Front Page Titles (by Subject) 2: The Fallacies of Syndicalism - Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, vol. 3 (LF ed.)
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2: The Fallacies of Syndicalism - 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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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.