his actions. There is no condition determining man in accordance with this character which is not contained in the series of natural effects, or which is not subject to their law—the law according to which there can be no empirically unconditioned causality of that which happens in time. Therefore no given action (since it can be perceived only as appearance) can begin absolutely of itself. But of pure reason we cannot say that the state wherein the will is determined is preceded and itself determined by some other state. For since reason is not itself an appearance, and is not subject to any conditions of sensibility, it follows that even as regards its causality there is in it no time-sequence, and that the dynamical law of nature, which determines succession in time in accordance with rules, is not applicable to it. (Critique of Pure Reason, 475-476)

Mises refers to means and ends, but will does not refer to either one of these. Its relationship to behavior is not mediated by time. What reason does is select a certain behavior against another possible behavior during a singular moment of time. Time is something beyond our control. A good way to look at this is to imagine yourself on a runaway train that can’t be stopped. At various points the track splits and you have the ability to decide which of the two routes the train takes. But you do not have the ability to decide between your current spot on the track and your future spot on the track. Human action does not choose between moments in time.

A graph helps to illustrate the general form of human action:

The x axis refers to time. The y axis refers to varying hypothetical spatial relationships over the same amount of time. Choice A and Choice B refer to the arbitrary end of hypothetical actions occurring over the same time. The two choices are mutually exclusive—only one can occur. The lines issuing from Time 1 represent the divergent means necessary to achieve these differing spatial configurations. Spatial configuration refers to anything observable or empirical. Thus, as you can see, the chosen spatial configuration diverges instantaneously from the alternative as the means are employed. Reason cannot be placed on this graph because it does not exist properly within space and time. The only way in which reason is represented is in the difference between Choice A and Choice B and their corresponding means lines.

Mises seems to grasp this at first. Consider the following:

Praxeology consequently does not distinguish between "active" or energetic and "passive" or indolent man. The vigorous man industriously striving for the improvement of his condition acts neither more nor less than the lethargic man who sluggishly takes things as they come. For to do nothing and to be idle are also action, they too determine the course of events. Wherever the conditions for human interference are present, man acts no matter whether he interferes or refrains from interfering. He who endures what he could change acts no less than he who interferes in order to attain another result. A man who abstains from influencing the operation of physiological and instinctive factors which he could influence also acts. Action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.

This passage makes sense within our conception. Man does not have to change the spatial configuration in which he lives. Strictly speaking, it might not be possible to maintain the same spatial configuration. The passage of time inevitably involves spatial change, things decay for example. But loosely interpreted, you can see what Mises’s is saying here. Since action refers to the selection between intratemporal states, choosing to remain still is a form of action because one could do something different. However, things begin to become murkier when we consider what Mises says about contentment:

We call contentment or satisfaction that state of a human being which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.

Here Mises seems to be saying that a man who remains still does not act. But by our understanding, any man who is aware of alternatives is acting. Additionally, Mises introduces here the notion that action is about “changing” things. Action is not so much about changing things as it is about selecting things. From one perspective, time always changes things. From another, man constantly chooses not to change. Tradition and routine are examples of this. The first paragraph is the more sensible position, in my opinion, and this is how I will interpret Mises unless he explicitly states otherwise. But his inconsistency does not end here unfortunately. Look at what he says about happiness:

In colloquial speech we call a man “happy” who has succeeded in attaining his ends. A more adequate description of his state would be that he is happier than he was before. There is however no valid objection to a usage that defines human action as the striving for happiness.

Here, Mises makes a critical error. He says that a man who achieves his ends is “happier than he was before”(emphasis mine). But this is not apparent in the category of human action. The category of human action only tells us about the intratemporal relationship between possible ends. We can conclude that one thinks that one will be happier achieving his chosen end versus achieving a different end. But this does not tell us anything about the intertemporal relationship of happiness. We cannot conclude that one is happier after achieving an end than one was before achieving it; in fact, we cannot even conclude that one expects to be happier after one achieves the end.

Let’s consider an example. You are walking through a forest when a bear appears out of nowhere and prepares to attack you. You do the reasonable thing and curl-up into a ball, covering your face with your arms. The bear attacks you. You suffer some injuries, but you have saved the vital parts of your body. Thus, you have succeeded in achieving your ends—you are better off than if you had not curled-up into a ball—but you are not better off than if you were not attacked. You were healthy before the attack, but now you are injured. Successful human action does not necessarily make people better off than they were before. If that were the case, we would continually get happier and happier. In using praxeology, we cannot compare Choice A, Time 2 with Time 1. Action is not about a relationship of time. We can only compare Choice A, Time 2 with Choice B, Time 2, or Choice C, Time 2, etc.

Murray Rothbard makes Mises mistake in conceiving time even more explicit. For Rothbard, time is “scarce”:

A man’s time is always scarce. He is not immortal; his time on earth is limited. Each day of his life has only 24 hours in which he can attain his ends. Furthermore, all actions must take place through time. Therefore time is a means that man must use to arrive at his ends. It is a means that is omnipresent in all human action.

Action takes place by choosing which ends shall be satisfied by the employment of means. Time is scarce for man only because whichever ends he chooses to satisfy, there are others that must re­main unsatisfied. (Man, Economy, and the State, ch. 1)

For Mises and Rothbard, man exists outside of time but is not immortal. And thus being outside of time, he is able to employ time as a means. And being mortal, time is scarce. This is clearly confused. In Kant’s philosophy, space and time are not properties of phenomena but relations between phenomena. From this perspective, it is incorrect to view time as a means since it is just the succession of phenomena in perception. We do not control time as such but things within time. Although we often speak of “using” time, time cannot in fact be used in the same sense as other things can be. We cannot choose whether to employ time for a particular end. As Rothbard says, time is omnipresent. But means are not omnipresent. And this leads to Rothbard’s other absurd assertion, that time is scarce. To justify this assertion, he notes that a day has 24 hours in it. This is like saying space is scarce because a foot has 12 inches in it. The implication of Rothbard’s position seems to be that the indefinite extension of man’s life (immortality) would somehow change the nature of economics—that time would no longer have to be “economized.”

For Rothbard, “Time is scarce for man only because whichever ends he chooses to satisfy, there are others that must re­main unsatisfied. … these scarce means must be allocated by the actor to serve certain ends and leave other ends unsatisfied. This act of choice may be called economizing the means to serve the most desired ends. Time, for example, must be economized by the actor to serve the most desired ends.”

Thus, what makes a means scarce for Rothbard is the fact that it can satisfy more than one end. For Rothbard, what makes something an end is not that it is preferred over alternatives but that it is somehow wanted in “general,” outside of any context. Only after we figure out what we want in general, then we determine the ranking of these ends. If this is not the view of Mises and Rothbard, then it would not be possible to say that human action necessarily results in wants going unsatisfied—or in the words of some, that humans have “unlimited wants.”

In ordinary language, scarcity refers to a relationship of means with time. Something is an end because it is the preferred state for a given period of time. Let’s consider a situation where I have three eggs for a given day. I want to eat breakfast from 8:00-8:30. I would prefer to eat three eggs at this time, no more, no less. I prefer to be eating lunch from 12:00-12:30. I also want to eat three eggs for lunch. Then I prefer to eat three eggs for dinner from 6:00-6:30. The problem is that I only have three eggs for the day and I need nine eggs to satisfy this preference. Thus, the eggs are a scarce resource. Instead of eating three eggs for breakfast as I prefer, I may decide to economize them and eat one at each meal. For the rest of the day, I would prefer to spend all of my time playing Diablo III. Since I own the game and a computer to play it on, Diablo III is not a scarce resource. Now suppose a different scenario where I have nine eggs. Then there is no scarcity whatsoever. Scarcity only results when I can’t achieve my first choice for a given time period.

Despite this, I may be able to give secondary preferences for the given time periods and secondary uses for the given resources. If for some reason I can’t play Diablo III from 1:00-2:00, I might prefer to throw eggs at a target. So in the case that I can’t play Diablo at that time, my eggs become scarce again. But even if I can play the computer game all day, Mises and Rothbard would still say that the eggs are scarce. The fact that I don’t get to throw eggs at a target is an “unsatisfied end” and the eggs thus become a “scarce means” because they can satisfy more than one end. This is an obfuscation that doesn’t really mean anything. We can’t speak of unsatisfied ends if we never actually want to satisfy them. When we say that food is scarce in Ethiopia, we do not mean that corn can also be used as decorations. We mean that there is not enough food for those who want to spend time eating it. When we say that housing is scarce in Berlin, we do not mean that houses can also serve as offices. We mean that there are not enough houses to accommodate the people who want to live there. The fact is that scarcity is not omnipresent, and time is not a means.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Wheylous replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 8:06 PM

I like a lot of what you say, but I find a few flaws which I will now post about here.

The relationship between will (or reason) and behavior is not a temporal relation. Properly speaking, reason does not precede behavior—though thought might. To see why this is the case, it is useful to look to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, an important predecessor of Mises’s project.

You make this claim, and then you show a chart which contradicts your point completely (it shows Time 1 - the time of reason or choosing - as preceding Time 2, where the choice is actually carried out.

 space and time are not properties of the outside world, but the means by which our intuition perceives the relationship between objects of the outside world.

You quote Kant, but who is to say that he is right? I think most scientists would disagree that space is an internal element. If space did not exist but in our minds, then how would there be any relationships between objects? And how come the space we all perceive is almost universal if not objective? For example, none of us sees the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower right next ot each other. Am I misunderstanding you?

The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not, in producing an effect,arise or begin to be at a certain time.

Maybe Kant needs to be reexamined in light of more recent neurobiological insights. Decisions we make are results of chemical pathways and signals in the brain - physical processes which must, as all processes, start at one point and end in another in time.

 What reason does is select a certain behavior against another possible behavior during a singular moment of time.

This I like.

Reason cannot be placed on this graph because it does not exist properly within space and time.

This I don't. First, I wonder why this matters at all. Second, I explain above why reason does have a place in objective time although maybe not in subjective time.

The only way in which reason is represented is in the difference between Choice A and Choice B and their corresponding means lines.

You mean reason is a difference in space? While scientifically I'd agree that reason results in a different chemical/activation state of your brain, I do not agree that reason is in itself the difference in the positions of objects in the outside world, which is what you seem to claim.

