Front Page Titles (by Subject) Confiscatory Taxation and Risk-Taking - Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 3 (LF ed.)
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Confiscatory Taxation and Risk-Taking - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 3 (LF ed.) 
Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, in 4 vols., ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 3.
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Confiscatory Taxation and Risk-Taking
A popular fallacy considers entrepreneurial profit a reward for risktaking. It looks upon the entrepreneur as a gambler who invests in a lottery after having weighed the favorable chances of winning a prize against the unfavorable chances of losing his stake. This opinion manifests itself most clearly in the description of stock-exchange transactions as a sort of gambling. From the point of view of this widespread fable, the evil caused by confiscatory taxation is that it disarranges the ratio between the favorable and the unfavorable chances in the lottery. The prizes are cut down, while the unfavorable hazards remain unchanged. Thus capitalists and entrepreneurs are discouraged from embarking upon risky ventures.
Every word in this reasoning is false. The owner of capital does not choose between more risky, less risky, and safe investments. He is forced, by the very operation of the market economy, to invest his funds in such a way as to supply the most urgent needs of the consumers to the best possible extent. If the methods of taxation resorted to by the government bring about capital consumption or restrict the accumulation of new capital, the capital required for marginal employments is lacking and an expansion of investment which would have been effected in the absence of these taxes is prevented. The wants of the consumers are satisfied to a lesser extent only. But this outcome is not caused by a reluctance of capitalists to take risks; it is caused by a drop in capital supply.
There is no such thing as a safe investment. If capitalists were to behave in the way the risk fable describes and were to strive after what they consider to be the safest investment, their conduct would render this line of investment unsafe and they would certainly lose their input. For the capitalist there is no means of evading the law of the market that makes it imperative for the investor to comply with the wishes of the consumers and to produce all that can be produced under the given state of capital supply, technological knowledge, and the valuations of the consumers. A capitalist never chooses that investment in which, according to his understanding of the future, the danger of losing his input is smallest. He chooses that investment in which he expects to make the highest possible profit.
Those capitalists who are aware of their own lack of ability to judge correctly for themselves the trend of the market do not invest in equity capital, but lend their funds to the owners of such venture capital. They thus enter into a sort of partnership with those on whose better ability to appraise the conditions of the market they rely. It is customary to call venture capital risk capital. However, as has been pointed out, the success or failure of the investment in preferred stock, bonds, debentures, mortgages, and other loans depends ultimately also on the same factors that determine success or failure of the venture capital invested.3 There is no such thing as independence of the vicissitudes of the market.
If taxation were to strengthen the supply of loan capital at the expense of the supply of venture capital, it would make the gross market rate of interest drop and at the same time, by increasing the share of borrowed capital as against the share of equity capital in the capital structure of the firms and corporations, render the investment in loans more uncertain. The process would therefore be self-liquidating.
The fact that a capitalist as a rule does not concentrate his investments, both in common stock and in loans, in one enterprise or one branch of business, but prefers to spread out his funds among various classes of investment, does not suggest that he wants to reduce his “gambling risk.” He wants to improve his chances of earning profits.
Nobody embarks upon any investment if he does not expect to make a good investment. Nobody deliberately chooses a malinvestment. It is only the emergence of conditions not properly anticipated by the investor that turns an investment into a malinvestment.
As has been pointed out, there cannot be such a thing as noninvested capital.4 The capitalist is not free to choose between investment and noninvestment. Neither is he free to deviate in the choice of his investments in capital goods from the lines determined by the most urgent among the stillunsatisfied wants of the consumers. He must try to anticipate these future wants correctly. Taxes may reduce the amount of capital goods available by bringing about consumption of capital. But they do not restrict the employment of all capital goods available.5
With an excessive height of the income and estate tax rates for the very rich, a capitalist may consider it the most advisable thing to keep all his funds in cash or in bank balances not bearing any interest. He consumes part of his capital, pays no income tax and reduces the inheritance tax which his heirs will have to pay. But even if people really behave this way, their conduct does not affect the employment of the capital available. It affects prices. But no capital good remains uninvested on account of it. And the operation of the market pushes investment into those lines in which it is expected to satisfy the most urgent not yet satisfied demand of the buying public.
Syndicalism and Corporativism
The Syndicalist Idea
The term syndicalism is used to signify two entirely different things.
Syndicalism, as used by the partisans of Georges Sorel, means special revolutionary tactics to be resorted to for the realization of socialism. Labor unions, it implies, should not waste their strength in the task of improving the conditions of wage earners within the frame of capitalism. They should adopt action directe, unflinching violence to destroy all the institutions of capitalism. They should never cease to fight—in the genuine sense of the term—for their ultimate goal, socialism. The proletarians must not let themselves be fooled by the catchwords of the bourgeoisie, such as liberty, democracy, representative government. They must seek their salvation in the class struggle, in bloody revolutionary upheavals and in the pitiless annihilation of the bourgeois.
This doctrine played and still plays an enormous role in modern politics. It has provided essential ideas to Russian Bolshevism, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism. But it is a purely political issue and may be disregarded in a catallactic analysis.
The second meaning of the term syndicalism refers to a program of society’s economic organization. While socialism aims at the substitution of government ownership of the means of production for private ownership, syndicalism wants to give the ownership of the plants to the workers employed in them. Such slogans as “The railroads to the railroadmen” or “The mines to the miners” best indicate the ultimate goals of syndicalism.
The ideas of socialism and those of syndicalism in the sense of action directe were developed by intellectuals whom consistent adepts of all Marxian sects cannot help describing as bourgeois. But the idea of syndicalism as a system of social organization is a genuine product of the “proletarian mind.” It is precisely what the naïve employee considers a fair and expedient means for improving his own material wellbeing. Eliminate the idle parasites, the entrepreneurs and capitalists, and give their “unearned incomes” to the workers! Nothing could be simpler.
If one were to take these plans seriously, one would not have to deal with them in a discussion of the problems of interventionism. One would have to realize that syndicalism is neither socialism, nor capitalism, nor interventionism, but a system of its own different from these three schemes. However, one cannot take the syndicalist program seriously, and nobody ever has. Nobody has been so confused and injudicious as to advocate syndicalism openly as a social system. Syndicalism has played a role in the discussion of economic issues only as far as certain programs unwittingly contained syndicalist features. There are elements of syndicalism in certain objectives of government and labor-union interference with market phenomena. There are, moreover, guild socialism and corporativism, which pretended to avoid the government omnipotence inherent in all socialist and interventionist ventures by adulterating them with a syndicalist admixture.
The Fallacies of Syndicalism
The root of the syndicalist idea is to be seen in the belief that entrepreneurs and capitalists are irresponsible autocrats who are free to conduct their affairs arbitrarily. Such a dictatorship must not be tolerated. The liberal movement, which has substituted representative government for the despotism of hereditary kings and aristocrats, must crown its achievements by substituting “industrial democracy” for the tyranny of hereditary capitalists and entrepreneurs. The economic revolution must bring to a climax the liberation of the people which the political revolution has inaugurated.
The fundamental error of this argument is obvious. The entrepreneurs and capitalists are not irresponsible autocrats. They are unconditionally subject to the sovereignty of the consumers. The market is a consumers’ democracy. The syndicalists want to transform it into a producers’ democracy. This idea is fallacious, for the sole end and purpose of production is consumption.
What the syndicalist considers the most serious defect of the capitalist system and disparages as the brutality and callousness of autocratic profit-seekers is precisely the outcome of the supremacy of the consumers. Under the competitive conditions of the unhampered market economy the entrepreneurs are forced to improve technological methods of production without regard to the vested interests of the workers. The employer is forced never to pay workers more than corresponds to the consumers’ appraisal of their achievements. If an employee asks for a raise because his wife has borne him a new baby and the employer refuses on the ground that the infant does not contribute to the factory’s effort, the employer acts as the mandatary of the consumers. These consumers are not prepared to pay more for any commodity merely because the worker has a large family. The naïveté of the syndicalists manifests itself in the fact that they would never concede to those producing the articles, which they themselves are using, the same privileges which they claim for themselves.
The syndicalist principle requires that the shares of every corporation should be taken away from “absentee ownership” and be equally distributed among the employees; payment of interest and principal of debts is to be discontinued. “Management” will then be placed in the hands of a board elected by the workers who are now also the shareholders. This mode of confiscation and redistribution will not bring about equality within the nation or the world. It would give more to the employees of those enterprises in which the quota of capital invested per worker is greater and less to those in which it is smaller.
It is a characteristic fact that the syndicalists in dealing with these issues always refer to management and never mention entrepreneurial activities. As the average subordinate employee sees things, all that is to be done in the conduct of business is to accomplish those ancillary tasks which are entrusted to the managerial hierarchy within the frame of the entrepreneurial plans. In his eyes the individual plant or workshop as it exists and operates today is a permanent establishment. It will never change. It will always turn out the same products. He ignores completely the fact that conditions are in a ceaseless flux, and that the industrial structure must be daily adjusted to the solution of new problems. His world view is stationary. It does not allow for new branches of business, new products, and new and better methods for manufacturing the old products. Thus the syndicalist ignores the essential problems of entrepreneurship: providing the capital for new industries and the expansion of already existing industries, restricting outfits for the products of which demand drops, technological improvement. It is not unfair to call syndicalism the economic philosophy of short-sighted people, of those adamant conservatives who look askance upon any innovation and are so blinded by envy that they call down curses upon those who provide them with more, better, and cheaper products. They are like patients who grudge the doctor his success in curing them of a malady.
Syndicalist Elements in Popular Policies
The popularity of syndicalism manifests itself in various postulates of contemporary economic policies. The essence of these policies is always to grant privileges to a minority group at the expense of the immense majority. They invariably result in impairing the wealth and income of the majority.
Many labor unions are intent upon restricting the number of workers employed in their field. While the public wants more and cheaper books, periodicals and newspapers, and would get them under the conditions of an unhampered labor market, the typographical unions prevent many newcomers from working in printing offices. The effect is, of course, an increase in the wages earned by the union members. But the corollary is a drop of wage rates for those not admitted and an enhancement in the price of printed matter. The same effect is brought about by union opposition to the utilization of technological improvements and by all sorts of featherbedding practices.
Radical syndicalism aims at entirely eliminating payment of dividends to shareholders and of interest to creditors. The interventionists in their enthusiasm for middle-of-the-road solutions want to appease the syndicalists by giving the employees a part of the profits. Profit-sharing is a very popular slogan. There is no need to enter anew into an examination of the fallacies implied in the underlying philosophy. It suffices to show the absurd consequences to which such a system must lead.
It may sometimes be good policy for a small shop or for an enterprise employing highly skilled workers, to grant an extra bonus to employees if business is prosperous. But it is a non sequitur to assume that what under special conditions may be wise for an individual firm could work satisfactorily as a general system. There is no reason why one welder should make more money because his employer earns high profits and another welder less because his employer earns lower profits or no profits at all. The workers themselves would rebel against such a method of remuneration. It could not be preserved even for a short time.
A caricature of the profit-sharing scheme is the ability-to-pay principle as recently introduced into the program of American labor unionism. While the profit-sharing scheme aims at an allocation to the employees of a part of profits already earned, the ability-to-pay scheme aims at a distribution of profits which some external observers believe the employer may earn in the future. The issue has been obfuscated by the fact that the Truman Administration, after having accepted the new union doctrine, announced that it was appointing a “fact-finding” board which would have the authority to examine the books of the employers in order to determine their ability to pay an increase in wages. However, the books can provide information only about past costs and proceeds and past profits and losses. Estimates of future volume of production, future sales, future costs, or future profits or losses are not facts, but speculative anticipations. There are no facts about future profits.1
There cannot be any question of realizing the syndicalist ideal according to which the proceeds of an enterprise should completely go to the employees and nothing should be left for interest on the capital invested and profits. If one wants to abolish what is called “unearned income,” one must adopt socialism.
Guild Socialism and Corporativism
The ideas of guild socialism and corporativism originated from two different lines of thought.
The eulogists of medieval institutions long praised the eminence of the guilds. What was needed to wash away the alleged evils of the market economy was simply to return to the well-tried methods of the past. However, all these diatribes remained sterile. The critics never attempted to particularize their suggestions or to elaborate definite plans for an economic reconstruction of the social order. The most they did was to point out the alleged superiority of the old quasi-representative assemblies of the type of the French États-Généraux and the German Ständische Landtage as against the modern parliamentary bodies. But even with regard to this constitutional issue their ideas were rather vague.
The second source of guild socialism is to be found in specific political conditions of Great Britain. When the conflict with Germany became aggravated and finally in 1914 led to war, the younger British socialists began to feel uneasy about their program. The state idolatry of the Fabians and their glorification of German and Prussian institutions was paradoxical indeed at a time when their own country was involved in a pitiless struggle against Germany. What was the use of fighting the Germans when the most “progressive” intellectuals of the country longed for the adoption of German social policies? Was it possible to praise British liberty as against Prussian bondage and at the same time to recommend the methods of Bismarck and his successors? British socialists yearned for a specifically British brand of socialism as different as possible from the Teutonic brand. The problem was to construct a socialist scheme without totalitarian state supremacy and omnipotence, an individualistic variety of collectivism.
The solution of this problem is no less impossible than that of the construction of a triangular square. Yet the young men of Oxford confidently tried to solve it. They borrowed for their program the name guild socialism from the little known group of the eulogists of the Middle Ages. They characterized their scheme as industrial self-government, an economic corollary of the most renowned principle of English political rule, local government. In their plans they assigned the leading role to the most powerful British pressure group, the trade unions. Thus they did everything to make their device palatable to their countrymen.
However, neither these captivating adornments nor the obtrusive and noisy propaganda could mislead intelligent people. The plan was contradictory and blatantly impracticable. After only a few years it fell into complete oblivion in the country of its origin.
But then came a resurrection. The Italian Fascists badly needed an economic program of their own. After having seceded from the international parties of Marxian socialism, they could no longer pose as socialists. Neither were they, the proud scions of the invincible Roman legionaries, prepared to make concessions to Western capitalism or to Prussian interventionism, the counterfeit ideologies of the barbarians who had destroyed their glorious empire. They were in search of a social philosophy, purely and exclusively Italian. Whether or not they knew that their gospel was merely a replica of British guild socialism is immaterial. At any rate, the stato corporativo was nothing but a rebaptized edition of guild socialism. The differences concerned only unimportant details.
Corporativism was flamboyantly advertised by the bombastic propaganda of the Fascists, and the success of their campaign was overwhelming. Many foreign authors exuberantly praised the miraculous achievements of the new system. The governments of Austria and Portugal emphasized that they were firmly committed to the noble ideas of corporativism. The Pope’s encyclical Quadragesimo anno (1931) contained passages which could—but need not—be interpreted as an endorsement of corporativism. In any case it is a fact that Catholic authors supported this interpretation in books which were published with the imprimatur of the Church authorities.
Yet neither the Italian Fascists nor the Austrian and Portuguese governments ever made any serious attempt to realize the corporativist utopia. The Italians attached to various institutions the label corporativist and transformed the university chairs of political economy into chairs of economia politica e corporativa [political and corporativist economy]. But never was there any question of the much talked about essential feature of corporativism, self-government of the various branches of trade and industry. The Fascist Government clung first to the same principles of economic policies which all not outright socialist governments have adopted in our day, interventionism. Then later it turned step by step toward the German system of socialism, i.e., all-around state control of economic activities.
The fundamental idea both of guild socialism and of corporativism is that every branch of business forms a monopolistic body, the guild or corporazione.2 This entity enjoys full autonomy; it is free to settle all its internal affairs without interference of external factors and of people who are not themselves members of the guild. The mutual relations between the various guilds are settled by direct bargaining from guild to guild or by the decisions of a general assembly of the delegates of all guilds. In the regular course of affairs the government does not interfere at all. Only in exceptional cases, when an agreement between the various guilds cannot be attained, is the state called in.3
In drafting this scheme the guild socialists had in mind the conditions of British local government and the relation between the various local authorities and the central government of the United Kingdom. They aimed at self-government of each branch of industry; they wanted, as the Webbs put it, “the right of self-determination for each vocation.”4 In the same way in which each municipality takes care of its local community affairs and the national government handles only those affairs which concern the interests of the whole nation, the guild alone should have jurisdiction over its internal affairs and the government should restrict its interference to those things which the guilds themselves cannot settle.
