Austrian business cycle theory

economic theory

The Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) is an economic theory developed by the Austrian School of economics about how business cycles occur.


  • The question of the value of Hayek’s work in technical economic theory from the middle 1920s through early 1940s is one over which there is considerable dispute in the academic economic community. Some, such as contemporary Austrian economists Roger Garrison, Mark Skousen, and Gene Callahan, consider this work to be of vital, continuing relevance. Others, such as Nobel Prize winners Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Ronald Coase, while they have the highest opinion of Hayek, do not consider his work in technical economic theory to be of much worth.
    • Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Ch. 5. Money and Capital
  • For Hayek, the causes of the Depression lay in earlier central bank policies of cheap money, which resulted in large-scale misallocation of capital. Because no central authority could grasp the shifting pattern of relative scarcities and prices, only the market could determine the right allocation. Accordingly, believing that misguided investments had to be liquidated, Hayek argued in the 1930s for policies that were more contractionary than those that were actually pursued. The task of government was to get out of the way and let the process of adjustment run its course.
    If they had been adopted while the crash was under way, Hayek’s prescriptions would have made the Depression even worse than it proved to be – a fact he later admitted. But he never accepted Keynes’s core insight that large-scale economic discoordination could be the result of the workings of the market itself. For him it was always government intervention that accounted for market disequilibrium. More sceptical as well as more radical in his turn of mind, Keynes questioned the self-regulating powers of the market. His work on the theory of probability disclosed insuperable gaps in our knowledge of the future; all investment was a gamble, and markets could not be relied on to allocate capital rightly. There were booms and busts long before the emergence of modern central banking. Left to its own devices, the free market can easily end up in a dead end like that of the 1930s.
  • Very few people these days know the works of the Mises-Hayek school; unfortunately, I am old enough to have been an early follower of Professor Hayek, and even translated one of his books, and there is nothing like having to translate a book, particularly from the German language, to force you to come to grips with an argument.
  • A few weeks ago, a journalist devoted a substantial part of a profile of yours truly to my failure to pay due attention to the "Austrian theory" of the business cycle—a theory that I regard as being about as worthy of serious study as the phlogiston theory of fire.
  • Professor Mises and Dr. Hayek have advanced theories which, though they fall into the general category of monetary explanations, yet seem altogether free from those deficiencies which have marked monetary explanations in general. They explain the effects of fluctuations in the supply of money not so much in terms of fluctuations of the general price level as in terms of fluctuations of relative prices and the consequent effects on what may be called the ‘time-structure’ of production.
    • Lionel Robbins, Foreword to the First Edition of Price and Production (1931)