Friday, May 22, 2015

The Trolls on Bob Murphy’s Blog Embarrass him over Subjective Utility

And it seems that Bob Murphy is reduced to comically defending them too:
Robert Murphy, “Lord Keynes Strikes Again,” Free Advice, 22 May 2015.
I have been so wrapped up in debunking Marxist nonsense recently I forgot that the vulgar internet Austrian cult is a reliable source of stupidity just as bad as Marxism.

In brief, one of the notoriously ignorant commentators on Murphy’s blog made the following assertion about subjective utility in Austrian economics:
“Utility is the subjective appraisement of the usefulness of a means towards end satisfaction. Nothing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction out there.”
Needless to say, the idea that subjective utility has “[n]othing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction” in Austrian theory is so ignorant and wrong it is comical. I provided some quotations from Bob Murphy’s own published work refuting this, but apparently that is not enough (indeed it is “grossly unfair,” Bob Murphy complains, for me to quote passages of his work that refute vulgar Austrians!).

Well, we need only look at these passages in random works of Mises and Rothbard to see how they explicitly link subjective utility with the emotions or states of mind we call pleasure or happiness:
“If anyone believes that he can explain every human want, or every class of human wants constructed by him, by correlating with it a particular impulse, instinct, propensity, or feeling, then he is certainly not to be forbidden to do so. Not only do we not deny that men desire, want, and aim at different things, but we start precisely from this fact in our reflections. When science speaks of pleasure, happiness, utility, or wants, these signify nothing but what is desired, wished for, and aimed at, what men regard as ends and goals, what they lack, and what, if procured, satisfies them. These terms make no reference whatever to the concrete content of what is desired: the science is formal and neutral with regard to values. The one declaration of the science of ‘happiness’ is that it is purely subjective. In this declaration there is, therefore, room for all conceivable desires and wants. Consequently, no statement about the quality of the ends aimed at by men can in any way affect or undermine the correctness of our theory.” (Mises 2003: 59).

“The modern concept of pleasure, happiness, utility, satisfaction and the like includes all human ends, regardless of whether the motives of action are moral or immoral, noble or ignoble, altruistic or egotistical.

In general men act only because they are not completely satisfied. Were they always to enjoy complete happiness, they would be without will, without desire, without action. In the land of the lotus-eaters there is no action. Action arises only from need, from dissatisfaction. It is purposeful striving towards something. Its ultimate end is always to get rid of a condition which is conceived to be deficient—to fulfil a need, to achieve satisfaction, to increase happiness.” (Mises 2009: 112–113).

“The natural law, then, elucidates what is best for man — what ends man should pursue that are most harmonious with, and best tend to fulfill, his nature. In a significant sense, then, natural law provides man with a ‘science of happiness,’ with the paths which will lead to his real happiness. In contrast, praxeology or economics, as well as the utilitarian philosophy with which this science has been closely allied, treat ‘happiness’ in the purely formal sense as the fulfillment of those ends which people happen — for whatever reason — to place high on their scales of value. Satisfaction of those ends yields to man his ‘utility’ or ‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness.’ Value in the sense of valuation or utility is purely subjective, and decided by each individual.” (Rothbard 1998: 12).
This seems pretty clear to me, but not, I suppose, to the hordes of vulgar internet Austrians plaguing the internet.

Mises, Ludwig von. 2003. Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.

Mises, Ludwig von. 2009. Socialism. An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala. pp. 112–113.

Rothbard, M. N. 1998. The Ethics of Liberty. New York University Press, New York and London.


  1. I forgot that the vulgar internet Austrian cult is a reliable source of stupidity just as bad as Marxism.

    Hey, leave us out of this.

  2. Why, Hedlund? You are as dogmatic as Austrians are

    1. Oi, LK. If you're going to shield your precious snarkbaby followers from argumentative (but never obscene!) counters, at least consider extending the same courtesy both ways and nix Miguel's empty invective, eh? Everybody, without exception in my experience, hates a double standard.

