Expectations and the Meaning of Institutions: Essays in Economics

By Ludwig Lachmann; Don Lavoie | Go to book overview

21

AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS

A hermeneutic approach [1991]

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, hermeneutics as a style of thought has captured the imagination of bold minds and made its impact on a number of disciplines for which it seems to hold a promise of exciting departures. Economics has thus far not been among them. This is the more remarkable since in Germany, at least before the First World War-in the years when the Methodenstreit was petering out-the merits of the method of Verstehen, backed by the authority of Max Weber, were widely discussed.

During the 1920s, when there was no single dominant school of economic theory in the world, and streams of thought flowing from diverse sources (such as Austrian, Marshallian and Paretian) each had their own sphere of influence, 'interpretive' voices (mostly of Weberian origin) were still audible on occasions. After 1930, however, economists all over the world followed Pareto in embracing the method of classical mechanics as the only truly 'scientific' method. In the decades that followed this became the dominant style of thought in almost all countries. In 1931 the Econometric Society was founded amid much naïve enthusiasm. An arid formalism began to pervade most areas of economics and to sap the vigour of analytical thought. In this milieu, rational action came to be regarded as meaning nothing but the maximization of given functions!

In subsequent decades, economists began to live as if they were in a citadel of their own. Opening new vistas to them will not be an easy task. To those who grew up in isolation, nourished by the products of the textbook industry under the aegis of its scribes

-276-

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