However, within a system of social cooperation under the division of labor there are no such things as matters of concern only to those engaged in a special plant, enterprise, or branch of industry and of no concern to outsiders. There are no internal affairs of any guild or corporazione the arrangement of which does not affect the whole nation. A branch of business does not serve only those who are occupied in it; it serves everybody. If within any branch of business there is inefficiency, a squandering of scarce factors of production, or a reluctance to adopt the most appropriate methods of production, everybody’s material interests are hurt. One cannot leave decisions concerning the choice of technological methods, the quantity and quality of products, the hours of work, and a thousand other things to the members of the guild, because they concern outsiders no less than members. In the market economy the entrepreneur in making such decisions is unconditionally subject to the law of the market. He is responsible to the consumers. If he were to defy the orders of the consumers, he would suffer losses and would very soon forfeit his entrepreneurial position. But the monopolistic guild does not need to fear competition. It enjoys the inalienable right of exclusively covering its field of production. It is, if left alone and autonomous, not the servant of the consumers, but their master. It is free to resort to practices which favor its members at the expense of the rest of the people.
It is of no importance whether within the guild the workers alone rule or whether and to what extent the capitalists and the former entrepreneurs cooperate in the management of affairs. It is likewise without importance whether or not some seats in the guild’s governing board are assigned to representatives of the consumers. What counts is that the guild, if autonomous, is not subject to pressure that would force it to adjust its operations to the best possible satisfaction of the consumers. It is free to give the interests of its members precedence over the interests of consumers. There is in the scheme of guild socialism and corporativism nothing that would take into account the fact that the only purpose of production is consumption. Things are turned upside down. Production becomes an end in itself.
When the American New Deal embarked upon the National Recovery Administration scheme, the government and its brain trust were fully aware of the fact that what they planned was merely the establishment of an administrative apparatus for full government control of business. The short-sightedness of the guild socialists and corporativists is to be seen in the fact that they believed that the autonomous guild or corporazione could be considered a device for a working system of social cooperation.
It is very easy indeed for each guild to arrange its allegedly internal affairs in such a way as to satisfy its members fully. Short hours of work, high wage rates, no further improvements in technological methods or in the quality of the products which could inconvenience the members—very well. But what will the result be if all guilds resort to the same policies?
Under the guild system there is no longer any question of a market. There are no longer any prices in the catallactic sense of the term. There are neither competitive prices nor monopoly prices. Those guilds which monopolize the supply of vital necessities attain a dictatorial position. The producers of indispensable foodstuffs and fuel and the suppliers of electric current and of transportation can with impunity squeeze the whole people. Does anybody expect that the majority will tolerate such a state of affairs? There is no doubt that any attempt to realize the corporativist utopia would in a very short time lead to violent conflicts, if the government did not interfere when the vital industries abused their privileged position. What the doctrinaires envisage only as an exceptional measure—the interference of the government—will become the rule. Guild socialism and corporativism will turn into full government control of all production activities. They will develop into that system of Prussian Zwangswirtschaft which they were designed to avoid.
There is no need to deal with the other fundamental shortcomings of the guild scheme. It is as deficient as any other syndicalist project. It does not take into account the necessity of shifting capital and labor from one branch to another and of establishing new branches of production. It entirely neglects the problem of saving and capital accumulation. In short, it is nonsense.
The Economics of War
The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another.
The wars fought by primitive tribes did not affect cooperation under the division of labor. Such cooperation by and large did not exist between the warring parties before the outbreak of hostilities. These wars were unlimited or total wars. They aimed at total victory and total defeat. The defeated were either exterminated or expelled from their dwelling places or enslaved. The idea that a treaty could settle the conflict and make it possible for both parties to live in peaceful neighborly conditions was not present in the minds of the fighters.
The spirit of conquest does not acknowledge restraints other than those imposed by a power which resists successfully. The principle of empire building is to expand the sphere of supremacy as far as possible. The great Asiatic conquerors and the Roman Imperators stopped only when they could not march farther. Then they postponed aggression for later days. They did not abandon their ambitious plans and did not consider independent foreign states as anything else than targets for later onslaughts.
This philosophy of boundless conquest also animated the rulers of medieval Europe. They too aimed first of all at the utmost expansion of the size of their realms. But the institutions of feudalism provided them with only scanty means for warfare. Vassals were not obliged to fight for their lord more than a limited time. The selfishness of the vassals who insisted on their rights checked the king’s aggressiveness. Thus the peaceful coexistence of a number of sovereign states originated. In the sixteenth century a Frenchman, Bodin, developed the theory of national sovereignty. In the seventeenth century a Dutchman, Grotius, added to it a theory of international relations in war and peace.
With the disintegration of feudalism, sovereigns could no longer rely upon summoned vassals. They “nationalized” the country’s armed forces. Henceforth, the warriors were the king’s mercenaries. The organization, equipment, and support of such troops were rather costly and a heavy burden on the ruler’s revenues. The ambitions of the princes were unbounded, but financial considerations forced them to moderate their designs. They no longer planned to conquer a whole country. All they aimed at was the conquest of a few cities or of a province. To attain more would also have been unwise politically. For the European powers were anxious not to let any one of them become too powerful and a menace to their own safety. A too impetuous conqueror must always fear a coalition of all those whom his bigness has frightened.
The combined effect of military, financial, and political circumstances produced the limited warfare which prevailed in Europe in the three hundred years preceding the French Revolution. Wars were fought by comparatively small armies of professional soldiers. War was not an affair of the peoples; it concerned the rulers only. The citizens detested war which brought mischief to them and burdened them with taxes and contributions. But they considered themselves victims of events in which they did not participate actively. Even the belligerent armies respected the “neutrality” of the civilians. As they saw it, they were fighting the supreme warlord of the hostile forces, but not the noncombatant subjects of the enemy. In the wars fought on the European continent the property of civilians was considered inviolable. In 1856 the Congress of Paris made an attempt to extend this principle to naval warfare. More and more, eminent minds began to discuss the possibility of abolishing war altogether.
Looking at conditions as they had developed under the system of limited warfare, philosophers found wars useless. Men are killed or maimed, wealth is destroyed, countries are devastated for the sole benefit of kings and ruling oligarchies. The peoples themselves do not derive any gain from victory. The individual citizens are not enriched if their rulers expand the size of their realm by annexing a province. For the people wars do not pay. The only cause of armed conflict is the greed of autocrats. The substitution of representative government for royal despotism will abolish war altogether. Democracies are peaceful. It is no concern of theirs whether their nation’s sovereignty stretches over a larger or smaller territory. They will treat territorial problems without bias and passion. They will settle them peacefully. What is needed to make peace durable is to dethrone the despots. This, of course, cannot be achieved peacefully. It is necessary to crush the mercenaries of the kings. But this revolutionary war of the people against the tyrants will be the last war, the war to abolish war forever.
This idea was already dimly present in the minds of the French revolutionary leaders when, after having repelled the invading armies of Prussia and Austria, they embarked upon a campaign of aggression. Of course, under the leadership of Napoleon they themselves very soon adopted the most ruthless methods of boundless expansion and annexation until a coalition of all European powers frustrated their ambitions. But the idea of durable peace was soon resurrected. It was one of the main points in the body of nineteenth-century liberalism as consistently elaborated in the much abused principles of the Manchester School.
These British liberals and their continental friends were keen enough to realize that what can safeguard durable peace is not simply government by the people, but government by the people under unlimited laissez faire. In their eyes free trade, both in domestic affairs and in international relations, was the necessary prerequisite of the preservation of peace. In such a world without trade and migration barriers no incentives for war and conquest are left. Fully convinced of the irrefutable persuasiveness of the liberal ideas, they dropped the notion of the last war to abolish all wars. All peoples will of their own accord recognize the blessings of free trade and peace and will curb their domestic despots without any aid from abroad.
Most historians entirely fail to recognize the factors which replaced the “limited” war of the ancien régime by the “unlimited” war of our age. As they see it, the change came with the shift from the dynastic to the national form of state and was a consequence of the French Revolution. They look only upon attending phenomena and confuse causes and effects. They speak of the composition of the armies, of strategical and tactical principles, of weapons and transportation facilities, and of many other matters of military art and administrative technicalities.1 However, all these things do not explain why modern nations prefer aggression to peace.
There is perfect agreement with regard to the fact that total war is an offshoot of aggressive nationalism. But this is merely circular reasoning. We call aggressive nationalism that ideology which makes for modern total war. Aggressive nationalism is the necessary derivative of the policies of interventionism and national planning. While laissez faire eliminates the causes of international conflict, government interference with business and socialism creates conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found. While under free trade and freedom of migration no individual is concerned about the territorial size of his country, under the protective measures of economic nationalism nearly every citizen has a substantial interest in these territorial issues. The enlargement of the territory subject to the sovereignty of his own government means material improvement for him or at least relief from restrictions which a foreign government has imposed upon his well-being. What has transformed the limited war between royal armies into total war, the clash between peoples, is not technicalities of military art, but the substitution of the welfare state for the laissezfaire state.
If Napoleon I had reached his goal, the French Empire would have stretched far beyond the limits of 1815. Spain and Naples would have been ruled by kings of the house of Bonaparte-Murat instead of kings of another French family, the Bourbons. The palace of Kassel would have been occupied by a French playboy instead of one of the egregious Electors of the Hesse family. All these things would not have made the citizens of France more prosperous. Neither did the citizens of Prussia win anything from the fact that their king in 1866 evicted his cousins of Hanover, Hesse-Kassel and Nassau from their luxurious residences. But if Hitler had realized his plans, the Germans expected to enjoy a higher standard of living. They were confident that the annihilation of the French, the Poles, and the Czechs would make every member of their own race richer. The struggle for more Lebensraum [living space] was their own war.
Under laissez faire peaceful coexistence of a multitude of sovereign nations is possible. Under government control of business it is impossible. The tragic error of President Wilson was that he ignored this essential point. Modern total war has nothing in common with the limited war of the old dynasties. It is a war against trade and migration barriers, a war of the comparatively overpopulated countries against the comparatively underpopulated. It is a war to abolish those institutions which prevent the emergence of a tendency toward an equalization of wage rates all over the world. It is a war of the farmers tilling poor soil against those governments which bar them from access to much more fertile soil lying fallow. It is, in short, a war of wage earners and farmers who describe themselves as underprivileged “have-nots” against the wage earners and farmers of other nations whom they consider privileged “haves.”
The acknowledgment of this fact does not suggest that victorious wars would really do away with those evils about which the aggressors complain. These conflicts of vital interests can be eliminated only by a general and unconditional substitution of a philosophy of mutual cooperation for the prevailing ideas of allegedly irreconcilable antagonisms between the various social, political, religious, linguistic, and racial subdivisions of mankind.
It is futile to place confidence in treaties, conferences, and such bureaucratic outfits as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Plenipotentiaries, office clerks and experts make a poor show in fighting ideologies. The spirit of conquest cannot be smothered by red tape. What is needed is a radical change in ideologies and economic policies.
War and the Market Economy
The market economy, say the socialists and the interventionists, is at best a system that may be tolerated in peacetime. But when war comes, such indulgence is impermissible. It would jeopardize the vital interests of the nation for the sole benefit of the selfish concerns of capitalists and entrepreneurs. War, and in any case modern total war, peremptorily requires government control of business.
Hardly anybody has been bold enough to challenge this dogma. It served in both World Wars as a convenient pretext for innumerable measures of government interference with business which in many countries step by step led to full “war socialism.” When the hostilities ceased, a new slogan was launched. The period of transition from war to peace and of “reconversion,” people contended, requires even more government control than the period of war. Besides, why should one ever return to a social system which can work, if at all, only in the interval between two wars? The most appropriate thing would be to cling permanently to government control in order to be duly prepared for any possible emergency.
An examination of the problems which the United States had to face in the second World War will clearly show how fallacious this reasoning is.
What America needed in order to win the war was a radical conversion of all its production activities. All not absolutely indispensable civilian consumption was to be eliminated. The plants and farms were henceforth to turn out only a minimum of goods for nonmilitary use. For the rest, they were to devote themselves completely to the task of supplying the armed forces.
The realization of this program did not require the establishment of controls and priorities. If the government had raised all the funds needed for the conduct of war by taxing the citizens and by borrowing from them, everybody would have been forced to cut down his consumption drastically. The entrepreneurs and farmers would have turned toward production for the government because the sale of goods to private citizens would have dropped. The government, now by virtue of the inflow of taxes and borrowed money the biggest buyer on the market, would have been in a position to obtain all it wanted. Even the fact that the government chose to finance a considerable part of the war expenditure by increasing the quantity of money in circulation and by borrowing from the commercial banks would not have altered this state of affairs. The inflation must, of course, bring about a marked tendency toward a rise in the prices of all goods and services. The government would have had to pay higher nominal prices. But it would still have been the most solvent buyer on the market. It would have been possible for it to outbid the citizens who on the one hand had not the right of manufacturing the money they needed and on the other hand would have been squeezed by enormous taxes.
But the government deliberately adopted a policy which was bound to make it impossible for it to rely upon the operation of the unhampered market. It resorted to price control and made it illegal to raise commodity prices. Furthermore it was very slow in taxing the incomes swollen by the inflation. It surrendered to the claim of the unions that the workers’ real take-home wages should be kept at a height which would enable them to preserve in the war their prewar standard of living. In fact, the most numerous class of the nation, the class which in peacetime consumed the greatest part of the total amount of goods consumed, had so much more money in their pockets that their power to buy and to consume was greater than in peacetime. The wage earners—and to some extent also the farmers and the owners of plants producing for the government—would have frustrated the government’s endeavors to direct industries toward the production of war materials. They would have induced business to produce more, not less, of those goods which in wartime are considered superfluous luxuries. It was this circumstance that forced the Administration to resort to the systems of priorities and of rationing. The shortcomings of the methods adopted for financing war expenditure made government control of business necessary. If no inflation had been made and if taxation had cut down the income (after taxes) of all citizens, not only of those enjoying higher incomes, to a fraction of their peacetime revenues, these controls would have been supererogatory. The endorsement of the doctrine that the wage earners’ real income must in wartime be even higher than in peacetime made them unavoidable.
Not government decrees and the paperwork of hosts of people on the government’s payroll, but the efforts of private enterprise produced those goods which enabled the American armed forces to win the war and to provide all the material equipment its allies needed for their cooperation. The economist does not infer anything from these historical facts. But it is expedient to mention them as the interventionists would have us believe that a decree prohibiting the employment of steel for the construction of apartment houses automatically produces airplanes and battleships.
The adjustment of production activities to a change in the demand of consumers is the source of profits. The greater the discrepancy between the previous state of production activities and that agreeing with the new structure of demand, the greater adjustments are required and the greater profits are earned by those who succeed best in accomplishing these adjustments. The sudden transition from peace to war revolutionizes the structure of the market, makes radical readjustments indispensable and thus becomes for many a source of high profits. The planners and interventionists regard such profits as a scandal. As they see it, the first duty of government in time of war is to prevent the emergence of new millionaires. It is, they say, unfair to let some people become richer while other people are killed or maimed.
Nothing is fair in war. It is not just that God is for the big battalions and that those who are better equipped defeat poorly equipped adversaries. It is not just that those in the front line shed their life-blood in obscurity, while the commanders, comfortably located in headquarters hundreds of miles behind the trenches, gain glory and fame. It is not just that John is killed and Mark crippled for the rest of his life, while Paul returns home safe and sound and enjoys all the privileges accorded to veterans.
It may be admitted that it is not “fair” that war enhances the profits of those entrepreneurs who contribute best to the equipment of the fighting forces. But it would be foolish to deny that the profit system produces the best weapons. It was not socialist Russia that aided capitalist America with lend-lease; the Russians were lamentably defeated before American-made bombs fell on Germany and before they got the arms manufactured by American big business. The most important thing in war is not to avoid the emergence of high profits, but to give the best equipment to one’s own country’s soldiers and sailors. The worst enemies of a nation are those malicious demagogues who would give their envy precedence over the vital interests of their nation’s cause.
Of course, in the long run war and the preservation of the market economy are incompatible. Capitalism is essentially a scheme for peaceful nations. But this does not mean that a nation which is forced to repel foreign aggressors must substitute government control for private enterprise. If it were to do this, it would deprive itself of the most efficient means of defense. There is no record of a socialist nation which defeated a capitalist nation. In spite of their much glorified war socialism, the Germans were defeated in both World Wars.
What the incompatibility of war and capitalism really means is that war and high civilization are incompatible. If the efficiency of capitalism is directed by governments toward the output of instruments of destruction, the ingenuity of private business turns out weapons which are powerful enough to destroy everything. What makes war and capitalism incompatible with one another is precisely the unparalleled efficiency of the capitalist mode of production.
The market economy, subject to the sovereignty of the individual consumers, turns out products which make the individual’s life more agreeable. It caters to the individual’s demand for more comfort. It is this that made capitalism despicable in the eyes of the apostles of violence. They worshiped the “hero,” the destroyer and killer, and despised the bourgeois and his “peddler mentality” (Sombart). Now mankind is reaping the fruits which ripened from the seeds sown by these men.
