Why Libertarians Should Read Mises – Part One
Why Libertarians Should Read Mises
By Duncan Whitmore
There is little need to point out to members of the forum bearing his name that Ludwig von Mises was one of the most passionate and influential defenders of the free market in intellectual history – the lynchpin of a tradition running from Carl Menger in the late nineteenth century to the active members of the flourishing “Austrian” school today. Many libertarians – including the present author – first found their enthusiasm for the philosophy through contact with Mises’ work and, in spite of the undeniably titanic influence of other great men in the field (such as Murray N Rothbard), it is Mises who remains the primary inspiration of many an intellectual career within Austro-libertarianism.
Mises made relatively few pronouncements that were concerned specifically with ethics, his intellectual endeavours being focussed mainly on developing and expounding economic theory and epistemology. It is true that he regarded this theory as the basis for an unflinching advocacy of what could then be called liberalism – an aspect we will explore in detail. However, he did so on the basis that, in general, “people prefer life to death, health to sickness, nourishment to starvation, abundance to poverty” and that praxeology and economics “teaches man how to act in accordance with these [presupposed] valuations”.1
Many libertarians share this attitude and believe that the enormous increase in the standard of living that would be afforded by the free market provides its strongest justification. Indeed, it would be futile for any strategy for achieving a libertarian world to omit this powerful argument – particularly when it becomes clear that the established elite are using the existing corp-tocracy to enrich only themselves, causing the siren song of socialist alternatives to grow dangerously louder.
However, this series of three essays will not merely summarise Mises’ economic theory for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to study it in detail; nor are we seeking to debate whether Mises’ utilitarian approach to freedom is either the strongest or most effective justification. Rather, what we wish to grasp is the unique essence of the light that Misesian theory throws on any case for freedom:
- This current essay will explore the place that Mises occupies in social thought, and will contrast his greatness with that of the primary peddlers of the dogmas that dominated his lifespan – Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. We will then outline how Mises’ specific brand of utilitarianism is of a level far more sophisticated and far stronger as a defence of liberty than the pragmatic, neo-liberal, empirical cases for the free market that tend to pervade today;
- Part Two will be an in-depth examination of the action axiom and how the praxeology of Mises is able to better inform us about concepts that we encounter in libertarian theory – concepts such as property, rights, aggression, and so on – which are used all too frequently in debate and discussion without us necessarily having a sufficient grasp of their meaning;
- Part Three will examine the fundamental importance of economics and economic theory in human society, before concluding with an annotated bibliography of Mises’ major works.
The Greatness of Mises in Social Thought
While it is not our intention for these essays to morph into a hagiographical paean, it is worth examining the specific place that Mises occupies in our movement and in social science more generally in order to gain a better appreciation of the man and his work.
A helpful tool in aiding our general understanding of the place of great men and women in their fields (and, moreover, to determine whether they should qualify for such greatness is the first place) is to group them into three, (very) approximate categories: innovators, culminators, and brilliants.2
Innovators are pioneers – they are the mavericks, the bold, independent minded geniuses who begin a new trend or school. Innovators are, of course, influenced by their forefathers, but what they learn from their mentors is essentially synthesised into, or turned towards, a very different direction. Sadly, it is the fate of most innovators to spend many years in the wilderness railing against the dominance of an existing paradigm or trend. Indeed, they and their ideas often originate from outside of the generally accepted circle of excellence. For instance, those who laud the innovative genius of Albert Einstein often point out also that he was expelled from school, and was working as a patent clerk before being recognised as a leading scientist. Ultimately, however, innovators will be extremely influential – the most influential in their field – but they do not usually live to realise the full extent of the directional shifts that they make, this task being left to succeeding generations.
Culminators are those who do not necessarily create anything new but, rather, bring an existing trend, school or style to its ultimate conclusion, or pinnacle. They are the giants standing on the shoulders of giants, achieving the richest, fullest and most coherent expression of everything that came before.
As for the third category – the brilliants – these are geniuses who are neither particularly innovative nor may make any substantial shifts in a particular direction. Rather, they are simply so much better at what they do compared to anyone else around them (even, in many cases, the innovators and culminators), representing a unique snapshot of excellence at a particular time.
For example, in the field of the great composers it is possible to regard Wagner as primarily an innovator, his influence on harmony, leitmotif and opera/music drama forever changing what would come after him. Beethoven, too, falls mostly into this category. Mendelssohn and Brahms, on the other hand, were culminators of the Classical tradition deep into the Romantic era. As for Mozart, although his work contains innovative trends, and it would be foolish to ignore the extent of his influence on later composers, it is not unreasonable to regard him as nothing shy of brilliant – simply the creator of music that is unrivalled in its sublime magnificence.
