Austrian Business Cycle Theory - History

History

A similar theory first appeared in the last few pages of Mises's The Theory of Money and Credit (1912). This early development of Austrian business cycle theory was a direct manifestation of Mises's rejection of the concept of neutral money and emerged as an almost incidental by-product of his exploration of the theory of banking. David Laidler has observed in a chapter on the theory that the origins lie in the ideas of Knut Wicksell.

Nobel laureate Hayek's presentation of the theory in the 1930s was criticized by many economists, including John Maynard Keynes, Piero Sraffa, and Nicholas Kaldor. In 1932, Piero Sraffa argued that Hayek's theory did not explain why "forced savings" induced by inflation would generate investments in capital that were inherently less sustainable than those induced by voluntary savings. Sraffa also argued that Hayek's theory failed to define a single "natural" rate of interest that might prevent a period of growth from leading to a crisis. Others who responded critically to Hayek's work on the business cycle included John Hicks, Frank Knight, and Gunnar Myrdal. Hayek reformulated his theory in response to those objections.

Austrian economist Roger Garrison explains the origins of the theory:

Grounded in the economic theory set out in Carl Menger's Principles of Economics and built on the vision of a capital-using production process developed in Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk's Capital and Interest, the Austrian theory of the business cycle remains sufficiently distinct to justify its national identification. But even in its earliest rendition in Mises's Theory of Money and Credit and in subsequent exposition and extension in F. A. Hayek's Prices and Production, the theory incorporated important elements from Swedish and British economics. Knut Wicksell's Interest and Prices, which showed how prices respond to a discrepancy between the bank rate and the real rate of interest, provided the basis for the Austrian account of the misallocation of capital during the boom. The market process that eventually reveals the intertemporal misallocation and turns boom into bust resembles an analogous process described by the British Currency School, in which international misallocations induced by credit expansion are subsequently eliminated by changes in the terms of trade and hence in specie flow.

A popularized version of the theory is presented in Murray Rothbard's pamphlet Economic Depressions: Their Cause and Cure, which endeavors to explain the business cycle by focusing on excessive bank-sourced credit expansion and centralized government intervention (through the actions of a central bank). Rothbard went into much greater detail in his book What Has Government Done to Our Money?.

Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek were two of the few economists who gave warning of a major economic crisis before the great crash of 1929. In February 1929, Hayek warned that a coming financial crisis was an unavoidable consequence of reckless monetary expansion.

Austrian School economist Peter J. Boettke argues that the Federal Reserve is presently making a mistake of not allowing consumer prices to fall. According to him, Fed's policy of reducing interest rates to below-market-level when there was a chance of deflation in the early 2000s together with government policy of subsidizing homeownership resulted in unwanted asset inflation. Financial institutions leveraged up to increase their returns in the environment of below market interest rates. Boettke further argues that government regulation through credit rating agencies enabled financial institutions to act irresponsibly and invest in securities that would perform only if the prices in the housing market continued to rise. However, once the interest rates went back up to the market level prices in the housing market began to fall and soon afterwards financial crisis ensued. Boettke attributes failure to policy makers who assumed that they had the necessary knowledge to make positive interventions in the economy. The Austrian School view is that government attempts to influence markets prolong the process of needed adjustment and reallocation of resources to more productive uses. In this view bailouts serve only to distribute wealth to the well-connected, while long-term costs are borne out by the majority of the ill-informed public.

Economist Steve H. Hanke identifies the 2007-2010 Global Financial Crises as the direct outcome of the Federal Reserve Bank's interest rate policies as is predicted by the Austrian business cycle theory. Some analysts such as Jerry Tempelman have also argued that the predictive and explanatory power of ABCT in relation to the Global Financial Crisis has reaffirmed its status and perhaps cast into question the utility of mainstream theories and critiques.

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