War and Autarky
If an economically self-sufficient man starts a feud against another autarkic man, no specific problems of “war-economy” arise. But if the tailor goes to war against the baker, he must henceforth produce his bread for himself. If he neglects to do this, he will be in distress sooner than his adversary, the baker. For the baker can wait longer for a new suit than the tailor can for fresh bread. The economic problem of making war is therefore different for the baker and for the tailor.
The international division of labor was developed under the assumption that there would no longer be wars. In the philosophy of the Manchester School free trade and peace were seen as mutually conditioning one another. The businessmen who made trade international did not consider the possibility of new wars.
Nor did general staffs and students of the art of warfare pay any attention to the change in conditions which international division of labor brought about. The method of military science consists in examining the experience of wars fought in the past and in abstracting general rules from it. Even the most scrupulous occupation with the campaigns of Turenne and Napoleon I could not suggest the existence of a problem which was not present in ages in which there was practically no international division of labor.
The European military experts slighted the study of the American Civil War. In their eyes this war was not instructive. It was fought by armies of irregulars led by nonprofessional commanders. Civilians like Lincoln interfered with the conduct of the operations. Little, they believed, could be learned from this experience. But it was in the Civil War that, for the first time, problems of the interregional division of labor played the decisive role. The South was predominantly agricultural; its processing industries were negligible. The Confederates depended on the supply of manufactures from Europe. As the naval forces of the Union were strong enough to blockade their coast, they soon began to lack needed equipment.
The Germans in both World Wars had to face the same situation. They depended on the supply of foodstuffs and raw materials from overseas. But they could not run the British blockade. In both wars the outcome was decided by the battles of the Atlantic. The Germans lost because they failed in their efforts to cut off the British Isles from access to the world market and could not themselves safeguard their own maritime supply lines. The strategical problem was determined by the conditions of the international division of labor.
The German warmongers were intent upon adopting policies which, as they hoped, could make it possible for Germany to wage a war in spite of the handicap of the foreign trade situation. Their panacea was Ersatz, the substitute.
A substitute is a good which is either less suitable or more expensive or both less suitable and more expensive than the proper good which it is designed to replace. Whenever technology succeeds in manufacturing or discovering something which is either more suitable or cheaper than the thing previously used, this new thing represents a technological innovation; it is improvement and not Ersatz. The essential feature of Ersatz, as this term is employed in the economico-military doctrine, is inferior quality or higher costs or both together.2
The Wehrwirtschaftslehre, the German doctrine of the economics of war, contends that neither cost of production nor quality are important in matters of warfare. Profit-seeking business is concerned with costs of production and with the quality of the products. But the heroic spirit of a superior race does not care about such specters of the acquisitive mind. What counts alone is war preparedness. A warlike nation must aim at autarky in order to be independent of foreign trade. It must foster the production of substitutes irrespective of mammonist considerations. It cannot do without full government control of production because the selfishness of the individual citizens would thwart the plans of the leader. Even in peacetime the commander-in-chief must be entrusted with economic dictatorship.
Both theorems of the Ersatz doctrine are fallacious.
First, it is not true that the quality and suitability of the substitute are of no importance. If soldiers are sent into battle badly nourished and equipped with weapons made of inferior material, the chances for victory are impaired. Their action will be less successful, and they will suffer heavier casualties. The awareness of their technical inferiority will weigh on their minds. Ersatz jeopardizes both the material strength and the morale of an army.
No less incorrect is the theorem that the higher costs of production of the substitutes do not count. Higher costs of production mean that more labor and more material factors of production must be expended in order to achieve the same effect which the adversary, producing the proper product, attains with a lower expenditure. It is tantamount to squandering scarce factors of production, material and manpower. Such waste under conditions of peace results in lowering the standard of living, and under conditions of war in cutting down the supply of goods needed for the conduct of operations. In the present state of technological knowledge it is only a slight exaggeration to say that everything can be produced out of anything. But what matters is to pick out from the great multitude of possible methods those with which output is highest per unit of input. Any deviation from this principle penalizes itself. The consequences in war are as bad as they are in peace.
In a country like the United States, which depends only to a comparatively negligible extent on the importation of raw materials from abroad, it is possible to improve the state of war preparedness by resorting to the production of substitutes such as synthetic rubber. The disadvantageous effects would be small when weighed against the beneficial effects. But a country like Germany was badly mistaken in the assumption that it could conquer with synthetic gasoline, synthetic rubber, Ersatz textiles and Ersatz fats. In both World Wars Germany was in the position of the tailor fighting against the man who supplies him with bread. With all their brutality the Nazis could not alter this fact.
The Futility of War
What distinguishes man from animals is the insight into the advantages that can be derived from cooperation under the division of labor. Man curbs his innate instinct of aggression in order to cooperate with other human beings. The more he wants to improve his material well-being, the more he must expand the system of the division of labor. Concomitantly he must more and more restrict the sphere in which he resorts to military action. The emergence of the international division of labor requires the total abolition of war. Such is the essence of the laissez-faire philosophy of Manchester.
This philosophy is, of course, incompatible with statolatry. In its context the state, the social apparatus of violent oppression, is entrusted with the protection of the smooth operation of the market economy against the onslaughts of antisocial individuals and gangs. Its function is indispensable and beneficial, but it is an ancillary function only. There is no reason to idolize the police power and ascribe to it omnipotence and omniscience. There are things which it can certainly not accomplish. It cannot conjure away the scarcity of the factors of production, it cannot make people more prosperous, it cannot raise the productivity of labor. All it can achieve is to prevent gangsters from frustrating the efforts of those people who are intent upon promoting material well-being.
The liberal philosophy of Bentham and Bastiat had not yet completed its work of removing trade barriers and government meddling with business when the counterfeit theology of the divine state began to take effect. Endeavors to improve the conditions of wage earners and small farmers by government decree made it necessary to loosen more and more the ties which connected each country’s domestic economy with those of other countries. Economic nationalism, the necessary complement of domestic interventionism, hurts the interests of foreign peoples and thus creates international conflict. It suggests the idea of amending this unsatisfactory state of affairs by war. Why should a powerful nation tolerate the challenge of a less powerful nation? Is it not insolence on the part of small Laputania to injure the citizens of big Ruritania by customs, migration barriers, foreign exchange control, quantitative trade restrictions, and expropriation of Ruritanian investments in Laputania? Would it not be easy for the army of Ruritania to crush Laputania’s contemptible forces?
Such was the ideology of the German, Italian, and Japanese warmongers. It must be admitted that they were consistent from the point of view of the new “unorthodox” teachings. Interventionism generates economic nationalism, and economic nationalism generates bellicosity. If men and commodities are prevented from crossing the borderlines, why should not the armies try to pave the way for them?
From the day when Italy, in 1911, fell upon Turkey, fighting was continual. There was almost always shooting somewhere in the world. The peace treaties concluded were virtually merely armistice agreements. Moreover they had to do only with the armies of the great powers. Some of the smaller nations were always at war. In addition there were no less pernicious civil wars and revolutions.
How far we are today from the rules of international law developed in the age of limited warfare! Modern war is merciless, it does not spare pregnant women or infants; it is indiscriminate killing and destroying. It does not respect the rights of neutrals. Millions are killed, enslaved, or expelled from the dwelling places in which their ancestors lived for centuries. Nobody can foretell what will happen in the next chapter of this endless struggle.
This has little to do with the atomic bomb. The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest. It is probable that scientists will discover some methods of defense against the atomic bomb. But this will not alter things, it will merely prolong for a short time the process of the complete destruction of civilization.
Modern civilization is a product of the philosophy of laissez faire. It cannot be preserved under the ideology of government omnipotence. Statolatry owes much to the doctrines of Hegel. However, one may pass over many of Hegel’s inexcusable faults, for Hegel also coined the phrase die Ohnmacht des Sieges, the futility of victory.3 To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.
The Welfare Principle Versus the Market Principle
The Case Against the Market Economy
The objections which the various schools of Sozialpolitik raise against the market economy are based on very bad economics. They repeat again and again all the errors that the economists long ago exploded. They blame the market economy for the consequences of the very anticapitalistic policies which they themselves advocate as necessary and beneficial reforms. They fix on the market economy the responsibility for the inevitable failure and frustration of interventionism.
These propagandists must finally admit that the market economy is after all not so bad as their “unorthodox” doctrines paint it. It delivers the goods. From day to day it increases the quantity and improves the quality of products. It has brought about unprecedented wealth. But, objects the champion of interventionism, it is deficient from what he calls the social point of view. It has not wiped out poverty and destitution. It is a system that grants privileges to a minority, an upper class of rich people, at the expense of the immense majority. It is an unfair system. The principle of welfare must be substituted for that of profits.
We may try, for the sake of argument, to interpret the concept of welfare in such a way that its acceptance by the immense majority of nonascetic people would be probable. The better we succeed in these endeavors, the more we deprive the idea of welfare of any concrete meaning and content. It turns into a colorless paraphrase of the fundamental category of human action, viz., the urge to remove uneasiness as far as possible. As it is universally recognized that this goal can be more readily, and even exclusively, attained by social division of labor, men cooperate within the framework of societal bonds. Social man as differentiated from autarkic man must necessarily modify his original biological indifference to the well-being of people beyond his own family. He must adjust his conduct to the requirements of social cooperation and look upon his fellow men’s success as an indispensable condition of his own. From this point of view one may describe the objective of social cooperation as the realization of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Hardly anybody would venture to object to this definition of the most desirable state of affairs and to contend that it is not a good thing to see as many people as possible as happy as possible. All the attacks directed against the Bentham formula have centered around ambiguities or misunderstandings concerning the notion of happiness; they have not affected the postulate that the good, whatever it may be, should be imparted to the greatest number.
However, if we interpret welfare in this manner, the concept is void of any specific significance. It can be invoked for the justification of every variety of social organization. It is a fact that some of the defenders of Negro slavery contended that slavery is the best means of making the Negroes happy and that today in the South many Whites sincerely believe that rigid segregation is beneficial no less to the colored man than it allegedly is to the white man. The main thesis of racism of the Gobineau and Nazi variety is that the hegemony of the superior races is salutary to the true interests even of the inferior races. A principle that is broad enough to cover all doctrines, however conflicting with one another, is of no use at all.
But in the mouths of the welfare propagandists the notion of welfare has a definite meaning. They intentionally employ a term the generally accepted connotation of which precludes any opposition. No decent man likes to be so rash as to raise objections against the realization of welfare. In arrogating to themselves the exclusive right to call their own program the program of welfare, the welfare propagandists want to triumph by means of a cheap logical trick. They want to render their ideas safe against criticism by attributing to them an appellation which is cherished by everybody. Their terminology already implies that all opponents are ill-intentioned scoundrels eager to foster their selfish interests to the prejudice of the majority of good people.
The plight of Western civilization consists precisely in the fact that serious people can resort to such syllogistic artifices without encountering sharp rebuke. There are only two explanations open. Either these self-styled welfare economists are themselves not aware of the logical inadmissibility of their procedure, in which case they lack the indispensable power of reasoning; or they have chosen this mode of arguing purposely in order to find shelter for their fallacies behind a word which is intended beforehand to disarm all opponents. In each case their own acts condemn them.
There is no need to add anything to the disquisitions of the preceding chapters concerning the effects of all varieties of interventionism. The ponderous volumes of welfare economics have not brought forth any arguments that could invalidate our conclusions. The only task that remains is to examine the critical part of the welfare propagandists’ work, their indictment of the market economy.
All this passionate talk of the welfare school ultimately boils down to three points. Capitalism is bad, they say, because there is poverty, inequality of incomes and wealth, and insecurity.
We may depict conditions of a society of agriculturists in which every member tills a piece of land large enough to provide himself and his family with the indispensable necessities of life. We may include in such a picture the existence of a few specialists, artisans like smiths and professional men like doctors. We may even go further and assume that some men do not own a farm, but work as laborers on other people’s farms. The employer remunerates them for their help and takes care of them when sickness or old age disables them.
This scheme of an ideal society was at the bottom of many utopian plans. It was by and large realized for some time in some communities. The nearest approach to its realization was probably the commonwealth which the Jesuit padres established in the country which is today Paraguay. There is, however, no need to examine the merits of such a system of social organization. Historical evolution burst it asunder. Its frame was too narrow for the number of people who are living today on the earth’s surface.
The inherent weakness of such a society is that the increase in population must result in progressive poverty. If the estate of a deceased farmer is divided among his children, the holdings finally become so small that they can no longer provide sufficient sustenance for a family. Everybody is a landowner, but everybody is extremely poor. Conditions as they prevailed in large areas of China provide a sad illustration of the misery of the tillers of small parcels. The alternative to this outcome is the emergence of a huge mass of landless proletarians. Then a wide gap separates the disinherited paupers from the fortunate farmers. They are a class of pariahs whose very existence presents society with an insoluble problem. They search in vain for a livelihood. Society has no use for them. They are destitute.
When in the ages preceding the rise of modern capitalism statesmen, philosophers, and lawyers referred to the poor and to the problems of poverty, they meant these supernumerary wretches. Laissez faire and its offshoot, industrialism, converted the employable poor into wage earners. In the unhampered market society there are people with higher and people with lower incomes. There are no longer men, who, although able and ready to work, cannot find regular jobs because there is no room left for them in the social system of production. But liberalism and capitalism were even in their heyday limited to comparatively small areas of Western and Central Europe, North America, and Australia. In the rest of the world hundreds of millions still vegetate on the verge of starvation. They are poor or paupers in the old sense of the term, supernumerary and superfluous, a burden to themselves and a latent threat to the minority of their more lucky fellow citizens.
The penury of these miserable masses of—in the main colored—people is not caused by capitalism, but by the absence of capitalism. But for the triumph of laissez faire, the lot of the peoples of Western Europe would have been even worse than that of the coolies. What is wrong with Asia is that the per capita quota of capital invested is extremely low when compared with the capital equipment of the West. The prevailing ideology and the social system which is its offshoot check the evolution of profit-seeking entrepreneurship. There is very little domestic capital accumulation, and manifest hostility to foreign investors. In many of these countries the increase in population figures even outruns the increase in capital available.
It is false to blame the European powers for the poverty of the masses in their former colonial empires. In investing capital the foreign rulers did all they could do for an improvement in material well-being. It is not the fault of the Whites that the Oriental peoples are reluctant to abandon their traditional tenets and abhor capitalism as an alien ideology.
As far as there is unhampered capitalism, there is no longer any question of poverty in the sense in which this term is applied to the conditions of a noncapitalistic society. The increase in population figures does not create supernumerary mouths, but additional hands whose employment produces additional wealth. There are no able-bodied paupers. Seen from the point of view of the economically backward nations, the conflicts between “capital” and “labor” in the capitalist countries appear as conflicts within a privileged upper class. In the eyes of the Asiatics, the American automobile worker is an “aristocrat.” He is a man who belongs to the 2 per cent of the earth’s population whose income is highest. Not only the colored races, but also the Slavs, the Arabs, and some other peoples look upon the average income of the citizens of the capitalistic countries—about 12 or 15 per cent of the total of mankind—as a curtailment of their own material well-being. They fail to realize that the prosperity of these allegedly privileged groups is, apart from the effects of migration barriers, not paid for by their own poverty, and that the main obstacle to the improvement of their own conditions is their abhorrence of capitalism.
Within the frame of capitalism the notion of poverty refers only to those people who are unable to take care of themselves. Even if we disregard the case of children, we must realize that there will always be such unemployables. Capitalism, in improving the masses’ standard of living, hygienic conditions, and methods of prophylactics and therapeutics, does not remove bodily incapacity. It is true that today many people who in the past would have been doomed to life-long disability are restored to full vigor. But on the other hand many whom innate defects, sickness, or accidents would have extinguished sooner in earlier days survive as permanently incapacitated people. Moreover, the prolongation of the average length of life tends toward an increase in the number of the aged who are no longer able to earn a living.
The problem of the incapacitated is a specific problem of human civilization and of society. Disabled animals must perish quickly. They either die of starvation or fall prey to the foes of their species. Savage man had no pity on those who were substandard. With regard to them many tribes practiced those barbaric methods of ruthless extirpation to which the Nazis resorted in our time. The very existence of a comparatively great number of invalids is, however paradoxical, a characteristic mark of civilization and material well-being.
Provision for those invalids who lack means of sustenance and are not taken care of by their next of kin has long been considered a work of charity. The funds needed have sometimes been provided by governments, more often by voluntary contributions. The Catholic orders and congregations and some Protestant institutions have accomplished marvels in collecting such contributions and in using them properly. Today there are also many nondenominational establishments vying with them in noble rivalry.
