The Review of Austrian Economics, 15:4, 263–274, 2002.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
Information and Knowledge: Austrian Economics
in Search of its Uniqueness
PETER J. BOETTKE
James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy, Department of Economics, MSN 3G4, George Mason University,
Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
Abstract. The Austrian School of Economics since WWII has increasingly claimed a unique position within
the scientiﬁc community of economists. This paper argues that the most persuasive way to make this claim
to uniqueness is to focus on the distinction scholars in the Austrian tradition place between information and
knowledge in their work. In other words, it is the epistemic-cognitive turn that the Austrian school took in the
wake of the socialist calculation debate that separates the school from other branches of neo-classicism within
economic science that constitutes its best case for analytical uniqueness.
Key Words: Austrian economics, knowledge, information, entrepreneurship, market process
JEL classiﬁcation: A10, B20, B53.
I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but
he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither
do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not
think I know what I do not know.
Since the mid-1930’s, Austrian economics has found itself in a strange position with regard
to the mainline of economic thinking. Many of the theoretical innovations introduced by
scholars working within the Austrian tradition were understood by economists to be fully
incorporated into standard neoclassical economics by the early 1930s. Developments in
economic thinking during the 1930s in retrospect call that claim into question. No doubt that
many economists in the 1930s understood that tastes were subjective, that microeconomic
analysis must be grounded in methodological individualism, that production plans must
be coordinated with consumption demands through time, and that the incentives which
the market economy engenders possess strong self-regulating tendencies. Lionel Robbins’
(1932) statement of the methodology and methods of analysis neatly summarized the main
Austrian tenets for an English speaking audience and was widely accepted by economists.
Society for the Development of Austrian Economics Presidential Address, Southern Economic Association
Meetings, November 2001, Tampa, FL. This talk is dedicated to the memory of my teacher, Don Lavoie. I
gratefully acknowledge the comments and criticisms from my colleagues and friends Andrew Farrant, Dan Klein,
Steve Horwitz, Peter Leeson, Peter Lewin, David Prychitko, Mario Rizzo, John Robert Subrick and Richard
Wagner. I would also like to acknowledge the ﬁnancial support of the J. M. Kaplan Fund. The usual caveat applies.