Since action refers to the selection between intratemporal states, choosing to remain still is a form of action because one could do something different. 

Well stated.

Here Mises seems to be saying that a man who remains still does not act. But by our understanding, any man who is aware of alternatives is acting.

Perhaps then the conclusion is that a content man is impossible/contradictory?

Additionally, Mises introduces here the notion that action is about “changing” things. 

I hope you don't read every book as if it were the 100% precise word of God. I think Mises slipped here ("A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things." - although it's true he wouldn't have reason to change things, as you point out action is not only about change. Mises just slipped)

We can conclude that one thinks that one will be happier achieving his chosen end versus achieving a different end.

This I agree with.

But this does not tell us anything about the intertemporal relationship of happiness. We cannot conclude that one is happier after achieving an end than one was before achieving it;

I like the distinction between inter and intra, and it's been something I've been wondering about for some time (related to some other things in economics).

As to your claim, I think you might be right. Take, for example, a kid who decided to play with fire. When he attains his end, he gets burned, and in loose terms we can tell he is not happier for having achieved it.

Although we often speak of “using” time, time cannot in fact be used in the same sense as other things can be. We cannot choose whether to employ time for a particular end.

I agree with you about the ambiguity in using the word "using." I don't think this semantic critique matters, however, because we're still using our bodies in an instant of time as a means, and that is certainly scarce.

The implication of Rothbard’s position seems to be that the indefinite extension of man’s life (immortality) would somehow change the nature of economics—that time would no longer have to be “economized.”

Again, this is why I dislike Rothbard's language. I propose a change to his description - marginal time has to be economized. As in this moment of time is scarce, because with the specific moment of time I can do X or Y. Again, the language can be rearranged to not use the word time but "our bodies in an instant of time."

For Rothbard, what makes something an end is not that it is preferred over alternatives but that it is somehow wanted in “general,” outside of any context. 

I highly disagree here. Nowhere does he state that. Furthermore,

1) It is clearly within the marginalist framework that no goods are preferred "in general" but at the margin. This critique is simply foolish.

2) He says " This act of choice may be called economizing the means to serve the most desired ends." - Saying "most desired" implies choosing over alternatives.

Now suppose a different scenario where I have nine eggs. Then there is no scarcity whatsoever. Scarcity only results when I can’t achieve my first choice for a given time period.

Again, not at all. We already concluded that "what makes a means scarce for Rothbard is the fact that it can satisfy more than one end." The nine eggs you have could alternatively be used to hit yourself in the face. Although not your top choice, the eggs are clearly able to satisfy more than one end (eat or hit face with). Either way, this is an issue of semantics (your definition merely appears to disagree with his).

We can’t speak of unsatisfied ends if we never actually want to satisfy them

I think I agree with you here. Hence, if you literally had no other desire for what to do with the eggs, they might not be scarce... to you. However, I think you will be hard pressed to give evidence for a situation in which resources have NO other possible use for the user.

When we say that food is scarce in Ethiopia, we do not mean that corn can also be used as decorations.

I think your intuition is hence "scarcity is the inability to satisfy the wants of everyone in regards to a particular end/resource."

However, at least for this example, I think that Rothbard's definition can accomodate your example - the corn can either be used to feed group of people X or group of people Y. With alternative ends, it is hence scarce. Because there are alternative uses that are not allowed to occur, the resource cannot satisfy all wants.

Now, the question is "if I'm stranded on an island and I have only one piece of cheese, is it scarce?" This I need to think more about.

I hope I provided some good responses.

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Wheylous replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 8:54 PM

Replied.

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Wheylous replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 9:14 PM

Actually, I think I might have changed my mind on scarcity. The definition I see as best would be "a state where not enough of a resource exists to satisfy all desired ends." We see that Rothbard's definition is a special case of this definition - when you have two competing, both-wanted ends, then the limited resource that would be used to satisfy these is inherently scarce - because it can't satisfy all ends (if, again, there is not enough of it).

I say "both-wanted" ends because it is not at all certain that when accomplishing the end ranked 1 on your preferences you will then want to accomplish the #2 spot. For example, if my preferences are 1) kiss girl 2) break up with girl, I certainly don't want to do both - only one of them. If I cannot have 1, then I will want to do 2. Yet if I have 1, then I do not want 2 in that case. Hence the "both-wanted."

As you see, Rothbard's observation about a particular case of scarcity flows from my definition, which also satisfies your scenarios and my proposed question.

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You make this claim, and then you show a chart which contradicts your point completely (it shows Time 1 - the time of reason or choosing - as preceding Time 2, where the choice is actually carried out.

You know, I had worried that the graphs might cause more confusion than clarity. The choice is actually the entire line--a duration of action. Maybe this will help: imagine choice A to be the action of walking across a room and choice B to be the action of standing still at the original point in the room. "Choice A, Time 2" is the point at which I reach the other side of the room, which is of course an arbitrary cut off point. So while we can conceive of this whole action of walking across the room as one choice, we can break it down indefinitely to a number of smaller choices. At any point I could stop taking steps, I could even stop my foot from moving in mid-air. So even given that the course of A is selected at Time 1 (which thus excludes B from ever being chosen), there are still an indefinite number of choice-divergent possibilities that could prevent the course from realizing "Choice A, Time 2."

What I am opposing this to, is an idea that there is a period of choosing and then a period that comes to be where choice has ceased to function--like I decide to walk across the room and then the period that I actually walk across the room is a period where I'm not making any choices. I don't deny that deliberation can precede action, but deliberation is itself action. If we accept that, then it follows that action does not require deliberation. Since deliberation itself would require deliberation, then no action could ever occur.

You quote Kant, but who is to say that he is right? I think most scientists would disagree that space is an internal element. If space did not exist but in our minds, then how would there be any relationships between objects? And how come the space we all perceive is almost universal if not objective? For example, none of us sees the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower right next ot each other. Am I misunderstanding you?

Kant can be tricky, and I'm not sure how much I like his overall framework (or fully understand it for that matter!). I don't think Kant says that space is "internal." And I don't know if it makes much sense to speak of space existing at all--be it in our minds or elsewhere. When we say that something exists, we mean it resides within space. Space then is already taken as a given or is a priori. Kant allows for the possibility that there could be other beings that intuit the relationship between objects in a different way than through the form of space. But given that humans intuit these relations in the form of space, Kant would probably say that humans would intuit these relations identically--i.e. the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower wouldn't be next to each other for anyone.

Anyway, that might be a bit a of an unnecessary detour. I think you can understand my position without knowledge of Kant.

You mean reason is a difference in space? While scientifically I'd agree that reason results in a different chemical/activation state of your brain, I do not agree that reason is in itself the difference in the positions of objects in the outside world, which is what you seem to claim.

Maybe it would be better to say that reason is what accounts for the difference.

Perhaps then the conclusion is that a content man is impossible/contradictory?

No, I think I've been content before.

I highly disagree here. Nowhere does he state that. Furthermore,

1) It is clearly within the marginalist framework that no goods are preferred "in general" but at the margin. This critique is simply foolish.

2) He says " This act of choice may be called economizing the means to serve the most desired ends." - Saying "most desired" implies choosing over alternatives.

One selects an end--an end being merely the preference of one thing over another--and then determines a means of achieving it (more on this in the next section). Thus, if time is a means, it must be determined after the end is selected. I must, for example, decide that I prefer sleeping over eating. Now that sleeping has become my end, I then decide what time I'm going to devout to sleeping. This is why I say time is not a means. The selection process always includes time, it's always selecting against alternative uses of a given time. I decide that I would prefer to lie down to sleep at a specific time at given night. Now I have to acquire the means to do that, such as making reservations for a hotel room.

Again, not at all. We already concluded that "what makes a means scarce for Rothbard is the fact that it can satisfy more than one end." The nine eggs you have could alternatively be used to hit yourself in the face. Although not your top choice, the eggs are clearly able to satisfy more than one end (eat or hit face with). Either way, this is an issue of semantics (your definition merely appears to disagree with his).

But Rothbard doesn't even hold to that definition: "all means are scarce, i.e., limited with respect to the ends that they could possibly serve. If the means are in unlimited abundance, then they need not serve as the object of at­tention of any human action. For example, air in most situations is in unlimited abundance. It is therefore not a means and is not employed as a means to the fulfillment of ends."

Clearly, air can satisfy more than one end. In addition to breathing it, we also need it to start fires. So according to that definition, air should be considered scarce.

However, at least for this example, I think that Rothbard's definition can accomodate your example - the corn can either be used to feed group of people X or group of people Y. With alternative ends, it is hence scarce. Because there are alternative uses that are not allowed to occur, the resource cannot satisfy all wants.

But what if group Y doesn't want to eat the food? Since they still could eat it, Rothbard would seem to say that the food is scarce.

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Actually, I think I might have changed my mind on scarcity. The definition I see as best would be "a state where not enough of a resource exists to satisfy all desired ends." We see that Rothbard's definition is a special case of this definition - when you have two competing, both-wanted ends, then the limited resource that would be used to satisfy these is inherently scarce - because it can't satisfy all ends (if, again, there is not enough of it).

I say "both-wanted" ends because it is not at all certain that when accomplishing the end ranked 1 on your preferences you will then want to accomplish the #2 spot. For example, if my preferences are 1) kiss girl 2) break up with girl, I certainly don't want to do both - only one of them. If I cannot have 1, then I will want to do 2. Yet if I have 1, then I do not want 2 in that case. Hence the "both-wanted."

As you see, Rothbard's observation about a particular case of scarcity flows from my definition, which also satisfies your scenarios and my proposed question.

Yes! I think you have it right. But I still think Rothbard (and Mises) have it wrong...as we shall see from how they apply this idea.

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You don't understand Kant.

Evidence for this:

1. You write in one place:

...will (or reason)...

You also write:

...will does not refer to either one of these. Its relationship to behavior is not mediated by time. What reason does is select a certain behavior against another possible behavior during a singular moment of time.

Those two quotes tell me you think will and reason are the same thing. Which is a big mistake.

Furthermore, in a third place, you write:

...will is a function of reason...

This shows you think they are two different things [which is correct]. So we have us a contradiction.

2. You write:

Mises refers to means and ends, but will does not refer to either one of these.

