The Myth of “Macroeconomics”

An old piece from Ludwig Von Mises.

The distinction between macroeconomics and microeconomics is, as far as terminology is concerned, borrowed from modern physics’ distinction between microscopic physics, which deals with systems on an atomic scale, and molar physics, which deals with systems on a scale appreciable to man’s gross senses. It implies that ideally the microscopic laws alone are sufficient to cover the whole field of physics, the molar laws being merely a convenient adaptation of them to a special, but frequently occurring problem. Molar law appears as a condensed and.1 Thus the evolution that led from macroscopic physics to microscopic physics is seen as a progress from a less satisfactory to a more satisfactory method of dealing with the phenomena of reality.

What the authors who introduced the distinction between macroeconomics and microeconomics into the terminology dealing with economic problems have in mind is precisely the opposite. Their doctrine implies that microeconomics is an unsatisfactory way of studying the problems involved and that the substitution of macroeconomics for microeconomics amounts to the elimination of an unsatisfactory method by the adoption of a more satisfactory method.

The macroeconomist deceives himself if in his reasoning he employs money prices determined on the market by individual buyers and sellers. A consistent macroeconomic approach would have to shun any reference to prices and to money. The market economy is a social system in which individuals are acting. The valuations of individuals as manifested in the market prices determine the course of all production activities. If one wants to oppose to the reality of the market economy the image of a holistic system, one must abstain from any use of prices.

He explains why national income is just an empty concept.

The concept of national income entirely obliterates the real conditions of production within a market economy. It implies the idea that it is not activities of individuals that bring about the improvement (or impairment) in the quantity of goods available, but something that is above and outside these activities. This mysterious something produces a quantity called “national income,” and then a second process “distributes” this quantity among the various individuals. The political meaning of this method is obvious. One criticizes the “inequality” prevailing in the “distribution” of national income. One taboos the question what makes the national income rise or drop and implies that there is no inequality in the contributions and achievements of the individuals that are generating the total quantity of national income.

If one raises the question what factors make the national income rise, one has only one answer: the improvement in equipment, the tools and machines employed in production, on the one hand, and the improvement in the utilization of the available equipment for the best possible satisfaction of human wants, on the other hand. The former is the effect of saving and the accumulation of capital, the latter of technological skill and of entrepreneurial activities. If one calls an increase in national income (not produced by inflation) economic progress, one cannot avoid establishing the fact that economic progress is the fruit of the endeavors of the savers, of the inventors, and of the entrepreneurs. What an unbiased analysis of the national income would have to show is first of all the patent inequality in the contribution of various individuals to the emergence of the magnitude called national income. It would furthermore have to show how the increase in the per-head quota of capital employed and the perfection of technological and entrepreneurial activities benefit—by raising the marginal productivity of labor and thereby wage rates and by raising the prices paid for the utilization of natural resources—also those classes of individuals who themselves did not contribute to the improvement of conditions and the rise in “national income.”

The “national income” approach is an abortive attempt to provide a justification for the Marxian idea that under capitalism goods are “socially” (gesellschaftlich) produced and then “appropriated” by individuals. It puts things upside down. In reality, the production processes are activities of individuals cooperating with one another. Each individual collaborator receives what his fellow men—competing with one another as buyers on the market—are prepared to pay for his contribution. For the sake of argument one may admit that, adding up the prices paid for every individual’s contribution, one may call the resulting total national income. But it is a gratuitous pastime to conclude that this total has been produced by the “nation” and to bemoan—neglecting the inequality of the various individuals’ contributions—the inequality in its alleged distribution.

These are ideas which do not even strike us..


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