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Austrian Capital Theory Provides Principles Of Capital Allocation Every Entrepreneur Can Apply Right Now.

Why do we make the case that Austrian Economics is the best resource an entrepreneur can use to grow their business? Because the principles of Austrian Economics are clear, precise and can be activated immediately in any business decision.

Here’s an example: how to allocate capital in your business. Most of the capital that’s free to allocate comes from your cash flow, and it might also come from investors and lenders. Whatever the source, you must allocate it to grow your revenue and profit. How do you make the decision? Here are five principles:

Zero-based capital allocation.

Austrian Capital Theory prizes responsiveness to market changes – your capital structure should reflect the preferences of your customers, and those preferences are in continuous change. Therefore, zero–base all your capital allocation decisions. Don’t allocate based on what you’ve done in the past. Allocate based on where revenues and profits can be generated in the future. Sometimes this is called agility. Whatever term you use, make sure you are not allocating capital today simply to continue or repeat what you’ve done in the past.

Fund strategies, not projects.

Austrian Capital Theory directs entrepreneurs to focus on long term value creation. This means funding strategies not projects. Identify strategies that will produce growth, and then make sure you allocate sufficient capital to foster that growth. Projects can be initiated once the strategy is determined and launched. If you fund projects, the economic calculation can always be gamed – creating a spreadsheet justification for any project.

Continuously assess which strategies are creating value, and fund them from strategies that are not.

Capital does not have to be rationed. It should be allocated to those strategies that create value and deliver growth. There is always a source – strategies that are not creating value. It’s simple portfolio management.

No tolerance for bad growth.

Customers determine which strategies are delivering value for them and therefore delivering growth for you. The customer decides what grows. They won’t tolerate any offering from you that falls below their value threshold. And you should not tolerate the continuation of any strategy that falls below your growth threshold.

Know the value of assets.

Austrian Capital Theory identifies the value of assets as the future revenue and profit streams they generate from customers. When that changes, the value of the asset changes, and economic calculation must adjust. You should be continuously asssessing the value of your assets with this calculation.

Here is an example of these principles of Austrian Economics being served up in business language, from Credit Suisse. The authors make it sound analytical and strategic, but really it’s the expression of established principles that every entrepreneur can apply.

https://research-doc.credit-suisse.com/docView?language=ENG&format=PDF&sourceid=em&document_id=1066007811&serialid=yKerDV9lV5lbOxhMTMaFhAZ9MZ8nzrqd4M0N8V3Gv9c%3d

Get insights like this every week from the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast.

20. Dr. Keith Smith on How Austrian Economics Helped Me Innovate

Dr. Keith Smith is an anesthesiologist and founder of both the Surgery Center of Oklahoma and the Free Market Medical Association. Surgery Center of Oklahoma has innovated in healthcare with a completely free market offering of transparent pricing with no hidden fees, with a radically patient-centric organization and different and better patient and doctor relationship protocols. Free Market Medical Association is a movement to encourage medical practitioners throughout the country to pursue a similar pathway of radical innovation. Dr. Smith took inspiration from Austrian Economics principles. Here are the seven principles he talks about on the Economics For Entrepreneurs podcast:

1. Subjective Value

This was the first Austrian principle that Dr. Smith learned from reading Menger and Mises. He applied subjective value thinking to the healthcare industry by asking, “Who is the customer?” and “Are health care industry participants focused on creating customer value?”

He realized that, since the patient is not paying the anesthesiologist or the surgeon, then there was no value exchange between the customer and the service provider. Therefore, there is no market relationship. The customer was not in a position to evaluate the quality and efficiency of the medical service that Surgery Center Of Oklahoma and its surgeons provided.

When a third party payer is paying the fees, the patient is not acting as the customer. The fee from the third party can never represent the right price — the one that properly reflects customer preferences — and much of what is dysfunctional in the health care system stems from this arrangement. The industry can not accommodate the fact that patients who wish to consume medical services value different aspects of the service in different ways. Some will pay any price to experience the value of immediate service: surgery today. Some will defer service to a later date to pay a lower price. Some want a surgeon that spends a lot of time with them before and after surgery. Some prefer speed and efficiency. All individuals create value in their own minds, and should be able to decide what price they will pay for that value. Subjective value theory guides Dr. Smith to run his surgery center to serve patients’ preferences.

2. Preference Rankings

The idea of preference rankings may sound theoretical, but Dr. Smith has found a practical way to make them a tool for building an organization.

