The Special Understanding of Entrepreneurship by Americans of the Austrian School

Austrian economics has always been on the leading edge of innovative thinking applicable to business. Back in the last century, there was a group of American economists of the Austrian school who greatly advanced theories related to subjectivism; that is, the role of human beliefs and preferences, and of the market as a process. Here are some of the insights (Mises.org/E4B_107_PDF) they gave us about entrepreneurial business.

The function of entrepreneurship is the generation of new subjectively perceived value.

These economists got the name The Psychological School, because they understood that value is a function of human feelings, preferences and beliefs. The secrets to the successful pursuit of new value are not found in data and mathematics, but in human motivation.

The activity of entrepreneurs is the development and implementation of value-generation business models.

The twentieth century economists we talk about on the podcast this week would probably never use the term business model. But their concept of the market as a process governed by subjectivism would embrace this modern term. A business model is a recipe for identifying value potential — an analytical outcome of understanding customer preferences — assembling a value proposition — a creative act of the entrepreneur — and enabling the customer to experience value, some of which can be captured by the entrepreneur via exchange if the business model is well-constructed.

Who are entrepreneurs?

Historically, some economists have debated whether entrepreneurs play the role of managers of the assets and activities of firms, or the role of owners establishing the asset base and purpose of the firm, or the role of capitalists providing the enabling financial capital. From the subjectivist point of view, it’s not a difficult question. Entrepreneurs are those engaged in the business of pursuing and generating new value. They might play one or more roles (manager, owner, capitalist) at different times in the pursuit.

Those in business firms who do not have an entrepreneurial role are the bureaucrats engaged in governance actions with no customer value, imposed by external influencers, usually government.

How do entrepreneurs generate value?

These economists understood the market as a process of individuals interacting to exchange. Therefore, they were able to establish that entrepreneurial value generation is a process and that it can be systematized (which is the essence of our Economics For Business project). A process has a beginning — in this case the identification of value potential, which requires a deep understanding of subjective value) and an end — the facilitation of value to the point where the customer can easily exchange for it, activate it, and experience it. It’s not necessarily linear, rather it’s recursive and dynamic, a continuous creative flow of knowledge gathering and learning and responding via innovation.

How are entrepreneurs compensated?

These economists realized that it represents a poor reflection of real life to identify the compensation of entrepreneurs solely with profit. On the monetary axis, they can just as well be paid in wages or dividends or other forms of monetary compensation. On the non-monetary axis, these subjectivists fully understood the concept of psychic profit: that entrepreneurs can do what they do for their own individually-perceived motivations, including achievement, fulfillment, the reward of serving others, and the purpose and meaning found via the entrepreneurial journey.

Additional Resources

“Entrepreneurship Drives Markets, Innovation, and Value Generation” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_107_PDF

Professor Jankovic’s Book, Mengerian Microeconomics: The Forgotten Anglo-American Contribution to the Austrian School : Mises.org/E4B_107_Book

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