April 28, 2023


How Austrian Culture and Austrian Economics are Intertwined

By: Frances Floresca

What do Gustav Klimt, a painter; Friedrich Hayek, an economist; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a classical music composer have in common? They are all Austrian! 

Austrian culture and Austrian economics may be distinct and different subjects, but there are still similarities between the two. 

Visitors should expect to be immersed with rich history and culture when they arrive in Austria, but not many people think about Austrian economics. As an Austrophile who has visited the country, I never realized the connections between the country’s culture and economics. 

Austrian culture’s emphasis on individualism and creativity has had a large influence on Austrian economics, which prioritizes individualism and market processes rather than outcomes. The Austrian School of Economics argues for free-markets and against government intervention, enabling creativity and innovation to flourish. 

In the Viennese Students of Civilization by Erwin Dekker, Associate Professor of Cultural Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam, he argues that “literature, art, and cultural atmosphere are all essential ingredients of Austrian economics.” It shows that Austrian economics is more than just about free-markets, but many of its ideas appear to have indirectly contributed to the advancement of civil liberties and individual freedom in the country. 

Growing up as a classical musician, I knew that Austria has influenced the world with the arts — a significant part of its culture — but I had no idea the Austrian School of Economics existed until my intern class at the Leadership Institute read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, where he made references to the school of thought. The Austrophile in me wanted to know more about Austrian economics.

While I had learned about free-markets and Adam Smith in high school, I never had heard about Austrian economics, along with some of its thought leaders, Friedrich Hayek, Carl Menger, and Ludwig von Mises. 

Many of us know that free-markets are known to bolster creativity and innovation, and while not directly related, people throughout Austrian history are known around the world for being pioneers when it comes to innovation in their culture.

Some of these pioneers include Mozart, who is known for bringing classical music forms to new levels and was a child prodigy; Gustav Klimt, who was a symbolist painter and is known for painting The Kiss; and the Strauss family, whose waltzes and polkas are synonymous with Vienna. 

Hayek, Menger, and Mises were pioneers of economics just like Mozart, Klimt, and the Strauss family were for the arts. 

The height of the free-market in Austria happened between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Austrian economics founders Menger, Friedrich Wieser, and Eugen Böhm von Bawerk holding prominent positions in the country as university leaders, and even Bawerk was the Austrian Finance Minister. 

Unfortunately, Austria is more “un-Austrian” as it does have a mixed economy today, but it is evident that the country has a strong tradition of freedom that others do not. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranks its economy as the 23rd freest in the world — two places above the United States. 

Even if Austria is more “un-Austrian” today, the largest business university in Europe, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business) still has an Austrian economics program.

Austrian economics and Austrian culture may be vastly different, but with the country’s emphasis on individualism, creativity, and innovation in its culture, one can see how it could have had an influence on the Austrian School of Economics and free-markets. 

People can show appreciation for this country with how both Austrian culture and the Austrian School of Economics have made significant contributions to the world.