The charity system is criticized for two defects. One is the paucity of the means available. However, the more capitalism progresses and increases wealth, the more sufficient become the charity funds. On the one hand, people are more ready to donate in proportion to the improvement in their own well-being. On the other hand, the number of the needy drops concomitantly. Even for those with moderate incomes the opportunity is offered, by saving and insurance policies, to provide for accidents, sickness, old age, the education of their children, and the support of widows and orphans. It is highly probable that the funds of the charitable institutions would be sufficient in the capitalist countries if interventionism were not to sabotage the essential institutions of the market economy. Credit expansion and inflationary increase of the quantity of money frustrate the “common man’s” attempts to save and to accumulate reserves for less propitious days. But the other procedures of interventionism are hardly less injurious to the vital interests of the wage earners and salaried employees, the professions, and the owners of small-size business. The greater part of those assisted by charitable institutions are needy only because interventionism has made them so. At the same time inflation and the endeavors to lower the rate of interest below the potential market rates virtually expropriate the endowments of hospitals, asylums, orphanages, and similar establishments. As far as the welfare propagandists lament the insufficiency of the funds available for assistance, they lament one of the results of the policies that they themselves are advocating.
The second defect charged to the charity system is that it is charity and compassion only. The indigent has no legal claim to the kindness shown to him. He depends on the mercy of benevolent people, on the feelings of tenderness which his distress arouses. What he receives is a voluntary gift for which he must be grateful. To be an almsman is shameful and humiliating. It is an unbearable condition for a self-respecting man.
These complaints are justified. Such shortcomings do indeed inhere in all kinds of charity. It is a system that corrupts both givers and receivers. It makes the former self-righteous and the latter submissive and cringing. However, it is only the mentality of a capitalistic environment that makes people feel the indignity of giving and receiving alms. Outside of the field of the cash nexus and of deals transacted between buyers and sellers in a purely businesslike manner, all interhuman relations are tainted by the same failing. It is precisely the absence of this personal element in market transactions that all those deplore who blame capitalism for hard-heartedness and callousness. In the eyes of such critics cooperation under the do ut des principle dehumanizes all societal bonds. It substitutes contracts for brotherly love and readiness to help one another. These critics indict the legal order of capitalism for its neglect of the “human side.” They are inconsistent when they blame the charity system for its reliance upon feelings of mercy.
Feudal society was founded on acts of grace and on the gratitude of those favored. The mighty overlord bestowed a benefit upon the vassal and the latter owed him personal fidelity. Conditions were human in so far as the subordinates had to kiss their superiors’ hands and to show allegiance to them. In a feudal environment the element of grace inherent in charitable acts did not give offense. It agreed with the generally accepted ideology and practice. It is only in the setting of a society based entirely upon contractual bonds that the idea emerged of giving to the indigent a legal claim, an actionable title to sustenance against society.
The metaphysical arguments advanced in favor of such a right to sustenance are based on the doctrine of natural right. Before God or nature all men are equal and endowed with an inalienable right to live. However, the reference to inborn equality is certainly out of place in dealing with the effects of inborn inequality. It is a sad fact that physical disability prevents many people from playing an active role in social cooperation. It is the operation of the laws of nature that makes these people outcasts. They are stepchildren of God or nature. We may fully endorse the religious and ethical precepts that declare it to be man’s duty to assist his unlucky brethren whom nature has doomed. But the recognition of this duty does not answer the question concerning what methods should be resorted to for its performance. It does not enjoin the choice of methods which would endanger society and curtail the productivity of human effort. Neither the able-bodied nor the incapacitated would derive any benefit from a drop in the quantity of goods available.
The problems involved are not of a praxeological character, and economics is not called upon to provide the best possible solution for them. They concern pathology and psychology. They refer to the biological fact that the fear of penury and of the degrading consequences of being supported by charity are important factors in the preservation of man’s physiological equilibrium. They impel a man to keep fit, to avoid sickness and accidents, and to recover as soon as possible from injuries suffered. The experience of the social security system, especially that of the oldest and most complete scheme, the German, has clearly shown the undesirable effects resulting from the elimination of these incentives.1 No civilized community has callously allowed the incapacitated to perish. But the substitution of a legally enforceable claim to support or sustenance for charitable relief does not seem to agree with human nature as it is. Not metaphysical prepossessions, but considerations of practical expediency make it inadvisable to promulgate an actionable right to sustenance.
It is, moreover, an illusion to believe that the enactment of such laws could free the indigent from the degrading features inherent in receiving alms. The more openhanded these laws are, the more punctilious must their application become. The discretion of bureaucrats is substituted for the discretion of people whom an inner voice drives to acts of charity. Whether this change renders the lot of those incapacitated any easier, is hard to say.
The inequality of incomes and wealth is an inherent feature of the market economy. Its elimination would entirely destroy the market economy.2
What those people who ask for equality have in mind is always an increase in their own power to consume. In endorsing the principle of equality as a political postulate nobody wants to share his own income with those who have less. When the American wage earner refers to equality, he means that the dividends of the stockholders should be given to him. He does not suggest a curtailment of his own income for the benefit of those 95 per cent of the earth’s population whose income is lower than his.
The role that income inequality plays in the market society must not be confused with the role it plays in a feudal society or in other types of noncapitalistic societies.3 Yet in the course of historical evolution this precapitalistic inequality was of momentous importance.
Let us compare the history of China with that of England. China has developed a very high civilization. Two thousand years ago it was far ahead of England. But at the end of the nineteenth century England was a rich and civilized country while China was poor. Its civilization did not differ much from the stage it had already reached ages before. It was an arrested civilization.
China had tried to realize the principle of income equality to a greater extent than did England. Land holdings were divided and subdivided. There was no numerous class of landless proletarians. But in eighteenth-century England this class was very numerous. For a very long time the restrictive practices of nonagricultural business, sanctified by traditional ideologies, delayed the emergence of modern entrepreneurship. But when the laissez-faire philosophy had opened the way for capitalism by utterly destroying the fallacies of restrictionism, the evolution of industrialism could proceed at an accelerated pace because the labor force needed was already available.
What generated the “machine age” was not, as Sombart imagined, aspecific mentality of acquisitiveness which one day mysteriously got hold of the minds of some people and turned them into “capitalistic men.” There have always been people ready to profit from better adjusting production to the satisfaction of the needs of the public. But they were paralyzed by the ideology that branded acquisitiveness as immoral and erected institutional barriers to check it. The substitution of the laissez-faire philosophy for the doctrines that approved of the traditional system of restrictions removed these obstacles to material improvement and thus inaugurated the new age.
The liberal philosophy attacked the traditional caste system because its preservation was incompatible with the operation of the market economy. It advocated the abolition of privileges because it wanted to give a free hand to those men who had the ingenuity to produce in the cheapest way the greatest quantity of products of the best quality. In this negative aspect of their program the utilitarians and economists agreed with the ideas of those who attacked the status privileges from the point of view of an alleged right of nature and the doctrine of the equality of all men. Both these groups were unanimous in the support of the principle of the equality of all men under the law. But this unanimity did not eradicate the fundamental opposition between the two lines of thought.
In the opinion of the natural law school all men are biologically equal and therefore have the inalienable right to an equal share in all things. The first theorem is manifestly contrary to fact. The second theorem leads, when consistently interpreted, to such absurdities that its supporters abandon logical consistency altogether and ultimately come to consider every institution, however discriminating and iniquitous, as compatible with the inalienable equality of all men. The eminent Virginians whose ideas animated the American Revolution acquiesced in the preservation of Negro slavery. The most despotic system of government that history has ever known, Bolshevism, parades as the very incarnation of the principle of equality and liberty of all men.
The liberal champions of equality under the law were fully aware of the fact that men are born unequal and that it is precisely their inequality that generates social cooperation and civilization. Equality under the law was in their opinion not designed to correct the inexorable facts of the universe and to make natural inequality disappear. It was, on the contrary, the device to secure for the whole of mankind the maximum of benefits it can derive from it. Henceforth no man-made institutions should prevent a man from attaining that station in which he can best serve his fellow citizens. The liberals approached the problem not from the point of view of alleged inalienable rights of the individuals, but from the social and utilitarian angle. Equality under the law is in their eyes good because it best serves the interests of all. It leaves it to the voters to decide who should hold public office and to the consumers to decide who should direct production activities. It thus eliminates the causes of violent conflict and secures a steady progress toward a more satisfactory state of human affairs.
The triumph of this liberal philosophy produced all those phenomena which in their totality are called modern Western civilization. However, this new ideology could triumph only within an environment in which the ideal of income equality was very weak. If the Englishmen of the eighteenth century had been preoccupied with the chimera of income equality, laissez-faire philosophy would not have appealed to them, just as it does not appeal today to the Chinese or the Mohammedans. In this sense the historian must acknowledge that the ideological heritage of feudalism and the manorial system contributed to the rise of our modern civilization, however different it is.
Those eighteenth-century philosophers who were foreign to the ideas of the new utilitarian theory could still speak of a superiority of conditions in China and in the Mohammedan countries. They knew, it is true, very little about the social structure of the oriental world. What they found praiseworthy in the dim reports they had obtained was the absence of a hereditary aristocracy and of big land holdings. As they fancied it, these nations had succeeded better in establishing equality than their own nations.
Then later in the nineteenth century these claims were renewed by the nationalists of the nations concerned. The cavalcade was headed by Panslavism, whose champions exalted the eminence of communal cooperation as realized in the Russian mir and artel and in the zadruga of the Yugoslavs. With the progress of the semantic confusion which has converted the meaning of political terms into their very opposite, the epithet “democratic” is now lavishly spent. The Moslem peoples, which never knew any form of government other than unlimited absolutism, are called democratic. Indian nationalists take pleasure in speaking of traditional Hindu democracy!
Economists and historians are indifferent with regard to all such emotional effusions. In describing the civilizations of the Asiatics as inferior civilizations they do not express any value judgments. They merely establish the fact that these peoples did not bring forth those ideological and institutional conditions which in the West produced that capitalist civilization the superiority of which the Asiatics today implicitly accept in clamoring at least for its technological and therapeutical implements and paraphernalia. It is precisely when one recognizes the fact that in the past the culture of many Asiatic peoples was far ahead of that of their Western contemporaries, that the question is raised as to what causes stopped progress in the East. In the case of the Hindu civilization the answer is obvious. Here the iron grip of the inflexible caste system stunted individual initiative and nipped in the bud every attempt to deviate from traditional standards. But China and the Mohammedan countries were, apart from the slavery of a comparatively small number of people, free from caste rigidity. They were ruled by autocrats. But the individual subjects were equal under the autocrat. Even slaves and eunuchs were not barred from access to the highest dignities. It is this equality before the ruler to which people refer today in speaking of the supposed democratic customs of these Orientals.
The notion of the economic equality of the subjects to which these peoples and their rulers were committed was not well defined but vague. But it was very distinct in one respect, namely, in utterly condemning the accumulation of a large fortune by any private individual. The rulers considered wealthy subjects a threat to their political supremacy. All people, the rulers as well as the ruled, were convinced that no man can amass abundant means otherwise than by depriving others of what by rights should belong to them, and that the riches of the wealthy few are the cause of the poverty of the many. The position of wealthy businessmen was in all oriental countries extremely precarious. They were at the mercy of the officeholders. Even lavish bribes failed to protect them against confiscation. The whole people rejoiced whenever a prosperous businessman fell victim to the envy and hatred of the administrators.
This antichrematistic spirit arrested the progress of civilization in the East and kept the masses on the verge of starvation. As capital accumulation was checked, there could be no question of technological improvement. Capitalism came to the East as an imported alien ideology, imposed by foreign armies and navies in the shape either of colonial domination or of extraterritorial jurisdiction. These violent methods were certainly not the appropriate means to change the traditionalist mentality of the Orientals. But acknowledgment of this fact does not invalidate the statement that it was the abhorrence of capital accumulation that doomed many hundreds of millions of Asiatics to poverty and starvation.
The notion of equality which our contemporary welfare propagandists have in mind is the replica of the Asiatic idea of equality. While vague in every other respect, it is very clear in its abomination of large fortunes. It objects to big business and great riches. It advocates various measures to stunt the growth of individual enterprises and to bring about more equality by confiscatory taxation of incomes and estates. And it appeals to the envy of the injudicious masses.
The immediate economic consequences of confiscatory policies have been dealt with already.4 It is obvious that in the long run such policies must result not only in slowing down or totally checking the further accumulation of capital, but also in the consumption of capital accumulated in previous days. They would not only arrest further progress toward more material prosperity, but even reverse the trend and bring about a tendency toward progressing poverty. The ideals of Asia would triumph; and finally East and West would meet on an equal level of distress.
The welfare school pretends not only to stand for the interests of the whole of society as against the selfish interests of profit-seeking business; it contends moreover that it takes into account the lasting secular interests of the nation as against the short-term concerns of speculators, promoters, and capitalists who are exclusively committed to profiteering and do not bother about the future of the whole of society. This second claim is, of course, irreconcilable with the emphasis laid by the school upon short-run policies as against long-run concerns. However, consistency is not one of the virtues of the welfare doctrinaires. Let us for the sake of argument disregard this contradiction in their statements and examine them without reference to their inconsistency.
Saving, capital accumulation, and investment withhold the amount concerned from current consumption and dedicate it to the improvement of future conditions. The saver foregoes the increase in present satisfaction in order to improve his own well-being and that of his family in the more distant future. His intentions are certainly selfish in the popular connotation of the term. But the effects of his selfish conduct are beneficial to the lasting secular interests of the whole of society as well as of all its members. His conduct produces all those phenomena to which even the most bigoted welfare propagandist attributes the epithets economic improvement and progress.
The policies advocated by the welfare school remove the incentive to saving on the part of private citizens. On one hand, the measures directed toward a curtailment of big incomes and fortunes seriously reduce or destroy entirely the wealthier people’s power to save. On the other hand, the sums which people with moderate incomes previously contributed to capital accumulation are manipulated in such a way as to channel them into the lines of consumption. When in the past a man saved by entrusting money to a savings bank or by taking out an insurance policy, the bank or the insurance company invested the equivalent. Even if the saver at a later date consumed the sums saved, no disinvestment and capital consumption resulted. The total investments of the savings banks and the insurance companies steadily increased in spite of these withdrawals.
Today there prevails a tendency to push banks and insurance companies more and more toward investment in government bonds. The funds of the social security institutions completely consist in titles to the public debt. As far as public indebtedness was incurred by spending for current expenditure, the saving of the individual does not result in capital accumulation. While in the unhampered market economy saving, capital accumulation, and investment coincide in the interventionist economy the individual citizens’ savings can be dissipated by the government. The individual citizen restricts his current consumption in order to provide for his own future; in doing this he contributes his share to the further economic advancement of society and to an improvement of his fellow men’s standard of living. But the government steps in and removes the socially beneficial effects of the individuals’ conduct. Nothing explodes better than this example the welfare cliché that contrasts the selfish and narrow-minded individual, exclusively committed to the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment and having no regard for the well-being of his fellow men and for the perennial concerns of society, and the far-sighted benevolent government, unflaggingly devoted to the promotion of the lasting welfare of the whole of society.
The welfare propagandist, it is true, raises two objections. First, that the individual’s motive is selfishness, while the government is imbued with good intentions. Let us admit for the sake of argument that individuals are devilish and rulers angelic. But what counts in life and reality is—in spite of what Kant said to the contrary—not good intentions, but accomplishments. What makes the existence and the evolution of society possible is precisely the fact that peaceful cooperation under the social division of labor in the long run best serves the selfish concerns of all individuals. The eminence of the market society is that its whole functioning and operation is the consummation of this principle.
The second objection points out that under the welfare system capital accumulation by the government and public investment are to be substituted for private accumulation and investment. It refers to the fact that not all the funds which governments borrowed in the past were spent for current expenditure. A considerable part was invested in the construction of roads, railroads, harbors, airports, power stations, and other public works. Another no less conspicuous part was spent for waging wars of defense which admittedly could not be financed by other methods. The objection, however, misses the point. What matters is that a part of the individual’s saving is employed by the government for current consumption, and that nothing hinders the government from so increasing this part that it in fact absorbs the whole.
It is obvious that if governments make it impossible for their subjects to accumulate and to invest additional capital, responsibility for the formation of new capital, if there is to be any, devolves upon government. The welfare propagandist, in whose opinion government control is a synonym for God’s providential care that wisely and imperceptibly leads mankind to higher and more perfect stages of an inescapable evolutionary progress, fails to see the intricacy of the problem and its ramifications.
Not only further saving and accumulation of additional capital, but no less the maintenance of capital at its present level, require curtailing today’s consumption in order to be more amply supplied later. It is abstinence, a refraining from satisfactions which could be reaped instantly.5 The market economy brings about an environment in which such abstinence is practiced to a certain extent, and in which its product, the accumulated capital, is invested in those lines in which it best satisfies the most urgent needs of the consumers. The questions arise whether government accumulation of capital can be substituted for private accumulation, and in what way a government would invest additional capital accumulated. These problems do not refer only to a socialist commonwealth. They are no less urgent in an interventionist scheme that has either totally or almost totally removed the conditions making for private capital formation. Even the United States is manifestly more and more approaching such a state of affairs.
