August, 2021

The New Theory of Individual and Collective Needs in the Second Edition of Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics

  • Erwin Dekker

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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This paper provides a reappreciation of the second edition of Carl Menger’s Principles. It reconstructs his new theory of needs, which for Menger analytically precedes the valuation of goods. It is argued that this new theory of needs provides a possible bridge between economics and the natural sciences. It provided important conceptual tools for the interwar work of Ludwig von Mises on praxeology and Friedrich Hayek on expectations and plans. The new first chapter also contains a theory of collective needs, which is contextualized in the broader German-language debate over private and public provision of goods. It is demonstrated that Menger’s approach to collective needs, and the jointness of consumption is in tension with the later Samuelson/Musgrave conception of public goods, and compatible with the institutional theories in this field of James Buchanan and Vincent and Elinor Ostrom.