Born in Vienna the son of a high official in the War Ministry, he first trained in sociology and law. He was the brother-in-law of another prominent Austrian school economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. Wieser held posts at the universities of Vienna and Prague until succeeding Austrian school founder Carl Menger in Vienna in 1903 where with Bohm-Bawerk he shaped the next generation of Austrian economists including Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter in the late 1890s and early 1900s. He became Austrian Finance Minister in 1917.
Wieser's two main contributions are the theory of "imputation", maintaining that factor prices are determined by output prices and the theory of "opportunity cost" as the foundation of value theory - subjectivist pillars in Neoclassical theory.
In developing these ideas, Wieser can be credited with turning Neoclassical economics firmly towards the study of scarcity and resource allocation - a fixed quantity of resources and unlimited wants - all based on the principle of marginal utility, a phrase he coined. Wieser's imputation theory allowed that single principle to be applied everywhere. Wieser's theory of alternative cost (not yet known as opportunity cost), where costs would be analysed in terms of the foregone use of the product, and Alfred Marshall's "real cost" theory soon came into conflict.
Wieser is renowned for two main works, Natural Value (1889), which carefully details the alternative cost doctrine and the theory of imputation, and his Social Economics (1914), which is an ambitious attempt to apply it to the real world.
The economic calculation debate started with his notion of the paramount importance of accurate calculation to economic efficiency. Prices to him represented, above all, information about market conditions, and are thus necessary for any sort of economic activity. A socialist economy, therefore, would require a price system in order to operate.
He also stressed the importance of the entrepreneur to economic change, which he saw as being brought about by "the heroic intervention of individual men who appear as leaders toward new economic shores." This idea of leadership was later taken up by Joseph Schumpeter in his treatment of economic innovation.
Unlike almost all Austrian School economists he rejected classical liberalism, writing that "freedom has to be superseded by a system of order."