...reading about e-con-o-meee.
Over the past few months, I've come to understand that Murray Rothbard is quite a controversial fellow within the Austrian school. Nevertheless, Peter Boettke, whose work I greatly respect, suggests anyone wanting to grasp the fundamentals of the Austrian school of economics should read Human Action and Man, Economy, and State. The former written by Ludwig von Mises (O Captain! My Captain! of the Austrian school) and the latter written by Rothbard. Mises thought Rothbard's work was very good, it seems. Anyway, the way I read Boettke's recommendation is that he thinks MES is a more accessible version of Human Action. So, I started with MES. I still have a day job, after all.
As I'm trained in the neoclassical version of economics, the first thing I should note about MES, and the Austrian school generally, is their unique (in the post-Marshallian/Hicksian/Walrasian world of economics) methodology. Known as "praxeology," the Austrian approach is characterized by verbal logic. Most economic theory nowadays is characterized by symbolic logic (math).
I'm not fully comfortable with the verbal approach, because of two things. First, obfuscation is easier, including confusing yourself. It takes an especially clear mind and lucid writing to do pure theory using words only. Plus, it's harder for the reader, since each word matters a great deal, and there's plenty of room for misunderstanding. Second, it makes the Austrian school more dismissable (made up a word!) because they haven't bought the membership into the club by having really difficult mathematics.
Now there is a lot to cover in Rothbard, so I'm going to begin and end this post by giving the foundational idea of Austrian economics, that shouldn't be the least bit controversial. The foundation of any social science is and must be: humans act. All events that occur in the world are due to individual actions. No government, no country, no society, no group, acts. Only individuals. That is critical, but like I said, uncontroversial from an economist's point of view.
The next point that is critical: humans act according to subjective value scales. If I buy a rake that costs $15, that means that to me the rake is worth at least $15, plus the irritation of having to go to the store to buy it, and the gas I use up. A rake is a capital good, so actually the value of the rake is the present value of the future usefulness of the rake to me. But it still is a subjective value: how important is it for me to clean the leaves off my lawn? (Not really at all, but my wife thinks it's a huge deal.)
So that's it for now: humans act according to subjective value scales.