  3. Josiah makes short work of Tel and the others.

  4. This is the usual Austrian prevarication: slipperiness on the words satisfaction or utility. They take a motte and Bailey approach. It is clear that a normal parlance they mean by utility subjective satisfaction, an end sought by a human actor with wants and judgments; and this is why they counsel economists to use introspection. It is the basis of the axiom of action. However when the logical problems from this arise, they retreat to the motte "it's a formal term." If it is only a formal term then Austrian economics is without substance, it cannot possibly predict even something as simple as the downward sloping demand curve for an individual. It makes mockery of the claim of methodological individualism if individual behavior cannot in principle be subjected to any analysis or prediction.

    1. Check out M_F's comment here:

      "The meaning of “purely subjective” means you cannot even speak of what is going on in the minds of others, emotions or otherwise"

      Have you ever heard anything so stupid?

      If you cannot even say inductively it is highly probable that other human beings feel and think this and that and have the same basic emotions as other people, the whole basis of Austrian economics and all economics and social sciences would fall apart.

      E.g., how would Austrians, for instance, know that people maximise utility?

      Or that all or most people experience disutility from labour (as in the disutility of labour axiom)?

      How would you know that people experience diminishing marginal utility from each successive unit of the same good? lol

    2. It is Skinnerism. Allied to the claim they don't do psychology!

    3. I continue to read Bob Murphy's blog, because I like his tone and manner. After commenting on his blog some from time to time, I drew the conclusion that, as a general matter, the ideas being expressed about the power of the free market to substitute for any governmental intrusion in our lives were wildly unrealistic and impractical. At times, I felt some commenters on Bob's blog came pretty close to being cranks and crackpots. That being said, I would urge you to tone down the invective. The persistent use of ad hominem attacks eventually tends to make you yourself look like something of a crank, and greatly diminishes the force of your argument.

  5. By the way did you notice that Bob Murphy cannot refrain from speculating and attributing motives? I got a similar treatment when I had the temerity to point out lacunae in his understanding of the Bible. And other topics. Better watch yourself or you will be "the new Ken B". 😂

    1. Quite possibly!

      Though, curiously, whenever I produce what I think any reasonable person can see is a devastating refutation of one of Bob's post, he usually just shuts up, doesn't say anything in the comments section, and quickly moves on to another post.

      Notice how he won't even give me a straight answer to the question: "does subjective utility in Austrian theory actually have nothing — absolutely zero — to do with the emotions we know as happiness, pleasure or satisfaction, as bala outrageously said? "

    2. Yes. I'll say it for you. Murphy is not always intellectually honest. And he is concerned with his position as a cult leader. A cult leader can put down followers by upping the ante, "no Bala, you are wrong but only because you didn't go far enough" is the kind of thing that sells to the followers. It enhances one's position as a cult leader. Not all forms of chastisement do. Bob avoids those.

    3. Here you go, Ken B: no tread at Bob's blog would be complete without a stark, raving mad comment from Bob Roddis:

      " The Keynesian claim that prices or wages can or do become “sticky” makes no a priori logical sense nor is there any evidence that it ever happens, even in a totally corrupt price-distorted Keynesian environment. "

      Presumably roddis thinks all prices and wages are completely flexible, then?

      If that were so, then no recessions would happen, nor would Austrian business cycles occur.

    4. Hi LK,

      Hasn't Roddis heard of price fix markets? And doesn't Roddis know that Keynes saw full employment equilibrium as a special case of his more general theory where the economy can settle down at a less than full employment equilibrium and this can occur even when prices are fully flexible, not just when prices are sticky.

      John Arthur

    5. Hi LK,

      I'm not sure that I understand Major Freedom but am I correct in thinking he rejects empirical evidence for his economic hypotheses?

      I take it that he rejects statistical testing? He seems to suggest this in comment 1493222 where he rejects positivism and empiricism.

      How can anyone discover all the theorems of economics based on deduction and introspection as MF seems to claim?

      John Arthur

    6. I have no idea what Major_Freedom thinks. His positions change frequently and one can never really know what crazy nonsense he will say next.

      But, yes, on that thread amongst other things he says:

      "meaning of “purely subjective” means you cannot even speak of what is going on in the minds of others, emotions or otherwise"

      He also seems to reject empirical evidence.

      This destroys the basis of Austrian economics -- such as diminishing marginal utility, disutility of labour etc. -- since these ideas of praxeology are supposed to be saying things about the beliefs and minds of real world human beings, and you cannot know they are true a priori, since this requires discredited Kantian synthetic a priori knowledge.

