Front Page Titles (by Subject) Man Against Nature - The Economic Point of View
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Man Against Nature - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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Man Against Nature
It is convenient here to notice a point of view that enjoyed the endorsement of a number of writers. They see economics and economic activities as consisting in the constant struggle on the part of man to subdue nature to his own ends. This creates a line of cleavage between two categories of resources. On the one hand, we have the human agent with all his powers of brain and brawn, emotions and skills. These resources he marshals to attack those of the external physical world which he turns to his own purposes. The interaction between man and his physical environment is the area of economic activity.
The earliest writer to have explicitly applied such a distinction to economic phenomena at all seems to have been the German economist (who wrote his book in French while at the Russian court in St. Petersburg) Storch.54 Writing in 1815, Storch emphatically rejected the prevalent viewpoint, which confined political economy to wealth. Not the wealth of nations, but the “prosperity” of nations, should be the subject of political economy. By prosperity Storch included all “civilization,” and in this connection he spoke of “inner goods” such as health, strength, reason, knowledge. These inner goods stand in contradistinction to wealth, which is comprised of “outer goods.” Storch includes both inner and outer goods in his political economy, but his divi- sion between the two categories of goods shows what he understood to be meant by an exclusive science of wealth.55
The eminent British historian Lecky appears to have considered this distinction between “inner” and “outer” resources as of great importance. Writing in one of his earlier works, Lecky seems to feel the arbitrary nature of the conception of a science dealing with the phenomena of wealth. He considers political economy as an expression of what he calls the “industrial” philosophy, which he contrasts with the “ascetic” point of view. The latter philosophy acknowledges happiness as a condition of the mind and seeks to attain it by acting directly on the mind through diminishing the desires. The industrial philosophy seeks happiness, not by diminishing desires, but by acting on surrounding circumstances in order to fulfil the desires. This conception of economics clearly shifts the emphasis from material wealth as such and sees economic activity as the attempt to fulfil desires by altering the configuration of the external world.56
Among economists such a view seems to have found especial favor in Germany. Albert Schäffle, one of the earliest to stress the fundamental role of man in economic phenomena, appears to have consistently gone out of his way to avoid characterizing economics as concerned with “goods.” The key word in Schäffle’s many writings on the nature of the economy is the Aussenwelt—i.e., the external physical world.57 Schäffle’s avoidance of the criterion of goods in favor of a definition formulated in terms of the “external world” is best interpreted as a conscious attempt to draw attention to human activity directed at want–satisfaction. Not goods, but man’s struggle and conquest of the external world is the subject matter of economics.
Other and later German writers referred to the “external world” in their writings, but often merely as an alternative expression for “goods.” Mangoldt, Cohn, Sax, and several other writers may be mentioned in this connection.58
A fundamentally similar attitude to that of Lecky and Schäffle is evidenced about the turn of the century by the American Tuttle. Tuttle speaks of the “fundamental and universal economic principle“—a phrase that he uses in a sense quite different from the usual one. “Three primary facts,” he writes,
lie at the basis of all economic phenomena: namely, man, man’s environment—the outside world, nature–and the dependence of man upon nature. Man has...an economic relation to his material environment...a relation which may very properly be called the weal–relation. This weal–relation...is the fundamental and universal economic principle...59
Here again the economic relationship is conceived as one involving man and his surroundings. This view of the matter bears the clear imprint of the definition of economic phenomena in terms of material wealth. From the external world man creates the goods with which to satisfy his wants. To effect the production of these goods, man applies his own human resources to the external world. The changes that acting man imposes on the outer world both affect and are affected by the changes that are constantly taking place “within” man himself. Envisaging economic activity in this light, as the interaction of man—with all his shifting desires and human resources—and external nature, Tuttle offers a definition in consonance with the more popular conceptions, formulated in terms of wealth, and at the same time suggestive of the place of acting man in the phenomena of economic life.
[]For an interpretation of classical economics generally as seeing the central economic problem in the struggle of man against nature, see M. Dobb, Political Economy and Capitalism, pp. 19 f.; H. Myint, Theories of Welfare Economics, pp. 2 f.
[]H. Storch, Coursd'économie politique (St. Petersburg, 1815), I, ii.
[]See W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe (1865; American ed., 1955), pp. 335 f. On the possible influence on Lecky exerted by Comte, see Hayek, Counter–Revolution of Science, p. 187.
[]For passages in his writings in which the Aussenwelt is stressed, see A. Schäffle, Die Nationalökonomie oder allgemeine Wirtschaftslehre (Leipzig, 1861), pp. 2, 24; Das gesellschaftliche System der menschlichen Wirtschaft (3rd ed.; Tübingen, 1873), p. 2; “Die ethische Seite der Nationalökonomischen Lehre vom Werthe,” Gesammelte Aufsätze (Tübingen, 1885).
[]On Mangoldt's and Sax's position, see E. Sax, Das Wesen und die Aufgaben der Nationalökonomie (Vienna, 1884), pp. 14–15. On Cohn's position, see Menger, Untersuchungen, p. 243. Julius Lehr in his Grundbegriffe und Grundlagen der Volkswirtschaft (Leipzig, 1893), p. 67, instead of referring to Güter, speaks of “die Dinge der Aussenwelt.”
[]C. A. Tuttle, “The Fundamental Economic Principle,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1901, p. 218.