A special place, however, is reserved for one J S Bach. For, unlike most other great men in any field, it is possible to categorise Bach both as a culminator and as an innovator (not to mention as a brilliant as well). He was, for instance, the consolidator and synthesiser of existing French, German and Italian musical styles, and gave the finest expression of all three. However, in spite of the fact that few composers directly emulated his intricate, contrapuntal style, his foundational role in the entirety of Western classical music – he was studied avidly by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven before a popular revival by Mendelssohn – is enough for us to regard him as an innovator as well.
Turning to our own field of social science, it is reasonable enough to classify Murray N Rothbard primarily as an innovator. Indeed, there probably would not even be a libertarian movement to speak of if Rothbard had not combed the history of social thought and defined, clarified and consolidated the philosophy of freedom into the manner in which we understand it today. Although For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty remain his major political treatises, Rothbard’s innovative qualities are laid bare in the earlier Power and Market, the devastating, praxeological analysis of state intervention which was the (originally unpublished) final part of Man, Economy and State. In particular, there is an astonishing critique of anti-market ethics covering issues such as the nature of man, agency, choice, morality, equality, security, charity, selfishness, Social Darwinism, property rights, and – in an earlier chapter – a surprisingly (for its time) incisive attack on democracy. Moreover, one can witness Rothbard’s departure from the utilitarian defence of the free market that would lay the groundwork for his search for a rational justification for liberty. As if all of this was not enough, Rothbard was also a pioneering revisionist historian, interpreting, from an Austro-libertarian standpoint, the history of colonial America in the monumental Conceived in Liberty, and the eponymous An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, on the other hand, is more easily classifiable as a culminator, stretching out the implications of Misesian praxeology into epistemology, ethics, and, of course, democracy. Indeed, Rothbard acknowledged with enthusiasm that the apprentice had outshone the master, praising Hoppe’s formulation of “argumentation ethics” from self-evident axioms as a “dazzling breakthrough” – the possibility of which he admits had escaped him for the prior thirty years.3
As for a brilliant, we could do far worse than nominate Walter Block. For while one can disagree with Block’s specific conclusions (and there is much to disagree on), few have matched his efforts in shining Austro-libertarian light into all manner of problems and topics in economics, ethics, politics, history and society. The fact that he is chiefly known for penning the provocative Defending the Undefendable scarcely does justice to the man – the extent of his bibliography is phenomenal.
Mises, however, occupies a very special place. For what J S Bach is to music Mises is to Austro-libertarianism – the pinnacle of a great tradition before him and the creator of and inspiration for an entirely new one.
On the one hand, Mises was the last great huzzah for classical liberalism in the face of the Marxist, Socialist and Keynesian steamrollers that gathered pace after World War One – an onslaught that claimed with it the adherence of the entire intellectual climate. Indeed, Mises’ work is so seeped in classical liberal thought that his biographer, Jörg Guido Hülsmann, subtitles his work on the man “The Last Knight of Liberalism”.4 More specifically, much of Mises’ Socialism5 and Liberalism6 are restatements and reinforcements of classical liberalism and political economy in challenge to the growing socialist orthodoxy, while his first major treatise, The Theory of Money and Credit7 (which was also extremely pioneering and insightful) is a great synthesis of nineteenth century monetary thought within the Mengerian/marginal framework, bringing both to their finest realisation.
On the other hand, however, Mises’ explicit derivation of economic theory from the action axiom and his clarification of the social scientific method (in contrast to the method of the natural sciences) is what really cemented the foundation of the “Austrians” as a rigorous and distinct school of thought – and is, moreover, what makes Austro-libertarianism the most effective theoretical basis for liberty.
Indeed, as might become clear at the conclusion of this series of essays, the specific discoveries of the action axiom and the correct way to study man are possibly the single most defining steps in the history of social thought. For these are the true factors that allow us to clarify our understanding of what it is to be human and which, as a result, must form the foundation of all of our areas of study into human society. Moreover, it is the failure to form such a foundation that causes so much of economic, ethical, social and political thought – even that which is nominally pro-freedom – to founder on the rocks.