Not sure what the word "refer" means [the second time you use it], but in any case, you are making a big mistake. Mises was saying something very simple that has nothing to do with Kant, and it is an insult to Kant to think he would disagree with something so obvious. I'll spell it all out in simple language:

A person gets up in the morning. He feels groggy, and doesn't like the feeling. He then has a will to not feel groggy. That is his end, what he wants, not to feel groggy. He then thinks about the best way to feel better. He uses what Kant calls his practical reason to find a way to feel better. He decides that drinking some coffeee will help him. But he has to make the coffee so that he can drink it. Making the coffee and drinking it are "means" to getting his "end", an end he wanted [="willed"]. I consider all this indisputable, and further, that nobody, when it comes to real life, thinks otherwise.

3. You write, as part of your argument to disprove Mises:

Its relationship to behavior is not mediated by time.

The "its" in that sentence is "will". You seem to think that what you write is somehow supported by Kant. Of course the only way to do this is to introduce a nice vague word, "mediated".

But Kant was not talking about a person getting up in the morning, wanting some coffee, and figuring out how to get some. That sequence of events, which is what Mises was talking about, certainly does happen in time. The fellow gets up at 7 AM. At 7:03 he diecides he wants coffee. His thoughts are events that take place in his brain, and they take time to happen. He knows very well it will take a few minutes to prepare it. At 7:04 he acts based on his desire at 7:03 for a cup of coffee, and, in a semi- zombie like state, fumbles around preparing it. This is especially true if he is hung over. 

When Kant wrote that reason is independent of time, he was not talking about any of this.

4. You write:

What reason does is select a certain behavior against another possible behavior during a singular moment of time.

So what? Do you think anyone disagrees with that? Do you think it is relevant in any way to disproving Mises? [Hint: it's not]. 

In any case, the subject for now is that you do not understand Kant. Your writing that line after that long quote from Kant indicates that you think Kant is saying the same thing you did. He wasn't. He was not saying that reason is nailed down to a singular moment in time. He was saying something completely different.

5. You write:

Time is something beyond our control.

Again, so what? Do you think anyone disagrees with that? Do you think it is relevant in any way to disproving Mises? [Hint: it's not].

I take this to be something you conclude from your reading of that paragraph from Kant. But Kant was not talking about that at all, and it is not relevant to the point he was making. Even if we had some magical control of time, say a time machine, or a dial which could slow down or speed up time, or make it stop altogether, or manipulate it in any way we want, everything he wrote in that paragraph would still hold.

***

You also misunderstand Mises. For instance, you say he contradicts himself [when he writes in one place that doing nothing is an action, and in another place that it is not an action. Why didn't you just cut to the chase, leave out all the irrelevant Kant stuff, and say he contradicts himself? BTW, there is a simple resolution to the seeming contradiction.

I could point out more total misunderstandings of Mises in your article. But this post is too long already.

 

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Clayton replied on Sun, Jul 29 2012 2:26 AM

@FoTH: I took a quick glance (will read in more depth later) and I do see some valid points that will be a good starting point for discussion. But what I don't is where you're going with it and I'm assuming you'll be making connections in your subsequent posts.

Here, Mises makes a critical error. He says that a man who achieves his ends is “happier than he was before”(emphasis mine). But this is not apparent in the category of human action. The category of human action only tells us about the intratemporal relationship between possible ends. We can conclude that one thinks that one will be happier achieving his chosen end versus achieving a different end. But this does not tell us anything about the intertemporal relationship of happiness. We cannot conclude that one is happier after achieving an end than one was before achieving it; in fact, we cannot even conclude that one expects to be happier after one achieves the end.

Let’s consider an example. You are walking through a forest when a bear appears out of nowhere and prepares to attack you. You do the reasonable thing and curl-up into a ball, covering your face with your arms. The bear attacks you. You suffer some injuries, but you have saved the vital parts of your body. Thus, you have succeeded in achieving your ends—you are better off than if you had not curled-up into a ball—but you are not better off than if you were not attacked. You were healthy before the attack, but now you are injured. Successful human action does not necessarily make people better off than they were before. If that were the case, we would continually get happier and happier. In using praxeology, we cannot compare Choice A, Time 2 with Time 1. Action is not about a relationship of time. We can only compare Choice A, Time 2 with Choice B, Time 2, or Choice C, Time 2, etc.

I think you completely missed his point here and, further, I think your theory of choice is actually as incorrect as the one you're refuting (which isn't even Mises's). We can no more compare happiness of counter-factual courses of action at the same moment than we can actual states of affairs at different moments and this is not what choice (a rough synonym for action) is about. Action is choosing the best course of action, all things considered, from among the available courses of action all of which are still counter-factual at the moment of choice.

The point Mises was trying to make in the paragraph you quoted is that man is nto completely or absolutely happy upon attaining his end. We say "he is happy" precisely because we can't compare his prior and present happiness, though he may actually feel he is more or less happy than he was before (this is a crucial point that I think you've missed) and Mises is pointing out that what we mean by saying someone has attained his end is not that he has attained an absolute or unqualified happiness, merely that he is "more happy than he was before" loosely stated. In other words, this is a rather parenthetical passage, he's just trying to point out that the goal of action is to bring about relatively better states of affairs than those that obtained before. The definition of action as "purposeful behavior" is unaltered by this parenthetical note... he's not trying to slip anything in.

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Those two quotes tell me you think will and reason are the same thing. Which is a big mistake.

Cool to have someone that can help me with Kant. Would Kant define will as the casuality of reason (in the phenomenal world)? Wouldn't then saying that reason selects (or causes) a behavior be the same thing as willing?

Not sure what the word "refer" means [the second time you use it], but in any case, you are making a big mistake. Mises was saying something very simple that has nothing to do with Kant, and it is an insult to Kant to think he would disagree with something so obvious.

What was I suggesting that Kant disagrees with?

A person gets up in the morning. He feels groggy, and doesn't like the feeling. He then has a will to not feel groggy. That is his end, what he wants, not to feel groggy. He then thinks about the best way to feel better. He uses what Kant calls his practical reason to find a way to feel better. He decides that drinking some coffeee will help him. But he has to make the coffee so that he can drink it. Making the coffee and drinking it are "means" to getting his "end", an end he wanted [="willed"]. I consider all this indisputable, and further, that nobody, when it comes to real life, thinks otherwise.

When he thinks about how to feel better, is he willing that thought or not? (I do agree with you about what is functioning as means and ends--but as I will argue in the next section, these functions are not permanently fixed to their actions.)

The "its" in that sentence is "will". You seem to think that what you write is somehow supported by Kant. Of course the only way to do this is to introduce a nice vague word, "mediated".

Kant says: "Pure reason, as a purely intelligible faculty, is not subject to the form of time, nor consequently to the conditions of succession in time. The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not, in producing an effect, arise or begin to be at a certain time." If will and behavior are not "successions" in time, then wouldn't "mediated" be an appropriate term? Or is my substitution of will for reason a mistake?

But Kant was not talking about a person getting up in the morning, wanting some coffee, and figuring out how to get some. That sequence of events, which is what Mises was talking about, certainly does happen in time. The fellow gets up at 7 AM. At 7:03 he diecides he wants coffee. His thoughts are events that take place in his brain, and they take time to happen. He knows very well it will take a few minutes to prepare it. At 7:04 he acts based on his desire at 7:03 for a cup of coffee, and, in a semi- zombie like state, fumbles around preparing it. This is especially true if he is hung over. 

When Kant wrote that reason is independent of time, he was not talking about any of this.

I did not mean to suggest that Kant was talking about this. This part wasn't meant as a direct contradiction of Mises--in fact, I acknowledge that Mises has it right at first. I am clarify things here to help explain Mises's later errors.

So what? Do you think anyone disagrees with that? Do you think it is relevant in any way to disproving Mises? [Hint: it's not].

I think it will be, yes.

In any case, the subject for now is that you do not understand Kant. Your writing that line after that long quote from Kant indicates that you think Kant is saying the same thing you did. He wasn't. He was not saying that reason is nailed down to a singular moment in time. He was saying something completely different.

I do not mean to suggest that reason is nailed down to a particular moment in time. I was thinking of it as a selection, not a succession. What do you think Kant is saying?

Again, so what? Do you think anyone disagrees with that? Do you think it is relevant in any way to disproving Mises? [Hint: it's not].

Well, Rothbard says that time is a means. Aren't means by definition something that are under our control?

I take this to be something you conclude from your reading of that paragraph from Kant. But Kant was not talking about that at all, and it is not relevant to the point he was making. Even if we had some magical control of time, say a time machine, or a dial which could slow down or speed up time, or make it stop altogether, or manipulate it in any way we want, everything he wrote in that paragraph would still hold.

I don't think a time machine would be controlling time in the Kant's conception. Even if I went back in time, I would still be experiencing a succession of phenomena. So I agree that Kant isn't talking about that. Control of time--as a "means"--is simply inconceivable.

You also misunderstand Mises. For instance, you say he contradicts himself [when he writes in one place that doing nothing is an action, and in another place that it is not an action. Why didn't you just cut to the chase, leave out all the irrelevant Kant stuff, and say he contradicts himself? BTW, there is a simple resolution to the seeming contradiction.

I was using Kant to clarify where Mises got things right. Maybe I'll cut it out when I revise the article. What is the resolution?

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Clayton: We can no more compare happiness of counter-factual courses of action at the same moment than we can actual states of affairs at different moments and this is not what choice (a rough synonym for action) is about. Action is choosing the best course of action, all things considered, from among the available courses of action all of which are still counter-factual at the moment of choice.

I'm not sure I understand. We can't compare the expected happiness of counter-factual courses of action but we can choose the best counter-factual course of action? Isn't that saying the same thing? (I was talking about comparing the choices before they were chosen, in case that wasn't clear.)

The point Mises was trying to make in the paragraph you quoted is that man is nto completely or absolutely happy upon attaining his end.

That is one par of what he was saying, and I agree with it.

We say "he is happy" precisely because we can't compare his prior and present happiness, though he may actually feel he is more or less happy than he was before (this is a crucial point that I think you've missed) and Mises is pointing out that what we mean by saying someone has attained his end is not that he has attained an absolute or unqualified happiness, merely that he is "more happy than he was before" loosely stated.

But Mises doesn't allow for him to be less happy than he was before, as you do here. He says that he is happier.

