- En Torno a La Funcion Del Capital, Joaquín Reig
- Reflections On the Keynesian Episode, W. H. Hutt
- Ludwig Von Mises and the Market Process, L. M. Lachmann
- Values, Prices and Statistics, Bettina Bien
- The Tax System and a Free Society, Oswald Brownlee
- How “should” Common-access Facilities Be Financed?, James M. Buchanan
- Pitfalls In Planning: Veterans' Housing After World War Ii, Marshall R. Colberg
- Presents For the Poor, R. L. Cunningham
- Restrictions On International Trade: Why Do They Persist? W. Marshall Curtiss
- “human Action”, E. W. Dykes
- The Genius of Mises' Insights, Lawrence Fertig
- On Behalf of Profits, Percy L. Greaves, Jr.
- Tax Reform: Two Ways to Progress, C. Lowell Harriss
- The Future of Capitalism, Henry Hazlitt
- Prices and Property Rights In the Command Economy, Arthur Kemp
- The Inevitable Bankruptcy of the Socialist State, Howard E. Kershner
- Entrepreneurship and the Market Approach to Development, Israel M. Kirzner
- The New Science of Freedom, George Koether
- Financing, Correcting, and Adjustment: Three Ways to Deal With an Imbalance of Payments, Fritz Machlup
- On Protecting One's Self From One's Friends, Don Paarlberg
- Recollections Re a Kindred Spirit, William A. Paton
- Ludwig Von Mises, William H. Peterson
- The Economic-power Syndrome, Sylvester Petro
- Ownership As a Social Function, Paul L. Poirot
- To Abdicate Or Not, Leonard E. Read
- The Book In the Market Place, Henry Regnery
- Lange, Mises and Praxeology: the Retreat From Marxism, Murray N. Rothbard
- The Production and Exchange of Used Body Parts, Simon Rottenberg
- The Education of Lord Acton, Robert L. Schuettinger
- Chicago Monetary Tradition In the Light of Austrian Theory, Hans F. Sennholz
- Hubris and Environmental Variance, Joseph J. Spengler
- An Application of Economics In Biology, Gordon Tullock
- What Mises Did For Me, John V. Van Sickle
- Economics In a Changing World, G. C. Wiegand
- Can a Liberal Be an Equalitarian? Leland B. Yeager
- The Political Economy of Nostalgia, Ramon Diaz
E. W. Dykes
Human Action has often been called a “monumental work”. In truth there are not adjectives sufficiently descriptive to do it justice. The title, HUMAN ACTION, is particularly apt for economic laws actually are laws of human action. It is my hope in this tribute to Ludwig von Mises to suggest another line of research of human action.
My first and unforgettable meeting with Dr. Ludwig von Mises occurred at a cook-out at Leonard Read's Bronxville home. I was perhaps thirty-three at the time and a mere neophyte in libertarian matters. After supper, the group of a dozen or so casually divided itself into two smaller groups, the better to carry on the interesting discussions. I was in the opposite group from Dr. Mises. I had been pushing some point fairly successfully in my group when somehow there was a pause and suddenly I was projected into that pause where it became Dr. Mises versus Dykes. Practically paralyzed, I weakly defended my point. Dr. Mises said in clinching his argument, “It is right because it works”. That appeared to be as good a place as any to get out and that part of the discussion ended as suddenly as it began.
But I was happy only in the thought that I could tell my grandchildren I had once debated Dr. Ludwig von Mises. Had I not been so tongue-tied quite possibly we might have pursued the “why” of its working. I might have saved endless hours in pursuit of this question myself. On the other hand, certain things which appear clear now might not have unfolded to me, things which are part of an interesting theory.
In the physical world action and reaction are known to be governed by the laws we acknowledge to be a part of the natural order. Many of us are equally convinced that human action works within a law or set of laws as rigid, or more-so, than those that govern the planets in their movements. Quite possibly these two, the movement of planets and human action, apparently disparate things, may be responsive to the same law. A hint of this is found in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in which he wrote, “He who lives in harmony with his own self lives in harmony with the universe; for both the universal order and the personal order are nothing but different expressions and manifestations of a common underlying principle”.
The man able to live in harmony with himself lives also in harmony with his neighbors. Psychology likely would agree with that. Most persons would agree that coercion could hardly be called a part of harmonious action. What is less generally recognized is that coercion carries with it the seeds of destruction and the fruits of such seeds are not necessarily found in a close relationship in time or in space with their sowing. That is to say, the eventual destructive results may turn up years later and in events not easily related to the original ones. An understanding of this viewpoint is best made possible through the acceptance of the “common underlying principle” suggested by Marcus Aurelius.
