Liberty Matters

Still Missing the Target


Jeremy Shearmur bases his response to my rebuttal on the following: It seems to me that Mises himself presents his arguments against intervention as if they had the same purely theoretical status as do his arguments about economic calculation.” 
That may be true of Mises, but it certainly isn’t true of me.  Again, Jeremy’s target doesn’t seem to be my analysis so much as what he thinks Mises’s is.  In truth, however, I’m pretty sure even Mises himself didn’t hold the position Jeremy attributes to him. Why else would Mises take pains to explain, in almost every significant piece on interventionism that he wrote, and as anyone familiar with his argument would recognize, that at each nodal point (my term) in the process at which negative unintended consequences arise, public choosers may decide to abandon interventionism or not.
If the authority is not willing to remedy the evils caused by such isolated intervention, by cancelling the price control measure, then it has to follow up this first step with further measures.[40]
This is a point that I state very clearly in my book and subsequent essays on intervention, where I lay out the nondeterministic nature of the interventionist dynamic.  Here’s just one example:
The process of ideological change that I outline here departs somewhat from standard methodology in that it makes ideological change partly endogenous.  Only partly so, however, because it also includes a crucial role for the indeterminacy of (exogenous) genuine choice, especially at what I will later call the “nodal points” of the interventionist process.[41]
Which is why, of course, I am (and believe Mises was as well) very open to empirical and historical investigation.  It’s just that, empirically, interventionism has led to failure so often – as the pieces I cited in my previous response document – that cases such as those suggested by Castells, which I did say were interesting “if true” (to quote Jeremy’s original qualifier), don’t worry me as much as they seem to worry Jeremy.  I’m not that concerned that that broken clock still tells the correct time once or twice a day.  And being a classical liberal isn’t really the point.  Indeed, if you’re looking for extreme criticisms of interventionism, ones that do indeed appear to rise to the level of the “pure theory” Jeremy is so critical of, you need look no further than the leftist critiques of interventionism of Juergen Habermas, Claus Offe, and indeed Karl Marx.
So I’m afraid Jeremy’s impression is incorrect, and thus the criticisms he bases on that misinterpretation are thus also incorrect.
If the critique of interventionism is not theoretically airtight, however, then that goes many times for any proposed “theory of interventionism.”  The subtitle of my book, as I’ve noted before, is unfortunate since, as I said in my original essay for this forum, “[T]here is indeed no ‘theory of interventionism’ to tell us how piecemeal interventions can or even should work together or avoid generating negative unintended consequences.” Interventionism doesn’t have a theoretical backbone of any kind, save perhaps for Keynes’s macroeconomics (and I’m not bothered by Robbins’s bailing from the Austrian camp; it happens the other way, too), so Jeremy’s willingness to put so much weight on “trial and error” in a distorted mixed economy remains unexplained and so still baffling to me.  It ignores even the most basic lesson of Mises’s critique, of which Chris Coyne reminds us in his latest response.
[40.] Ludwig von Mises, Interventionism:  An Economic Analysis (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, (1998 [1940]). Online version </titles/2394>.
[41.] See for example Sanford Ikeda, Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 115.