      "How can anyone discover all the theorems of economics based on deduction and introspection as MF seems to claim? "

      You cannot. The Austrians claim you can but only by means of Kantian synthetic a priori knowledge, which cannot be taken seriously:

      In fact, you cannot even prove the action axiom without treating it empirically:

      Also, even Mises and Rothbard admitted the disutility of labour axiom -- one of the important foundational axioms of praxeology -- is empirically and only proven empirically:

      "The disutility of labor is not of a categorial and aprioristic character. We can without contradiction think of a world in which labor does not cause uneasiness, and we can depict the state of affairs prevailing in such a world …. Experience teaches that there is disutility of labor. (Mises 1949: 65).

    7. "Hasn't Roddis heard of price fix markets? etc. "

      Roddis hasn't heard of a lot of things, and is simply the most stupid and ignorant vulgar Austrian on the internet.

    8. John Arthur
      MF thinks Austrian Economics is a priori true and cannot be disproven. No empirical evidence can show it to be in error. He also says it is a "non-predictive" science. Which of course he says tells us empirical truths, such as the supposed ill-consequences of fractional reserve banking.
      I'm not kidding.
      He's not alone in these beliefs; many of Murphy's regulars share them

      LK: Odd how they still talk about me. Do they still speculate about who could be Ken B in disguise, like some sort of Scarlet Pimpernel of the Blogoshpere?

    9. Yeah, the whole modern Austrian school's epistemological foundations are a horrible mess. They do not even know how to justify it.

      You remember how Bob Murphy -- taking his cues from David Gordon -- attempted to deny Mises' view that praxeology is synthetic a priori? If that is so, that would make it (1) simply empirical or (2) analytic a priori and saying nothing about reality.

      Also, Harold found a brilliant passage from Human Action:

      "In colloquial speech we call a man “happy” who has succeeded in attaining his ends. A more adequate description of his state would be that he is happier than he was before. There is however no valid objection to a usage that defines human action as the striving for happiness.

      But we must avoid current misunderstandings. The ultimate goal of human action is always the satisfaction of the acting man’s desire.
      There is no standard of greater or lesser satisfaction other than individual judgments of value, different for various people and for the same people at various times. What makes a man feel uneasy and less uneasy is established by him from the standard of his own will and judgment, from his personal and subjective valuation. Nobody is in a position to decree what should make a fellow man happier."

      Could you have a more explicit statement that utility is bound up with the human state of mind/emotion we know as satisfaction or desire for
      something over something else?

      Also, utility is satisfaction but frequently linked with an array of other common emotions: pleasure, happiness, etc.

  6. It seems to me you have misinterpreted their arguments; you interpret them as saying that according to Austrian economics, the choices people make have nothing to do with the emotions they feel. That is not what they were saying. Their point was that Austrian utility theory is not concerned with WHICH PARTICULAR emotions cause people to make certain choices; it is just concerned with the fact that people make choices, rather than why they make these choices.

    1. Clearly you haven't read what those halfwits have been arguing for days.

      “Utility is the subjective appraisement of the usefulness of a means towards end satisfaction. Nothing to do with emotions, happiness or satisfaction out there.”

      Since satisfaction and uneasiness are emotions that view is ridiculous.

    2. I think he saying that people don't necessarily act to satisfy their emotions; for example, hunger is not an emotion, even though people act to satisfy their hunger (although some people do engage in 'emotional eating', eating to satisfy their emotions rather than their physical hunger. This is one of the main causes of obesity). As for the assertion of 'nothing to do with … satisfaction'. It depends on whether you define 'satisfaction' as the satisfaction of ends, or the feeling of satisfaction; if you do define satisfaction as the satisfaction of one's ends in general, then people act by definition to increase their satisfaction.

      I admit I interpreted them the way you did when I first read their posts, but reading Bob Murphy's example of going to the dentist makes me think otherwise. I will ask them myself.

    3. Actually, I won't ask them, this post shows that my explanation is certainly correct.

  7. Just to clarify my point, here is a quote by Friedrich Nietzche criticising Utilitarianism:
    “Man does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that.”
    Source: ""

    Obviously Nietzsche defines 'happiness' in this quote as the emotion of happiness, rather than as utility.