In pursuit of the goal of identifying the underlying principle, I found support for a theory held by numerous libertarians to the effect that coercion is never suitable for use in creative efforts. My contribution is to add one four word phrase to it. ANYTHING THAT IS BROUGHT ABOUT THROUGH THE USE OF COERCION—INITIATED FORCE—HAPPENS BEFORE ITS TIME AND, THEREFORE, WILL INVARIABLY BE ATTENDED BY FAILURES OF EQUAL, IF NOT GREATER, MAGNITUDE. (The new phrase is underlined.) Now these failures may be a part of the particular activity or of an activity seemingly unrelated; they may be sudden or deep in the future but they always occur whether or not we are able in all cases to connect them with the initial action.
If this theory has validity its acceptance at the moment must depend on the preponderance of circumstantial evidence in its favor. Its proof must wait for a later time when science comes to recognize the electrodynamic theory of life. For it is in this force field that the common underlying principle will be found. An act of coercion sets up disharmonious relationships which become manifest in other areas of life. This is the vital point. It is not different in kind with the physical reaction of acid on flesh. Only the time factor may be different. In his “The Symphony of Life”, Donald Hatch Andrews says that when we move our hand it is felt throughout the universe because of the unseen connection between all things. Science has shown that all matter may be reduced to energy. It is not yet ready to say that mind is energy or that life is energy although many scientists hold such a view. A revolution in many lines of research will result when this is accepted, my view being that such acceptance is inevitable.
When coercive means are used in creative areas we see the benefits of the constructive “ends” but fail to see the targets of the destructive means. These latter may be hid in the fog of time or in the hustle and bustle of apparently non-related activity. All are the result of destructive “human action” the intended good ends notwithstanding.
Some of the examples of the failures of “ends” are simple to show and quite well known:
With minimum wage laws we force the payment of wages in excess of those which would be commanded in a free market. Some lose their jobs and many other “unseen” persons are never hired. They are obscured in the cloud of unemployed.
We build housing through force and, instead of creating a new and inspired people in the recipients (as was envisioned), we create vast slums burdened with all manner of ugly violence.
We force welfare but the rolls increase in length despite the increase in the national product and standards of living going up. We encourage illegitimacy, fatherless homes and all manner of weird family arrangements.
We “aid” the schools and entice otherwise honest people to compromise their principles and seek grants they don't need and to waste money on unrealistic programs in order to participate so their constituents will “get their share”.
After years of restraint by unfair laws and burdened for decades by ill-advised, destructive prejudices of whites, the black man has been “freed” by laws into an even greater polarization which has led to violence and bloodshed with, perhaps, the worst to come.
Inflation, the most pernicious tax, attends the forced “growth” of the economy and who could count all the destruction of that grotesque demon?
We could go on and on listing the failures for they are as long as the list of coercive actions. Viewed altogether we have a combination of results which reveal the utter futility of the use of coercion. Coercion always fails and it must always fail because it is contrary to an orderly universe. But this line of reasoning hits snags when defenders of coercive governmental action point to the “spin-off” and then easily find examples to indicate the remarkable material advances we make which diminish the apparent costs of war or outer space exploration and similar ventures. The “spin-off” unquestionably has contributed to quite remarkable peace-time uses. The use in medical research of atomic particles developed in the former and the circuitry developed in the latter are cases in point. But the things we see do not begin to compare with those we don't. Any gains in material standards will be more than “compensated” for in other areas. For we have noted a number of reactions to force and we posit that they are not just isolated examples but predictable responses to laws of a higher order not yet readily comprehended. Though we may not definitely say that today's rioting and general unrest are the results of the coercion in war work and space exploration, neither can it be proved they are not. From the examples of bad “ends” shown earlier we must credit the possibility.
A WSJ editorial of May 3rd, 1971, includes these comments: “It is a great insight of the past few years that modern changes in the world, and especially advances in technology, have given men powers which tax their humanity. Science in effect has out dated the rules by which we have traditionally conducted our affairs. Leaders who must use the new powers find themselves faced with staggering moral dilemmas no man should have to resolve.” In other words, man's technological achievements have outdistanced his moral growth. We may define wisdom as the assimilation of experience. Some of our “advances” have come too quickly to be assimilated. They have happened before their time.
Suppose that the development of the conscience is a major goal of evolution, a strong case for which can be made. Man's purpose in his present phase of existence may well be to develop moral character. He does so by becoming responsible through the exercise of conscience which requires him to make decisions. Of necessity, he must be free to make them. When prevented from doing so, by being inhibited in wide areas of societal action by governmental intervention or preemption, it is natural and predictable that things will go wrong.
All of our modern day so-called “advances” which are the result of coercion have come before their time and man's purpose—his need to make free will decisions—has been ignored. When purpose is the price of material progress, the price is too high. Ignorance of the law or ignoring of the law–the results are the same. It is a law that man must be free. Only when man is free will “human action” come to full flower.