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Author's Preface - Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, The Positive Theory of Capital 
The Positive Theory of Capital, trans. William A. Smart (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891).
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It has taken me longer than I expected to follow up the publication of my Geschichte und Kritik der Kapitalzins-Theorieen by the present work. The heavy part of The Positive Theory of Capital lies in the theory of Interest. In the other portions of the subject I was able, at least on the whole, to follow in the footsteps of previous theorists, but for the phenomena of interest I had to put forward an explanation which breaks entirely new ground.
I make this latter statement with some confidence. It is quite true that my explanation of interest rests on certain important ideas previously put forward by Jevons. But Jevons did not give them that special application which might have made them serviceable towards the explanation of interest—if they had been taken in connection with certain other lines of thought not then familiar to Jevons. Thus it is that, in his interest theory, Jevons remained under the spell of the old classical opinions, notwithstanding these new lights which came to him from another quarter and were applied to other ends. And, moreover, as the ideas common to both of us were not borrowed by me from Jevons, but discovered in entire independence—indeed long before I became acquainted with Jevons's writings—I feel bound to take on myself, for good or ill as events may prove, the entire and undivided responsibility for the interest theory now put forward.
As regards the way in which I have treated the subject, I may be allowed to make two remarks.
The method of statement adopted for the most part throughout this book is that which people generally—not without a suspicion of passing judgment on it—call " abstract." All the same I contend that my theory does not contain one single feature which is not based on true empirical principles. There are various ways of being empirical. We may obtain the facts of experience which serve us as foundations from economic history, or we may gather them from statistics, or we may try to get them directly in our common daily life by simple informal observation. No one of these three methods has any monopoly: each of them has its separate and peculiar sphere. In the nature of things the historical and the statistical method treat the matter of experience in much ampler fashion, and gather it from wider fields of observation; but for that very reason they fail, on the whole, to seize any but the larger and more apparent facts: they put economic events, as it were, through a large sieve, where a great many delicate and unobtrusive, but, perhaps, more essential features of economic life, escape unnoticed. If, then, we would rescue these and make them objects of economic investigation—and for very many scientific problems we simply cannot do without taking cognisance of them—there is nothing for it but to have recourse to the comparatively narrow but always impressive personal observation of life.
Now I have endeavoured to make full use of all three methods of investigation. What help economic history and statistics could afford me in my task I have thankfully accepted and conscientiously made the most of, even where I have not explicitly mentioned the original materials with which I worked. But the matter thus obtained was not by a long way sufficient for my purposes. The theory of capital has to reckon with a number of facts which history and statistics have not recorded, partly because in their nature they could not, partly because attention has not hitherto been drawn to the importance of these facts. What, for instance, could history and statistics say about the question which is so important in the explanation of interest, as to whether there is in perishable goods an independent enduring use? How much, again, could we get from them as to the actual grounds on which are based the different subjective estimates of present and future goods? Or what have we learned—up till the present at least—as to the relation between the amount of the national subsistence fund and the average production period in a community? In matters like these one is obliged, for good or ill, to turn to other sources of information, and other paths of knowledge than those of history and statistics.
And if proof be needed that I was right in doing so, and that indeed it was impossible for me to do otherwise, I may appeal to witnesses whose authority, as regards this question, is beyond dispute, namely, the leaders and adherents of the "historical school" itself. For full thirty years the historical and statistical tendency has been the prevailing one in German economics. During the whole of this long period there has not been even an attempt to solve the great problem of interest by the tools of the historical method, although this problem has always occupied a front place in economical discussion. Perhaps the nearest attempt to a really historical treatment was that of Rodbertus, with his famous statement of the different forms under which, in various ages, the ruling economic classes have always drawn the better part of the product of the nation's labour to themselves. But, accurately speaking, Rodbertus, in these historic flights, aimed only at winning assent to his exploitation theory, while the characteristic feature of that theory is that it makes use from end to end of the abstract deductive machinery of the classical school, the labour theory of Ricardo. Or to mention only the recognised leaders of the historical school;—Roscher has put together his interest theory out of elements taken partly from J. B. Say, partly from Senior—that is to say, altogether from " pre-historic " theory; while Knies, following Hermann, invents a theory of the "use" of goods, which not only has nothing in the world in common with history and statistics, but, as I at least believe, dispenses with any inductive foundation whatever, and is the result of simple speculation—and not even happy speculation.
