Economics as “Catallactics”

In considering why the allocation paradigm emerged as the dominant framework of orthodox economics, James Buchanan identified the use of the word “economics” as part of the problem. According to Buchanan, focusing on economizing behavior leads economists to think in terms of maximization and allocation instead of in terms of coordination and exchange. In place of the word “economics,” Buchanan suggested the use of “catallaxy” or “symbiotics” to draw attention to interaction, association, and exchange. The term catallaxy derives from the Greek verb katallattein (or katallassein) which means “to exchange,” and “to admit into the community,” as well as “to change from enemy into friend.”

From Chris Coyne’s “Economics as the Study of Coordination and Exchange,” as published in Peter Boettke’s Handbook on Contemporary Austrian Economics.

Coyne’s larger thesis is to draw attention to the fact that economics is a science of coordination and exchange, not of mere resource allocation. Thinking about economics in terms of the latter leads to wild conclusions and lends itself to equilibrium modeling that is hard-pressed to provide real-world insights that effectively inform economic policy.

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