The Action Axiom

People do not have the option of “not acting.” The actions they take reveal their actual preferences. This axiom plays a vital role in understanding free markets,

Introduction to the Action Axiom

Ludwig von Mises usually gets credit for introducing the “action axiom” to economic thinking. He recognized that all economic activity begins with the action of an individual.

Mises developed this axiom using pure reason. He realized that to attempt to prove non-action, a person must act—which nullifies the attempt to prove non-action and verifies the validity of the axiom. The axiom requires no empirical testing. Its truth results from reasoning alone – a priori.

Humans always act purposefully. They act guided by their scale of preferences. Frequently actors do not know their own preferences. Actions, however, not words, reveal the preferences of actors. For an actor to say they preferred the red dress when they bought the blue one denies the truth. Similarly, after “shopping” for a dress and returning with none consists of the action of choosing something else (not revealed) over any dress.

Also, consider the accusation that a person did nothing in a situation where some form of action seems appropriate. In fact, the person did take the action to not get involved. So, one might say that the term “innocent bystander” has no validity.


Give some deep consideration to the idea that you cannot not act. You have as much responsibility for what you don’t do as for what you do. Also, keep in mind that the actions you and others take reveal what you truly value.

The action axiom plays a vital role in understanding economics and free markets, so I will refer to it frequently.

One thought on “The Action Axiom

  1. “Frequently actors do not know their own preferences.” This sentence makes me think of how often we social creatures do not act in our own best interests. In some cases, preferences are blurred when we distract ourselves, becoming slaves to reactions of others. I guess you could say that we prefer to please others more than to be free to act outside their influence.

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