In other words, this is a rather parenthetical passage, he's just trying to point out that the goal of action is to bring about relatively better states of affairs than those that obtained before. The definition of action as "purposeful behavior" is unaltered by this parenthetical note... he's not trying to slip anything in.

See, this is what I don't think is correct. While many people, and I include myself as one, want to improve their lives over their current state, I don't see this as necessary (or omnipresent) to human action. Many people are content to do the same thing day after day. In fact, we all have unavoidable habits and can't seek to improve our life all the time. I like to eat bagels for breakfast. I plan to eat one tomorrow morning. I've bought the bagels and cream cheese, so I've taken care of the means.  So when I go to eat them them tomorrow morning, do I expect to be in a better state of affairs than I am right now? I don't think so.

Oops, I'm starting to preempt my next post.

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Cortes replied on Sun, Jul 29 2012 10:30 PM

Nothing to add here other than that I appreciate this thread. Thanks OP.

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Aristippus replied on Sun, Jul 29 2012 10:59 PM

But Mises doesn't allow for him to be less happy than he was before, as you do here. He says that he is happier.

What are you talking about?  Mises explicitly allows this.  He does not say that man is necessarily 'happier', he says that in acting, man aims at ends that he thinks, at that particular moment, will make him better off.  Mises states many, many times that man necessarily acts under conditions of uncertainty and that he might fail to achieve his ends or find that those ends aren't beneficial after all.  Have you actually read Human Action?  I have no idea how you could have read it and still have missed this point.  Also, I don't suggest attempting to post a critique of praxeology until you have at the every least understood its most basic elements.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Jul 30 2012 2:06 AM

I'm not sure I understand. We can't compare the expected happiness of counter-factual courses of action but we can choose the best counter-factual course of action? Isn't that saying the same thing? (I was talking about comparing the choices before they were chosen, in case that wasn't clear.)

It's not. And this is one of the difficulties that people who are used to using the metholodogies of mainstream economics have in grasping Austrian economics - action is not synonymous with happiness maximization. The way to see this is that action generally occurs without any explicit thought to one's happiness. You don't think through the vast majority of your choices, you simply choose.

Happiness maximization, on the other hand, entails some kind of pondering of the counter-factual happiness of various courses of action. "If I choose course A, I will be happier than if I choose course B." The contemplation of counter-factuals A and B is a form of action in itself (planning) and is distinct from the action that will actually result in course A or course B being brought about. Mises discusses this in the early chapters of HA where he points out that planning is distinct from action itself. Even though planning may be indirectly connected to an eventual course of action, the planning itself is not the action. Only the actual, purposive application of means in order to attain an end counts as action.

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It's not. And this is one of the difficulties that people who are used to using the metholodogies of mainstream economics have in grasping Austrian economics - action is not synonymous with happiness maximization. The way to see this is that action generally occurs without any explicit thought to one's happiness. You don't think through the vast majority of your choices, you simply choose.

Happiness maximization, on the other hand, entails some kind of pondering of the counter-factual happiness of various courses of action.

I didn't mean to imply that we necessarily compare happiness, but that we can. Mises nevertheless says that a man who achieves his ends is "happier than he was before."

The contemplation of counter-factuals A and B is a form of action in itself ... Only the actual, purposive application of means in order to attain an end counts as action.

I agree with the first part, but doesn't the second part contradict the first? Or do you simply mean that it is a different action?

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Means and Ends

An important distinction in Mises’s praxeology is the one between means and ends. Mises explains:

The result sought by an action is called its end, goal, or aim. One uses these terms in ordinary speech also to signify intermediate ends, goals, or aims; these are points which acting man wants to attain only because he believes that he will reach his ultimate end, goal or aim in passing beyond them. Strictly speaking the end, goal, or aim of any action is always the relief from a felt uneasiness.

So not only are there means and ends, but there are also “ultimate ends.” Mises seems to conceive of man in a constant state of uneasiness. How he derives this concept of uneasiness from the category of human action is a bit of a puzzle. He seems to conceive of “uneasiness” as something that has extension through time. But the category of human action refers to the preference between possible events of the same time. This “uneasiness” is only removed on obtaining the “end.” How can we possibly give universal validity to this concept? If I realize I need to have food home for dinner tonight, and I go shopping in the morning, is my uneasiness removed only after I eat the dinner—even though I wasn’t hungry at the time I went shopping?

Mises doesn’t explain how this works. And he can’t—for any notion of pure ultimate ends is a fallacious one. The truth is that all ends are means and all means are ends. They only appear different from certain perspectives. John Dewey provides a much richer, more dynamic description of the difference between means and ends:

Means are means; they are intermediates, middle terms. To grasp this fact is to have done with the ordinary dualism of means and ends. The “end” is merely a series of acts viewed at a remote stage; and a means is merely the series viewed at an earlier one. The distinction of means and end arises in surveying the course of a proposed line of action, a connected series in time. The “end” is the last act thought of; the means are the acts to be performed prior to it in time. To reach an end we must take our mind off from it and attend to the act which is next to be performed. We must make that the end.

[…]

Means and ends are two names for the same reality. The terms denote not a division in reality but a distinction in judgment. Without understanding this fact we cannot understand the nature of habits nor can we pass beyond the usual separation of the moral and non-moral in conduct. “End” is a name for a series of acts taken collectively like the term army. “Means” is a name for the same series taken distributively like this soldier, that officer. To think of the end signifies to extend and enlarge our view of the act to be performed. It means to look at the next act in perspective, not permitting it to occupy the entire field of vision. To bear the end in mind signifies that we should not stop thinking about our next act until we form some reasonably clear idea of the course of action to which it commits us. To attain a remote end means on the other hand to treat the end as a series of means. To say that an end is remote or distant, to say in fact that it is an end at all, is equivalent to saying that obstacles intervene between us and it. If, however, it remains a distant end, it becomes a mere end, that is a dream. As soon as we have projected it, we must begin to work backward in thought. We must change what is to be done into a how, the means whereby. The end thus re-appears as a series of “what nexts,” and the what next of chief importance is the one nearest the present state of the one acting. Only as the end is converted into means is it definitely conceived, or intellectually defined, to say nothing of being executable. Just as end, it is vague, cloudy, impressionistic. We do not know what we are really after until a course of action is mentally worked out. (Human Nature and Conduct, 34, 36-37)

As Dewey explains, means and ends constantly morph into each other. An end is merely an “end-in-view.” What was once an end, becomes a means. My end might be to get into college. So I employ means for doing this, but once I get into college, my admission serves as a means for other ends. It serves as a means for enrolling in classes. The classes serve as a means to getting grades and credit hours. The grades and credit hours serve as a means of getting a degree. The degree serves as a means to getting a job. Getting a job serves as a means for getting a car. A car serves as a means of getting a better job. A better job serves as a means of getting a house. A house serves as a means of raising a family. We could go on and on, but we will never arrive at something we could call an “ultimate end.”

This might at first seem like a minor point. But it is very problematic to Mises’s entire project. This distinction between means and ends serves to define the distinction between consumers’ goods and producers’ goods:

Economic goods which in themselves are fitted to satisfy human wants directly and whose serviceableness does not depend on the cooperation of other economic goods, are called consumers' goods or goods of the first order. Means which can satisfy wants only indirectly when complemented by cooperation of other goods are called producers' goods or factors of production or goods of a remoter or higher order.

Such a definition is untenable in reality. To see clearly why Mises’s distinction between consumers’ goods and producers’ goods does not fit with the way these words are actually used, consider the purchase of a car. If a taxi cab company purchases a car for its business, this constitutes a producers’ good. But if a “consumer” purchases a car in order to get to his job, this constitutes a consumers’ good. Obviously something else is in play here (hint: it has something to do with social relationships).  

Now there is another way of conceiving means and ends. And that is to differentiate the reason from the effect. We’re then back at Kant. In this case, there is no such thing as a means being closer to an end, because the relation between means and ends is not a relation of time. We don’t select something to get to another point in time but to actualize one state of time vs. another parallel to it. Thus, we don’t value a means in relation to what it achieves but in relation to the parallel state that it supplants. When we consider something in relation to an end, it only reflects that we are extending these parallel states further in time.

In his chapter on syndicalism, Mises says the following: “The market is a consumers' democracy. The syndicalists want to transform it into a producers' democracy. This idea is fallacious, for the sole end and purpose of production is consumption.” In Hegelian terminology, Mises is saying that a productive act only exists for another. But he is wrong, for a productive act must also exist for itself. This is because the particular act of production is chosen vis-à-vis other acts of production that are capable of producing the same end. It can only be because of a productive act’s intrinsic agreeableness over the other alternative acts that allow it to be chosen. So a productive act functions as a means (i.e. for another) insofar as it is production, but it functions as an end (i.e. for itself) insofar as it is chosen. Similarly, the act of consumption functions as an end insofar as it is chosen against other acts of consumption, but it functions as a means insofar as it has consequences and entails the actualization of other things.   

But in Mises’s world, even consumer goods don’t really exist for themselves but are merely closer to the ultimate goal—the removal of “uneasiness.” But where does Mises’s get this concept of “uneasiness”? How can we conclude from the mere fact that people strive for something that they strive to remove something? Might not we strive to add something? Or might the appearance of removing or adding just be from the fact that our particular striving at one point is different than the one that follows it?

Human action is not the result of “uneasiness.” Human action is due to the fact that we perceive different possibilities and unavoidably actualize one of them through our will. As long as we possess this ability, it does not matter how content we are or how much “uneasiness” we have removed, we must still act. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre: “Man is condemned to be free.”

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I really recommend the Dewey book I cited, Human Nature and Conduct, for anyone who is interested in exploring these matters further. It can be read online here. I actually haven't finished reading it myself, but I pulled a few more interesting quotes on ends and means that I didn't have room for in my post:

It has been pointed out that the ends, objectives, of conduct are those foreseen consequences which influence present deliberation and which finally bring it to rest by furnishing an adequate stimulus to overt action. Consequently ends arise and function within action. They are not, as current theories too often imply, things lying beyond activity at which the latter is directed. They are not strictly speaking ends or termini of action at all. They are terminals of deliberation, and so turning points in activity. (223)

[...]

Ends are foreseen consequences which arise in the course of activity and which are employed to give activity added meaning and to direct its further course. They are in no sense ends of action. In being ends of deliberation they are redirecting pivots in action. (225)

[...]

