Richard W. Wagner: Mind, Society and Human Action:
Time and Knowledge in a Theory of Social Economy
New York: Routledge, 2010, $49.95 (paper) xv + 208 Pages
Published online: 4 June 2014
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
Richard Wagner has written a remarkable book, one to which it is difficult to do justice
within the scope of a short review.
The difficulty is twofold. Firstly, the book is so rich
in insights and nuggets of delightful clarity. How is one to convey even the flavor
without extensive use of excerpts and quotations? I will resist and rest content with the
observation that one has to read the book to fully appreciate this aspect. Secondly, the
book is difficult to characterize. Wagner protests that it is not a work by a card-carrying
Austrian. Its origins date to the opportunity presented to him to teach Austrian
economics for a few semesters and the chapters reflect the themes examined in that
course. But, Wagner tells us, he came to this not as a traditional Austrian scholar and in
some respects writes as an outsider to that tradition. Hence his distinction between
Austrian and Mengerian, the latter being his characterization of his approach.
Clearly there is no denying the reality of perceived doctrinal identities that exert a
profound influence on the nature of work produced. So if Wagner says he is a Mengerian
rather than an Austrian in the broader sense, we must take him at his word. However, an
examination of the substance of this book, inviting third party characterization as it must,
suggests to me that it is a work of quintessential Austrian economics as I, and I am sure
many of the readers of this journal, understand it. In particular this is a work firmly within
the stream of Austrian subjectivist economics and the spelling-out of all that that implies.
As such it echoes clearly the struggles of the scholars of the LSE subjectivists, including
Buchanan, Wiseman, Shackle, Coase, but, also, most notably, Hayek and Lachmann.
Lachmann’s work of the late 1930’s and 1940’s is about taking Austrian subjectivism to
the next level, from the subjectivism of value to the subjectivism of expectations, and it is
this theme that preoccupied him for the rest of his life and he never tired of quoting Hayek:
[I]t is probably no exaggeration to say that every important advance in economic
theory during the last hundred years was a further step in the consistent applica-
tion of subjectivism. (Hayek 1955:52–53).
Rev Austrian Econ (2015) 28:357–359
It is part of Wagner’s ongoing work on related themes (see for example Wagner 2007, 2012a, b
P. Le win ( *)
UTD, Richardson, TX, USA