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9.1 The Mengerian Vision

The Austrian school is best known for its microeconomics and, in particular,

for its role in the marginalist revolution. In the early 1870s, Carl Menger,

along with French economist Léon Walras and English economist William

Stanley Jevons, reoriented value theory by calling attention to the marginal

unit of a good as key to our understanding the determination of the good’s

market price. With marginality central to the analysis, microeconomics was

forever changed. It is less widely recognized, however, that a viable macroeconomic

construction also arises quite naturally out of the marginalist

revolution in the context of Menger’s vision of a capital-using market economy.

Modern macroeconomics makes a distinction between factor markets (inputs)

and product markets (outputs). Intermediate inputs and outputs are

rarely in play. By contrast, the economics of the Austrian school features a

production process – a sequence of activities in which the outputs associated

with some activities feed in as inputs to subsequent activities. The eventual

yield of consumable output constitutes the end of the sequence. Menger

(1981 [1871]) set out the theory in terms of ‘orders of goods’, the first, or

lowest, order constituting consumer goods and second, third and higher orders

constituting producers’ goods increasingly remote in time from goods of

the lowest order. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (1959 [1889]) introduced the

similar notion of ‘maturity classes’ to capture this temporal element in the

economy’s production process. He stressed the point that an increase in the

economy’s growth rate must entail an increase in activity in the earlier maturity

classes relative to (concurrent) activity in the later maturity classes.

* Roger W. Garrison, Professor of Economics at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama (USA),

is the author of Time and Money: The Macroeconomics of Capital Structure (London:

Routledge, 2001). He gratefully acknowledges helpful suggestions offered by Lane Boyte

and Sven Thommesen during the preparation of this chapter.

The Austrian school 475

Böhm-Bawerk was possibly the first economist to insist that propositions

about the macroeconomy have firm microeconomic foundations. In an 1895

essay, he wrote that ‘One cannot eschew studying the microcosm if one

wants to understand properly the macrocosm of a developed economy’

(Hennings, 1997, p. 74). Ludwig von Mises (1953 [1912]), who is generally

credited for using marginal utility analysis to account for the value of money,

was also the first to recognize the significance of credit creation in the context

of a decentralized, time-consuming production process. The capital theory

originated by Menger and the theory of money and credit set out by Mises

were developed by Friedrich Hayek (1967 [1935]) into the Austrian theory of

the business cycle. Lionel Robbins (1971 [1934]) and Murray Rothbard

(1963) applied the theory to the interwar episode of boom and bust. Eventually,

the insights of these and other Austrians gave rise to a full-fledged

capital-based macroeconomics (Horwitz, 2000 and Garrison, 2001; see also

Littlechild, 1990).