Let us consider the case of a government that has got control of the employment of a considerable part of the citizens’ savings. The investments of the social security system, of the private insurance companies, of savings banks, and of commercial banks are to a great extent determined by the authorities and channeled into the public debt. The private citizens are still savers. But whether or not their savings bring about capital accumulation and thus increase the quantity of capital goods available for an improvement of the apparatus of production depends on the employment of the funds borrowed by the government. If the government squanders these sums either by spending them for current expenditure or by malinvestment, the process of capital accumulation as inaugurated by the saving of individuals and continued by the investment operations of the banks and insurance enterprises is cut off. A contrast between the two ways may clarify the matter:
In the process of the unhampered market economy Bill saves one hundred dollars and deposits it with a savings bank. If he is wise in choosing a bank which is wise in its lending and investing business, an increment in capital results, and brings about a rise in the marginal productivity of labor. Out of the surplus thus produced a part goes to Bill in the shape of interest. If Bill blunders in the choice of his bank and entrusts his hundred dollars to a bank that fails, he goes emptyhanded.
In the process of government interference with saving and investment, Paul in the year 1940 saves by paying one hundred dollars to the national social security institution.6 He receives in exchange a claim which is virtually an unconditional government IOU. If the government spends the hundred dollars for current expenditure, no additional capital comes into existence, and no increase in the productivity of labor results. The government’s IOU is a check drawn upon the future taxpayers. In 1970 a certain Peter may have to fulfill the government’s promise although he himself does not derive any benefit from the fact that Paul in 1940 saved one hundred dollars.
Thus it becomes obvious that there is no need to look at Soviet Russia in order to comprehend the role that public finance plays in our day. The trumpery argument that the public debt is no burden because “we owe it to ourselves” is delusive. The Pauls of 1940 do not owe it to themselves. It is the Peters of 1970 who owe it to the Pauls of 1940. The whole system is the acme of the short-run principle. The statesmen of 1940 solve their problems by shifting them to the statesmen of 1970. On that date the statesmen of 1940 will be either dead or elder statesmen glorying in their wonderful achievement, social security.
The Santa Claus fables of the welfare school are characterized by their complete failure to grasp the problems of capital. It is precisely this defect that makes it imperative to deny them the appellation welfare economics with which they describe their doctrines. He who does not take into consideration the scarcity of capital goods available is not an economist, but a fabulist. He does not deal with reality but with a fabulous world of plenty. All the effusions of the contemporary welfare school are, like those of the socialist authors, based on the implicit assumption that there is an abundant supply of capital goods. Then, of course, it seems easy to find a remedy for all ills, to give to everybody “according to his needs” and to make everyone perfectly happy.
It is true that some of the champions of the welfare school feel troubled by a dim notion of the problems involved. They realize that capital must be maintained intact if the future productivity of labor is not to be impaired.7 However, these authors too fail to comprehend that even the mere maintenance of capital depends on the skillful handling of the problems of investment, that it is always the fruit of successful speculation, and that endeavors to maintain capital intact presuppose economic calculation and thereby the operation of the market economy. The other welfare propagandists ignore the issue completely. It does not matter whether or not they endorse in this respect the Marxian scheme or resort to the invention of new chimerical notions such as “the self-perpetuating character” of useful things.8 In any event their teachings are designed to provide a justification for the doctrine which blames oversaving and underconsumption for all that is unsatisfactory and recommends spending as a panacea.
When pushed hard by economists, some welfare propagandists and socialists admit that impairment of the average standard of living can only be avoided by the maintenance of capital already accumulated and that economic improvement depends on accumulation of additional capital. Maintenance of capital and accumulation of new capital, they say, will henceforth be a task of government. They will no longer be left to the selfishness of individuals, exclusively concerned with their own enrichment and that of their families; the authorities will deal with them from the point of view of the commonweal.
The crux of the issue lies precisely in the operation of selfishness. Under the system of inequality this selfishness impels a man to save and always to invest his savings in such a way as to fill best the most urgent needs of the consumers. Under the system of equality this motive fades. The curtailment of consumption in the immediate future is a perceptible privation, a blow to the individuals’ selfish aims. The increment in the supply available in more distant periods of the future which is expected from this immediate privation is less recognizable for the average intellect. Moreover, its beneficial effects are, under a system of public accumulation, so thinly spread out that they hardly appear to a man as an appropriate compensation for what he foregoes today. The welfare school blithely assumes that the expectation that the fruits of today’s saving will be reaped equally by the whole of the future generation will turn everybody’s selfishness toward more saving. Thus they fall prey to a corollary of Plato’s illusion that preventing people from knowing which children’s parents they are will inspire them with parental feelings toward all younger people. It would have been wise if the welfare school had been mindful of Aristotle’s observation that the result will rather be that all parents will be equally indifferent to all children.9
The problem of maintaining and increasing capital is insoluble for a socialist system which cannot resort to economic calculation. Such a socialist commonwealth lacks any method of ascertaining whether its capital equipment is decreasing or increasing. But under interventionism and under a socialist system which is still in a position to resort to economic calculation on the basis of prices established abroad, things are not so bad. Here it is at least possible to comprehend what is going on.
If such a country is under a democratic government, the problems of capital preservation and accumulation of additional capital become the main issue of political antagonisms. There will be demagogues to contend that more could be dedicated to current consumption than those who happen to be in power or the other parties are disposed to allow. They will always be ready to declare that “in the present emergency” there cannot be any question of piling up capital for later days and that, on the contrary, consumption of a part of the capital already available is fully justified. The various parties will outbid one another in promising the voters more government spending and at the same time a reduction of all taxes which do not exclusively burden the rich. In the days of laissez faire people looked upon government as an institution whose operation required an expenditure of money which must be defrayed by taxes paid by the citizens. In the individual citizens’ budgets the state was an item of expenditure. Today the majority of the citizens look upon government as an agency dispensing benefits. The wage earners and the farmers expect to receive from the treasury more than they contribute to its revenues. The state is in their eyes a spender, not a taker. These popular tenets were rationalized and elevated to the rank of a quasi-economic doctrine by Lord Keynes and his disciples. Spending and unbalanced budgets are merely synonyms for capital consumption. If current expenditure, however beneficial it may be considered, is financed by taking away by inheritance taxes those parts of higher incomes which would have been employed for investment, or by borrowing, the government becomes a factor making for capital consumption. The fact that in present-day America there is probably10 still a surplus of annual capital accumulation over annual capital consumption does not invalidate the statement that the total complex of the financial policies of the Federal Government, the States, and the municipalities tends toward capital consumption.
Many who are aware of the undesirable consequences of capital consumption are prone to believe that popular government is incompatible with sound financial policies. They fail to realize that not democracy as such is to be indicted, but the doctrines which aim at substituting the Santa Claus conception of government for the night watchman conception derided by Lassalle. What determines the course of a nation’s economic policies is always the economic ideas held by public opinion. No government, whether democratic or dictatorial, can free itself from the sway of the generally accepted ideology.
Those advocating a restriction of the parliament’s prerogatives in budgeting and taxation issues or even a complete substitution of authoritarian government for representative government are blinded by the chimerical image of a perfect chief of state. This man, no less benevolent than wise, would be sincerely dedicated to the promotion of his subjects’ lasting welfare. The real Führer, however, turns out to be a mortal man who first of all aims at the perpetuation of his own supremacy and that of his kin, his friends, and his party. As far as he may resort to unpopular measures, he does so for the sake of these objectives. He does not invest and accumulate capital. He constructs fortresses and equips armies.
The much talked about plans of the Soviet and Nazi dictators involved restriction of current consumption for the sake of “investment.” The Nazis never tried to suppress the truth that all these investments were designed as a preparation for the wars of aggression that they planned. The Soviets were less outspoken at the beginning. But later they proudly declared that all their planning was directed by considerations of war preparedness. History does not provide any example of capital accumulation brought about by a government. As far as governments invested in the construction of roads, railroads, and other useful public works, the capital needed was provided by the savings of individual citizens and borrowed by the government. But the greater part of the funds collected by the public debts was spent for current expenditure. What individuals had saved was dissipated by the government.
Even those who look upon the inequality of wealth and incomes as a deplorable thing, cannot deny that it makes for progressing capital accumulation. And it is additional capital accumulation alone that brings about technological improvement, rising wage rates, and a higher standard of living.
The vague notion of security which the welfare doctrinaires have in mind when complaining about insecurity refers to something like a warrant by means of which society guarantees to everybody, irrespective of his achievements, a standard of living which he considers satisfactory.
Security in this sense, contend the eulogists of times gone by, was provided under the social regime of the Middle Ages. There is, however, no need to enter into an examination of these claims. Real conditions even in the much-glorified thirteenth century were different from the ideal picture painted by scholastic philosophy; these schemes were meant as a description of conditions not as they were but as they ought to be. But even these utopias of the philosophers and theologians allow for the existence of a numerous class of destitute beggars, entirely dependent on alms given by the wealthy. This is not precisely the idea of security which the modern usage of the term suggests.
The concept of security is the wage earners’ and small farmers’ pendant to the concept of stability held by the capitalists.11 In the same way in which capitalists want to enjoy permanently an income which is not subject to the vicissitudes of changing human conditions, wage earners and small farmers want to make their revenues independent of the market. Both groups are eager to withdraw from the flux of historical events. No further occurrence should impair their own position; on the other hand, of course, they do not expressly object to an improvement of their material well-being. That structure of the market to which they have in the past adjusted their activities should never be altered in such a way as to force them to a new adjustment. The farmer in a European mountain valley waxes indignant upon encountering the competition of Canadian farmers producing at lower cost. The house painter boils over with rage when the introduction of a new appliance affects conditions in his sector of the labor market. It is obvious that the wishes of these people could be fulfilled only in a perfectly stagnant world.
A characteristic feature of the unhampered market society is that it is no respecter of vested interests. Past achievements do not count if they are obstacles to further improvement. The advocates of security are therefore quite correct in blaming capitalism for insecurity. But they distort the facts in implying that the selfish interests of capitalists and entrepreneurs are responsible. What harms the vested interests is the urge of the consumers for the best possible satisfaction of their needs. Not the greed of the wealthy few, but the propensity of everyone to take advantage of any opportunity offered for an improvement of his own well-being makes for producer insecurity. What makes the housepainter indignant is the fact that his fellow citizens prefer cheaper houses to more expensive ones. And the housepainter himself, in preferring cheaper commodities to dearer ones, contributes his share to the emergence of insecurity in other sectors of the labor market.
It is certainly true that the necessity of adjusting oneself again and again to changing conditions is onerous. But change is the essence of life. In an unhampered market economy the absence of security, i.e., the absence of protection for vested interests, is the principle that makes for a steady improvement in material well-being. There is no need to argue with the bucolic dreams of Virgil and of eighteenth-century poets and painters. There is no need to examine the kind of security which the real shepherds enjoyed. No one really wishes to change places with them.
The longing for security became especially intense in the great depression that started in 1929. It met with an enthusiastic response from the millions of unemployed. That is capitalism for you, shouted the leaders of the pressure groups of the farmers and the wage earners. Yet the evils were not created by capitalism, but, on the contrary, by the endeavors to “reform” and to “improve” the operation of the market economy by interventionism. The crash was the necessary outcome of the attempts to lower the rate of interest by credit expansion. Institutional unemployment was the inevitable result of the policy of fixing wage rates above the potential market height.
In one respect at least present-day welfare propagandists are superior to most of the older schools of socialists and reformers. They no longer stress a concept of social justice with whose arbitrary precepts men should comply however disastrous the consequences may be. They endorse the utilitarian point of view. They do not oppose the principle that the only standard for appreciating social systems is judging them with regard to their ability to realize the ends sought by acting men.
However, as soon as they embark upon an examination of the operation of the market economy, they forget their sound intentions. They invoke a set of metaphysical principles and condemn the market economy beforehand because it does not conform to them. They smuggle in through a back door the idea of an absolute standard of morality which they had barred from the main entrance. In searching for remedies against poverty, inequality, and insecurity, they come step by step to endorse all the fallacies of the older schools of socialism and interventionism. They become more and more entangled in contradictions and absurdities. Finally they cannot help catching at the straw at which all earlier “unorthodox” reformers tried to grasp—the superior wisdom of perfect rulers. Their last word is always state, government, society, or other cleverly designed synonyms for the superhuman dictator.
The welfare school, foremost among them the German Kathedersozialisten and their adepts, the American Institutionalists, have published many thousands of volumes stuffed with punctiliously documented information about unsatisfactory conditions. In their opinion the collected materials clearly illustrate the shortcomings of capitalism. In truth they merely illustrate the fact that human wants are practically unlimited and that there is an immense field open for further improvements. They certainly do not prove any of the statements of the welfare doctrine.
There is no need to tell us that an ampler supply of various commodities would be welcome to all people. The question is whether there is any means of achieving a greater supply other than by increasing the productivity of human effort by the investment of additional capital. All the babble of the welfare propagandists aims only at one end, namely, obscuring this point, the point that alone matters. While the accumulation of additional capital is the indispensable means for any further economic progress, these people speak of “oversaving” and “overinvestment,” of the necessity of spending more and of restricting output. Thus they are the harbingers of economic retrogression, preaching a philosophy of decay and social disintegration. A society arranged according to their precepts may appear to some people as fair from the point of view of an arbitrary standard of social justice. But it will certainly be a society of progressing poverty for all its members.
For more than a century public opinion in Western countries has been deluded by the idea that there is such a thing as “the social question” or “the labor problem.” The meaning implied was that the very existence of capitalism hurts the vital interests of the masses, especially those of the wage earners and the small farmers. The preservation of this manifestly unfair system cannot be tolerated; radical reforms are indispensable.
The truth is that capitalism has not only multiplied population figures but at the same time improved the people’s standard of living in an unprecedented way. Neither economic thinking nor historical experience suggest that any other social system could be as beneficial to the masses as capitalism. The results speak for themselves. The market economy needs no apologists and propagandists. It can apply to itself the words of Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St. Paul’s: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.12
The Crisis of Interventionism
The Harvest of Interventionism
The interventionist policies as practiced for many decades by all governments of the capitalistic West have brought about all those effects which the economists predicted. There are wars and civil wars, ruthless oppression of the masses by clusters of self-appointed dictators, economic depressions, mass unemployment, capital consumption, famines.
However, it is not these catastrophic events which have led to the crisis of interventionism. The interventionist doctrinaires and their followers explain all these undesired consequences as the unavoidable features of capitalism. As they see it, it is precisely these disasters that clearly demonstrate the necessity of intensifying interventionism. The failures of the interventionist policies do not in the least impair the popularity of the implied doctrine. They are so interpreted as to strengthen, not to lessen, the prestige of these teachings. As a vicious economic theory cannot be simply refuted by historical experience, the interventionist propagandists have been able to go on in spite of all the havoc they have spread.
Yet the age of interventionism is reaching its end. Interventionism has exhausted all its potentialities and must disappear.
The Exhaustion of the Reserve Fund
The idea underlying all interventionist policies is that the higher income and wealth of the more affluent part of the population is a fund which can be freely used for the improvement of the conditions of the less prosperous. The essence of the interventionist policy is to take from one group to give to another. It is confiscation and distribution. Every measure is ultimately justified by declaring that it is fair to curb the rich for the benefit of the poor.
In the field of public finance progressive taxation of incomes and estates is the most characteristic manifestation of this doctrine. Tax the rich and spend the revenue for the improvement of the condition of the poor, is the principle of contemporary budgets. In the field of industrial relations shortening the hours of work, raising wages, and a thousand other measures are recommended under the assumption that they favor the employee and burden the employer. Every issue of government and community affairs is dealt with exclusively from the point of view of this principle.
An illustrative example is provided by the methods applied in the operation of nationalized and municipalized enterprises. These enterprises very often result in financial failure; their accounts regularly show losses burdening the state or the city treasury. It is of no use to investigate whether the deficits are due to the notorious inefficiency of the public conduct of business enterprises or, at least partly, to the inadequacy of the prices at which the commodities or services are sold to the customers. What matters is the fact that the taxpayers must cover these deficits. The interventionists fully approve of this arrangement. They passionately reject the two other possible solutions: selling the enterprises to private entrepreneurs or raising the prices charged to the customers to such a height that no further deficit remains. The first of these proposals is in their eyes manifestly reactionary because they believe that the inevitable trend of history is toward more and more socialization. The second is deemed “antisocial” because it places a heavier load upon the consuming masses. It is fairer to make the taxpayers, i.e., the wealthy citizens, bear the burden. Their ability to pay is greater than that of the average people riding the nationalized railroads and the municipalized subways, trolleys, and buses. To ask that such public utilities should be self-supporting, is, say the interventionists, a relic of the old-fashioned ideas of orthodox finance. One might as well aim at making the roads and the public schools self-supporting.
