Jayme Lemke
Sep 8, 2016 · 5 min read
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This is the fourth and final entry in a series of conversations with scholars in the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

In this installment, I am joined by Peter Boettke, University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University and Director of the Hayek Program. In this conversation, Pete and I discuss the commonalities between the three approaches to understanding the social world discussed previously in this series: Austrian economics, public choice economics, and the Bloomington School’s multiple-methods, real-world approach to institutional analysis.

The reason why these three approaches are often used together is that although they bring different perspectives and sets of tools to the table, they have in common a shared set of foundational assumptions about how to approach the study of society. There is room for debate on the exact parameters of those shared assumptions, but these are probably among the most important:

In addition to holding these assumptions about how society should be studied in common, there is also a shared view that the most important questions in social science are those aimed at better understanding the processes underlying social systems. Many of the important insights of the early Austrian economists, including regarding the limitations of socialist economies, were derived by focusing on the process through which prices emerge. Those working in the Virginia public choice tradition focus on the processes within political and other non-market systems in order to understand how the incentives and constraints within those systems affect behavior and thereby outcomes. Practitioners within the Bloomington School focus their attention on the processes through which groups create laws and other governance systems.

This emphasis on process is so important — perhaps, inevitable — because we live in a world that is constantly in flux. Frustrating as it may be, the world just won’t stand still. Social, political, and economic systems are made up of people who are continuously acting and reacting. As people act, they affect each other and their environments; with these changes, the patterns of action and reaction change. Knowledge of particular changes in those patterns can be useful, but any sort of enduring understanding about how social systems actually operate can only be achieved by better understanding the how and why of change itself. (To paraphrase a perhaps cliché bit of Greek philosophy, the only constant is change.) This means focusing on processes rather than on isolated moments in time.

I’ll end by directing you to just a few examples of research that explore questions about social processes using methods that recognize the importance of individual actions, subjective valuation, and context.

Those are just a very few of my personal favorite examples. I know there are many more, and there are probably even more that I don’t know. Please do comment to share any particular favorite examples of your own.

If you’re interested in learning more about how and why these three approaches work so well together, you can listen to my full conversation with Pete below and sign up to be notified when future conversations are posted here.

If you’d like to take a step further, you can read here about the fellowships and other opportunities available to the core ideas in political economy through the Mercatus Center.


Jayme Lemke is a senior research fellow and associate director of Academic and Student Programs and a senior fellow with the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The Vienna Circle

A project of the F.

Jayme Lemke

Written by

The Vienna Circle

A project of the F. A. Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, The Vienna Circle features discussions on contemporary research in the Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington Schools of Political Economy

Jayme Lemke

Written by

The Vienna Circle

A project of the F. A. Hayek Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, The Vienna Circle features discussions on contemporary research in the Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington Schools of Political Economy

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