Austrian School of Economics Meaning & Definition

Key Takeaways

  • The Austrian School is a heterodox economic thought emphasizing individualism and limited intervention.
  • Key figures include Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard.
  • The school is often contrasted with the Keynesian and Chicago schools of economics.

The Austrian School of Economics is a branch of heterodox economic thought that emphasizes the importance of individual decision-making, spontaneous order, and limited government intervention in the economy. The school gets its name from its origins in Austria, where it was founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Supporters of the Austrian School believe that the best economic outcomes arise when individuals are free to make their own choices without interference from governments or central banks. They argue that only individuals can possess the knowledge required to make decisions about their own well-being.

Origins and Development

The Austrian School began in the late 1800s with the work of Carl Menger, who challenged the prevailing economic theories of his time and laid the groundwork for the school’s unique approach to understanding economic phenomena. Menger’s work focused on the subjective nature of value and the role of marginal utility in determining prices.

Throughout the 20th century, the school expanded its reach and developed a rigorous theoretical framework that distinguished it from other economic traditions.

Key Tenets & Beliefs

  • Subjective Value: The value of goods and services is determined by the subjective preferences of individuals, not by any intrinsic qualities.

  • Marginal Utility: Value is determined at the margins, meaning that the value of an additional unit of a good or service decreases as a person consumes more of it.

  • Time Preference: Individuals value present goods more than future goods, leading to the phenomenon of interest.

  • Spontaneous Order: Complex economic orders can arise spontaneously without central planning.

Prominent Figures

  • Ludwig von Mises: An influential economist who emphasized the role of human action and subjective value in economic processes.

  • Friedrich Hayek: Awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the role of information in the economy and his critique of central planning.

  • Murray Rothbard: Developed a synthesis of Austrian economics, libertarian political theory, and revisionist history.

Criticisms & Controversies

The Austrian School has faced criticism from other economic traditions, most notably from Keynesian economists. Critics argue that the Austrian focus on individual action ignores macroeconomic realities and that their skepticism of government intervention is ideologically driven rather than empirically based.

Legacy & Modern Influence

While the Austrian School remains outside the mainstream of economic thought, it has had a significant impact on libertarian political theory and the global movement for free markets. Its emphasis on the dangers of central planning and the importance of individual liberty has inspired generations of economists, politicians, and activists.

Article Sources

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  1. Wikipedia - Austrian School of Economics,

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