It is not necessary to argue with the advocates of this deficit policy. It is obvious that recourse to this ability-to-pay principle depends on the existence of such incomes and fortunes as can still be taxed away. It can no longer be resorted to once these extra funds have been exhausted by taxes and other interventionist measures.
This is precisely the present state of affairs in most of the European countries. The United States has not yet gone so far; but if the actual trend of its economic policies is not radically altered very soon, it will be in the same condition in a few years.
For the sake of argument we may disregard all the other consequences which the full triumph of the ability-to-pay principle must bring about and concentrate upon its financial aspects.
The interventionist in advocating additional public expenditure is not aware of the fact that the funds available are limited. He does not realize that increasing expenditure in one department enjoins restricting it in other departments. In his opinion there is plenty of money available. The income and wealth of the rich can be freely tapped. In recommending a greater allowance for the schools he simply stresses the point that it would be a good thing to spend more for education. He does not venture to prove that to raise the budgetary allowance for schools is more expedient than to raise that of another department, e.g., that of health. It never occurs to him that grave arguments could be advanced in favor of restricting public spending and lowering the burden of taxation. The champions of cuts in the budget are in his eyes merely the defenders of the manifestly unfair class interests of the rich.
With the present height of income and inheritance tax rates, this reserve fund out of which the interventionists seek to cover all public expenditure is rapidly shrinking. It has practically disappeared altogether in most European countries. In the United States the recent advances in tax rates produced only negligible revenue results beyond what would be produced by a progression which stopped at much lower rates. High surtax rates for the rich are very popular with interventionist dilettantes and demagogues, but they secure only modest additions to the revenue.1 From day to day it becomes more obvious that large-scale additions to the amount of public expenditure cannot be financed by “soaking the rich,” but that the burden must be carried by the masses. The traditional tax policy of the age of interventionism, its glorified devices of progressive taxation and lavish spending have been carried to a point at which their absurdity can no longer be concealed. The notorious principle that, whereas private expenditures depend on the size of income available, public revenues must be regulated according to expenditures, refutes itself. Henceforth, governments will have to realize that one dollar cannot be spent twice, and that the various items of government expenditure are in conflict with one another. Every penny of additional government spending will have to be collected from precisely those people who hitherto have been intent upon shifting the main burden to other groups. Those anxious to get subsidies will themselves have to foot the bill. The deficits of publicly owned and operated enterprises will be charged to the bulk of the population.
The situation in the employer-employee nexus will be analogous. The popular doctrine contends that wage earners are reaping “social gains” at the expense of the unearned income of the exploiting classes. The strikers, it is said, do not strike against the consumers but against “management.” There is no reason to raise the prices of products when labor costs are increased; the difference must be borne by employers. But when more and more of the share of the entrepreneurs and capitalists is absorbed by taxes, higher wage rates, and other “social gains” of employees, and by price ceilings, nothing remains for such a buffer function. Then it becomes evident that every wage raise, with its whole momentum, must affect the prices of the products and that the social gains of each group fully correspond to the social losses of the other groups. Every strike becomes, even in the short run and not only in the long run, a strike against the rest of the people.
An essential point in the social philosophy of interventionism is the existence of an inexhaustible fund which can be squeezed forever. The whole system of interventionism collapses when this fountain is drained off: The Santa Claus principle liquidates itself.
The End of Interventionism
The interventionist interlude must come to an end because interventionism cannot lead to a permanent system of social organization. The reasons are threefold.
First: Restrictive measures always restrict output and the amount of goods available for consumption. Whatever arguments may be advanced in favor of definite restrictions and prohibitions, such measures in themselves can never constitute a system of social production.
Second: All varieties of interference with the market phenomena not only fail to achieve the ends aimed at by their authors and supporters, but bring about a state of affairs which—from the point of view of their authors’ and advocates’ valuations—is less desirable than the previous state of affairs which they were designed to alter. If one wants to correct their manifest unsuitableness and preposterousness by supplementing the first acts of intervention with more and more of such acts, one must go farther and farther until the market economy has been entirely destroyed and socialism has been substituted for it.
Third: Interventionism aims at confiscating the “surplus” of one part of the population and at giving it to the other part. Once this surplus is exhausted by total confiscation, a further continuation of this policy is impossible.
Marching ever further along the path of interventionism, all those countries that have not adopted full socialism of the Russian pattern are more and more approaching what is called a planned economy, i.e., socialism of the German or Hindenburg pattern. In regard to economic policies, there is nowadays little difference among the various nations and, within each nation, among the various political parties and pressure groups. The historical party names have lost their significance. There are, as far as economic policy is concerned, practically only two factions left: the advocates of the Lenin method of all-around nationalization and the interventionists. The advocates of the free market economy have little influence upon the course of events. What economic freedom still exists is the out-come of the failure of the measures resorted to by the governments, rather than of an intentional policy.
It is difficult to find out how many of the supporters of interventionism are conscious of the fact that the policies they recommend directly lead toward socialism, and how many hold fast to the illusion that what they are aiming at is a middle-of-the-road system that can last as a permanent system—a “third solution” of the problem of society’s economic organization. At any rate, it is certain that all interventionists believe that the government, and the government alone, is called upon to decide in every single case whether one has to let things go as the market determines them or whether an act of intervention is needed. This means that they are prepared to tolerate the supremacy of the consumers only as far as it brings about a result of which they themselves approve. As soon as something happens in the economy that any of the various bureaucratic institutions does not like or that arouses the anger of a pressure group, people clamor for new interventions, controls, and restrictions. But for the inefficiency of the law-givers and the laxity, carelessness, and corruption of many of the functionaries, the last vestiges of the market economy would have long since disappeared.
The unsurpassed efficiency of capitalism never before manifested itself in a more beneficial way than in this age of heinous anticapitalism. While governments, political parties, and labor unions are sabotaging all business operations, the spirit of enterprise still succeeds in increasing the quantity and improving the quality of products and in rendering them more easily accessible to the consumers. In the countries that have not yet entirely abandoned the capitalistic system the common man enjoys today a standard of living for which the princes and nabobs of ages gone by would have envied him. A short time ago the demagogues blamed capitalism for the poverty of the masses. Today they rather blame capitalism for the “affluence” that it bestows upon the common man.
It has been shown that the managerial system, i.e., the assignment of ancillary tasks in the conduct of business to responsible helpers to whom a certain amount of discretion can be granted, is possible only within the frame of the profit system.2 What characterizes the manager as such and imparts to him a condition different from that of the mere technician is that, within the sphere of his assignment, he himself determines the methods by which his actions should conform to the profit principle. In a socialist system in which there is neither economic calculation nor capital accounting nor profit computation, there is no room left for managerial activities either. But as long as a socialist commonwealth is still in a position to calculate on the ground of prices determined on foreign markets, it can also utilize a quasi-managerial hierarchy to some extent.
It is a poor makeshift to call any age an age of transition. In the living world there is always change. Every age is an age of transition. We may distinguish between social systems that can last and such as are inevitably transitory because they are self-destructive. It has already been pointed out in what sense interventionism liquidates itself and must lead to socialism of the German pattern. Some European countries have already reached this phase, and nobody knows whether or not the United States will follow suit. But as long as the United States clings to the market economy and does not adopt the system of full government control of business, the socialist economies of Western Europe will still be in a position to calculate. Their conduct of business still lacks the most characteristic feature of socialist conduct; it is still based on economic calculation. It is therefore in every respect very different from what it would become if all the world were to turn toward socialism.
It is often said that one half of the world cannot remain committed to the market economy when the other half is socialist, and vice versa. However, there is no reason to assume that such a partition of the earth and the coexistence of the two systems is impossible. If this is really the case, then the present economic system of the countries that have discarded capitalism may go on for an indefinite period of time. Its operation may result in social disintegration, chaos, and misery for the peoples. But neither a low standard of living nor progressive impoverishment automatically liquidates an economic system. It gives way to a more efficient system only if people themselves are intelligent enough to comprehend the advantages such a change might bring them. Or it may be destroyed by foreign invaders provided with better military equipment by the greater efficiency of their own economic system.
Optimists hope that at least those nations which have in the past developed the capitalist market economy and its civilization will cling to this system in the future too. There are certainly as many signs to confirm as to disprove such an expectation. It is vain to speculate about the outcome of the great ideological conflict between the principles of private ownership and public ownership, of individualism and totalitarianism, of freedom and authoritarian regimentation. All that we can know beforehand about the result of this struggle can be condensed in the following three statements:
The Place of Economics in Society
The Nondescript Character of Economics
The Singularity of Economics
What assigns economics its peculiar and unique position in the orbit both of pure knowledge and of the practical utilization of knowledge is the fact that its particular theorems are not open to any verification or falsification on the ground of experience. Of course, a measure suggested by sound economic reasoning results in producing the effects aimed at, and a measure suggested by faulty economic reasoning fails to produce the ends sought. But such experience is always still historical experience, i.e., the experience of complex phenomena. It can never, as has been pointed out, prove or disprove any particular theorem.1 The application of spurious economic theorems results in undesired consequences. But these effects never have that undisputable power of conviction which the experimental facts in the field of the natural sciences provide. The ultimate yardstick of an economic theorem’s correctness or incorrectness is solely reason unaided by experience.
The ominous import of this state of affairs is that it prevents the naïve mind from recognizing the reality of the things economics deals with. “Real” is, in the eyes of man, all that he cannot alter and to whose existence he must adjust his actions if he wants to attain his ends. The cognizance of reality is a sad experience. It teaches the limits on the satisfaction of one’s wishes. Only reluctantly does man resign himself to the insight that there are things, viz., the whole complex of all causal relations between events, which wishful thinking cannot alter. Yet sense experience speaks an easily perceptible language. There is no use arguing about experiments. The reality of experimentally established facts cannot be contested.
But in the field of praxeological knowledge neither success nor failure speaks a distinct language audible to everybody. The experience derived exclusively from complex phenomena does not bar escape into interpretations based on wishful thinking. The naïve man’s propensity to ascribe omnipotence to his thoughts, however confused and contradictory, is never manifestly and unambiguously falsified by experience. The economist can never refute the economic cranks and quacks in the way in which the doctor refutes the medicine man and the charlatan. History speaks only to those people who know how to interpret it on the ground of correct theories.
Economics and Public Opinion
The significance of this fundamental epistemological difference becomes clear if we realize that the practical utilization of the teachings of economics presupposes their endorsement by public opinion. In the market economy the realization of technological innovations does not require anything more than the cognizance of their reasonableness by one or a few enlightened spirits. No dullness and clumsiness on the part of the masses can stop the pioneers of improvement. There is no need for them to win the approval of inert people beforehand. They are free to embark upon their projects even if everyone else laughs at them. Later, when the new, better and cheaper products appear on the market, these scoffers will scramble for them. However dull a man may be, he knows how to tell the difference between a cheaper shoe and a more expensive one, and to appreciate the usefulness of new products.
But it is different in the field of social organization and economic policies. Here the best theories are useless if not supported by public opinion. They cannot work if not accepted by a majority of the people. Whatever the system of government may be, there cannot be any question of ruling a nation lastingly on the ground of doctrines at variance with public opinion. In the end the philosophy of the majority prevails. In the long run there cannot be any such thing as an unpopular system of government. The difference between democracy and despotism does not affect the final outcome. It refers only to the method by which the adjustment of the system of government to the ideology held by public opinion is brought about. Unpopular autocrats can only be dethroned by revolutionary upheavals, while unpopular democratic rulers are peacefully ousted in the next election.
The supremacy of public opinion determines not only the singular role that economics occupies in the complex of thought and knowledge. It determines the whole process of human history.
The customary discussions concerning the role the individual plays in history miss the point. Everything that is thought, done and accomplished is a performance of individuals. New ideas and innovations are always an achievement of uncommon men. But these great men cannot succeed in adjusting social conditions to their plans if they do not convince public opinion.
The flowering of human society depends on two factors: the intellectual power of outstanding men to conceive sound social and economic theories, and the ability of these or other men to make these ideologies palatable to the majority.
The Illusion of the Old Liberals
The masses, the hosts of common men, do not conceive any ideas, sound or unsound. They only choose between the ideologies developed by the intellectual leaders of mankind. But their choice is final and determines the course of events. If they prefer bad doctrines, nothing can prevent disaster.
The social philosophy of the Enlightenment failed to see the dangers that the prevalence of unsound ideas could engender. The objections customarily raised against the rationalism of the classical economists and the utilitarian thinkers are vain. But there was one deficiency in their doctrines. They blithely assumed that what is reasonable will carry on merely on account of its reasonableness. They never gave a thought to the possibility that public opinion could favor spurious ideologies whose realization would harm welfare and well-being and disintegrate social cooperation.
It is fashionable today to disparage those thinkers who criticized the liberal philosophers’ faith in the common man. Yet, Burke and Haller, Bonald and de Maistre paid attention to an essential problem which the liberals had neglected. They were more realistic in the appraisal of the masses than their adversaries.
Of course, the conservative thinkers labored under the illusion that the traditional system of paternal government and the rigidity of economic institutions could be preserved. They were full of praise for the ancien régime which had made people prosperous and had even humanized war. But they did not see that it was precisely these achievements that had increased population figures and thus created an excess population for which there was no room left in the old system of economic restrictionism. They shut their eyes to the growth of a class of people which stood outside the pale of the social order they wanted to perpetuate. They failed to suggest any solution to the most burning problem with which mankind had to cope on the eve of the “Industrial Revolution.”
Capitalism gave the world what it needed, a higher standard of living for a steadily increasing number of people. But the liberals, the pioneers and supporters of capitalism, overlooked one essential point. A social system, however beneficial, cannot work if it is not supported by public opinion. They did not anticipate the success of the anticapitalistic propaganda. After having nullified the fable of the divine mission of anointed kings, the liberals fell prey to no less illusory doctrines, to the irresistible power of reason, to the infallibility of the volonté générale [general will] and to the divine inspiration of majorities. In the long run, they thought, nothing can stop the progressive improvement of social conditions. In unmasking age-old superstitions the philosophy of the Enlightenment has once and for all established the supremacy of reason. The accomplishments of the policies of freedom will provide such an overwhelming demonstration of the blessings of the new ideology that no intelligent man will venture to question it. And, implied the philosophers, the immense majority of people are intelligent and able to think correctly.
It never occurred to the old liberals that the majority could interpret historical experience on the ground of other philosophies. They did not anticipate the popularity which ideas that they would have called reactionary, superstitious, and unreasonable acquired in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were so fully imbued with the assumption that all men are endowed with the faculty of correct reasoning that they entirely misconstrued the meaning of the portents. As they saw it, all these unpleasant events were temporary relapses, accidental episodes to which no importance could be attached by the philosopher looking upon mankind’s history sub specie aeternitatis [from the point of view of eternity]. Whatever the reactionaries might say, there was one fact which they would not be able to deny; namely, that capitalism provided for a rapidly increasing population a steadily improving standard of living.
It was precisely this fact that the immense majority did contest. The essential point in the teachings of all socialist authors, and especially in the teachings of Marx, is the doctrine that capitalism results in a progressive pauperization of the working masses. With regard to the capitalistic countries the fallacy of this theorem can hardly be ignored. With regard to the backward countries, which were only superficially affected by capitalism, the unprecedented increase in population figures does not suggest the interpretation that the masses sink deeper and deeper. These countries are poor when compared with the more advanced countries. Their poverty is the outcome of the rapid growth of population. These peoples have preferred to rear more progeny instead of raising the standard of living to a higher level. That is their own affair. But the fact remains that they had the wealth to prolong the average length of life. It would have been impossible for them to bring up more children if the means of sustenance had not been increased.
Nonetheless not only the Marxians but many allegedly “bourgeois” authors assert that Marx’s anticipation of capitalist evolution has been by and large verified by the history of the last hundred years.
The Place of Economics in Learning
The Study of Economics
The natural sciences are ultimately based on the facts as established by laboratory experiment. Physical and biological theories are confronted with these facts, and are rejected when in conflict with them. The perfection of these theories no less than the improvement of technological and therapeutical procedures requires more and better laboratory research. These experimental ventures absorb time, painstaking effort of specialists, and costly expenditure of material. Research can no longer be conducted by isolated and penniless scientists, however ingenious. The seat of experimentation today is in the huge laboratories supported by governments, universities, endowments, and big business. Work in these institutions has developed into professional routine. The majority of those employed in it are technicians recording those facts which the pioneers, of whom some are themselves experimenters, will one day use as building stones for their theories. As far as the progress of scientific theories is concerned, the achievements of the rank-and-file researcher are only ancillary. But very often his discoveries have immediate practical results in improving the methods of therapeutics and of business.
