Why Libertarians Should Read Mises
By Duncan Whitmore
In Part One of this series of three essays exploring the significance of Ludwig von Mises for libertarian thought, we examined the specific place that Mises holds in our tradition, and outlined the unique sophistication of his utilitarian theory in favour of freedom compared to that of other theories that can be grouped into this bracket.
In this part we will turn our attention to a detailed analysis of the action axiom – the keystone of Misesian economic theory – and its implications for concepts that we readily encounter in libertarianism.
Somewhat ironically, it was largely as a result of his influence that the wertfreiheit of Mises’ praxeology was regarded as a separate discipline from the search for an ultimate, ethical justification of liberty – a belief that was sustained by Murray N Rothbard.1 In more recent years, Hans-Hermann Hoppe has probably come closest to providing a link between the two through his derivation of “argumentation ethics” within the praxeological framework, and his identification of the pervasive problem of scarcity – a key praxeological concept – as underpinning any system of ethics.
Nevertheless, one may conclude that a full reconciliation, or synthesis, between the two is still wanting and that there remain other important commonalities to which this essay will seek to provide an introduction. Some of what we will learn below will have implications for a general understanding of right, and that the truths we reveal are inescapable for any political philosophy. Others will be specifically pertinent to libertarianism and will provide us with insights as to how we can further the libertarian goal. Read more
Matthew John Hayden
Value is the sentiment we place upon the utility we will or will not gain by achieving certain possible states, such as cuddling with a lover, having a long soak in a hot bath, taking a walk, playing a video-game, or the act of wandering from shop to shop buying things as retail therapy. This makes value bigger than utility, though it includes utility. Utility is actual satisfaction arising from the change of state from less satisfying to more satisfying that we achieve by acting. It is entirely a mental phenomenon. It exists only in the mind and thus is subjective to the individual. If this seems offensive to any Marxist or other objective value theory advocates, sorry, but reality dictates that value is subjective. It’s over.
Matthew John Hayden
An Austrian method can show us the nature of our madness. We act to transfer from a present, less satisfying state to a future, more satisfying state. We do so continually, because no sooner have we arrived at one satisfaction we realise there is more to do. And that holds true until death, for better or worse. This has all been established already, so now it’s time to attempt to understand how humans respond to scarcity, being as that is one of the two conditions placing constant and variable limitations upon what can be enjoyed or achieved at any given time and place during our finite lives. This formless all-thing called scarcity is what makes us economise and so is the basis of economics itself. Scarcity is defined economically as the condition in which each use of a resource has the effect of impairing subsequent uses of that resource in some way. Read more
Matthew John Hayden
Economics rather sucks. Not because of some deficiency of the impulse to understand human action, but rather because the vast majority of economists have little time for any real human actions at all amidst their vast anonymous modelling of group behaviours without reference to the actual people in those herds. This might be why the economics establishment stared at their feet when the Queen asked them why they didn’t see the late crisis and recession coming. As to the great work at hand, and the struggle it represents, it behoves one to remember the basis for our worldview, to remember that it is something that has been arrived at through philosophical rationalism, that is mental deduction. This makes us a tribe of rationalists rather than empiricists. The positivism of the economic mainstream and of Post-Keynesianism can seem very scientific – it is the method of natural science after all – but for social science it is utterly inadequate for one simple reason. It hasn’t proved or disproved anything. Verification and falsification are not enough when there is no laboratory in which to repeat experiments. We will have to turn elsewhere. Read more