Disagreement with this approach has been vigorously expressed by a number of writers. Dissatisfaction has arisen from several points of view. On the one hand, it is pointed out that an a priori theorem, being derived by sheer logic from given axioms, is necessarily circular, in that it merely tells us in a different way what we already know by our knowledge of the axioms themselves. All the information provided by economic reasoning is thus merely extended circumlocution. So long as economics was not acknowledged as a praxeological science, it is argued, this objection could not be raised. So long as it had been necessary to introduce specific postulates about the way in which people actually behave, an economic theorem did tell something new. If, for example, it was postulated that men behave “rationally” and rationality was defined so as to possess definite empirical content, such as a pattern of behavior that maximized money profits, and the like, then the consequences of this assumption do provide new information. Deduction from the specific assumption made has yielded a theory, against which the assumption could, in fact, be tested for its faithfulness to the facts. But with the emergence of the view of economic knowledge that saw it as completely independent of particular empirical assumptions, the situation became completely altered. A theorem describing the consequences of human behavior that does not take into account the concrete content of that behavior must remain, it has been repeatedly asserted, simply a different way of saying that people behave as they behave.
Analysis of human action can proceed only by the treatment of given purposes as data; the effects of a change in surrounding circumstances can be deduced only on the assumption that these purposes are adhered to with constancy, that no new “program” has been substituted for the old. These restrictions on the derivation of praxeological knowledge follow from what has been said in the previous section concerning the rationality implicit in the concept of human action. It was seen that the rationality of action can be appraised relatively to various mutually inconsistent programs that a person may, under different sets of conditions, have chosen. Because this is the case, it is essential, for the derivation of a praxeological theorem, that it be formulated in reference to one such program, whose dominance and relevance must, along with other information, be supplied by the data. Once the data have been supplied, theorems may be derived that will possess necessary truth, but their validity remains strictly dependent on the data; their truth is limited to the “programs” to which they are relevant.
No doubt this conception of economic activity involves some circularity. We must confine economic analysis to human actiononly in so far as it has a single object in view, the maximization of money income, and we proceed to postulate an “economic” area of “business” defined in terms of such a single object of desire. The justification for such a procedure is the sharp distinction made possible, as we have seen, by the existence of a monetary bridge that both accentuates and spans the gulf between earning income and buying goods. There is, in fact, a twofold aspect to men’s lives. Men do mark off part of their time for the earning of income and part for the enjoyment of income, however hazy the line of demarcation may be. And it is a fact that economic analysis has historically dealt predominantly with the first of these areas. Definitions of economics in terms of money are thus different from definitions of it in terms of wealth. The criterion of money fences off the area of income-earning and makes it a field fruitful for economic analysis.
These limitations on the scope of the economist's area of competence have, of course, been condemned again and again by historically-minded and institutionally-conscious critics of economic theory. The fact that the validity of these limitations follows rigorously from Robbins' definition of economics reveals the close faithfulness with which this definition of the subject mirrors the procedures that economic theorists have, in fact, been following all the time. What the explicit recognition of the fact that the phenomena with which the economist deals are data does achieve is the appreciation that self-restraint by economic theorists does not spring from blindness to the facts of economic life. The “abstractions” of the economists, against which realistically-minded critics have so vigorously rebelled, are inherent in the nature of the problems to which they address themselves. Their subject matter forms a distinct field precisely because there exists an element in action that is distinct from the nature of the ends of action and at least conceptually independent of the processes whereby ends are selected and ordered. It must surely be regarded as a merit of Robbins' definition that it isolates this element with clarity. A grasp of the character of this element in action makes it immediately evident that the severely circumscribed applicabilityof the propositions enunciated by the economic theorist, far from being the necessary result of a crudely unrealistic methodology, is but the properly incomplete contribution of the specialist whose skills have been developed by a judicious and fruitful division of labor. Specific policy recommendations on economic affairs may require long and careful study of the actual attitudes of human beings, their wants, valuations, and expectations. Crucially important though such information may well be, the research and scholarship involved in its compilation is from the application of economic reasoning. Robbins' definition brings this distinction into sharp focus.