Ignoring the radical epistemological difference between the natural sciences and the sciences of human action, people believe that what is needed to further economic knowledge is to organize economic research according to the well-tried methods of the institutes for medical, physical, and chemical research. Considerable sums of money have been spent for what is labeled economic research. In fact the subject matter of the work of all these institutes is recent economic history.
It is certainly a laudable thing to encourage the study of economic history. However instructive the result of such studies may be, one must not confuse them with the study of economics. They do not produce facts in the sense in which this term is applied with regard to the events tested in laboratory experiments. They do not deliver bricks for the construction of a posteriori hypotheses and theorems. On the contrary, they are without meaning if not interpreted in the light of theories developed without reference to them. There is no need to add anything to what has been said in this respect in the preceding chapters. No controversy concerning the causes of a historical event can be solved on the ground of an examination of the facts which is not guided by definite praxeological theories.1
The foundation of institutes for cancer research can possibly contribute to the discovery of methods for fighting and preventing this pernicious disease. But a business cycle research institute is of no help in endeavors to avoid the recurrence of depressions. The most exact and reliable assemblage of all the data concerning economic depressions of the past is of little use for our knowledge in this field. Scholars do not disagree with regard to these data; they disagree with regard to the theorems to be resorted to in their interpretation.
Still more important is the fact that it is impossible to collect the data concerning a concrete event without reference to the theories held by the historian at the very outset of his work. The historian does not report all facts, but only those which he considers as relevant on the ground of his theories; he omits data considered irrelevant for the interpretation of the events. If he is misled by faulty theories, his report becomes clumsy and may be almost worthless.
Even the most faithful examination of a chapter of economic history, though it be the history of the most recent period of the past, is no substitute for economic thinking. Economics, like logic and mathematics, is a display of abstract reasoning. Economics can never be experimental and empirical. The economist does not need an expensive apparatus for the conduct of his studies. What he needs is the power to think clearly and to discern in the wilderness of events what is essential from what is merely accidental.
There is no conflict between economic history and economics. Every branch of knowledge has its own merits and its own rights. Economists have never tried to belittle or deny the significance of economic history. Neither do real historians object to the study of economics. The antagonism was intentionally called into being by the socialists and interventionists who could not refute the objections raised against their doctrines by the economists. The Historical School and the Institutionalists tried to displace economics and to substitute “empirical” studies for it precisely because they wanted to silence the economists. Economic history, as they planned it, was a means of destroying the prestige of economics and of propagandizing for interventionism.
Economics as a Profession
The early economists devoted themselves to the study of the problems of economics. In lecturing and writing books they were eager to communicate to their fellow citizens the results of their thinking. They tried to influence public opinion in order to make sound policies prevail in the conduct of civic affairs. They never conceived of economics as a profession.
The development of a profession of economists is an offshoot of interventionism. The professional economist is the specialist who is instrumental in designing various measures of government interference with business. He is an expert in the field of economic legislation, which today invariably aims at hindering the operation of the market economy.
There are thousands and thousands of such professional experts busy in the bureaus of the governments and of the various political parties and pressure groups and in the editorial offices of party newspapers and pressure-group periodicals. Others are employed as advisers by business or run independent agencies. Some of them have nationwide or even worldwide reputations; many are among the most influential men of their country. It often happens that such experts are called to direct the affairs of big banks and corporations, are elected into the legislature, and are appointed as cabinet ministers. They rival the legal profession in the supreme conduct of political affairs. The eminent role they play is one of the most characteristic features of our age of interventionism.
There can be no doubt that a class of men who are so preponderant includes extremely talented individuals, even the most eminent men of our age. But the philosophy that guides their activities narrows their horizon. By virtue of their connection with definite parties and pressure groups, eager to acquire special privileges, they become one-sided. They shut their eyes to the remoter consequences of the policies they are advocating. With them nothing counts but the short-run concerns of the group they are serving. The ultimate aim of their efforts is to make their clients prosper at the expense of other people. They are intent upon convincing themselves that the fate of mankind coincides with the short-run interests of their group. They try to sell this idea to the public. In fighting for a higher price of silver, of wheat, or of sugar, for higher wages for the members of their union, or for a tariff on cheaper foreign products, they claim to be fighting for the supreme good, for liberty and justice, for their nation’s flowering, and for civilization.
The public looks askance upon the lobbyists and blames them for the dismal features of interventionist legislation. However, the seat of the evil is much deeper. The philosophy of the various pressure groups has penetrated the legislative bodies. There are in the present-day parliaments representatives of wheat growers, of cattle breeders, of farmers’ cooperatives, of silver, of the various labor unions, of industries which cannot stand foreign competition without tariffs, and of many other pressure groups. There are few for whom the nation counts more than their pressure group. The same holds true for the departments of the administration. The cabinet minister of agriculture considers himself the champion of the interests of farming; his main objective is to make food prices soar. The minister of labor considers himself the advocate of labor unions; his foremost aim is to make the unions as formidable as possible. Each department follows its own course and works against the endeavors of the other departments.
Many people complain today about the lack of creative statesmanship. However, under the predominance of interventionist ideas, a political career is open only to men who identify themselves with the interests of a pressure group. The mentality of a union leader or of a secretary of farmers’ associations is not what is required for a far-sighted statesman. Service to the shortrun interests of a pressure group is not conducive to the development of those qualities which make a great statesman. Statesmanship is invariably long-run policy; but pressure groups do not bother about the long run. The lamentable failure of the German Weimar system and of the Third Republic in France was primarily due to the fact that their politicians were merely experts in pressure group interests.
Forecasting as a Profession
When the businessmen finally learned that the boom created by credit expansion cannot last and must necesarily lead to a slump, they realized that it was important for them to know in time the date of the break. They turned to the economists for advice.
The economist knows that such a boom must result in a depression. But he does not and cannot know when the crisis will appear. This depends on the special conditions of each case. Many political events can influence the outcome. There are no rules according to which the duration of the boom or of the following depression can be computed. And even if such rules were available, they would be of no use to businessmen. What the individual businessman needs in order to avoid losses is knowledge about the date of the turning point at a time when other businessmen still believe that the crash is farther away than is really the case. Then his superior knowledge will give him the opportunity to arrange his own operations in such a way as to come out unharmed. But if the end of the boom could be calculated according to a formula, all businessmen would learn the date at the same time. Their endeavors to adjust their conduct of affairs to this information would immediately result in the appearance of all the phenomena of the depression. It would be too late for any of them to avoid being victimized.
If it were possible to calculate the future state of the market, the future would not be uncertain. There would be neither entrepreneurial loss nor profit. What people expect from the economists is beyond the power of any mortal man.
The very idea that the future is predictable, that some formulas could be substituted for the specific understanding which is the essence of entrepreneurial activity, and that familiarity with these formulas could make it possible for anybody to take over the conduct of business is, of course, an outgrowth of the whole complex of fallacies and misconceptions which are at the bottom of present-day anticapitalistic policies. There is in the whole body of what is called the Marxian philosophy not the slightest reference to the fact that the main task of action is to provide for the events of an uncertain future. The fact that the term speculator is today used only with an opprobrious connotation clearly shows that our contemporaries do not even suspect in what the fundamental problem of action consists.
Entrepreneurial judgment cannot be bought on the market. The entrepreneurial idea that carries on and brings profit is precisely that idea which did not occur to the majority. It is not correct foresight as such that yields profits, but foresight better than that of the rest. The prize goes only to the dissenters, who do not let themselves be misled by the errors accepted by the multitude. What makes profits emerge is the provision for future needs for which others have neglected to make adequate provision.
Entrepreneurs and capitalists expose their own material well-being if they are fully convinced of the soundness of their plans. They would never venture to take their economic life into their hands because an expert advised them to do so. Those ignorant people who operate on the stock and commodity exchanges according to tips are destined to lose their money, from whatever source they may have got their inspiration and “inside” information.
In fact reasonable businessmen are fully aware of the uncertainty of the future. They realize that the economists do not dispense any reliable information about things to come and that all that they provide is interpretation of statistical data referring to the past. For the capitalists and entrepreneurs the economists’ opinions about the future count only as questionable conjectures. They are skeptical and not easily fooled. But as they quite correctly believe that it is useful to know all the data which could possibly have any relevance for their affairs, they subscribe to the newspapers and periodicals publishing the forecasts. Anxious not to neglect any source of information available, big business employs staffs of economists and statisticians.
Business forecasting fails in the vain attempts to make the uncertainty of the future disappear and to deprive entrepreneurship of its inherent speculative character. But it renders some services in assembling and interpreting the available data about economic trends and developments of the recent past.
Economics and the Universities
Tax-supported universities are under the sway of the party in power. The authorities try to appoint only professors who are ready to advance ideas of which they themselves approve. As all nonsocialist governments are today firmly committed to interventionism, they appoint only interventionists. In their opinion, the first duty of the university is to sell the official social philosophy to the rising generation.2 They have no use for economists.
However, interventionism prevails also at many of the independent universities.
According to an age-old tradition the objective of the universities is not only teaching, but also the promotion of knowledge and science. The duty of the university teacher is not merely to hand down to the students the complex of knowledge developed by other men. He is supposed to contribute to the enlargement of this treasure by his own work. It is assumed that he is a full-fledged member of the world-embracing republic of scholarship, an innovator and a pioneer on the road toward more and better knowledge. No university would admit that the members of its faculty are inferior to anybody in their respective fields. Every university professor considers himself equal to all other masters of his science. Like the greatest of them, he too contributes his share to the advancement of learning.
This idea of the equality of all professors is, of course, fictitious. There is an enormous difference between the creative work of the genius and the monograph of a specialist. Yet in the field of empirical research it is possible to cling to this fiction. The great innovator and the simple routinist resort in their investigations to the same technical methods of research. They arrange laboratory experiments or collect historical documents. The outward appearance of their work is the same. Their publications refer to the same subjects and problems. They are commensurable.
It is quite otherwise in theoretical sciences like philosophy and economics. Here there is nothing that the routinist can achieve according to a more or less stereotyped pattern. There are no tasks which require the conscientious and painstaking effort of sedulous monographers. There is no empirical research; all must be achieved by the power to reflect, to meditate, and to reason. There is no specialization, as all problems are linked with one another. In dealing with any part of the body of knowledge one deals actually with the whole. An eminent historian once described the psychological and educational significance of the doctoral thesis by declaring that it gives the author the proud assurance that there is a little corner, although small, in the field of learning in the knowledge of which he is second to none. It is obvious that this effect cannot be realized by a thesis on a subject of economic analysis. There are no such isolated corners in the complex of economic thought.
There never lived at the same time more than a score of men whose work contributed anything essential to economics. The number of creative men is as small in economics as it is in other fields of learning. Besides, many of the creative economists do not belong to the teaching profession. But there is a demand for thousands of university and college teachers of economics. Scholastic tradition requires that each of them should attest his worth by the publication of original contributions, not merely by compiling textbooks and manuals. An academic teacher’s reputation and salary depend more on his literary work than on his didactic abilities. A professor cannot help publishing books. If he does not feel the vocation to write on economics, he turns to economic history or descriptive economics. But then, in order not to lose face, he must insist on the claim that the problems he treats are economics proper, not economic history.
He must even pretend that his writings cover the only legitimate field of economic studies, that they alone are empirical, inductive, and scientific, while the merely deductive outpourings of the “armchair” theorists are idle speculations. If he were to neglect this, he would admit that there are among the teachers of economics two classes—those who themselves have contributed to the advancement of economic thought and those who have not, although they may have done a fine job in other disciplines such as recent economic history. Thus the academic atmosphere becomes unpropitious for the teaching of economics. Many professors—happily not all of them—are intent upon disparaging “mere theory.” They try to substitute an unsystematically assembled collection of historical and statistical information for economic analysis. They dissolve economics into a number of integrated branches. They specialize in agriculture, in labor, in Latin American conditions, and in many other similar subdivisions.
It is certainly one of the tasks of university training to make students familiar with economic history in general and no less with recent economic developments. But all such endeavors are doomed to failure if not firmly grounded upon a thorough acquaintance with economics. Economics does not allow of any breaking up into special branches. It invariably deals with the interconnectedness of all the phenomena of action. The catallactic problems cannot become visible if one deals with each branch of production separately. It is impossible to study labor and wages without studying implicitly commodity prices, interest rates, profit and loss, money and credit, and all the other major problems. The real problems of the determination of wage rates cannot even be touched in a course on labor. There are no such things as “economics of labor” or “economics of agriculture.” There is only one coherent body of economics.
What these specialists deal with in their lectures and publications is not economics, but the doctrines of the various pressure groups. Ignoring economics, they cannot help falling prey to the ideologies of those aiming at special privileges for their group. Even those specialists who do not openly side with a definite pressure group and who claim to maintain a lofty neutrality unwittingly endorse the essential creeds of the interventionist doctrine. Dealing exclusively with the innumerable varieties of government interference with business, they do not want to cling to what they call mere negativism. If they criticize the measures resorted to, they do it only in order to recommend their own brand of interventionism as a substitute for other people’s interventionism. Without a qualm they endorse the fundamental thesis of both interventionism and socialism that the unhampered market economy unfairly harms the vital interests of the immense majority for the sole benefit of callous exploiters. As they see it, an economist who demonstrates the futility of interventionism is a bribed champion of the unjust claims of big business. It is imperative to bar such scoundrels from access to the universities and their articles from being printed in the periodicals of the associations of university teachers.
The students are bewildered. In the courses of the mathematical economists they are fed formulas describing hypothetical states of equilibrium in which there is no longer any action. They easily conclude that these equations are of no use whatever for the comprehension of economic activities. In the lectures of the specialists they hear a mass of detail concerning interventionist measures. They must infer that conditions are paradoxical indeed, because there is never equilibrium, and wage rates and the prices of farm products are not so high as the unions or the farmers want them to be. It is obvious, they conclude, that a radical reform is indispensable. But what kind of reform?
The majority of the students espouse without any inhibitions the interventionist panaceas recommended by their professors. Social conditions will be perfectly satisfactory when the government enforces minimum wage rates and provides everybody with adequate food and housing, or when the sale of margarine and the importation of foreign sugar are prohibited. They do not see the contradictions in the words of their teachers, who one day lament the madness of competition and the next day the evils of monopoly, who one day complain about falling prices and the next day about rising living costs. They take their degrees and try as soon as possible to get a job with the government or a powerful pressure group.
But there are many young men who are keen enough to see through the fallacies of interventionism. They accept their teachers’ rejection of the unhampered market economy. But they do not believe that the isolated measures of interventionism could succeed in attaining the ends sought. They consistently carry their preceptors’ thoughts to their ultimate logical consequences. They turn toward socialism. They hail the Soviet system as the dawn of a new and better civilization.
However, what has made many of the present-day universities by and large nurseries of socialism is not so much the conditions prevailing in the departments of economics as the teachings handed down in other departments. In the departments of economics there can still be found some economists, and even the other teachers may be familiar with some of the objections raised against the practicability of socialism. The case is different with many of the teachers of philosophy, history, literature, sociology, and political science. They interpret history on the ground of a garbled vulgarization of dialectical materialism. Even many of those who passionately attack Marxism on account of its materialism and atheism are under the sway of the ideas developed in the Communist Manifesto and in the program of the Communist International. They explain depressions, mass unemployment, inflation, war and poverty as evils necessarily inherent in capitalism and intimate that these phenomena can disappear only with the passing of capitalism.
General Education and Economics
In countries which are not harassed by struggles between various linguistic groups public education can work if it is limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic. With bright children it is even possible to add elementary notions of geometry, the natural sciences, and the valid laws of the country. But as soon as one wants to go farther, serious difficulties appear. Teaching at the elementary level necessarily turns into indoctrination. It is not feasible to represent to adolescents all the aspects of a problem and to let them choose between dissenting views. It is no less impossible to find teachers who could hand down opinions of which they themselves disapprove in such a way as to satisfy those who hold these opinions. The party that operates the schools is in a position to propagandize its tenets and to disparage those of other parties.
In the field of religious education the nineteenth-century liberals solved this problem by the separation of state and church. In liberal countries religion is no longer taught in public schools. But the parents are free to send their children into denominational schools supported by religious communities.
However, the problem does not refer only to the teaching of religion and of certain theories of the natural sciences at variance with the Bible. It concerns even more the teaching of history and economics.
