The Psychology of Human Action

The proper way to study human action is to break it down into the following categories

  • History-What we did
  • Economics-What we do
  • Psychology-Why we do
  • Ethics-What we ought to do

This essay is a discussion of the psychology of human action from a Misesian perspective meaning we start our analysis at the level of the individual. Psychology, in this sense, is an attempt to understand the primary considerations that humans use to make the constant stream of decisions that comprise each day. In his masterpiece book “Human Action” Mises develops the field of praxeology, the method of studying society by focusing on the individual and at the decision point for any individual action taken. The approach is fruitful yielding the full body of the intellectual gem known as Austrian Economics. Praxeology is the science of human action; an approach to sociology that is much better than mainstream sociology which mimics the physical sciences in its approach. The conclusions made in Praxeology are built on logic rather than empirical observation. Mises called Praxeology the science of human action of which economics is its most developed branch. The Psychology of Human Action is the development of a new branch of praxeology that yields many insights into understanding modern politics.

Individuals have three main parameters by which they constrain their decisions: property, time, and social hierarchy. Social hierarchies apparently exist to reduce conflict among individuals as do property rights by allowing individuals to know who should defer to whom with regard to each other and physical objects. An individual’s decisions are delimited by these three dimensions, time (time preference), space (property), and social hierarchy. Social hierarchy exists in the minds of individuals so it is like the imaginary plane in the field of mathematics.. We have the real dimensions of time and space along with the dimension of social hierarchy or status. These control the majority of human behavior in the quest for survival and reproduction.

Time preference and social hierarchy are fundamental to understanding the “why” of human action. Putting social hierarchy front and center is especially useful in political science, since politics is the pursuit of social status, as well because it explains why people seem to fall into two different political groups, the left and the right. This theory explains a long list of behaviors engaged in by the left but not the right. Here are some examples:

  • Declining to debate
  • Engaging in ad hominem or using other logical fallacies if they do attempt to debate
  • Becoming emotional if one disagrees with them
  • Refusing to grant the right of free speech to people they disagree with
  • Refusing to associate with people on the right
  • Unfriending people on social media because of political disagreements
  • Marching in the street
  • Living in big cities

Why do leftist seem to have no curiosity about how they may be wrong or why other people may have different opinions? Why do leftist always assume evil motives on the part of those who disagree with them? Why are leftists so hostile to people who disagree with them? Applying considerations of social hierarchy explains all those leftists behaviors and answers all the above questions.

Praxeology is the study of human action of which economics is its most highly developed part.The following is an explanation of a different part of the science of praxeology, the psychology of human action. By making some basic simple assertions about human nature and society and then building logically from these statements we can find explanations for many puzzling features of human society, especially politics. These assertions are the following:

  • Human society always has a natural hierarchy
  • In any moment of decision for human action there are two different fundamental heuristics that can be used to make that decision. One method of decision making is to observe what everyone else is doing and doing the same. The other is to observe reality and use reason to decide how to act at any given moment. These two ways of decision making are fundamental survival strategies. These can be restated as thinking for yourself versus following the crowd. One uses reason and the other does not.
  • It is a fundamental human drive to seek belonging in the group and to seek to rise in the hierarchy. Human decision makers weigh the potential impact on social status at all points in the decision making process.
  • The strength of that drive for status and social belonging varies among people with some having a low drive and others a high drive for improved status. The status drive seems to intensify in people as they rise in status.
  • It is natural to be disdainful of people of lower status and this natural reaction varies in its intensity among individuals. The amount of disdain correlates with the status drive meaning people with a high status drive are probably more likely to disdain lower status people with more intensity than those with less status greed.
  • People tend to worship those of higher status. The intensity of this varies among individuals and probably intensifies as status increases.
  • Since the pursuit of social status is a zero sum game with all gains in status meaning a relative decrease in status for others, people tend to want to prevent lower status people from achieving higher status. Envy is the emotion that tends to trigger action to prevent others from achieving higher social status.

With these premises we can understand everything about the left right divide. Why don’t leftist like to debate? Why do they tend to get angry and even viciously attack people who aren’t leftist? There are topic after topic that all make sense with this set of assumptions.

It is pointless to argue politics because the people who side with the top of the hierarchy are doing so from primal drives to belong, be a team player, and to advance in the hierarchy by ingratiating themselves with people of higher status. They will never change their mind because their stands merely reflect the elite’s. Whatever it is that the elite want and believe is right by definition. If you have arguments against their positions then you just must be wrong and your arguments aren’t even worth listening to. This explains the anger that the pro-government types have towards those who aren’t. The people who don’t agree with the elites are traitors to the tribe. They are endangering the tribe by disrupting tribal unity. This is a primal drive probably inherited from our ape ancestors.

In Paleolithic times the wants and needs of the elite and the lower status tribe members probably always coincided, but now the elite and the rest of the tribe have unfortunately almost diametrically opposed wants and needs. .


Why do some people, in terms of politics, go left and some go right? So I asked the great master libertarian economist, Walter Block, that question and his answer surprised me and at first I thought he was kidding. Walter Block had gone to school and ran track and field with the presidential candidate in 2016, who called himself a socialist,Bernie Sanders. I wanted to know how two guys with similar upbringings in the same neighborhood at the same time would have such different outlooks in terms of left and right politics. He answered by tapping the side of his head and saying “I think it’s genetic.” Then he pointed to his wife next to him and said “I can’t even convince my own wife. She’s a socialist.” I began to think he was halfway serious after that comment and now I believe he was completely serious and I agree with him now after at first thinking it sounded ridiculous.

Many people possess from their genes a predisposition for making decisions by looking at what everyone else is doing and always behaving and speaking in ways that are approved of by the group. Fitting in with the group is a very good survival strategy so it makes sense that this trait could be encoded in our genes.

Much of our politics can be explained by assuming that high status people want to keep lower status people down. The progressive income tax is a great example. Rich people don’t care about income taxes because they are already rich. The progressive income tax serves the purpose of preventing people from climbing the social ladder.

The desire to fit in with the group explains why politicians tend to change when they go to Washington DC. Fitting in with the elite of that town is more important to them than keeping the promises to their voters that they made in order to get elected. The people in the capital city are of higher status than the people back home in their district.

The left -right divide is between those that favor the interests of the people at the top of the hierarchy and those that favor the interests of the lower status people. The most important

lesson that can be deduced from this simple set of premises is the following, whenever the wants and needs of the elite coincide with those of the lower classes, harmony will prevail. When the wants and needs of those two fundamental groups diverge conflict results.