Preparing my notes for my talk on the socialist calculation debate at FEE next week (I'll be doing my best Pete imitation), I decided to include this quote from Mises from his 1920 article on economic calculation (pp. 120-1):
“A popular slogan affirms that if we think less bureaucratically and more commercially in communal enterprises, they will work just as well as private enterprises. The leading positions must be occupied by merchants, then income will grow. Unfortunately ‘commercial-mindedness’ is not something external, which can be arbitrarily transferred. A merchant’s qualities are not the property of a person depending on inborn aptitude…The entrepreneur’s commercial attitude and activity rises from his position in the economic process and is lost with its disappearance….It is…his characteristic position in the production process which allows of the identification of the firm’s and his own interests.”
What is most interesting about that quote is that Mises is clearly claiming that our ability to engage in economic calculation, or to be "commercial-minded" or "economically rational," is not a product of our innate skills or training or anything "inside" of us, but instead the institutional context we find ourselves in. Some institutions will better coordinate the entrepreneur's and the firm's own interest and lead to efficient resource use, some will not. This is why, of course, Lange suggested in a footnote in the 1936 paper that Mises was making a quasi-institutionalist argument.
It also tracks Vernon Smith's work on "ecological rationality," which sees rationality as the product of the context, not the individual. I would add both Mises and Smith are making Weberian arguments here. The opportunity and need for Austrians to reconnect with Weber and create a truly Austrian sociology has never been greater (right Brian?).
I also hesitate to note that this does bear out Pete's claim over the years, made half-seriously, that all that's good in modern economics can be found in Mises.