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Catallactics is a theory of the way the free market system reaches exchange ratios and prices. It aims to analyse all actions based on monetary calculation and trace the formation of prices back to the point where an agent makes his or her choices. It explains prices as they are, rather than as they "should" be. The laws of catallactics are not value judgments, but aim to be exact, objective and of universal validity. It was first used extensively by the Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises.
Catallactics is a praxeological theory, the term catallaxy being used by Friedrich Hayek to describe "the order brought about by the mutual adjustment of many individual economies in a market." Hayek was dissatisfied with the usage of the word "economy" because its Greek root, which translates as "household management", implies that economic agents in a market economy possess shared goals. He derived the word "Catallaxy" (Hayek's suggested Greek construction would be rendered καταλλαξία) from the Greek verb katallasso (καταλλάσσω) which meant not only "to exchange" but also "to admit in the community" and "to change from enemy into friend."
It is with a view to put you on your guard against prejudices thus created, (and you will meet probably with many instances of persons influenced by them,) that I have stated my objections to the name of Political-Economy. It is now, I conceive, too late to think of changing it. A. Smith, indeed, has designated his work a treatise on the "Wealth of Nations;" but this supplies a name only for the subject-matter, not for the science itself. The name I should have preferred as the most descriptive, and on the whole least objectionable, is that of CATALLACTICS, or the "Science of Exchanges."
Also, in a footnote to these sentences, he continues:
It is perhaps hardly necessary to observe, that I do not pretend to have classical authority for this use of the word Catallactics; nor do I deem it necessary to make any apology for using it without such authority. It would be thought, I conceive, an absurd pedantry to find fault with such words as "thermometer," "telescope," "pneumatics," "hydraulics," "geology," &c. on the ground that classical Greek writers have not employed them, or have taken them in a different sense. In the present instance, however, I am not sure that, if Aristotle had had occasion to express my meaning, he would not have used the very same word. In fact I may say he has used another part of the same verb in the sense of "exchanging;" (for the Verbals in are, to all practical purposes, to be regarded as parts of the verbs they are formed from) in the third book of the Nicom. Ethics he speaks of men who hold their lives so cheap, that they risked them in exchange for the most trifling gain . The employment of this and kindred words in the sense of "reconcilement," is evidently secondary, reconciliation being commonly effected by a compensation; something accepted as an equivalent for loss or injury.
It has also been cited that Whately first coined the term in commentary during his Oxford lectures.
- Human Action, book by Ludwig von Mises from the Ludwig von Mises Institute
- Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, book by Richard Whately from the Library of Economics and Liberty
- Hayek, F.A. Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 2, pp. 108–9.
- Hayek, F.A. Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Vol. 2. 1976. pp. 108-109. See also p. 185n4.
- Levy, David Katallactic Rationality: Exploring the Links Between Co-operation and Language, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 729-747