Men shoot and throw. At first this is done as an "instinctive" or natural reaction to some situation. The result when it is observed gives a new meaning to the activity. Henceforth men in throwing and shooting think of it in terms of its outcome; they act intelligently or have an end. Liking the activity in its acquired meaning, they not only "take aim” when they throw instead of throwing at random, but they find or make targets at which to aim. This is the origin and nature of "goals" of action. They are ways of defining and deepening the meaning of activity. Having an end or aim is thus a characteristic of present activity. It is the means by which an activity becomes adapted when otherwise it would be blind and disorderly, or by which it gets meaning when otherwise it would be mechanical. In a strict sense an end-in-view is a means in present action ; present action is not a means to a remote end. Men do not shoot because targets exist, but they set up targets in order that throwing and shooting may be more effective and significant. (226)

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Clayton replied on Mon, Jul 30 2012 8:58 PM

@FotH: I'm going to have to join ranks with Aristippus at this point... you really do need to go read at least the first 150 pages of Human Action plus at least the first five chapters of The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science (the two do overlap but are also complementary in many ways) before we can even begin to talk.

This is not to put you off simply because "you haven't read the book". Instead, it is because you have mistakenly concluded that you "get it" but it's clear at this point that, really, you do not. Read HA, read UFoES and let's go at it.

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Malachi replied on Mon, Jul 30 2012 9:09 PM
But if a “consumer” purchases a car in order to get to his job, this constitutes a consumers’ good. Obviously something else is in play here (hint: it has something to do with social relationships).
Fool on the Hill is a known troll, this is one example. Of course transportation to work is a production good. Whomever suggested otherwise? (real question; not rhetorical)
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A lot of reading - most of which I just skimmed, and you've obviously put a lot of thought into this.  I won't offer anything detailed other than I agree with Ari and Clayton.  Also, there is no real reason to look at Kant.  If anything you could look more into neo-Kantians / quasi Nietzscheans (e.g. Max Weber), anti-psychologists / phenomonologists such as Husserl, or the Aristotlianism of Menger and Bohm-Bawerk, but it's ultimately unimportant. What is important are the "exact laws" you can derive fromany dialectic or Hermeneutic you wish to use.

Furthermore, it  ought be strongly encouraged that you dehomogenize Mises and Rothbard if you wish to do a critique on Mises himself.  They are different.

Either way I don't think critiques are all that important as "a critique for the sake of critiquing".  In fact, it probably does more harm than good.  There is too big of a risk of everythingfalling on pure skepticism, which is pure gibberish.  It's best if you are critiquing the foundations of something, you lay your cards on the table if you want someone to be able to make sense of things.  If that is pitting Kant vs Dewey, so be it.

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Clayton: I'm going to have to join ranks with Aristippus at this point... you really do need to go read at least the first 150 pages of Human Action plus at least the first five chapters of The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science (the two do overlap but are also complementary in many ways) before we can even begin to talk.

I've read all but the last 50 pages of Human Action. I will take a look at the latter.

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vive la insurrection: Either way I don't think critiques are all that important as "a critique for the sake of critiquing".  In fact, it probably does more harm than good.  There is too big of a risk of everythingfalling on pure skepticism, which is pure gibberish.  It's best if you are critiquing the foundations of something, you lay your cards on the table if you want someone to be able to make sense of things.  If that is pitting Kant vs Dewey, so be it.

I agree about some of this. I think, especially in the last section, that it does come across as too "skeptical." My basic conception of economics (or praxeology, I guess) is that it concerns "durations" of time and how action occurs within them. This is fundamentally about actualizing one of many parallel states rather than aiming at something in the future. The appearance of aiming at something in the future is due to the conceptual extension of these parallel states further in time. It is from this basis which I wish to "critique" Mises. I've started to formulate a theory of value based on this durational conception here. My primary goal isn't to refute Mises, but to establish a better foundation for the science of economics. If I am to publish this here, it obviously makes sense to reference Mises. Whenever I've disagreed with people here in the past, they've always told me to read Human Action. Now that I have, I feel like I ought to give a response.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Clayton replied on Tue, Jul 31 2012 9:45 PM

@FotH: Oh. Then you need to work on reading comprehension because you're not critiquing Mises's ideas. You're critiquing something else.

So not only are there means and ends, but there are also “ultimate ends.”

No, there is just one ultimate end: the alleviation of felt uneasiness.

Mises seems to conceive of man in a constant state of uneasiness. How he derives this concept of uneasiness from the category of human action is a bit of a puzzle.

Uneasiness is implied in Human Action, not derived from it. If there was no uneasiness, there would be no need to act. You could simply rest indefinitely in the bliss of no felt uneasiness.

We call contentment or satisfaction that state of a human being
which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager
to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory.
His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action
aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels
a man to act is always some uneasiness? A man perfectly content
with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things.
He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly
happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.

Mises - HA I.1.2

He seems to conceive of “uneasiness” as something that has extension through time. But the category of human action refers to the preference between possible events of the same time.

You're conflating choice with action. While the two can often be used interchangeably, this should only be attempted when you are clear about the distinction. Choice is selection between the available courses of action. Action itself is purposeful behavior (see the first para of HA), it is choice with an end in view. We can say that an automated tester "chooses" whether to discard a part as faulty or keep it on the assembly line for packaging. But it does not act because it has no purpose of its own. It's just a mechanical device.

This “uneasiness” is only removed on obtaining the “end.” How can we possibly give universal validity to this concept? If I realize I need to have food home for dinner tonight, and I go shopping in the morning, is my uneasiness removed only after I eat the dinner—even though I wasn’t hungry at the time I went shopping?

You seem to think that foresight is not an intrinsic part of the human condition. We are not talking about a disembodied, universal action, we are talking about human action.

Mises doesn’t explain how this works. And he can’t—for any notion of pure ultimate ends is a fallacious one.

Pray tell, how so?

The truth is that all ends are means and all means are ends. They only appear different from certain perspectives. John Dewey provides a much richer, more dynamic description of the difference between means and ends:

He says more or less what Mises says about means and ends. The ultimate end is the only end which is never a means to any other. And Mises is well aware of the fact that this is a definitional or tautological relationship. The purpose of making a distinction between means and ends is merely to facilitate analysis of the problems of human action. After all, what makes something a means is that is being used. And use is subjective, it is a subjective attitude about something. This is why man can act without actually making any visible motion. A man who passes a bid in a auction by remaining silent, for example, has acted. Silence was the instrument of his action.

You need to read up on methodological dualism - you are stuck in the crass physicalism of mainstream economics.

Clayton -

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
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Gotcha.  My head has become a bit muddled with straight Misean styled prax. lately - and I've been confusing various approaches to the field due to looking at other things.

Anyway I'm going to drop out of thisand suggest you discuss things with AdamKnott on this thread:

http://mises.org/Community/forums/t/30244.aspx

He's a top notch Misean on the forum

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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acft replied on Wed, Aug 1 2012 1:38 AM

I thought this would be : Step 1: Humans don't Act...

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To the charge that Mises is not the same as Rothbard, here is Mises on time and scarcity:

Man is subject to the passing of time. He comes into existence, grows, becomes old, and passes away. His time is scarce. He must economize it as he economizes other scarce factors.

However, he also has some better things to say:

Only one fact must be stressed at this point. The economization of time is independent of the economization of economic goods and services. Even in the land of Cockaigne man would be forced to economize time, provided he were not immortal and not endowed [p. 102] with eternal youth and indestructible health and vigor. Although all his appetites could be satisfied immediately without any expenditure of labor, he would have to arrange his time schedule, as there are states of satisfaction which are incompatible and cannot be consummated at the same time. For this man, too, time would be scarce and subject to the aspect of sooner and later.

Mises is correct in saying immortality would not eliminate scarcity. But why does he still say that time is scarce? I think there is a colloquial meaning of saying that time is scarce that makes sense. However, I think it is a mistake to say it is scarce in the same way that other goods are. Because scarcity refers to the relationships of things with time, either the things are scarce or the time, not both. When we are trying to get things done before sunset, we might say that time is scarce. But we really mean that daylight is scarce (i.e. it doesn't fill all of the time we want it to).

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Exchange

Mises refers to two kinds of exchange. The first he calls “autistic exchange,” which is exactly the same thing as the category of human action. But now he says we “exchange” one possible state for another rather than just choosing one rather than the other. This is an incredibly odd and idiosyncratic use of the word “exchange.” The second type of exchange for Mises is the “interpersonal exchange,” which is exactly what normal people mean by exchange.

The difference can be illustrated in graphs. The graph for autistic exchange is the same one as the one for the category of human action:

(Note: I made a change to hopefully make the graph clearer.)

The graph for interpersonal exchange looks quite a bit different:

Notice the entirely different shape of the graph. In autistic exchange, two lines diverge from a single point. In interpersonal exchange, the two lines begin at different points. In fact, interpersonal exchange really doesn’t concern “action” because it is not about choosing between alternatives. An interpersonal exchange is something that is chosen or can be chosen. An autistic exchange is simply the form of choice (with an end in view).

But the most interesting thing here is not that Mises derives exchange from action, but that he derives action from exchange. In interpersonal exchange, an object is at one point here and only at a later point over there. Thus, interpersonal exchange involves a movement through time. When trying to derive human action from this objective phenomena, one could end up with the wrongheaded view that action is somehow causative of movement through time—that the time is being exchanged in the same way that the spatial possession of the object is. When exchanging objects, one indeed prefers to have the one he is going to get over the one he currently has. Thus, when we consider the possession of the objects only, we might be able to say that one is better off after the trade than before. Even this, however, is not necessarily true. It's quite possible to prefer the first object in the first time period, and prefer the second object in the second time period.

Production—actualization of possible states considered in relation to itself through time—is in fact more fundamental. It is not production that is a subset of exchange, but in fact exchange that is a subset of production.