In great contrast to this stands Mises’ contemporary, John Maynard Keynes, whose influence completely eclipsed that of Mises for the closing decades of their lives. However, Keynes falls into none of the three categories of greatness that we outlined – he can scarcely qualify as an innovator, a culminator or as a brilliant.
Keynes was certainly not the peak of a great tradition that preceded him, with his magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, being little more than a resurrection of mercantilist and monetary crankish claptrap that had already been discredited for decades. When it comes to Keynes’ qualities as an innovator, one only has to recall the conclusion of Henry Hazlitt regarding the same work – “what is original in the book is not true and what is true is not original”.8 In fact, when one considers the body of existing knowledge that Keynes had to reject in order to advance the General Theory – such as Say’s Law – he is, in fact, the cause of a severe retrogression.
That Keynes was phenomenally influential is, as we have mentioned, undeniable. And yet what is seldom acknowledged is that he was, in fact, the product of his time rather its mover and shaker. By the 1930s, when the General Theory was published, Keynes was already living in a world which had seen the advent of central banking and the abandonment of the classical gold standard in favour of a monetary regime that was clinging on to gold in name only. There had also already been an established precedent for mass government economic management as a result of World War One. Moreover, everybody was now reeling from the catastrophic boom and bust of the 1920s, the blame for which was easy to pin on unbridled capitalism. In sum, both the intellectual and political climates were ripe for a rejection of pure laissez faire and a movement towards the kind of wide scale, macroeconomic state oversight that Keynes envisaged. Rather than treading a bold, new path, Keynes simply provided everyone, in the form of a pseudo-scientific blueprint, with the excuse they needed to do that which they were itching to do already.9
In fact, Keynes already had a reputation for changing his mind depending on where the wind was blowing – so much so that Hayek, reportedly, dissuaded himself from authoring a full scale refutation of the General Theory in anticipation of Keynes junking his own ideas once more. In retrospect, this decision must surely qualify as one of the most unfortunate miscalculations in the history of social science.
As for Keynes’ brilliance, this never extended beyond his ability to unleash a deluge of shape shifting sophistry, a fact that was perhaps captured most succinctly by Winston Churchill: “Put two economists in a room and you get two opinions – unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three.”
There is one final sense in which Keynes and Mises differ, and which serves to illustrate Mises not only as the model scholar but also as the model man.
Mises was born in imperial Austria-Hungary, and lived a long life of more than ninety years before dying in the midst of the inflationism of Nixonian America (he survived long enough to see Nixon’s final severing of the dollar from gold in 1971). Keynes was born in aristocratic, Victorian Britain, and, although his life was much shorter than that of Mises, his death at the age of 62 did not come before Europe had been completely ravaged by World War Two. Thus the lives of both men spanned two entirely different eras, and both lived to witness the transition from the grand, old orders of the nineteenth century to the horrors of war and socialism that marked the twentieth.
We can scarcely imagine how difficult it must have been to have witnessed first hand the descent of Western civilisation into a dark era.10 However, the differing attitudes of these two men in the face of this transition are a testament to how much we can honour their characters.
Mises retained an astonishing degree of stoicism through his lifelong intransigence to the changes that were being wrought around him – changes which had apparently defeated Mises’ mentor, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, whose incessant worrying over Austria’s future and the decline of its culture took its final toll on his already frail temperament when he died, relatively young, shortly after the outbreak of World War One.
Mises’ stoicism is captured in his recollections of the challenges he faced in his professional and academic life in interwar Austria, an environment in which, he admits, as early as 1900 “most people[…]were either etatists or state socialists”.11 The following quotations perhaps best capture the far sightedness of his uncompromising dedication to the truth, even in the face of almost certain defeat:
I could only be effective if I could present things as they appeared to me. When I look back at my work with the Handelskammer [The Austrian Chamber of Commerce] today, my only regret is my willingness to compromise, and not my intransigence.
I have always drawn a sharp line between my scientific and my political activity. In science, compromise is a betrayal of truth. But compromise is essential in politics, where results can oftentimes only be achieved through the reconciliation of conflicting views. Science is an accomplishment of the individual, and not, by definition, a collaborative effort. Politics is always a collaboration of men and often means compromise.
I was the economic conscience of postwar Austria. I was helped by few, and distrusted by all political parties. And yet all secretaries and party leaders sought my advice and wanted to hear my opinion. I never attempted to force my views upon them, nor did I ever seek out a statesman or politician.
