This paper compares and appraises three principal, contemporary theories of entrepreneurial decision making – neoclassical, Austrian and behavioral. We employ theory appraisal criteria made available in Fritz Machlup’s (1967) celebrated article on alternative theories of the firm. The paper considers theories that treat sequences of behavior by which individual entrepreneurs reach decisions on two levels: the discovery of profit opportunities and their exploitation. We also consider how each theory characterizes the entrepreneur’s decision making process by contrast with the posited behavior of other economic agents. Austrian theory is suited to explaining novel, adventurous behavior at the discovery stage. The algorithm for opportunity exploitation in both the neoclassical and Austrian approaches is a single-repertoire, optimization rule. Neoclassical theory is situated in frictionless, atomistic Walrasian markets and emphasizes mathematical tractability. Austrian and behavioral theories conceive entrepreneurial acts taking place in market processes understood as complex institutional phenomena. There are strong theoretical complementarities between Austrian and behavioral approaches; both approaches value descriptive accuracy, though the behavioralists place more weight on operational tractability. Austrians and behavioralists share an interest in heuristics; they emphasize the role of prior micro-level knowledge at the discovery stage. Therefore more collaborative research in future between Austrians and behavioralists should prove fruitful.
Small Business Economics – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 29, 2004
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