Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5: The Costs of Distribution - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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5: The Costs of Distribution - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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The Costs of Distribution
Socialistic criticism of the capitalist system devotes much space to complaints about the high costs of what can be called the apparatus of distribution. They include under this the cost of all national and political institutions, including expenditure on military purposes and war. They also include the expense to society arising from free competition. All the expenditure on advertisement and the activities of persons involved in the competitive struggle such as agents, commercial travellers, etc., and the costs entailed by the efforts of firms to remain independent instead of amalgamating into larger units or joining cartels which make possible specialization and thereby the cheapening of production, are debited to the distributive process of the capitalist system. The socialistic society will, so the critics think, save enormously by putting an end to this waste.
The expectation that the socialist community will save that outlay which can properly be termed state expenditure is derived from the doctrine, peculiar to many anarchists and to Marxian socialists, that state compulsion would be superfluous in a society not based on private property in the means of production. They argue that in the socialist community “obedience to the simple fundamental rules governing any form of social life will very soon become of necessity a habit,” but this is backed up by a hint that “evasion of regulation and control enforced by the whole people will undoubtedly be enormously difficult,” and will incur “swift and severe punishment,” since “the armed workers” would not be “sentimental intellectuals” nor “let themselves be mocked.”45 All this is merely playing with words. Control, Arms, Punishment, are not these “a special repressive authority,” and thus according to Engels’ own words a “State”?46 Whether the compulsion is exercised by armed workers—who cannot work while they bear arms—or by the workers’ sons clad in police uniforms, will make no difference to the costs which the compulsion entails.
But the State is a coercive apparatus not only to its own inhabitants: it applies coercion externally. Only a state comprising the whole universe would need to exert no external coercion and then only because in that event there would be no foreign land, no foreigners and no foreign states. Liberalism, with its fundamental antagonism to warfare, wants to give the whole world some state form of organization. If this can be achieved it is inconceivable without a coercive apparatus. If all the armies of the individual states were abolished we could not dispense with a world apparatus of coercion, a world police to ensure world peace. Whether Socialism unites all states into a single one or whether it leaves them independent of each other, in any case it too will not be able to do without a coercive apparatus.
The socialist apparatus of coercion too will entail some expense. Whether this will be greater or less than the expense of the state apparatus of the capitalist society naturally we cannot say. We merely need to see that the social dividend will be reduced by the amount involved.
As for the wastes of distribution under Capitalism, little need be said. Since in capitalist society there is no distribution in the real sense of the word there are no costs of distribution. Trading expenses and similar costs cannot be called distribution costs, not only because they are not the costs of a distribution, which is a special process in itself, but also because the effects of the services devoted to these purposes extend far beyond the mere distribution of goods. Competition is not confined to distribution: that is only a part of its service. It serves equally the process of production, indeed it is essential for any organization of production which is to ensure high productivity. It is not enough therefore to compare these costs with the costs incurred by the apparatus of distribution and management in a socialist community. If socialist methods of production reduce productivity—and we shall speak of this later—it matters little that it saves the work of commercial travellers, brokers and advertisers.
The Socialist Community Under Stationary Conditions
[45. ]Lenin, Staat und Revolution, p. 96. Publisher’s Note: pp. 305-306 in the English edition.
[46. ]Engels, Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, p. 302. Publisher’s Note: p. 389 in the English edition.