Austrian Man and Me

Jeffrey ist Österreicher.

At its most basic, economic modeling is about simplification and abstraction. In order to give useful explanations of economic phenomena, the economist must isolate variables and make assumptions about the nature of man and society. But as the economist maps the world as he sees it, he unavoidably boils man down to an essence. Many economic models exist, each with its own representation of man, but only one perfectly captures my essence: The Austrian model.

Before the Austrian School made its mark on economic thought, neoclassical economists conceived of a static world where knowledge, resources, and human goals remained constant. The idyllic society could achieve equilibrium, a position of perfect efficiency where nobody in the market could be made better or worse off. This conception, teleological in nature, represented man as a purposeful and determined automaton who would stop at nothing to maximize wealth and happiness.

The Austrians saw things differently. To them, the world was constantly evolving, a mass of changing and unpredictable variables. They believed that equilibrium was in constant motion, reacting to changing environmental conditions. Austrian man was far more complex. Like neoclassical man, he was purposeful and idealistic; he set goals for himself and painstakingly worked to achieve them. But Austrian man was also susceptible to the forces of his environment. He shifted his focus at the acquisition of new knowledge and reevaluated his goals in response to changing conditions. Reciprocally, Austrian man was capable of changing his environment. With his creativity and ingenuity, he could personally shift societal equilibrium. As the interplay between man and environment developed, man became more creative and resourceful, knowledgeable and complete. But he also ascertained that his knowledge was incomplete. Vulnerable and life-like, Austrian man closely resembled man as we know it – fickle, fallible, flesh and blood.

Austrian School economics gives me perspective on the trajectory of my academic goals and interests. I always set lofty, long-term goals for myself, confident in my ability to achieve them. But the conditions of my environment often change, and forces internal and external challenge the linearity of my ambitions. I learn new things about myself, and I adapt, readjust, and reprioritize accordingly. Like Austrian man, I fail and despair, but I grow in the process.

 

– Winch

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