Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4: The Ethical-Aesthetic Condemnation of the Profit-Motive - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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4: The Ethical-Aesthetic Condemnation of the Profit-Motive - 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 Ethical-Aesthetic Condemnation of the Profit-Motive
Another reproach which philosophers level against the capitalist economic order is that it encourages rank over-development of the acquisitive instinct. Man, they say, is no longer lord of the economic process, but its slave. That economic activity exists merely to satisfy wants and is a means, not an end in itself, has been forgotten. Life wears itself out in the perpetual hurry and scurry to get rich, and men have no time left for inner composure and real enjoyment. They lay waste their best powers in the exhausting daily struggle of free competition. And the ideologists look back into a distant past, where all is romantically transfigured. They see the Roman patrician at his country seat, meditating peacefully on the problems of the stoa, the medieval monk dividing his hours between devotion and the classics; the prince of the Renaissance at whose court artists and scholars meet, the Rococo lady in whose salon the encyclopedists develop their ideas—marvellous pictures, these, which produce in us a deep longing for the past. And our loathing for the present deepens when we turn from these visions to the life led by those who lack culture in our own time.
The weakness of this argument, which appeals to the feelings rather than to the mind, is not only that it contrasts the brightest flowers of all times and peoples with the weeds of modern life. It is clear that one cannot compare the life of a Pericles or Maecenas with the life of the ordinary man in the street. But it is still quite untrue that the haste of modern business life has killed man’s sense of the beautiful and the sublime. The wealth of the “bourgeois” civilization is not spent on base enjoyments alone. If argument be necessary, one need only point to the way in which serious music has become popular in the last decades, particularly among that class of the population which is caught in the whirl of business life. There never has been a time when art was closer to the heart of large circles of the people. It is no phenomenon peculiar to our time that coarse and vulgar amusements appeal more to the great mass of the people than nobler forms of enjoyment. It was always so. And we may take it that in the socialist community good taste will not always predominate.
Modern man has always before his eyes the possibility of growing rich by work and enterprise. In the more rigid economy of the past this was less easy. People were rich or poor from birth, and remained so through their lives unless they were given a change of position through some unforeseen accident, which their own work or enterprise could not have caused or avoided. Accordingly, we had the rich walking on the heights and the poor who stayed in the depths. It is not so in capitalistic society. The rich can more easily become poor and the poor can more easily become rich. And because every individual is not born with, as it were, his own or his family fate sealed, he tries to rise as high as he can. He can never be rich enough, because in capitalist society no wealth is eternal. In the past nobody could touch the feudal landlord. When his lands became less fertile he had less to consume, but as long as he did not get into debt he stayed on his property. The capitalist who lends out his capital and the entrepreneur who produces must stand the test of the market. Whoever invests unwisely, or produces too dearly, is ruined. Unhampered seclusion from the market no longer exists. Even landed fortunes cannot escape its influences; agriculture, too, must produce capitalistically. Today a man must earn or become poor.
Let those who wish to eliminate this coercion to work and enterprise understand quite clearly that they are proposing to undermine the foundations of our well-being. That in 1914 the earth nourished far more human beings than ever before, and that they all lived far better than their ancestors, was due entirely to the acquisitive instinct. If the diligence of modern industry were replaced by the contemplative life of the past, unnumbered millions would be doomed to death by starvation.
In the socialist society the lordly ease of government offices will take the place of the keen activity of modern financial houses and factories. The civil servant will supplant the energetic entrepreneur. Whether civilization will gain by it, we leave to the self-constituted judges of the world and its institutions to deride. Is the bureaucrat really the ideal human type, and must we aspire to fill the world with his kind at any price?
Many socialists describe with great enthusiasm the advantages of a society of civil servants over a society of profit-seekers.55 In a society of the latter kind (the Acquisitive Society), every one pursues only his own advantage; in the society of those devoted to their profession (the Functional Society) everyone does his duty in the service of the whole. This higher evaluation of officialdom, in so far as it does not rest on a misconception of the social order based on private ownership in the means of production, is merely a new form of that contempt for the work of the painstaking citizen in which feudal landowners, soldiers, literary men, and bohemians have always indulged.
[55. ]Ruskin, Unto this last (Tauchnitz-Ed.), pp. 19 ff.; Steinbach, Erwerb und Beruf (Vienna, 1896), pp.13 ff.; Otto Conrad, Volkswirtschaftspolitik oder Erwerbspolitik? (Vienna, 1918), pp. 5 ff.; Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, p. 38.