Eugen Böhm Ritter von Bawerk (German: [bøːm ˈbaːvɛʁk]; born Eugen Böhm, 12 February 1851 – 27 August 1914) was an Austrian economist who made important contributions to the development of the Austrian School of Economics. He served intermittently as the Austrian Minister of Finance between 1895 and 1904. He also wrote a series of extensive critiques of Marxism.
|Eugen Böhm von Bawerk|
12 February 1851|
Brünn Austrian Empire, now Brno, Czech Republic
27 August 1914 (aged 63)|
University of Heidelberg|
University of Leipzig
University of Jena
University of Vienna
|Karl Knies, Wilhelm Roscher, Bruno Hildebrand|
|Other notable students||Joseph Schumpeter, Ludwig von Mises, Henryk Grossman|
|Contributions||Criticism of Karl Marx's exploitation theory|
While studying to be a lawyer at the University of Vienna, Böhm-Bawerk read Carl Menger's Principles of Economics and became an adherent of his theories, although he never studied under him. Joseph Schumpeter saw Böhm-Bawerk as "so completely the enthusiastic disciple of Menger that it is hardly necessary to look for other influences." During his time at the Vienna University, he became good friends with Friedrich von Wieser, who later became his brother-in-law. After Vienna, he studied political economy and social science at the universities of Heidelberg, Leipzig and Jena, under Karl Knies, Wilhelm Roscher and Bruno Hildebrand.
After completing his studies in 1872, he entered the Austrian Ministry of Finance, holding various posts until 1880, when he became qualified as a Privatdozent of political economy at Vienna. The following year, however, he transferred his services to the University of Innsbruck, where he remained until 1889, becoming a professor in 1884. During this time, he published the first two out of the three volumes of his masterpiece, Capital and Interest.
In 1889 Böhm-Bawerk became a counsellor in the Ministry of Finance in Vienna and represented the government in the lower house on all questions of taxation. He drafted a proposal for direct-tax reform. The Austrian system at the time taxed production heavily, especially during wartime, which resulted in huge disincentives to investment. Böhm-Bawerk's proposal called for a modern income tax, which was soon approved and met with success in the next few years.
Böhm-Bawerk briefly became Austrian Minister of Finance in 1895. After a second brief period in the position, after his third appointment to the post he remained in it from 1900 to 1904. There he fought continually for strict maintenance of the legally fixed gold standard and a balanced budget. In 1902 he eliminated the sugar subsidy, which had been a feature of the Austrian economy for nearly two centuries. He finally resigned in 1904, when increased fiscal demands from the army threatened to unbalance the budget. The economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron criticized his "penny pinching, 'not-one-heller-more policies'," and lays much of the blame for Austria's economic backwardness on Böhm-Bawerk's unwillingness to spend heavily on public works. Joseph Schumpeter praised Böhm-Bawerk's efforts toward "the financial stability of the country." His image appeared on the one-hundred schilling banknote from 1984 until the euro was introduced in 2002.
In 1897, Böhm-Bawerk became Ambassador to the German court. In 1899, he was elevated to the upper chamber (House of Peers). In 1907 he became vice-president and in 1911 president of the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences).
He wrote extensive critiques of Karl Marx's economics in the 1880s and 1890s, and several prominent Marxists — including Rudolf Hilferding — attended his seminar in 1905–06. He returned to teaching in 1904, with a chair at the University of Vienna. His many students there included Joseph Schumpeter, Ludwig von Mises and Henryk Grossman. He died in 1914.
[It's] entirely conceivable to me that Mises might have described Böhm Bawerk as the most important Austrian economist.
The first volume of Capital and Interest, which Ludwig von Mises decreed to be "the most eminent contribution to modern economic theory," was entitled History and Critique of Interest Theories (1884). It is an exhaustive study of the alternative treatments of interest: use theories, productivity theories, abstinence theories, and so on.
Included is a critique of Marx's exploitation theory. Böhm-Bawerk argued that capitalists do not exploit their workers; they actually help employees by providing them with an income well in advance of the revenue from the goods they produce, stating, "Labor cannot increase its share at the expense of capital." In particular, he argued that the Marxist theory of exploitation ignores the dimension of time in production, which he discussed in his theory of roundaboutness, and that a redistribution of profits from capitalist industries will undermine the importance of the interest rate as a vital tool for monetary policy. From this criticism it follows, according to Böhm-Bawerk, that the whole value of a product is not produced by the worker, but that labor can only be paid at the present value of any foreseeable output.
Karl Marx and the Close of His System (1896) examined Marx's theory of labour value, claiming the basic error in Marx's system to have resulted from a self-contradiction of Marx's law of value, namely how the rate of profit and the prices of production of the third volume of Marx's Capital contradict Marx's theory of value in the first volume. He also attacks Marx for downplaying the influence of supply and demand in determining permanent price, and for deliberate ambiguity with such concepts.
Böhm von Bawerk's Positive Theory of Capital (1889), offered as the second volume of Capital and Interest, elaborated on the economy's time-consuming production processes and the interest payments they entail. Further Essays on Capital and Interest (1921) was the third volume, which originated with appendices to the second volume. Book III (part of the second volume), Value and Price, develops Menger's ideas of marginal utility outlined in his Principles of Economics, to argue that the idea of subjective value is related to marginalism, in that things only have value insofar as people want such goods. To illustrate the principle, Böhm-Bawerk used the practical example of a farmer who is left with five sacks of corn after harvest to provide for his needs until the next harvest:
Being a thrifty soul he lays his plans for the employment of these sacks over the year. One sack he absolutely requires for the sustenance of his life till the next harvest. A second he requires to supplement this bare living to the extent of keeping himself hale and vigorous. More corn than this, in the shape of bread and farinaceous food generally, he has no desire for. On the other hand, it would be very desirable to have some animal food, and he sets aside, therefore, a third sack to feed poultry. A fourth sack he destines for the making of coarse spirits. Suppose... that he cannot think of anything better to do with the fifth sack than feed a number of parrots, whose antics amuse him. Naturally these various methods of employing the corn are not equal in importance.... And now, putting ourselves in imagination at the standpoint of the farmer, we ask, What in these circumstances will be the importance, as regards his well-being, of one sack of corn?
... How much utility will he lose if a sack of corn gets lost? Suppose we carry out this in detail. Evidently our farmer would not be very wise if he thought of deducting the lost sack from his own consumption, and imperilled his health and life while using the corn as before to make brandy and feed parrots. On consideration we must see that only one course is conceivable: with the four sacks that remain our farmer will provide for the four most urgent groups of wants, and give up only the satisfaction of the last and least important, the marginal utility—in this case, the keeping of parrots.
Böhm von Bawerk's critique of Marx's theories was put under intense scrutiny by Marxian economists such as Nikolai Bukharin. In his Economic Theory of the Leisure Class (1927), Bukharin argued that Böhm von Bawerk's axiomatic assumptions of individual freedom in his subjectivist theories are fallacious in that economic phenomena can only be understood under the prism of a coherent, contextualised, and historical analysis of society, such as Marx's. By contrast, Austrian economists have regarded his critique of Marx as definitive. For example, Gottfried Haberler argued that Böhm von Bawerk's thorough critique of Marx's economics was so devastating that as of the 1960s, no Marxian scholar had conclusively refuted it.
Many of Böhm von Bawerk's works were brought out in the United States by the Chicago industrialist and avid libertarian Frederick Nymeyer, through Libertarian Press, the US arm of the Austrian School of Economics.