Economic Science: Back To The Basics
So, my interest in economics is very basic: getting back to the basics of what economics is. Getting to the core. And, I think generally this is what Austrian economics is about. Austrian economists do not want to take what other economists have done and add fancy and tangential extensions to it, or mathematically prove something into or out of existence. Austrian economists want to ask fundamental questions about economic systems that often appear easy or obvious, and then carefully and methodically work out the answers.
This is also what makes Austrian economists great teachers: at least a couple of Austrian economists that I know are, in my opinion, at their worst when they attempt to do conventional-type work that they can publish in top journals, and at their best when lecture to students or present to (or publish for) non-academics. Does this mean that Austrian economics is not scientific - that it is only palatable to the uneducated? No, I do not think so at all. Conventional economics is based on absurd, often times bizarre, assumptions. Economists realize this, but excuse it because they hope the simplifications will help to generate useful predictions. Economists then build elaborate models and equations based on these assumptions, and learning all about what they've done takes years of academic training.
However, most of Austrian economic insight is not built on such assumptions, and it is therefore not simplified enough to build elaborate models and equations upon. It therefore does not take years of academic training to understand these basic insights--instead it takes a few hours to begin to understand the basic insights (if they are taught well). After that, of course, they can be more and more deeply understood, and applied to different policy questions, economic questions, and other pursuits.
This also leads me back to where I started: Austrian economics is about the basics. Understanding and applying basic economic principles to questions in daily life. I think this is good. I do not think that we need elaborate models built on absurd assumptions: models are fine, but they are not the really critical thing. The really critical thing is to understand what economic system works best for what ends, and why. This can then answer "how can we increase economic growth?" and "can we help developing countries to grow? why are they poor in the first place?" and "should we nationalize the banks?"
It is highly unlikely that an elaborate economic model built on incredibly simplifying assumptions will answer this first and most fundamental question better than a study of the fundamentals.