- 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
The Book in the Market Place
With every penny spent the consumers determine the direction of all production processes and the details or organization of all business activities.... The publishers cater not only to the majority by publishing detective stories, but also to the minority reading lyrical poetry and philosophical tracts.
Few would deny that any more profound, complete or persuasive exposition and defense of the free market has been written than Ludwig von Mises' Human Action. It is no reflection on Professor von Mises nor the market economy, however, to say that no human institution is perfect and that no system of ideas, no matter how well conceived, is without exceptions or contradictions. I would like to make some comments about what seems to me to be a flaw in the workings of the free market system, a flaw which has been mentioned by many others, and which creates a problem which is constantly becoming more critical—the problem of the serious book.
All of us who believe in the efficacy of the free market, who believe, with Professor von Mises, that no system is able to regulate the production and distribution of goods more justly or efficiently, must nonetheless face the fact that the market is not an infallible guide, that other considerations must be taken into account, even in matters which might appear to be entirely of an economic nature. In this connection it is not amiss to point out that Human Action itself was originally published by a university press, by a publishing organization, therefore, neither subject to the disciplines of the market nor to the restrictions that purely market considerations impose. A university press is subsidized in various ways—by free or much reduced rent; by services supplied without charge by the university, services commercial publishers must pay for; by remission of taxes; by being free of the necessity of paying interest or a return on capital. The fact that Human Action was originally published by a university press may, of course, be purely accidental, but I think it quite likely that the size of the book, and particularly the unorthodox position taken by the author—a position many critics and reviewers would certainly not have approved of, might very well have frightened the commercial publishers at the time, 1948, the manuscript was offered for publication.
A manufacturer of shoes, of furniture, of fabrics, or any one of the thousands of every day articles that society wants can rely on the direction provided by the market with a good conscience—what the market demands the producer supplies and no one expects him to do otherewise. For the publisher of books the situation is not quite so simple. It is true, as Professor von Mises says, that “publishers cater to the majority by publishing detective stories,” but I am not at all sure that the minority interested in “lyrical poetry and philosophical tracts” comes off quite so well.
As publishing has become more commercial, from having been a “profession for gentlemen” to have become big business, with its shares traded on the stock exchange and all the rest, the demands of the market, not surprisingly, have tended to overwhelm purely literary and intellectual considerations. The typical publishing firm of the nineteenth century, as continued to be the case into the 1930's, was a small business as businesses go, was often run by its owner, whose personality and point of view it reflected, and who took pride in being able to consider himself at least an associate member of the Republic of Letters. He had to operate at a profit, of course, and to do this required skill and business judgement, but overhead, production costs and capital requirements were a fraction of what they are today, profit margins were higher, and, perhaps most important, the whole process of producing and distributing books, from publishing through book reviewing to the book seller, was more attuned to the book as something unique, as the work of the mind rather than as an article of commerce produced to sell. A publisher, of course, had to consider the market, but it wasn't the only consideration. No responsible publisher, even in the 1920's, would have accepted such a hoax as Naked Came the Stranger nor would the reviewers have given it serious attention, nor would a book of the quality and intellectual distinction of Human Action have had to be published by a subsidized press.
When Alfred Knopf, who was a successful and astute publisher, but very much in the old style, took over the publication of Henry Mencken's American Mercury, he didn't do it, I am sure, with the expectation of a large profit. He no doubt hoped to cover his costs, but couldn't be sure even of that, but it was his decision and taken at his risk, and the prospect of association with Mencken in such a venture was certainly attractive to him. Now his old firm is a subsidiary of Random House, which, in turn, is owned by RCA. The considerations that motivated Knopf can play no part in the decisions of a huge corporation which must, by its very nature, operate completely in accordance with the demands of the market and the profit and loss statement.
We must, it seems to me, accept the rather unpleasant fact that as publishing becomes more commercial, its output is increasingly determined by those who wish detective stories or such masterpieces as Naked Came the Stranger or The Love Machine. What happens, then, to the “lyrical poetry and philosophical tracts?” The university presses come immediately to mind, but they can't be relied on, for obvious reasons, to publish books that don't fit the orthodoxy of the academy, although there are exceptions—not only Human Action, but Hayek's Road to Serfdom and Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences were published by university presses. But these, I think, were accidents. In the case of Human Action, the editor of the press possessed a degree of intellectual courage and independence not common in the academy; after his dismissal, the press let the book go out of print and was glad to cede the rights to a commercial publisher. The Road to Serfdom was originally published in this country, quite accidentally and in a very small edition, as an import from England, and the director of the press who brought out Ideas Have Consequences was soon after fired. So not much of a case for university presses can be made on the basis of these three books.
H. G. Wells, in a letter to Wyndham Lewis written shortly after the publication of the latter's great satire Childermass, remarked that the books that make a lasting impression, that move men's minds, are necessarily written not for the masses but the few, and how, in the future, he went on to say, will such books be written and published at all? There will doubtless continue to be individual publishers who, within the limits imposed by the market, will publish books which are written neither to meet the requirements of the reviewers, those stalwart defenders of the orthodoxy of liberalism, nor the demands of the masses, but a publisher's freedom of action is far more limited now than it was in the days when Knopf could publish the American Mercury, or Faber and Faber T. S. Eliot's Criterion, which was one of the most distinguished and influential journals of its day, although it never had more than 800 subscribers. The foundations, if they would, could do something about this situation, but it requires intelligence and imagination as well as money, and intelligence and imagination, as always, are in short supply. If we are to have a vigorous and creative intellectual life, however, we can't, it seems clear, rely on the market alone to provide the impetus and direction.
In conclusion, may I say that Professor von Mises' own career demonstrates his loyalty to values higher than those of the market. Not one of the great American universities, I understand, ever gave itself the honor of offering him a professorship. If, however, he had been willing to adjust his views to the liberal orthodoxy demanded by the academic community, the universities, I am sure, would have felt quite differently about him. For his achievements as a teacher, economist and defender of the free society he deserves our respect and admiration, but perhaps even more for his integrity and unswerving devotion to principle.