An instructive example of the role of exchange in Austrian (and neoclassical) economics can be found in R. A. Radford’s account of a market economy that arose in a POW camp during World War II (see PDF). I had first heard of this fascinating article during an exchange that occurred between anthropologist David Graeber and Austrian economist Robert Murphy over the origins of money. In his book Debt: the First 5000 Years, Graeber argued that the account of the origins of money given by Adam Smith and Carl Menger was (more or less) wrong. Smith and Menger (and Mises) had maintained that money had originated from barter. But Graeber noted that primitive peoples rarely engaged in barter, but instead operated on an informal system of credit. According to Graeber, money originated in bureaucratic institutions—the state and its predecessors. The state would demand taxes to be paid in a certain commodity, and the universal need for this commodity created by taxation would create markets and turn this commodity into “money.” Part of Murphy’s response to Graeber was to point out Radford’s account of the prison economy and how money arose there from barter exactly in the way Menger described. It turns out that many other prisons also exhibit the same phenomena of money emerging from barter. Graeber’s response to this point was rather unfortunate. He argued that the prisoners reinvented money because they came from a society that used it. He should have pointed out a particular characteristic of prisons that make them unique as a form of society—that in a prison, the production of goods essentially does not occur.

The prison therefore is the perfect model of Misesian economics because it reduces all economic activity to the form of exchange. Scarcity takes the form of material scarcity and is thus alienated from its true basis in the temporality of human action. Scarcity appears as a given quantity of something—a quantity determined purely externally, without any relation to the activities of the economizing individuals, and without any apparent relation to the concept of time. Human action appears as consumption, and exchange exists for consumption, as the means for consumption. Value, which is determined by human action in relation to time, therefore takes the form of marginal consumption, or marginal utility. Outside of the prison, it is clear that things are different. Commodities do not simply exist in fixed quantity, but are converted into quantities by the specific quality of human action as it operates in the duration of time. In the prison economy, commodities are only obtained through human action by the means of exchange. But outside it, one can also obtain commodities by the means of production.

In the prison, price is determined by the tension between the opposing means of obtaining the same commodity. In this case, the opposing means are both forms of exchange. The fact that one can “buy” the same commodity from more than one “seller” forces the price down as the sellers compete with each other. But since the buyer’s “money” is also a use-value, a commodity—in Radford’s case, cigarettes—competition among buyers also forces the price in the other direction. Thus, the use-value as it enhances the temporal duration of consumption is opposed to the sheer quantity of goods in existence. One values one commodity over the other due solely to the gain it brings to the singular duration of consumption that the use of either commodity would occupy. In other words, “supply creates its own demand.”

Outside of the prison, price is also determined as a tension between the differing means of obtaining a commodity. But here the competing means are not only forms of exchange, but also forms of production. Thus one is faced with the choice: do I trade for the commodity or do I produce it myself? In the same manner as the competition between sellers, this tension too functions to drive the price down. Scarcity no longer appears as the pure quantity of an existing commodity whose being originates externally. Scarcity can now only refer to the effort—as the negative preference over parallel temporal states—needed to produce the commodity. Here one doesn’t merely choose between the relative merits of different periods of consumption but also between periods of production—both in relation to other periods of production and in relation to periods of consumption. In the prison economy, the price that a seller demands for a commodity is increased as the commodity increases his preference of the period of consumption of that commodity versus that same period with a different commodity. Outside of the prison, the price of the seller’s commodity increases as the buyer’s preference over the period of production of the commodity he sells exceeds the preference over the (ultimately unrealized for him) period of production of the commodity that he buys.

In summary, Mises forces the ideal abstractions of an exchange-only economy onto the real economy of production through the transformation of human action into exchange as “autistic exchange.” Thus, the inconsistencies that I noted earlier in Mises’s conception of human action in its purity do not stem from accidental mistakes. We see that human action is not the true starting point of Mises’s analysis but rather a result of its false beginnings in exchange (and—as we shall see—“profit”). So, for example, wages are explained—and justified—on the grounds that the laborer is exchanging “future” goods for “present” goods. The act of production is entirely abstracted away from the analysis. The fact that the laborer spends most of his time not consuming present goods but producing future ones is all but forgotten. Future goods are seen to be “gifts” from a divine prison warden who allocates them in equal share to each prisoner. It’s simply assumed “a priori” that the real world fits this ideal construction of an exchange-only economy. Even Austrian economists tacitly admit that there is something fundamentally different about the prison economy that allows it to fit their ideal models better than the actual economy that they’re supposed to explain. One “Austrian” laments with double irony that “Only Criminals Use Honest Money!

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Fool on the Hill

Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I'm going to argue that this is an example of some confusion on Mises's part.   Mises is not a prophet, and Mises is not perfect--he's a human social scientist and he makes mistakes and misstatements.

"[Although all his appetites could be satisfied immediately] without any expenditure of labor, he would have to arrange his time schedule, as [there are states of satisfaction which are incompatible and cannot be consummated at the same time]."

As I read this, there may be some inadvertent equivocation going on in this passage.

Does "immediately" mean "all at the same time", or merely "each sequentially, in the very near future"  ??

If "immediately" means all at the same time, then Mises writes:

Although all his appetites could be satisfied ALL AT THE SAME TIME without any expenditure of labor, he would have to arrange his time schedule, as there are states of satisfaction which are incompatible and cannot be consummated AT THE SAME TIME.

This seems to be a contradiction.

(I think we have to assume that "appetities" and "states of satisfaction" refer to the same thing, i.e., the "wants" of the actor concerned.)

If "immedately" means "each sequentially in the very near future", then Mises writes:

Although all his appetites could be satisfied EACH SEQUENTIALLY IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE without any expenditure of labor, he would have to arrange his time schedule, as there are states of satisfaction which are incompatible and CAN ONLY BE CONSUMATED EACH SEQUENTIALLY.

This seems to be a tautology.  This seems to be the argument: Person A must arrange his time schedule, because X = X.

If you want to argue that  Mises, and following him, Rothbard, provide an unsatisfactory treatment of the concept of time, I personally am not going to dispute you. 

If my argument above holds (Mises's statement is either a contradiction or a tautology), then this particular argument can't be used to prove or demonstrate that "For this man, too, time would be scarce and subject to the aspect of sooner or later."  Mises would have to re-phrase or re-work the argument he is trying to make about the economization of time. 

*****

I think the concept of time is fairly difficult and there may be few philosophers who can provide a totally satisfactory treatment of it.  As opposed to the attempt to conceive time in terms of "economizing," I prefer the following insight about time Mises makes:

"It is acting that provides man with the notion of time and makes him aware of the flux of time.  The idea of time is a praxeological category."

(HA, 3rd rev. p.100)

If time is a category of action, then it cannot be "chosen," or "economized," or "arranged," or acted upon in any other way.   If time is a category of action, then in every action, we will find some aspect of that action corresponding to "time."

*****

Regarding scarcity, as mentioned previously, there is a conception of scarcity that is pefectly consistent with Misesian praxeology.  Action is the actor's attempt to replace the situation he is currently faced with, with a different situation.  Any situation an actor attempts to attain, is thereby a sitation which the actor does not have "enough" of.   His attempt to attain X, is identical to his not having "enough" of X.  Thus, scarcity is "implied" in the concept of action.

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Fool on the Hill:

Exchange

Mises refers to two kinds of exchange. The first he calls “autistic exchange,” which is exactly the same thing as the category of human action. But now he says we “exchange” one possible state for another rather than just choosing one rather than the other. This is an incredibly odd and idiosyncratic use of the word “exchange.” The second type of exchange for Mises is the “interpersonal exchange,” which is exactly what normal people mean by exchange.

Regarding the two types of exchanges, those are easily conceived as two possible classes of human action.  There are at least four recognizeable classes of human action:

1. physical action: the actor interacts with physical nature, including his own body.
2. interpersonal action: the actor itneracts with another actor.
3. mental action: the actor interacts with his own mind (i.e., thought, deliberation, imagination, etc.)
4. catallactic action: the form of action Mises asserts is the subject matter of economic science (the object of the actor's action is a price, a market, etc..)

Mises's "autistic exchange" we may conceive as those actions an actor may perform that do not refer to another actor (another mind).

E.g., gardening (physical action), thinking (mental action), and making a purchase from a vending machine (catallactic action).

All these represent the actor's attempt to replace the situation that currently faces him/her with another situation.  These are all things an actor may do "in isolation," i.e., without referring to the presence of another acting being.

By contrast, interpersonal action (interpersonal exchange) means that the actor acts with reference to another actor (another mind or consciousness). (telephone calls, conversation, arguing, coercing, etc.)

******

But now he says we “exchange” one possible state for another rather than just choosing one rather than the other.

1.  If this statement means or implies that in praxeology (strictly interpreted) we compare one state with another, then there will immediately arise the problem of intertemporal comparisons of the content of various actions.  Praxeology does not deal with intertemporal comparisons of the content of several actions. (that is Thymology)   Praxeology only deals with the universal categories that are part of each and every action.

2.  If one wanted to build on or extend Mises's system, then one should interpret "exchange one possible state for another" as meaning the same thing as "choosing one rather than the other."  I.e., both will mean the actor's attempt to replace the situation currently confronting him/her with a different situation.

******

The relationship between the different classes of action (which refer to content), and the pure categories of praxeology (which do not refer to particular content) is the following:

Every action is comprised of a perceptual (observable, sense-able, etc.) content, and an unobservable aspect.  For example, if we assume that my physical action entails a ball, I see the front of the ball, but not the back of the ball.  The back of the ball is not observable, but is part of my action in the sense that by indentifying this object as a ball, I imply it has a back that is similar to the front.

In interpersonal action, I may perceive or observe another person's body, but I do not perceive or observe their mind or consciousness.  When I identify another person as an actor similar to myself, I imply that this person (strictly speaking, this body), has a mind or consciousness similar in nature to what I experience as my mind or consciousness.  But this mind or consciousness is not observable.

Thus, the categorial form of both types of action (in this example, physical action and interpersonal action) is the same.  Both "classes" or "types" of action consist of a perceptual presence, and an unobservable aspect which is a necessary aspect of that action.

The difference is that in objective social science, or in natural science, we assume that we know the "real nature" of the unobservable aspect of every kind of action.  By contrast, in praxeology, we don't, or need not, consider the hidden aspect of each action from the point of view of its supposed "real nature" (an ontological-type question).  Instead, we may consider the unobservable or un-perceivable aspect of every action as a singular category of action, and we may remain neutral with respect to a supposed perceivable "content" of such a category.  The unobservable aspect of every action implies a category of unobservability which is part of every action. 

