Economics is an animating science.
Economics is treated by many as an arid field of mathematical modeling. Human beings are treated as data in the model, almost the way physics regards atoms and molecules. This approach to economics doesn’t help people much; it doesn’t help us understand the world, and isn’t helping us build a better future.
Austrian economics is humanistic; it treats humans as people, pursuing their hopes and dreams, frequently changing, seldom predictable, and never acting like data in a model.
That’s why we see our brand of economics as animating: helping people to understand better how to identify the best means for their chosen ends. For businesspeople, that translates into knowledge, processes and tools to help businesses grow and thrive.
The role of the entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is the animation of business. It’s action; the exciting process of turning business knowledge and market signals into commercial solutions with the application of imagination, insight, creativity, resource assembly, and agile adjustment.
A big part of what makes Austrian economics different and better for business application is the understanding of the role of the entrepreneur and the entrepreneurial function in the economy. Jeff Deist articulated this role as a nexus between capital and markets, and the entrepreneur as the individual taking risk, employing their own property and having skin in the game. It’s an exciting role.
Entrepreneurship and value
Entrepreneurial business is the intentional pursuit of new economic value. The pursuit requires a deep understanding of the concept of value, an understanding that Austrian economics provides. Ever since Carl Menger established the concept of subjective value, Austrian economists have been deepening their understanding still further. Today, we recognize more than ever the role of the customer in value creation; since value is their experience, they are active collaborators. Entrepreneurs harness this collaboration. Think of an iPhone. Apple designs and assembles it, and then a large part of the value experience comes from the user adding apps, composing and sending and receiving messages and e-mails, choosing videos to watch and podcasts to listen to, eagerly contributing to the value experience that they themselves enjoy.
Value is what users make it.
Individualism and diversity
Entrepreneurial economics recognizes the role of the individual. It respects and honors the individual choice. Each individual, in the role of both consumer and producer, exhibits different preferences, personality, and psychology; we live in different places and in different contexts; we each have different needs and wants.
There are many favorable outcomes from individualism. One is the vast global diversity of the marketplace, whether exhibited on amazon or Alibaba or Grainger.com for industrial supplies. Another is economics as an engine of humanity and peace, which is the context for entrepreneurs providing goods and services globally to customers.
Specialization, achievement and satisfaction
Economics For Business aims to help all businesses and all entrepreneurs to find their specialization in this global ecosystem. We apply the economic principles of the specialized division of knowledge and division of labor. We all have knowledge that is unique to us, and we can all find an application of that knowledge in business.
Bob Luddy, who has been a guest on our podcast, founded CaptiveAire, a company that specializes in restaurant ventilation systems, providing benefits of safety, comfort, clean air and regulatory compliance to a broad range of foodservice customers. Bob stresses the value of specialization to become the leader in a category – a share leader and a knowledge leader and an innovation leader. And he’ll tell you that the non-material rewards of economic specialization are delightful, including satisfaction, achievement, earned respect.
CaptiveAire is a great example of considered specialization – it’s not in a high tech category (although there is a lot of tech incorporated in CaptiveAire’s product and service bundle), or an internet business or a software business. Find your customers, find a need that is not being filled, and build from there.
Big data versus big empathy and big insights
We live in an era where more and more data is being collected, compiled, processed and analyzed by producers (as well as non-economic actors such as governments, of course). As the sources of data, many of us have concerns about this trend. The economic principle that is more important for businesses, however, is that, no matter how “big” the data sets are, they do not have value (they are not causal data) until they provide or reveal some qualitative understanding of customer feelings, motivations or attitudes. These are the data that are genuinely useful to businesses. The Economics For Business method to develop this understanding is empathy, and we have a full toolset to help entrepreneurs apply it.
MBA-ization versus products, people and active learning
Jeff quoted Elon Musk on the subject of MBA-ization of business: too much focus on financial modeling and spreadsheets, and not enough on deploying engineers on the factory floor to develop, introduce and continuously improve great products that provide the customer with a delightful experience. Jeff concurred that MBA programs and business schools have become bogged down with a lot of dead weight, and have obscured some of their market-facing functions. They don’t provide the value they ought to provide for the tuition charged.
Economics For Business can provide the 20% of business school knowledge that’s actually valuable, and add new content – informed with Austrian insight – that’s even more relevant, plus the methodology and tools to apply the knowledge in business practice.
This approach is based on the educational science of active learning. In this view, learning is not achieved via books and lectures (which are necessarily backward-looking) but via the receipt of tools and methods and techniques, applying them oneself in real-life situations, and learning from the feedback received from people and markets and business results.
Building experience and sharing experience.
Active learning is the accumulation of experience. It is the unique experience of entrepreneurs and their teams gained from the operation of their businesses that constitutes the division of knowledge flywheel that continuously reinforces their advantaged position in the marketplace.
There is a time value to experience; it takes time to accumulate. On the Economics For Business platform, we’ll aim to identify ways to share experience to speed up the experience-gathering timeline. Q&A and discussion within our entrepreneurial community is one way. Another is mentoring, whereby experienced business people can share what they’ve learned over time.
Economics as a route to work and life satisfaction.
In his book Dynamism, Economic Nobel prizewinner Edmund Phelps tells us that, according to individually reported life satisfaction scores (e.g. Pew Research Center surveys and other similar surveys), the greater part of life satisfaction results from production activities rather than consumer activities. The purpose and meaning of taking on challenges, achieving results, making discoveries, self-reliance, and success in meeting goals are found in participation in the production side of the economic system. We hope to play our part in the stimulus of those satisfactions via the Mises Institute’s Economics For Business project.
Economics For Business utilizes a journey metaphor for the entrepreneurial process. Take a look at our visual summary at Mises.org/E4B_100_PDF.