I fought a battle in the Handelskammer for sixteen years in which I achieved nothing more than the postponement of catastrophe. I made weighty personal sacrifices, even though I always foresaw that I would be denied success. But I do not regret having attempted the impossible. I could not act otherwise. I fought because there was nothing else I could do.12
Mises paid dearly for this steadfast attitude with lifelong relative obscurity and modest financial reward.
When we come to Keynes, however, matters are completely different. For instead of resisting the inevitable tide, Keynes rode the deluge of degradation like a child on a waterslide. He rejected “bourgeois” Victorian values, adopting instead the sensory hedonism and short-termist immoralism of the elitist Bloomsbury Circle – an outlook epitomised by his infamously arrogant quip “in the long run, we are all dead.” His willingness to kowtow to and, moreover, promote the disastrous and destructive trends of the early twentieth century resulted in the rewards of wealth, influence at the highest levels of government, and a Peerage of the Realm.
Keynes embraced the malevolent forces of his time and enjoyed his moment in the sun. While, however, his influence is lingering, it will essentially die once we rid ourselves of our disastrous experiment with paper money. Indeed, his swansong, the setting up of the disastrous Bretton Woods international monetary system, was outlived by Mises.
The latter, on the other hand, adopted as his personal motto the phrase Tu ne cide malis sed contra audentior ito – “Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it.” This maxim carried Mises through his resistance to the wave of destruction, dedicating his life instead to the pursuit of truth – the eternity of which will ensure his immortalisation.
To provide another relevant contrast, our assessment of Karl Marx must be similar to that of Keynes. In spite of wielding a titanic influence (which, we should add, went on to enslave half the globe), Marx manages to evade all three categories of greatness.
First, it is difficult to regard Marx as a culminator of any existing school of thought, his own economic theory being, in Mises’ words, “a garbled version of Ricardianism”.13 Moreover, the labour theory of value was refuted by the discovery of the law of marginal utility during Marx’s own lifetime – a factor that probably contributed to his failure to complete the final volumes of his magnum opus, Das Kapital, leaving them to be combobulated posthumously by Engels from a copious disarray of notes.
Marx’s innovations are scarcely worth mentioning either. His class theory as applied to capitalism fails to distinguish economic classes from legal castes, while class consciousness and historical determinism are little more than clever ruses to insulate Marx’s economic theory from rational objection. In fact, the fusion of dialectics, early socialist thought and classical economics into the edifice of “Marxism” produces more of a “cut-and-paste” pulp fiction, a superficially seductive hotchpotch rather than a serious synthesis of ideas into a coherent new theory.
Finally, Marx probably had the capacity for brilliance but it was, of course, entirely at the service of a false prophet.
The success and influence of both Keynes and Marx, in spite of their complete wrong-headedness, is a testament to an area we will in explore in Part Three – the fundamental importance of economics and economic theories in the course of human history. It also goes to show that fame and influence – i.e. mere popularity – is not, in spite of the great upheaval it may bring, an adequate determinant of true greatness.
Freedom and Individual Values
As we mentioned earlier, Mises’ economic theory is based upon the action axiom – the notion that humans act purposefully – with the substance of economic laws being derived from this self-evident truth. Thus, Misesian theory is built upon the primacy of individual thoughts, desires, valuations, and choices.
The result of this is to render Mises’ own brand of utilitarianism as a much more powerful and resonant case for individual freedom than theories which discuss economic progress purely in terms of objectively definable magnitudes. The latter is nearly always the case with theories that justify freedom upon some kind of pragmatic or empirical basis – i.e. by observing the results of freer societies compared to those of a more socialised/authoritarian bent, before concluding that the former is objectively “wealthier” or “better off” than the latter.
While these theories may true enough on their own terms, their problem is that the conclusions they draw have always been refracted through the prism of the observer’s own values and priorities. It is for this reason that so many utilitarian theories make a significant number of exceptions to their cases for freedom, often reserving wide and permissive roles for the state – they simply do not like some of the outcomes that a purely free society would produce. Indeed, such theories differ only in degree, rather than in kind, from the theories of any outright socialist and statist – it is just that the latter thinks that the outcomes he regards as desirable are brought about by a stronger state whereas the pragmatist/empiricist libertarian thinks his values are best served by the free market.
