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The Austrian School of economics is unique in the way it disdains mathematical methodology. While other economists often sneer at the Austrians as simply lazy or incompetent for their unwillingness to apply equations and statistics to their field, the truth is that there is a very good reason for this.

Economics is, as Ludwig von Mises observed, the science of “Human Action.” And unlike the course of a tumbling stone, where movements are caused by precisely defined forces like gravity and friction, human action causes itself. People have free will to decide what to do in a way that inanimate objects —  the subjects of the physical sciences — do not, and this fact of free will makes mathematical calculation impossible.

Simply put, this is because no matter how sophisticated an equation you derive to predict behavior, people can always throw it out of whack by choosing to behave differently. Humans are, for the most part, creatures of habit, which makes it possible to observe trends, but certainty is impossible.

Election Day 2016 emphatically proved that the Austrian view is correct, as practically every forecaster, pollster, and professional prognosticator was proven embarrassingly, disastrously wrong. Even the gamblers in Vegas took a severe licking, as Donald Trump snatched a surprise victory from the gaping maw of Hillary Clinton’s campaign machine.

I can’t say I’m thrilled to see Trump become president (far from it), but I am thrilled to see the mathematicians and statisticians who think humanity can be boiled down to a series of numbers taken down a peg.

If we can use numbers to determine who will be a criminal and who won’t, why bother with this whole justice system folderol?

Why, one might ask, is it important to move away from a numerical understanding of human behavior? Isn’t this result an anomaly? And if statistics can be right most of the time, why discard them over one failure? Well, for one thing, there are those of us who think that truth and an accurate understanding of humanity are valuable for their own sake. A more satisfying answer would point out that a model that utterly fails in its predictions, even a small fraction of the time, should be treated with extreme caution when employed to make big decisions about society.

Today, statistics are being used for everything from determining health care costs to how to educate our children to who is likely to be a criminal. In some cases, academics are advocating abandoning our understanding of basic human rights to promote healthier living through science. If we can use numbers to determine who will be a criminal and who won’t, why bother with this whole justice system folderol?

This is the same mindset that drove the American eugenics movement, where experts thought they had the knowledge to know who was fit to reproduce. Basically, a blind faith in data is in danger of driving the surrender of essential liberty to government planners who know better.

The Austrian School understood, nearly 100 ago, that such planning is impossible to do effectively because people are not cogs in a machine. They are individuals capable of choosing their own fates. Hopefully, if anything good comes out of this election, it will be a little humility for the “data scientists” who think they can know our minds better than we do. Such a revelation may well end up being the savior of freedom.



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Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and Director of Research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.

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