If, then, the historical economists themselves, when brought face to face with the problem of capital, have not trusted to their peculiar method, and have taken to a kind of investigation generally foreign to them, I cannot be reproached if I take the same course as they do. I am free—at least I try to be free—from any onesidedness of method. In my opinion there is no one royal road of investigation: to my mind that way is good which leads to the goal of knowledge in the individual case. And sometimes that will be the one, sometimes the other method, according to the different nature of the individual problems that present themselves. In the present case I imagine that I have employed the method of research which was most suitable to the special nature of the theoretical problems of capital—abstract in form, but empirical in essence; and indeed, as seems to me, empirical in a truer sense than can be assigned to the investigations which the historical school has directed towards the same end.
The second remark I should like to make is this. The fundamental ideas of my interest theory are, I believe, unusually simple and natural. Had I been content to arrange these ideas in a more concise form, avoiding all casuistical matters of detail, I should have put forward a theory which, in small compass, would have produced the impression of being exceedingly simple, even verging on being self-evident. So far as power of carrying conviction goes, this would certainly have been an advantage, and, if I have forborne to seize that advantage, it was only after full consideration. The fact is that, in the theory of capital, there have been so many plausible views put forward and subsequently found false, that I must expect to find the public very critically disposed, and indeed must presume that my best and most careful readers will be the most critical. In these circumstances it appeared to me more important to make the structure of my theory secure than to make it easy and pleasant reading. Thus I decided to encumber my work with numerous demonstrations, details, exact figures, and so on, rather than leave room at critical points for doubts and misunderstandings.
In this direction one circumstance gave me particular trouble. In a theory of any range and any difficulty there are points which, by reason of some casuistical peculiarities or other, are not always quite easily explained, even when the general principle which will give their solution is already known; and, so long as those points are not distinctly traced back to the general principle, they stand like so many living objections to its correctness. As it happens, there are a good many such points in the two theories so closely connected;—that of value and that of capital. Now in the theory of value I had experienced how unexplained questions of this sort may stand seriously in the way and hinder the acceptance of the best grounded general theories,—for I am convinced that people have been so long prevented from getting right views on the nature and laws of value only because they stumbled at certain striking facts, which, to hasty consideration, seemed to contradict these views, while in truth they were only complicated cases requiring casuistical treatment. To save my theory of capital from a like fate I tried to anticipate objections of this sort, and remove them by suitable digressions. Naturally I did not deal with all conceivable objections, but only with those which seemed to me likely to crop up in the minds of critical readers, and which, at the same time, seemed difficult enough to warrant a special explanation: all the same it gave me occasion to go into more detail than was favourable to the fluent statement of my theory.
Thanks to all this I have arrived at a result as paradoxical as it is natural: that the very trouble which I took to clear difficulties out of the way has given my theory a certain appearance of difficulty. Unsuspicious of these hidden and dangerous rocks, many of my readers, I doubt not, would have sailed safely over them, while I, knowing them so well, and trying to steer a safe but laboured course, have made the journey long, difficult, and troublesome. I trust, however, that something may be put to my credit in this regard; for, after all, no one could very well expect to arrive at the solution of a problem of such recognised difficulty except through earnest and laborious thinking. I may at any rate take this opportunity of asking one favour of my readers;— that, if they have once read my theory with all its casuistical detail, they would go over it a second time omitting the detail. If in this way the leading ideas are put directly together again, and cleared of all superfluous elaboration, I venture to think that the theory will again produce that impression of simplicity and naturalness which is warranted by the simplicity of its constituent ideas; an impression which I may have sacrificed to a critical precaution that was perhaps exaggerated, but was not altogether without justification.
This book was already well through the press when Carl Menger's Contribution to the Theory of Capital appeared in Conrad's Jahrbücher (vol. xvii. part ii.) I very much regret that it was then too late for me to make full use of that most interesting and suggestive work, and, in particular, that I could not do more justice to its author in my critical notice of the historical development of the conception of capital. Unfortunately by the time it appeared the first part of my book,—that which deals with the conception and nature of capital, and touches most closely on this work of Menger,—was already printed off.
For the same reason I could not notice the important work of Wieser on Natural Value, which only came to my hands during the printing of my last chapter.