Thus, regarding this:

Thus, interpersonal exchange involves a movement through time. When trying to derive human action from this objective phenomena, one could end up with the wrongheaded view that action is somehow causative of movement through time...

We can see that this is not necessarily true.  Interpersonal action (strictly conceived) does not entail movement through time, and does not entail any objective phenomenon.  Interpersonal action entails a perception of something, and an unobservable aspect of that something, as all other "forms" of action do.

Interpersonal exchange (interpersonal action) exhibits the same form as autistic action or any other kind of action.

In interpersonal action, the actor believes or intends that the unobserable aspect of his action is the mind or consciousness of another actor.

This action has the same form as physical action, where, for example, the actor believes that the wall in front of him has another side, though the other side of the wall is not observable.

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Clayton: No, there is just one ultimate end: the alleviation of felt uneasiness.

There are only two ways I can interpret this: as a tautology or as a metaphysical dogma. As a tautology, it merely refers to the end qua end. It says that the reason that we do something is a reason. As a dogma, its just an unsupported assertion. There's no way it can be potentially falsified. If I'm playing the piano, I see no need to say that I am playing it to remove uneasiness. I'm playing it because I like the way that it sounds--that's reason enough for me. Of course I could give reasons why I like the way it sounds. The reasons in turn could have other reasons, indicating an indefinite regress. But there is nothing wrong with such an indefinite regress, no need to posit an ultimate end or beginning. Kant explains this in the First Antinomy section of the Critique of Pure Reason--where the idea of an ultimate beginning or end in the temporal sense is rejected as dogma. To say that I prefer to be playing the piano to not playing the piano for the time I'm playing it is a tautology. It says nothing about why I prefer to play the piano, and thus says nothing about ends.

Uneasiness is implied in Human Action, not derived from it. If there was no uneasiness, there would be no need to act. You could simply rest indefinitely in the bliss of no felt uneasiness.

I don't think bliss excludes action. Just because I am choosing and am aware of the state my choices will bring about doesn't mean that I can't be in a state of bliss at the same time. Originally I was going to have a section that used Nietzsche's critique of asceticism against the concept of uneasiness. Part of Nietzsche's project was to reconceive bliss as action--the "will to power."

You're conflating choice with action. While the two can often be used interchangeably, this should only be attempted when you are clear about the distinction. Choice is selection between the available courses of action. Action itself is purposeful behavior (see the first para of HA), it is choice with an end in view. We can say that an automated tester "chooses" whether to discard a part as faulty or keep it on the assembly line for packaging. But it does not act because it has no purpose of its own. It's just a mechanical device.

Normally, I think of them as the other way around. I would more likely say that a machine acts than chooses. I think of action as of an empirical character, as being observable in the spatio-temporal world. Whereas I think choice pertains to reason and is always made with an end in view. However, I understand Mises conceives of action differently, and thus I have been using the terms interchangeably.

He says more or less what Mises says about means and ends. The ultimate end is the only end which is never a means to any other. And Mises is well aware of the fact that this is a definitional or tautological relationship. The purpose of making a distinction between means and ends is merely to facilitate analysis of the problems of human action. After all, what makes something a means is that is being used. And use is subjective, it is a subjective attitude about something. This is why man can act without actually making any visible motion. A man who passes a bid in a auction by remaining silent, for example, has acted. Silence was the instrument of his action.

The problem is that Mises uses his rigid means/ends distinction to explain certain economic categories. Capital, for example, simultaneously refers to investments which bring profits and goods that increase wealth. Take the following passage:

The penury of these miserable masses of--in the main colored--people is not caused by capitalism, but by the absence of capitalism. But for the triumph of laissez faire, the lot of the peoples of Western Europe would have been even worse than that of the coolies. What is wrong with Asia is that the per capita quota of capital invested is extremely low when compared with the capital equipment of the West. The prevailing ideology and the social system which is its off-shoot check the evolution of profit-seeking entrepreneurship. There is very little domestic capital accumulation, and manifest hostility to foreign investors. In many of these countries the increase in population figures even outruns the increase in capital available ... It is false to blame the European powers for the poverty of the masses in their former colonial empires. In investing capital the foreign rulers did all they could do for an improvement in material well-being.

The suggestion seems to be that these former colonial countries simply aren't investing enough in capital to lift them out of poverty. But it doesn't necessarily follow that investing in capital (what we normally conceive of as capital) is the best way to maximize future wealth. If one is starving--as many people in these countries are--then investing in food is the best way to maximize future wealth. The same could be said of medicine or any number of other "consumer" goods. But since I'm sure Mises considers food to be consumption, this conflicts with his conception of consumption as a pure end. He would probably regard the statement that "we should increase our consumption to increase our future wealth" as a contradiction. But it isn't necessarily.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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The suggestion seems to be that these former colonial countries simply aren't investing enough in capital to lift them out of poverty. But it doesn't necessarily follow that investing in capital (what we normally conceive of as capital) is the best way to maximize future wealth. If one is starving--as many people in these countries are--then investing in food is the best way to maximize future wealth. The same could be said of medicine or any number of other "consumer" goods. But since I'm sure Mises considers food to be consumption, this conflicts with his conception of consumption as a pure end. He would probably regard the statement that "we should increase our consumption to increase our future wealth" as a contradiction. But it isn't necessarily.

He isn't saying invest in a consumer's good, but invest in producing more of said good. All investment aims at producing consumption goods ultimately, and a good can be both an investment good and a consumer's good. I'll leave the hair splitting to others but I don't think you should leave Austrian economics quite yet.

Re the Graeber exchange, it turned out from the comments section that Graeber did not understand economics very well and he ignored/disregarded many obvious examples of barter, so I would not uncritically take his word on the matter. And as for this
:

In summary, Mises forces the ideal abstractions of an exchange-only economy onto the real economy of production through the transformation of human action into exchange as “autistic exchange.” Thus, the inconsistencies that I noted earlier in Mises’s conception of human action in its purity do not stem from accidental mistakes. We see that human action is not the true starting point of Mises’s analysis but rather a result of its false beginnings in exchange (and—as we shall see—“profit”). So, for example, wages are explained—and justified—on the grounds that the laborer is exchanging “future” goods for “present” goods. The act of production is entirely abstracted away from the analysis. The fact that the laborer spends most of his time not consuming present goods but producing future ones is all but forgotten. Future goods are seen to be “gifts” from a divine prison warden who allocates them in equal share to each prisoner. It’s simply assumed “a priori” that the real world fits this ideal construction of an exchange-only economy. Even Austrian economists tacitly admit that there is something fundamentally different about the prison economy that allows it to fit their ideal models better than the actual economy that they’re supposed to explain. One “Austrian” laments with double irony that “Only Criminals Use Honest Money!

The act of production isn't "abstracted" away. In fact in some jobs you could get paid daily even. The fact remains that the wage-earner is earning their wage well in advance and despite of whether the good sells or not, so they neither have to wait nor do they have to risk losses out of their own assets should the business flop. I don't see what not abstracting from the act of "production" would alter since this remain exactly the same. To the degree that someone is trying to isolate an economic concept from all other concepts, abstraction is nonetheless perfectly suitable. Mises never said any real person is only a wage-earner/capitalist/entrepreneur/landowner. This would be facile and is not what he refers to, he is attempting to define the category of wage-earner in economic terms. You also put words in Mises's mouth. If the wage-earner were to earn their wage on the spot the discounting would be even steeper. Insofar as "real people" act, praxeology fits their action, so no, it isn't "simply assumed". Austrians tend to abstract when analysing concepts in isolation, but I don't think you're even really hitting upon an instance of that here. You are rather foolishly assuming that he thinks that labour does not take place over time. It does, it simply is nowhere near the time it takes to fully bring a good to market.

As for playing the piano, you're removing the felt uneasiness of not being happy, i.e. not playing it. Mises avoided the happiness formulation because not all action aims at making one happier, it can also have a preventative nature to it. Being happier is just one subset of the removal of felt uneasiness.

I am a bit baffled as to why you'd call this a critique when there are many points in it that are more the result of incomplete understanding on your part (e.g. the discussion of time seems to commit Austrians to positions they neither hold nor are they obliged to hold.) I think you'll benefit from discussing the topic further with Mr Knott  (or indeed, David Gordon) nonetheless.

Freedom of markets is positively correlated with the degree of evolution in any society...

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I am a bit baffled as to why you'd call this a critique when there are many points in it that are more the result of incomplete understanding on your part

Nailed it. Applies to FOTH's critique of Hazlitt as well.

I have to hand it to you, FOTH. You have humility, willingness to learn, intelligence. So what's stopping you? Is it an agenda you are not aware of, that Marx must be right at all costs?

Here is the acid test. Ask yourself this. Do you, before even opening an Austrian work, decide that should it prove to be correct, you will become an Austrian? Do you have a preconceived matrix of what the world is like [Labor theory of value, exploitation of the worker, dictatorship of the proletariat, nothing to lose but ones chains] that clouds the crystal clear purity of the Austrian analysis?

I wonder about Student as well. He's no dummy, so why doesn't he get it? How can he be duped by the idea that moving cash around or printing more of it results in increased production? Would love to thresh it out with him some time, in a non-confrontational way.

FOTH and Student, consider yourselves honored. Many Keynesians and Marxists here I see as irreedemable.

 

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Student as far as I can tell is merely here to be the resident contrarian. Perhaps it's his way of learning. Regarding the OP, I'll see if I get some time to mull through this thread but from skim reading it I don't really see so much a critique of Mises as of points that have not fully digested.

Freedom of markets is positively correlated with the degree of evolution in any society...

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"There are only two ways I can interpret this: as a [tautology] or as a metaphysical dogma. As a [tautology], it merely refers to the end qua end. It says that the reason that we do something is a reason. As a dogma, its just an unsupported assertion. There's no way it can be potentially falsified. If I'm playing the piano, I see no need to say that I am playing it to remove uneasiness. I'm playing it because I like the way that it sounds--that's reason enough for me. Of course I could give reasons why I like the way it sounds. The reasons in turn could have other reasons, indicating an indefinite regress. But there is nothing wrong with such an indefinite regress, no need to posit an ultimate end or beginning. Kant explains this in the First Antinomy section of the Critique of Pure Reason--where the idea of an ultimate beginning or end in the temporal sense is rejected as dogma. To say that I prefer to be playing the piano to not playing the piano for the time I'm playing it is a [tautology]. It says nothing about why I prefer to play the piano, and thus says nothing about ends."

