Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rothbard on the Tendency to Equilibrium in Market Economies

A follow up on my last post, where I showed that Mises accepted a tendency for market economies to move towards equilibrium (or Mises’s “final state of rest”).

Rothbard thought the same thing, but, curiously, held that it was the evenly rotating economy (ERE) that was the equilibrium state towards which the economy moves but never reaches:
“Analysis of the activities of production in a monetary market economy is a highly complex matter. An explanation of these activities, in particular the determination of prices and therefore the return to factors, the allocation of factors, and the formation of capital, can be developed only if we use the mental construction of the evenly rotating economy. This construction is developed as follows: We realize that the real world of action is one of continual change. Individual value scales, technological ideas, and the quantities of means available are always changing. These changes continually impel the economy in various directions. Value scales change, and consumer demand shifts from one good to another. Technological ideas change, and factors are used in different ways. Both types of change have differing effects on prices. Time preferences change, with certain effects on interest and capital formation. The crucial point is this: before the effects of any one change are completely worked out, other changes intervene. What we must consider, however, by the use of reasoning, is what would happen if no changes intervened. In other words, what would occur if value scales, technological ideas, and the given resources remained constant? What would then happen to prices and production and their relations? Given values, technology, and resources, whatever their concrete form, remain constant. In that case, the economy tends toward a state of affairs in which it is evenly rotating, i.e., in which the same activities tend to be repeated in the same pattern over and over again. Rates of production of each good remain constant, all prices remain constant, total population remains constant, etc.

Thus, if values, technology, and resources remain constant, we have two successive states of affairs: (a) the period of transition to an unchanging, evenly rotating economy, and (b) the unchanging round of the evenly rotating economy itself. This latter stage is the state of final equilibrium. It is to be distinguished from the market equilibrium prices that are set each day by the interaction of supply and demand. The final equilibrium state is one which the economy is always tending to approach. If our data—values, technology, and resources—remained constant, the economy would move toward the final equilibrium position and remain there. In actual life, however, the data are always changing, and therefore, before arriving at a final equilibrium point, the economy must shift direction, towards some other final equilibrium position. Hence, the final equilibrium position is always changing, and consequently no one such position is ever reached in practice. But even though it is never reached in practice, it has a very real importance. In the first place, it is like the mechanical rabbit being chased by the dog. It is never reached in practice and it is always changing, but it explains the direction in which the dog is moving.” (Rothbard 2009: 320–322).


Rothbard. M. 2009. Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles. Scholar’s Edition (2nd edn.), Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.

1 comment:

  1. Seems like the final equilibrium condition would be zero economic activity wrt state money.