This fragile reliance of a utilitarian theory upon the values and ideals of its proponent is, perhaps, best summarised by Chris R Tame. Quoting, in part, Elie Halevy, Tame says:
“[T]he philosophy of utility is not essentially a liberal philosophy – not, in origin, and in essence, a philosophy of liberty”. The real nature of utilitarianism was not immediately apparent during the Enlightenment because its exponents […] shared many of the same assumptions regarding man and society, assumptions largely libertarian in orientation and result. But once those assumptions changed, then the logical direction of utilitarianism could be seen clearly for what it was, and that was most definitely not a libertarian one.14
An illustration of this relative weakness in pro-free market theories can be seen in the brand of “neo-liberalism” that has been embraced by the current Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute. In his extolment of the creed, the following statements by Sam Bowman indicate that the neo-liberal case for freedom is heavily conditional upon such freedom being able to deliver whatever values the neo-liberal happens to think are important. Consequently, freedom may be curtailed when the free market “fails” in that delivery15:
People’s wellbeing is all that matters, and generally individuals are best at defining what is best for themselves.
Presumably the neo-liberal will determine when people are not best at so deciding?
We’re comfortable with redistribution, in principle. Because we’re consequentialists we don’t think that property rights are morally significant in and of themselves - they’re a useful rule that allows the economy to function properly but there is no intrinsic value to them.
Translation: You don’t own yourself – your right to bodily integrity is not “morally significant”, it’s just a “useful rule” to fulfil your designated purpose of making the “economy function properly”.
People don’t really deserve the talents they’re born with any more than they deserve to have been born in a rich country rather than a poor one, or to be born in 1996 rather than 1896. Because of this, redistributing wealth or income from lucky people to unlucky people may be justifiable, if it’s done without depressing economic growth too much.
Watch your back if the neo-liberals think you are too talented or merely “lucky” – they are coming for your freedom. Oh, but don’t stop working “too much” in the process!
Too much redistribution can have bad consequences because taxes tend to depress investment and growth, but too little redistribution has bad consequences too – poor people don’t live good enough lives.
Translation: the neo-liberal can take your money because he thinks that someone else is not living a “good enough” life.
A neoliberal is someone who believes that markets are astonishingly good at creating wealth, but not always good at distributing wealth.
So we are all free to work and produce but the neo-liberal will then decide whether we should keep what we have worked for?16
Contrast these neo-liberal fallacies with the Misesian theory which recognises the fact that what constitutes a “better standard of living” or “getting wealthier” is based, fundamentally, in the minds of individuals and individual values. Indeed, as we mentioned earlier, Mises’ own advocacy for liberalism (as it was then understood) was based on the fact that praxeology explains to people how they may best achieve their own ends rather than dictating to them what those ends should be. Observing the fruits of freedom is merely illustrative of the case for freedom, rather than the case itself – it is individual values themselves, not the results that we can see from allowing those values to flourish that is crucially important. Thus, the Misesian outlook changes the nature of the political conversation. The question is no longer which social system “works best” – it is who gets to decide what “working best” means?
Indeed, it is precisely because “Austrians” realise that prosperity is dependent upon individual preferences that they have a unique understanding of the business cycle. It is “Austrians” who realise that the attempt to devote too many resources to increasing roundabout methods of production – i.e. the vain attempt to increase “wealth” – must fail precisely because it jars with the consumption/investment preferences of individual consumers, and not because of any ridiculous notion of “overproduction”, “savings gluts”, or lack of “aggregate demand”. In short, manipulating people to produce more of what makes the free market so glorious – i.e. wealth – will fail if they do not want it.
Moreover, “Austrian” economist and Mises’ biographer, Jörg Guido Hülsmann, offers cogent comments on the neo-liberal jettison of property as a principle and the danger that Mises saw in such abandonment:
The difference between neo-liberalism and classical liberalism can be defined exactly around this one word […] — “property.” In classical liberalism, private property is the starting point. And in neoliberalism, it’s something that is a technical option for the arrangement of social affairs in ways that are most conducive to whatever, some other variable, justice or efficiency or whatever you might call it. Mises saw this, how this played out in the aftermath of World War II and he saw where this reasoning eventually leads: to more interventionism. You cannot even define liberty in a social context without reference to private property. And the same thing holds true for economic reasoning. Neoliberalism has abandoned this starting point. It focused on other criteria in the light of which you are trying to justify property. It’s an abortive attempt.17
Finally, it is doubtless because of his individualistic, “propetarian” perspective that Mises demanded, in one of his strongest political statements, that the boundaries and extent of the democratic state must ultimately be determined by the will of individual citizens; that
Whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by a freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with.18
And that, but for technical considerations, such a right should reside in principle at the level of every individual. In other words, if it was possible, you, as an individual, should have the right to secede from the state you are burdened with.19
Thus, from the Misesian focus on the origin of all values and choices residing in the minds of individuals, one can reach an all but anarchist political position.
