Economics: Vocation or Profession?


  • Joseph T. Salerno Professor of Economics, Pace University.



Should economics be pursued as a profession or a vocation? Below I argue that this choice of subjective orientation is enormously important, and tends to dictate whether an economist will serve the cause of truth and freedom, or waste his or her talents on convenience, ephemera, and statism.

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives one definition of «vocation» as «The work or function to which a person is called; a mode of life or employment regarded as requiring dedication». The eminent semanticist S.I. Hayakawa also emphasizes «dedication» as the distinctive feature of a vocation which differentiates it from a profession.

In praxeological terms, a vocation involves what Ludwig von Mises «introversive» labor while a profession involves «extroversive» labor. The essence of introversive labor is work undertaken solely for its own sake and not as a means to a more remote end. Extroversive labor, in contrast, is performed because the individual «prefers the proceeds he can earn by working to the disutility of labor and the pleasure of leisure».

One of the «two most conspicuous examples» of introversive labor, according to Mises, is «the search for truth and knowledge pursued for its own sake and not as a means of improving one’s own efficiency and skill in the performance of other kinds of labor aiming at other ends». The second is «genuine sport, practiced without any design for reward and social success».

It is not that the effort expended by the «truth seeker» or «mountain climber» does not involve the disutility of labor, rather «it is precisely overcoming the disutility of labor that satisfies him». Thus genuine truth seeking in any scientific discipline qualifies economically as «consumption» and its pursuit as a vocation.


BERNSTEIN, M.A. (2001), A Perilous Progress: Economists and Public Purpose in Twentieth Century America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

BROWN, L. (ed.) (1993), The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 2 vols. New York: Clarendon Press.

DOLAN, E.G. (ed.) (1976), The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward.

HAYAKAWA, S.I. (1994), Choose the Right Word: A Contemporary Guide for Selecting the Precise Word for Every Situation. 2nd Ed. Eugene Ehrlich. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

MISES, L. v. (1978), Notes and Recollections. Trans.Hans F. Sennholz. South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press.

—[1969] (1984), The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics. Auburn Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

—(1998), Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Scholars ed. Ed. Jeffrey M. Herbener, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Joseph T. Salerno. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

—(1990b), «A Conversation with Murray N. Rothbard». Austrian Economics Newsletter 11 (Summer).

—(2004), Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles with Power and Market: Government and the Economy. Scholars ed. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

SALERNO, J.T. (2002), «The Rebirth of Austrian Economics –In Light of Austrian Economics.» The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 5 (Winter): 111-28.

SA M U E L S O N , P.A. [1949] (1968), «International Factor-Price Equalisation Once Again». In Richard E. Caves and Harry G. Johnson (eds.), Readings in International Economics. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, pp. 58-71.

—[1962] (1970), «Economists and the History of Ideas». In Ingrid H. Rima (ed.), Readings in the History of Economic Theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, pp. 282-95.

—(1988), «Economics in My Time». In William Breit and Roger W. Spencer (eds.), Lives of the Laureates: Seven Nobel Economists. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 59-76.

—(1993), «My Life Philosophy: Policy Credos and Working Ways». In Michael Szenberg, Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 236-47.




How to Cite

Salerno, J. T. . (2005). Economics: Vocation or Profession?. REVISTA PROCESOS DE MERCADO, 2(1), 171–185.