The two major causes of inflation are costs rising faster than increases in productivity and demand running higher than supply. Presumably, Friedman thinks that the latter works first and the former second. In a world that is not neo-classical, however, wage rises need not necessarily be financed through inflation but, for example, from profits and, if these were too low, from increased taxation of richer in favour of poorer workers. Workers do not necessarily demand wages in excess of productivity increases. They demand a wage which, at least does not fall in real terms. Hence, when information is poor concerning future inflation, workers will attempt to discount the future by asking for wage increases above the inflation rate plus productivity increases, thus contributing to a further bout of inflation. Certainly, the high real interest rates in the 1990s contributed to breaking this vicious circle as inflation fell, growth increased and unemployment fell. However, outside of the USA, UK and a few other countries high levels of unemployment continue to remain persistent in many industrialised countries. Solow was particularly scathing of the NRU and stated "The proper conclusion is not that the vertical long-run Phillips curve version of the natural rate hypothesis is wrong. I would suggest instead that the empirical basis for the story is at best flimsy. A natural rate that hops around from one triennium to another under the influence of unspecified forces, including past unemployment rates, is not 'natural' at all. 'Epiphenomenol' would be a better adjective!'
The contribution that the praxeological point of view has made to the scientific explication of action in history is the isolation of an element in action the explanation of which is not exhausted by even the most complete application of the sciences concerned with the concrete manifestations of human action. This residual element is that of the operation of human action itself, which neither is explained by physical, physiological, or psychological theories nor requires the assistance of these doctrines for its ownexposition. A praxeological science, using the rationality of human action as its foundation, is able to derive theorems describing the path of action under given circumstances. The reasoning that constructs these theorems mirrors the reasoning that is implied in action itself. New links in the chain of knowledge, in the form of praxeological theorems, are forged from the constraint that human purposefulness imposes on action, namely, that it be taken only with the sanction of reason.
That this new science was considered, not as explaining the operation of a specific type of social organization or the results of a certain kind of human behavior or any of the various other matters that economists have at times believed it to be their principal concern to explain, but as primarily explaining the phenomena of wealth, is a circumstance that deserves some closer attention. It seems appropriate to glance briefly at the background against which economic thought developed, in order to throw some light on this interesting circumstance before we trace the later history of this idea on economic affairs.
Printed underneath the circle is the title "Vicious Circle."This was one in a series of eleven posters produced by Group Commentary, "...an association of independent Fine Artists who share a deep anguish concerning the present state of American society." They issued a catalog and display ads in newspapers making these works available by mail order.
The necessity that Weber felt of introducing rationality into economic activity as a specific assumption limiting the general concept of human action reveals the limited extent to which he appreciated the praxeological content of action. For Weber, the common denominator of all human actions that are “understandable” is not their conformity to a rational pattern of utilizing given means towards a desired end, but simply their conscious “direction” towards an end as such. We can understand an action, not necessarily because we ourselves would, under similar circumstances, act likewise, but because we can sense and appreciate the possibility that such an action could be induced by the agent's mental posture of desire towards the end. For Weber, there is no presumption that the action so induced will at all hasten the attainment of the end concerned. A man seeking a desired object may, in his anger at being thwarted, or in the excitement of pursuit, act in a manner that, in the judgment of both the cool observer and subsequent history, is supremely capable of frustrating the attainment of the sought-for end. Such a conception of action is, of course, incapable in itself of serving as a foundation for economic science. Only by imposing an artificial abstraction of the ideal type is Weber able to reach economics. And it is apparent that when conformity to an ideal type must be assumed for the deduction of the propositions of economics, these propositions cease to be the logical implications of human action, and economics ceases to be a branch of praxeology.