Do your own thing

A reuters article about software guru Ken Sakamura, the inventor of an processor-embedded operating system called TRON, caught my attention. Sakamura could have been (according to the article) as rich as Bill Gates, but is content living an ordinary life. Whereas Microsoft Windows is distributed for a price, TRON is distributed free of charge.

I initially noticed the article because it is tangentially related to a topic discussed in the past on this blog. However, it also illustrates a principle of praxeology - the individual pursuit of self-defined ends. Many approaches to economics advise that individuals ought to make choices that maximize their utility, or that "greed is good", or that economics is only valid when studying 'rational' actions.
However, within Austrian economics, labels such as 'rational' and 'irrational' for the various ends pursued are left to normative fields such as ethics, psychology, and history. Purposeful action itself, on the other hand, is always rational, as it is made by the individual in pursuit of those subjectively defined ends. As Mises states:

Human action is necessarily always rational. The term "rational action" is therefore pleonastic and must be rejected as such. When applied to the ultimate ends of action, the terms rational and irrational are inappropriate and meaningless. The ultimate end of action is always the satisfaction of some desires of the acting man. Since nobody is in a position to substitute his own value judgments for those of the acting individual, it is vain to pass judgment on other people's aims and volitions. No man is qualified to declare what would make another man happier or less discontented. The critic either tells us what he believes he would aim at if he were in the place of his fellow; or, in dictatorial arrogance blithely disposing of his fellow's will and aspirations, declares what condition of this other man would better suit himself, the critic.

It is usual to call an action irrational if it aims, at the expense of "material" and tangible advantages, at the attainment of "ideal" or "higher" satisfactions. In this sense people say, for instance--sometimes with approval, sometimes with disapproval--that a man who sacrifices life, health, or wealth to the attainment of "higher" goods--like fidelity to his religious, philosophical, and political convictions or the freedom and flowering of his nation--is motivated by irrational considerations. However, the striving after these higher ends is neither more nor less rational or irrational than that after other human ends.

Praxeology does not make any statements about what individuals ought to do. Rather, it embraces in its epistemology the ascetic monk, the pain-seeking masochist, selfless individuals such as Mother Theresa, and even people like Ken Sakamura who are content with an 'ordinary' life rather than the riches of Bill Gates. Praxeology simply makes the observation that individuals pursue their highest valued ends, whatever those ends might be. Sakamura values not "charging people for using something which is like a social infrastructure" more than he does becoming rich. And that's okay.

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