Franz Oppenheimer argues that there are two fundamentally opposed ways of acquiring wealth: the “political means” through coercion, and the “economic means” through peaceful trade (1922)

Franz Oppenheimer

Franz Oppenheimer, in his analysis of the origin of the state, argues that there are two fundamentally opposed ways of acquiring wealth: the “political means” through coercion, and the “economic means” through peaceful trade:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others… I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”

Oppenheimer picks up a theory of the state which was common among early 19th century French liberals such as Jean-Baptiste Say, Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Frédéric Bastiat, and Augustin Thierry. As Oppenheimer correctly notes, Karl Marx got himself horribly confused on this matter, seeing slavery as an economic category and seeing economics as driven by “force”. We have been paying the price for this confusion every since.