Having outlined the greatness of Mises and the effectiveness of his emphasis on individual values as a basis for liberty, we will turn, in Part Two of this series of essays, to a detailed look at the defining foundation of Mises’ economic theory, and how this impacts upon our understanding of political concepts: the action axiom.
Go to Part Two.
1Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, The Scholars’ Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute (2008), p. 154.
2This categorisation is intended as a generally useful shorthand. No claim is made with regards to its perfect rigidity or suitability for all considerations regarding great individuals in all fields.
3Murray N Rothbard, Beyond Is and Ought, in Symposium: Breakthrough or Buncombe?, Liberty, Volume 2, No. 2, September 1988, p.44.
4Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, Ludwig von Mises Institute (2007).
5Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, Yale University Press (1962).
6Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition, Foundation for Economic Freedom (1985).
7Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit, Ludwig von Mises Institute (2009).
8Henry Hazlitt, The Failure of the “New Economics”: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies, Ludwig von Mises Institute (2007), p. 6.
9One of the seldom discussed reasons for the tepid to non-existent opposition to Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s is the fact that fascism is simply Keynesian root and branch – a fact that Keynes acknowledged himself in the infamous preface to the German edition of the General Theory when he says that the latter is “much more easily adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state” than “under conditions of free competition and a large measure of laissez-faire”. See https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/keynes/john_maynard/k44g/preface2.html. Hitler was simply the most extreme variety, or, perhaps, the logical conclusion of the prevailing attitude everywhere abroad, an environment that made it impossible to garner any serious ideological opposition to Nazism.
10An artistic depiction of this descent can be seen in the 1985 film The Shooting Party, based on the book of the same name. Set during a symbolically misty autumn weekend of pheasant shooting on a country estate in 1913, the tensions and undercurrents of the characters, conversations, tastes, priorities and relationships of the (mostly younger) guests take their toll on the weary, but gentlemanly old estate owner, Sir Randolph Nettleby (the final film role of James Mason). The culmination of the film in the accidental shooting of an innocent bystander as the result of an over-boiled rivalry between two of the guests – an obvious metaphor for the direction of the rising international tensions – brings Sir Randolph to the realisation that the old order and values that have defined his life have finally given way to decadence, decay and tragedy. The film closes to the sound of heavy artillery on the Western Front, and a list of the characters who met their fates during the war. The essential pathos of the era is captured far more poignantly than in the overrated, period soap opera Downton Abbey.
11Ludwig von Mises, Memoirs, Ludwig von Mises Institute (2009), p.11.
12Ibid, pp. 60-61, 76.
13Mises, Human Action, p. 78.
14Chris R Tame, The Revolution of Reason: Peter Gay, the Enlightenment and the Ambiguities of Classical Liberalism, Ch, 2 in Idem, The Science of Liberty: Selected Essays on Politics, Culture and Economics, The Hampden Press (2016), p.41 [emphasis added].
15Sam Bowman, I’m a Neoliberal. May be you are too, https://medium.com/@s8mb/im-a-neoliberal-maybe-you-are-too-b809a2a588d6 [emphases in the original].
16Even on its own terms this statement is ignorant. Most “wealth” consists not of consumer goods but of capital goods. In a market economy, these capital goods are in the hands of the wealthy and are not “distributed” to the poor because the former are the ones who have proven, through the market process, that they are best able to direct these resources to fulfilling the most urgently desired wants of consumers. Thus the poor benefit from this wealth in the form of more goods and services at lower and lower prices – but only because they do not own it. To put it another way, whatever wealth the poor would gain from “redistribution” they would end up paying for in the form of higher prices for fewer goods. Indeed, in his lament for the apparent failure of a capitalist system to “distribute” wealth, there is no acknowledgment from Bowman of the most distinctive function of that system: capital investment to fuel mass production of ordinary goods for the least well off. It is not a system characterised by everyone scrambling about through some combination of talent, luck, hard work or whatever to gain as many consumer goods as possible ahead of other people.
17Jeff Deist & Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Today’s Leading Mises Scholar on the Man and his Legacy, https://www.lewrockwell.com/2018/08/jeff-deist/todays-leading-mises-scholar-on-the-man-and-his-legacy/
18Mises, Liberalism, p.109. Mises is particularly emphatic in clarifying that the “right of self-determination” means not the “self-determination of nations” but the “right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they wish to belong”.