The Mises-Knight Theory of Uncertainty and Its Implications for Entrepreneurship, Equilibrium, and the Theory of the Firm

The goal of this paper is to analyze the views of Frank Knight and Ludwig von Mises on the topic of uncertainty and how it influences the theory of individual decision-making and to trace out the implications of the same for the theories of entrepreneurship, equilibrium, and the firm. The paper adopts a historical approach in its analysis of the theory of uncertainty, with an extended discussion of the primary writings of Knight and Mises on this topic. It then uses the insights gleaned from this discussion in order to address issues and topics that have found a prominent place in the modern literature on entrepreneurship, equilibrium, and the firm that draws its inspiration from the Austrian School. The paper offers three main findings: in the realm of entrepreneurship it argues that there can be no theory of the entrepreneur without the concept of uncertainty provided by Knight and Mises, whereas with regard to the theory of equilibrium it focuses on highlighting the concept of an equilibrium with error prevalent in the Austrian tradition and on the implications that an explicit introduction of uncertainty has for the existence of a process of equilibration that pushes the economy toward a state of general equilibrium in real time. As regards the theory of the firm we find that a proper understanding of uncertainty ultimately reverses the direction of any causal explanation of economic organization, making the firm an outcome of dealing with uncertainty rather than a means to do so.