Austrian Economics and Investing

Austrian economics is a valuable tool in understanding the economy.  There is a lot of bad information in the mainstream when it comes to economics.  The establishment is made up of mostly Keynesians or some variation.  The government school system is much the same way.  That is why we have to hear these ridiculous claims that we need more spending to help our economy.

The policies instituted by the government and the Federal Reserve dramatically affect the economy as a whole.  In turn, the economy dramatically affects your investments.  Can understanding Austrian economics help you be a better investor?

I think the answer is “yes”, but in a very limited way.  There are some good investors out there who do not understand Austrian economics and there are a lot of people who have a decent grasp of Austrian economics who are not good, or at least not above average, at investing.  Warren Buffett is certainly no Austro-libertarian, but he has certainly done well with his money.  Perhaps this is a bad example since his father, Howard Buffett, actually was a libertarian.  Maybe Warren picked up a few things, even if he doesn’t admit it and sounds like a statist most of the time.

If you understand Austrian economics, then the most important thing you should understand is human action.  I’m not talking about Mises’ book, but just the fact that humans act.  The government constantly comes up with some new law or program that is supposed to achieve something and it turns out to be bad.  Often, it turns out that it does the exact opposite of what it was supposed to achieve.  Part of this is because of the nature of politics and the inherent corruption.  But part of this is also because of human action.

The government can double a particular tax and expect to pay for some new program as the politicians expect that twice the amount of money will flow in.  But that is in a static world where nothing changes.  If you double the taxes on some good or service, people may find alternatives or buy it in the black market.

It is important to remember the concept of human action when you are investing.  In fact, this should always be in your mind.  If you think that a particular investment has to be a winner, you should think again.  You may have done some great research and analysis.  The so-called fundamentals may all look favorable for your investment.  The problem is, your prized investment may still end up losing you money.

Just look at the bubbles that occur (primarily due to monetary policy).  If you looked at the fundamentals, housing should not have continued to go up after 2004.  Tech stocks should not have continued going up after 1997.  Yet, these things kept going for a while longer.

At the same time, you might think that some stock just has to go up in the near future.  But if few other people become as bullish as you, then it won’t go up.  It all depends on the thoughts and actions of millions of other people.  It really doesn’t matter what you think should happen.  What matters is how others act.

Austrian economics can definitely help us with our investing.  Most people, including investors, have little understanding of monetary issues.  If the Fed is creating new money out of thin air and the government is running up massive deficits, we can take a good guess that commodities will probably do well.  Again, there is no guarantee because it is all subject to human action.  But we can make a reasonable prediction that most humans will act rationally and the additional money and debt will likely motivate others to buy gold and other commodities.

We should use our understanding of Austrian economics to our advantage in the investing world.  Most others do not understand it or even know of it.  Just remember the most important point that humans act and because of human action it is impossible to predict the future with certainty.

5 thoughts on “Austrian Economics and Investing”

  1. I think this post ties in pretty well with a couple of comments/questions I have:

    1) When I asked you previously how I might best invest some extra money I had when I currently was not maxed out on my 401k, you suggested a Roth IRA as a better choice than maxing out the 401k. I believe that one part of your reasoning was that you were betting (for whatever reason) on higher taxes in the future, so it made better sense to pay taxes now vs later. But I believe that another part of the logic was that the government could try to seize 401k’s in some manner. What seemed lacking in this line of reasoning was that it seemed to me that the govt could (and will) do all sorts of horrible, immoral things and will find ways to steal our money in new, creative ways. As such, who’s to say that they won’t change the tax code in the future such that, oops, sorry, Roth IRA’s are now taxable? So, my current line of reasoning is that I’m better off making my decisions on what I know to be true today. Today, I can save some money this year by putting more pre-tax dollars in my 401k. FWIW, I’m hoping that I’ll be in a position to *also* put money (hopefully the max) into a Roth IRA as well.

    2) I’ve asked you in the past to contact me directly and/or provide some personal information about yourself on your blog. I’ve done so partially because I’d like to engage with you further offline. Also, I don’t know if you’re a financial advisor by trade, but one thing that I’m currently looking for, and not sure how to find, is a financial advisor who is of an Austrian-mindset who can help guide me as to how to best configure my 401k and what company might be best for me to use when setting up a Roth IRA (e.g., where I’ll have access to the PRPFX (Permanent Portfolio) fund. I suspect that with more and more libertarian, but investment-clueless, people like me coming into the fold, there’s a market for advisors like this. Dave Ramsey has some sort of “affiliate” network of advisors who “think like him”. We need an “Austro-Libertarian approved” list of financial advisors!

  2. Interesting, I just got off the phone with USAA finding out about their USAGX and was thinking further about where the heck to get Austro-libertarian financial planning advice since the sincere gentleman to whom I spoke was certainly educated in Keynesianism. Scott, I had just discussed doing a Roth IRA with USAGX so your comment reads almost literally what I would have said. Is anyone still watching this thread?

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