When the patient and the surgeon are both customers of the surgery center, it can be hard to align the interests of both without conflict. Dr. Smith calls this desired outcome “accommodating all interests with boundaries”. Both the surgeons and the patients can make unreasonable demands that can’t both be accommodated in the service of good care. How to accommodate both? Just ask them what their preferences are and how they rank them. Many times, just having the conversation is a revelation — it reveals considerations to the patient or surgeon they had not appreciated before. For example, if a patient demands a local anesthetic and the doctor reveals a preference against it, the reasons for the surgeon’s ranking may bring new information to the patient and may change their preference.

Preference ranking provides an organizational tool to help Dr. Smith build his team of surgeons. A surgeon that frequently shows up late, or habitually takes an excessively long time for a procedure, may be revealing a preference for revenue over patient quality. By observing behavior, it becomes easy to identify a doctor (or a hospital) that is revenue focused compared to one that is truly focused on value, taking the long-term view and making every value exchange mutually beneficial. If a surgeon is observed acting in a way that is not in the patient’s best interest, Dr. Smith does not want him or her on the team. Asking preference ranking questions — what is important to you and how do you rank it? — is a good way to get to know someone you are considering for your team. It’s a troublesome thought process for some, and an enlightening one for others.

3. Self-Examination

Preference ranking can be applied in self-examination. Dr. Smith says, “I scour myself for inconsistencies”. He found one when he realized he was filing Medicare insurance claims that were paid with government funds which, he declares, is like “receiving stolen goods”. That, he realized, was inconsistent with his free market principles. And so he abandoned the practice and now treats Medicare patients at no cost. The acceptance of the market is the determinant of his business success — “to hug us or crush us”. Dr. Smith’s preference is to be consistent in his commitment to free market practices.

4. The Errors of Interventionism

The refusal to accept government money was just one step in expunging the corrupting and distorting effects of government intervention in the health care market. Dr. Smith examines every element of government intervention in the market and attempts to eliminate it from his business, to make sure his business does not benefit from it. He scrutinizes one situation after another and attempts to eliminate them all.

5. Dynamic Flexibility.

Austrian Capital Theory — and the Resource-Based View of the firm that derives from it — prescribes extreme flexibility of capital assets and resources to enable shuffling and recombining in response to changing consumer preferences. Dr. Smith describes the process of continuously looking for more knowledge, more learning and more flexibility as “radical entrepreneurship”. He looks for texts like Peter Klein’s The Capitalist And The Entrepreneur to provide new ideas and new initiatives. Continuous learning is part of Dr. Smith’s recipe, and he is always searching out readings that will change his mind.

6. Time Preference

Time preference is a core concept in Austrian economic theory. Entrepreneurship takes time. It requires patience, and the elevation of long-term goals over short term goals. It also requires foregoing present opportunities in order to pursue future benefit. What are you willing to forego in order to be an entrepreneur?

Dr. Smith found the most striking discussion — “jaw-dropping” in Dr. Smith’s words — of time preference in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed (i.e., the relevant passage starts at the very beginning of Chapter 1).

He found an immediate application in the business model for Surgery Center Of Oklahoma. As surgeons get older, their time preference changes. They want to monetize their ownership position in the partnership — to “cash out”. This often leaves junior surgeons “holding the bag”, because the partnership (or an intervening VC) may buy the departing surgeon’s position, but this is paid for out of the future earnings of the remaining partners. Through his understanding of time preference, Dr. Smith was able to anticipate this situation and organize his surgery center like a law firm — no partner pays anything to join and receives no exit payment when they leave. They also don’t own the real estate. So there is no opportunity to monetize on exit, which “saved SCO as a business” and brought stability by de-fanging an activity that doctors are known for.

7. The Austrian Way of Thinking

As important as any principle of economics is the Austrian Way of Thinking: rigorous reasoning based on logic and a priori axioms; being aware of assumptions and always examining them; respect for how others value things; understanding the difference between risk and uncertainty, and looking uncertainty in the eye; and generally exerting more logic and less emotion in conducting business.

Economics is the study of human behavior. Humans move from A to B because they prefer B to A. Understanding the logic of human action — and the motivation behind it — provides a lens through which to observe what is going on around you and to see it more clearly, obscuring distractions and perceiving conflicts of interest you might not see without the lens. The Austrian Way of Thinking brings confidence, decisiveness and calm. Physicians — and anyone — can benefit.

 

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