The public is aware of the matter only with regard to the international aspects of the teaching of history. There is some talk today about the necessity of freeing the teaching of history from the impact of nationalism and chauvinism. But few people realize that the problem of impartiality and objectivity is no less present in dealing with the domestic aspects of history. The teacher’s or the textbook author’s own social philosophy colors the narrative. The more the treatment must be simplified and condensed in order to be comprehensible to the immature minds of children and adolescents, the worse are the effects.
As the Marxians and the interventionists see it, the teaching of history in the schools is tainted by the endorsement of the ideas of classical liberalism. They want to substitute their own interpretation of history for the “bourgeois” interpretation. In Marxian opinion the English Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution, the great French Revolution, and the nineteenth-century revolutionary movements in continental Europe were bourgeois movements. They resulted in the defeat of feudalism and in the establishment of bourgeois supremacy. The proletarian masses were not emancipated; they merely passed from the class rule of the aristocracy to the class rule of the capitalist exploiters. To free the working man, the abolition of the capitalist mode of production is required. This, contend the interventionists, should be brought about by Sozialpolitik or the New Deal. The orthodox Marxians, on the other hand, assert that only the violent overthrow of the bourgeois system of government could effectively emancipate the proletarians.
It is impossible to deal with any chapter of history without taking a definite stand on these controversial issues and the implied economic doctrines. The textbooks and the teachers cannot adopt a lofty neutrality with regard to the postulate that the “unfinished revolution” needs to be completed by the communist revolution. Every statement concerning events of the last three hundred years involves a definite judgment on these controversies. One cannot avoid choosing between the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and that of the Communist Manifesto. The challenge is there, and it is useless to bury one’s head in the sand.
On the high school level and even on the college level the handing down of historical and economic knowledge is virtually indoctrination. The greater part of the students are certainly not mature enough to form their own opinion on the ground of a critical examination of their teachers’ representation of the subject.
If public education were more efficient than it really is, the political parties would urgently aim at the domination of the school system in order to determine the mode in which these subjects are to be taught. However, general education plays only a minor role in the formation of the political, social, and economic ideas of the rising generation. The impact of the press, the radio, and environmental conditions is much more powerful than that of teachers and textbooks. The propaganda of the churches, the political parties, and the pressure groups outstrips the influence of the schools, whatever they may teach. What is learned in school is often very soon forgotten and cannot carry on against the continuous hammering of the social milieu in which a man moves.
Economics and the Citizen
Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence.
To mention this fact is not to indulge in the often derided weakness of specialists who overrate the importance of their own branch of knowledge. Not the economists, but all the people today assign this eminent place to economics.
All present-day political issues concern problems commonly called economic. All arguments advanced in contemporary discussion of social and public affairs deal with fundamental matters of praxeology and economics. Everybody’s mind is preoccupied with economic doctrines. Philosophers and theologians seem to be more interested in economic problems than in those problems which earlier generations considered the subject matter of philosophy and theology. Novels and plays today treat all things human—including sex relations—from the angle of economic doctrines. Everybody thinks of economics whether he is aware of it or not. In joining a political party and in casting his ballot, the citizen implicitly takes a stand upon essential economic theories.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries religion was the main issue in European political controversies. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe as well as in America the paramount question was representative government versus royal absolutism. Today it is the market economy versus socialism. This is, of course, a problem the solution of which depends entirely on economic analysis. Recourse to empty slogans or to the mysticism of dialectical materialism is of no avail.
There is no means by which anyone can evade his personal responsibility. Whoever neglects to examine to the best of his abilities all the problems involved voluntarily surrenders his birthright to a self-appointed elite of supermen. In such vital matters blind reliance upon “experts” and uncritical acceptance of popular catchwords and prejudices is tantamount to the abandonment of self-determination and to yielding to other people’s domination. As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.
Very few are capable of contributing any consequential idea to the body of economic thought. But all reasonable men are called upon to familiarize themselves with the teachings of economics. This is, in our age, the primary civic duty.
Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that economics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen.
Economics and Freedom
The paramount role that economic ideas play in the determination of civic affairs explains why governments, political parties, and pressure groups are intent upon restricting the freedom of economic thought. They are anxious to propagandize the “good” doctrine and to silence the voice of the “bad” doctrines. As they see it, truth has no inherent power which could make it ultimately prevail solely by virtue of its being true. In order to carry on, truth needs to be backed by violent action on the part of the police or other armed troops. In this view, the criterion of a doctrine’s truth is the fact that its supporters succeeded in defeating by force of arms the champions of dissenting views. It is implied that God or some mythical agency directing the course of human affairs always bestows victory upon those fighting for the good cause. Government is from God and has the sacred duty of exterminating the heretic.
It is useless to dwell upon the contradictions and inconsistencies of this doctrine of intolerance and persecution of dissenters. Never before has the world known such a cleverly contrived system of propaganda and oppression as that instituted by contemporary governments, parties, and pressure groups. However, all these edifices will crumble like houses of cards as soon as a great ideology attacks them.
Not only in the countries ruled by barbarian and neobarbarian despots, but no less in the so-called Western democracies, the study of economics is practically outlawed today. The public discussion of economic problems ignores almost entirely all that has been said by economists in the last two hundred years. Prices, wage rates, interest rates, and profits are dealt with as if their determination were not subject to any law. Governments try to decree and to enforce maximum commodity prices and minimum wage rates. Statesmen exhort businessmen to cut down profits, to lower prices, and to raise wage rates as if these matters were dependent on the laudible intentions of individuals. In the treatment of international economic relations people blithely resort to the most naïve fallacies of Mercantilism. Few are aware of the shortcomings of all these popular doctrines, or realize why the policies based upon them invariably spread disaster.
These are sad facts. However, there is only one way in which a man can respond to them: by never relaxing in the search for truth.
Economics and the Essential Problems of Human Existence
Science and Life
It is customary to find fault with modern science because it is wertfrei, it abstains from expressing judgments of value. Living and acting man, we are told, has no use for Wertfreiheit; he needs to know what he should aim at. If science does not answer this question, it is sterile. However, the objection is unfounded. Science does not value, but it provides acting man with all the information he may need with regard to his valuations. It keeps silence only when the question is raised whether life itself is worth living.
This question, of course, has been raised too and will always be raised. What is the meaning of all these human endeavors and activities if in the end nobody can escape death and decomposition? Man lives in the shadow of death. Whatever he may have achieved in the course of his pilgrimage, he must one day pass away and abandon all that he has built. Each instant can become his last. There is only one thing that is certain about the individual’s future—death. Seen from the point of view of this ultimate and inescapable outcome, all human striving appears vain and futile.
Moreover, human action must be called inane even when judged merely with regard to its immediate goals. It can never bring full satisfaction; it merely gives for an evanescent instant a partial removal of uneasiness. As soon as one want is satisfied, new wants spring up and ask for satisfaction. Civilization, it is said, makes people poorer, because it multiplies their wishes and does not soothe, but kindles, desires. All the busy doings and dealings of hard-working men, their hurrying, pushing, and bustling are nonsensical, for they provide neither happiness nor quiet. Peace of mind and serenity cannot be won by action and secular ambition, but only by renunciation and resignation. The only kind of conduct proper to the sage is escape into the inactivity of a purely contemplative existence.
Yet all such qualms, doubts, and scruples are subdued by the irresistible force of man’s vital energy. True, man cannot escape death. But for the present he is alive; and life, not death, takes hold of him. Whatever the future may have in store for him, he cannot withdraw from the necessities of the actual hour. As long as a man lives, he cannot help obeying the cardinal impulse, the élan vital. It is man’s innate nature that he seeks to preserve and to strengthen his life, that he is discontented and aims at removing uneasiness, that he is in search of what may be called happiness. In every living being there works an inexplicable and nonanalyzable Id. This Id is the impulsion of all impulses, the force that drives man into life and action, the original and ineradicable craving for a fuller and happier existence. It works as long as man lives and stops only with the extinction of life.
Human reason serves this vital impulse. Reason’s biological function is to preserve and to promote life and to postpone its extinction as long as possible. Thinking and acting are not contrary to nature; they are, rather, the foremost features of man’s nature. The most appropriate description of man as differentiated from nonhuman beings is: a being purposively struggling against the forces adverse to his life.
Hence all talk about the primacy of irrational elements is vain. Within the universe the existence of which our reason cannot explain, analyze, or conceive, there is a narrow field left within which man is capable of removing uneasiness to some extent. This is the realm of reason and rationality, of science and purposive action. Neither its narrowness nor the scantiness of the results man can obtain within it suggest the idea of radical resignation and lethargy. No philosophical subtleties can ever restrain a healthy individual from resorting to actions which—as he thinks—can satisfy his needs. It may be true that in the deepest recesses of man’s soul there is a longing for the undisturbed peace and inactivity of a merely vegetative existence. But in living man these desires, whatever they may be, are outweighed by the urge to act and to improve his own condition. Once the forces of resignation get the upper hand, man dies; he does not turn into a plant.
It is true, praxeology and economics do not tell a man whether he should preserve or abandon life. Life itself and all the unknown forces that originate it and keep it burning are an ultimate given, and as such beyond the pale of human science. The subject matter of praxeology is merely the essential manifestation of human life, viz., action.
Economics and Judgments of Value
While many people blame economics for its neutrality with regard to value judgments, other people blame it for its alleged indulgence in them. Some contend that economics must necessarily express judgments of value and is therefore not really scientific, as the criterion of science is its valuational indifference. Others maintain that good economics should be and could be impartial, and that only bad economists sin against this postulate.
The semantic confusion in the discussion of the problems concerned is due to an inaccurate use of terms on the part of many economists. An economist investigates whether a measure a can bring about the result p for the attainment of which it is recommended, and finds that a does not result in p but in g, an effect which even the supporters of the measure a consider undesirable. If this economist states the outcome of his investigation by saying that a is a bad measure, he does not pronounce a judgment of value. He merely says that from the point of view of those aiming at the goal p, the measure a is inappropriate. In this sense the free-trade economists attacked protection. They demonstrated that protection does not, as its champions believe, increase but, on the contrary, decreases the total amount of products, and is therefore bad from the point of view of those who prefer an ampler supply of products to a smaller. It is in this sense that economists criticize policies from the point of view of the ends aimed at. If an economist calls minimum wage rates a bad policy, what he means is that its effects are contrary to the purpose of those who recommend their application.
From the same point of view praxeology and economics look upon the fundamental principle of human existence and social evolution, viz., that cooperation under the social division of labor is a more efficient way of acting than is the autarkic isolation of individuals. Praxeology and economics do not say that men should peacefully cooperate within the frame of societal bonds; they merely say that men must act this way if they want to make their actions more successful than otherwise. Compliance with the moral rules which the establishment, preservation, and intensification of social cooperation require is not seen as a sacrifice to a mythical entity, but as the recourse to the most efficient methods of action, as a price expended for the attainment of more highly valued returns.
It is against this substitution of an autonomous, rationalistic and voluntaristic ethics for the heteronomous doctrines both of intuitionism and of revealed commandments that the united forces of all antiliberal schools and dogmatisms direct the most furious attacks. They all blame the utilitarian philosophy for the pitiless austerity of its description and analysis of human nature and of the ultimate springs of human action. It is not necessary to add anything more to the refutation of these criticisms which every page of this book provides. Only one point should be mentioned again, because on the one hand it is the acme of the doctrine of all contemporary pied pipers and on the other hand it offers to the average intellectual a welcome excuse to shun the painstaking discipline of economic studies.
Economics, it is said, in its rationalistic prepossessions assumes that men aim only or first of all at material well-being. But in reality men prefer irrational objectives to rational ones. They are guided more by the urge to realize myths and ideals than by the urge to enjoy a higher standard of living.
What economics has to answer is this:
In this sense we may say that economics is apolitical or nonpolitical, although it is the foundation of politics and of every kind of political action. We may furthermore say that it is perfectly neutral with regard to all judgments of value, as it refers always to means and never to the choice of ultimate ends.
Economic Cognition and Human Action
Man’s freedom to choose and to act is restricted in a threefold way. There are first the physical laws to whose unfeeling absoluteness man must adjust his conduct if he wants to live. There are second the individual’s innate constitutional characteristics and dispositions and the operation of environmental factors; we know that they influence both the choice of the ends and that of the means, although our cognizance of the mode of their operation is rather vague. There is finally the regularity of phenomena with regard to the interconnectedness of means and ends, viz., the praxeological law as distinct from the physical and from the physiological law.
The elucidation and the categorial and formal examination of this third class of the laws of the universe is the subject matter of praxeology and its hitherto best-developed branch, economics. The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.
[3. ]Cf. above, pp. 539–40.
[4. ]Cf. above, pp. 521–23.
[5. ]In using the term “capital goods available,” due consideration should be given to the problem of convertibility.
[1. ]Cf. F. R. Fairchild, Profits and the Ability to Pay Wages (Irvington-on-Hudson, 1946), p. 47.
[2. ]The most elaborate description of guild socialism is provided by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (London, 1920); the best book on corporativism is Ugo Papi, Lezioni di Economia Generale e Corporativa, Vol. III (Padova, 1934).
[3. ]Mussolini declared on January 13, 1934, in the Senate: “Solo in un secondo tempo, quando le categorie non abbiano trovato la via dell’ accordo e dell’ equilibrio, lo Stato potrà intervenire.” (Quoted by Papi, op. cit., p. 225.) [Only at a later stage, if the guilds (corporazione) have not succeeded in reaching an acceptable agreement, will the State be able to intervene.]
[4. ]Sidney and Beatrice Webb, op. cit., pp. 227 ff.
[1. ]The best presentation of the traditional interpretation is provided by the book, Makers of Modern Strategy, Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, ed. E. M. Earle (Princeton University Press, 1944); cf. especially the contribution of R. R. Palmer, pp. 49–53.
[2. ]In this sense wheat produced, under the protection of an import duty, within the Reich’s territory is Ersatz too: it is produced at higher costs than foreign wheat. The notion of Ersatz is a catallactic notion, and must not be defined with regard to technological and physical properties of the articles.
[3. ]Cf. Hegel Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte, ed. Lasson (Leipzig, 1920), IV, 930–31.
[1. ]Cf. Sulzbach, German Experience with Social Insurance (New York, 1947), pp. 22–32.
[2. ]Cf. above, pp. 288–89 and pp. 806–8.
[3. ]Cf. above, p. 312.
[4. ]Cf. above, pp. 804–9.
[5. ]To establish this fact is, to be sure, not an endorsement of the theories which tried to describe interest as the “reward” of abstinence. There is in the world of reality no mythical agency that rewards or punishes. What originary interest really is has been shown above in Chapter 19. But as against the would-be ironies of Lassalle (Herr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch in Gesammelte Reden und Schriften, ed. Bernstein, V, 167), reiterated by innumerable textbooks, it is good to emphasize that saving is privation (Entbehrung) in so far as it deprives the saver of an instantaneous enjoyment.
[6. ]It makes no difference whether Paul himself pays these hundred dollars or whether the law obliges his employer to pay it. Cf. above, p. 602.
[7. ]This refers especially to the writings of Professor A. C. Pigou, the various editions of his book The Economics of Welfare and miscellaneous articles. For a critique of Professor Pigou’s ideas, cf. Hayek, Profits, Interest and Investment (London, 1939), pp. 83–134.
[8. ]Cf. F. H. Knight, “Professor Mises and the Theory of Capital,” Economica, VIII (1941), 409–27.
[9. ]Cf. Aristotle, Politics, Bk. II, chap. iii in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. R. McKeon (New York, 1945), pp. 1148 f.
[10. ]The attempts to answer this question by statistics are futile in this age of inflation and credit expansion.
[11. ]Cf. above, pp. 225–27.
[12. ]If you seek [his] monument, look around.
[1. ]In the United States the surtax rate under the 1942 Act was 52 per cent on the taxable income bracket $22,000–26,000. If the surtax had stopped at this level, the loss of revenue on 1942 income would have been about $249 million or 2.8 per cent of the total individual income tax for that year. In the same year the total net incomes in the income classes of $10,000 and above was $8,912 million. Complete confiscation of these incomes would not have produced as much revenue as was obtained in this year from all taxable incomes, namely, $9,046 million. Cf. A Tax Program for a Solvent America, Committee on Postwar Tax Policy (New York, 1945), pp. 116–17, 120.
[2. ]Cf. above, pp. 305–8.
[1. ]Cf. above, pp. 31–32.
[1. ]Cf., about the essential epistemological problems involved, pp. 31–41, about the problem of “quantitative” economics, pp. 55–57 and 350–52, and about the antagonistic interpretation of labor conditions under capitalism, pp. 617–23.
[2. ]G. Santayana, in speaking of a professor of philosophy of the—then Royal Prussian—University of Berlin, observed that it seemed to this man “that a professor’s business was to trudge along the governmental towpath with a legal cargo.” (Persons and Places [New York, 1945], II, 7.)