****

Fool on the Hill:

As I assume you already know, Mises explicitly states that praxeology is tautological in nature.  A critique of Mises's praxeology stating that praxeology is tautological in nature constitutes agreement with Mises, not disagreement with him.

"Aprioristic reasoning is purely conceptual and deductive.  It cannot produce anything else but tautologies and analytic judgments.  All its implications are logically derived from the premises and were already contained in them.  Hence, according to a popular objection, it cannot add anything to our knowledge."

"Cognition from purely deductive reasoning is also creative and opens for our mind access to previously barred spheres.  The significant task of aprioristic reasoning is on the one hand to bring into relief all that is implied in the categories, concepts, and premises and, on the other hand, to show what they do not imply.  It is its vocation to render manifest and obvious what was hidden and unkown before."

(Human Action, 3rd rev., p.38)

A tautology as intended by Mises is not the proposition that A = A.  Rather, it is a proposition that expresses the sense in which A = B.

A simple illustrative example is the proposition: 

In walking toward a location ( phenomenon A), I walk away from a location (phenomenon B).

Walking away from a location is implied in our walking to a location.  But note this proposition is not identical to the proposition:

In walking toward a location (A), I walk toward a location (A).

The first proposition potentially adds something new to our knowledge, while the second proposition repeates the same thing twice.

This kind of tautological or analytical knowledge (something similar to the above) is what Mises has in mind.

"But the characteristic feature of a priori knowledge is that we cannot think of the truth of its negation or of something that would be at variance with it.  What the a priori expresses is necessarily implied in every proposition concerning the issue in question.  It is implied in all our thinking and acting."

"If we qualify a concept or a proposition as a priori, we want to say: first, that the negation of what it asserts is unthinkable for the human mind and appears to it as nonesense; secondly, that this a priori concept or proposition is necessarily implied in our mential approach to all the problems concerned, i.e., in our thinking and acting concerning these problems."

(The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, 2002, p. 18)

To paraphrase Mises, it is implied in our thinking and acting that in walking toward a location we walk away from a location.

*******

"I see no need to say that I am playing it to remove uneasiness. I'm playing it because I like the way that it sounds"

 

Here is how Mises describes or defines praxeology:

"Praxeology is a theoretical and systematic, not a historical science.  Its scope is human aciton as such, irrespective of all environmental, accidental, and individual circumstances of the concrete acts.  Its cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and the particular features of the actual case." (HA 3rd rev. p. 32)

"Praxeology is not concerned with the changing content of acting, but with its pure form and its categorial structure.  The study of the accidental and envoronmental features of human action is the task of history." (p.47)

"The cognition of praxeology is conceptual cognition.  It refers to what is necessary in human action.  It is cognition of universals and categories." (p.51)

With these thoughts in mind, let's look at what you have asserted.   You refer to a content of action, playing the piano.

You assert that there is no reason to conceive that playing the piano is related to the actor's uneasiness (dissatisfaction, unhappiness, displeasure, pain, etc., etc.).  The actor could be playing the piano because he likes the sound.

But here again, you are in agreement with Mises, because you relate the object of action (playing the piano) with a categorial "attitude" of the actor toward playing the piano, i.e., "liking" it.   As Mises conceives things, you are merely saying that you play the piano not to avoid or ameliorate dissatisfaction (uneasiness), but rather to gain or experience satisfaction.  I believe Mises would consider "avoiding dissastisfaction" and "gaining satisfaction" as two different ways of saying the same thing.

In any case, you referred to the two primary categories of action in your critique of Mises.  From our point of view, you tried to avoid the cateogial form:

(object of action)  related to  (attitude of actor = dissatisfaction)

By replacing it with:

(object of action)  related to  (attitude of actor = satisfaction)

You have simply proposed referring to "walking toward location A" as "walking away from location B".

*****

People who read Mises possibly overlook or ignore the passages in which he expresses that praxeology is only concerned with the categorial form of action.  Here are some of the most important passages where he treats this subject.  No single passage is more important to understanding the formal nature of Mises's conception of praxeology than the "dictum of Jacobi" (as quoted by Bohm-Bawerk):

"We originally want or desire an object not because it is agreeable or good, but we call it agreeable or good because we want or desire it; and we do this because our sensuous or supersensuous nature so requires.  There is, thus, no basis for recognizing what is good and worth wishing for outside of the faculty of desiring--i.e., the original desire and the wish themselves."

(Epistemological Problems of Economics, 1976, p. 151)

A similar passage appears in Spinoza's The Ethics:

"It is thus plain from what has been said, that in no case do we strive for, wish for, long for, or desire anything, because we deem it to be good, but on the other hand we deem a thing to be good, because we strive for it, wish for it, long for it, or desire it."

(Digireads.com publishing, 2008, p. 56)

Two things of note.  First, the object of desire (a "thing") is contrasted or related to an attitude toward that object (strive, wish, long, desire, etc.).  Other synonyms would include:  want, try, attempt, aim, etc..   Second, this analysis of categories is independent of "Kantianism" and of Kant's particular phylosophy.  For example, to conceive these categories we need not refer to the idea of the "synthetic a priori."

Here are the passages in which Mises expresses, in his own words, what is expressed in the passage quoted from Jacobi above:

"The most common misunderstanding consists in seeing in the economic principle a statement about the material and the content of action.  One reaches into psychology, constructs the concept of want, and then searches for the bridge between the want, the presentation of a feeling of uneasiness, and the concrete decision in aciton.  Thus the want becomes a judge over action: it is thought that the correct action, the one corresponding to the want, can be contrasted to the incorrect action.  However, we can never identify the want otherwise than in the action.  The action is always in accord with the want because we can infer the want only from the action."

(Epistemological Problems of Economics, 1976, p. 80)

"It was forgotten that we are able to infer the need only from the action.  Hence, the idea of an action not in conformity with needs is absurd.  As soon as one attempts to distinguish between the need and the action and makes the need the criterion for judging the action, one leaves the domain of theoretical science, with its neutrality in regard to value judgments......For there can be no doubt that [praxeology's] subject matter is given action and only given action.  Action that ought to be, but is not, does not come within its purview."

(Epistemological Problems of Economics, p. 149)

Also:

"Everything that we say about action is independent of the motives that cause it and of the goals toward which it strives in the individual case."

(Epistemological Problems of Economics, p. 34)

Mises conceives no separation between the action and the "want" or the "need" that is related to that action.  We should thus conceive the "want" or the "need" (or the "satisfaction" or the "dissatisfaction") as a categorial aspect of each and every action.  There is the object of action on the one hand (the content of the action), and there is the attitude of the actor in relation to that object on the other hand (want, need, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, etc.).

******

Finally, to understand Mises, it is probably helpful to distinguish "pure" praxeology from historical narratives, which I believe Mises would have considered part of Thymology.

Praxeology, strictly speaking, consists of an analysis of the categories of action and their relations.  Mises conceives a clear distinction between praxeology and thymology (between theory and history).  If we assert "people X were not successful at Y, because of Z," I believe Mises would have considered this history (thymology) and not praxeology. 

If we consider this passage:

"Complex phenomena in the production of which various causal chains are interlaced cannot test any theory. Such phenomena, on the contrary, become intelligible only through an interpretation in terms of theories previously developed from other sources. In the case of natural phenomena the interpretation of an event must not be at variance with the theories satisfactorily verified by experiments. In the case of historical events there is no such restriction. Commentators would be free to resort to quite arbitrary explanations. Where there is something to explain, the human mind has never been at a loss to invent ad hoc some imaginary theories, lacking any logical justification." (Human Action)

The "interpretation of complex phenomena" or "the interpretation of an event" would, I believe, refer to history or thymology, while the "theories previously developed from other sources" would refer to praxeology.  There is pure theory on the one hand (praxeology), and there is the interpretation of historical events with the aid of pure theory on the other hand (thymology). 

I believe that a critique of a historical interpretation is not identical to a critique of praxeology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It would be preposterous to assert apodictically that science will never succeed in developing a praxeological aprioristic doctrine of political organization..." (Mises, UF, p.98)

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Adam, thanks for the replies. Your knowledge is helpful.

Any situation an actor attempts to attain, is thereby a sitation which the actor does not have "enough" of.   His attempt to attain X, is identical to his not having "enough" of X.  Thus, scarcity is "implied" in the concept of action.

Maybe I misunderstand you, but I don't think I agree. If we can return to the example of the piano, we notice that there is never a time when the pianist does not have enough notes. The fact that he doesn't play all of the notes at the beginning does not suggest that he doesn't have enough at that time--that he would like to play them all at once if he were able--rather he doesn't want all the notes at that time. In fact, if he plays the piece correctly, he always has enough notes. He plays them exactly where he wants them.

2.  If one wanted to build on or extend Mises's system, then one should interpret "exchange one possible state for another" as meaning the same thing as "choosing one rather than the other."  I.e., both will mean the actor's attempt to replace the situation currently confronting him/her with a different situation.

Exactly, which is why the use of the word "exchange" is unnecessary and misleading.

We can see that this is not necessarily true.  Interpersonal action (strictly conceived) does not entail movement through time, and does not entail any objective phenomenon.  Interpersonal action entails a perception of something, and an unobservable aspect of that something, as all other "forms" of action do.

Interpersonal exchange (interpersonal action) exhibits the same form as autistic action or any other kind of action.

In interpersonal action, the actor believes or intends that the unobserable aspect of his action is the mind or consciousness of another actor.

I think I agree with this (and what you said previous to it), but I don't think this is all that Mises is doing. First off, he clearly uses the term exchange and not action. As I noted, all exchanges involve action. So certainly the form of action applies in the cases of exchanges. But what the word "exchange" typically refers to is not the unseen but the seen portion of the action. A robot, for example, could be programmed to exchange things, but this would not constitute "acting" on the robot's part. By doing this, I believe that Mises tries to transfer some of the particular characteristics of exchange to all of human action. I don't think one could conceive of marginal utility (interpreting it in a way that is incompatible with the LTV) without thinking in this way. Indeed, as I argued, if things are only obtained through unproductive reception and exchange, then marginalism logically follows.

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
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