August 13, 2013

"Of Course We Know That!"

Better late than never, Paul David Hewson.

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:54 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2011

Review Corner

The Economist called it a "resoundingly silly" caricature of economic liberalism and "a sad little book" that is simplistically dogmatic and displays "cocksure superficiality" in an abusive tone. The review suggested that the book would receive "low marks if presented by a second-year undergraduate to his tutor," and that "the case for freedom ... is ill served" by such a book. It accused von Mises of attacking straw men and having contempt for the facts of human nature, comparing him in that respect to Marxists.[1] Conservative commentator, and former Communist Whittaker Chambers published a similarly negative review in the National Review, stating that Mises's thesis that anti-capitalist sentiment was rooted in "envy" epitomized "know-nothing conservatism" at its "know-nothingest."[2]
Huh. I give it five stars.

The other two, I am guessing, were penned in 1956, when "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality" came out. (BTW Mister Chambers: next year a book is gonna come out that you're reallly reallly not going to like.) With 55 years of hindsight, I suggest Ludwig von Mises's not so sad little book looks pretty fresh and describes Hollywood, the ivory tower, and #occupywallstreet as well as anything released this century.

It is a peculiar book from Mises. The technical, philosophical, economic,. epistemological content one expects is contained in this book -- yet it is wrapped in an accessible candy shell. I suspect Mises purposefully wanted to reach a larger audience, and I will agree with The Economist that is gets rather polemical in spots. But it is a question we still ask. Having the fun of meeting blog friend gd for coffee with a bevy of ThreeSourcers, it came up. My sister has asked. Everybody I know who loves liberty has asked once: "Why the bleedin' heck is liberty such a tough sell?"

It's not that you're fighting Marx and Roseau. You're fighting Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, Stephen King, and every Disney flick ever made. The guys who meet personal needs, who make your life better are villains. Why for? How come?

If you want to chance disagreeing with one of Britain's best magazines and our nation's foremost opponent of Communism. I recommend this book. I do not agree it is sad, but it is very short, completely non-technical, and amazingly prescient. Mises.org offers an eBook for $5, or a complete text or PDF version is available free.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2011

LvM Quote of the Day

I'm enjoying Mises's "Epistemological Problems in Economics." That is one book you can judge by its cover. If that sounds good, you'll love it, if that sounds like hell, you'll hate it. If it sounds turgid with a fundamentally interesting premise, you're me.

Max Weber contends that the Theory of Marginal Utility -- and concomitantly Mises's theory of action -- applies only to developed, free capitalistic markets, and gives the example of the Middle Ages for which Weber feels it would not apply. Mises responds:

It may be presumed that the Middle Ages would have understood no more of the modern theory of price formation than of Newtonian mechanics or of the modern notions of the functions of the heart. Nevertheless, rain drops fell no differently in the Middle Ages than they do today, and hearts did not beat otherwise than they do now. Though the men of the Middle Ages would not have understood the law of marginal utility, they nevertheless did not and could not act otherwise than as the law of marginal utility describes. Even the man of the Middle Ages sought to apportion the means at his disposal in such a way that he attained the same level of satisfaction in every single kind of want. Even in the Middle Ages the wealthier man did not differ from the poorer man only in that he ate more. Even in the Middle Ages no one voluntarily exchanged a horse for a cow unless he valued the cow more highly than the horse. Even at that time the interventionist acts of the government and other institutions of compulsion brought about effects no different from those which the modern theory of price controls and intervention points out.

Take that Max Weber! Seriously, it's pretty good (worth the work) and you can get an e-version free from Mises.org.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

May 3, 2011

LvM on "Socially Conscious" Literature

What is wrong with these authors is not that they choose to portray misery and destitution. An artist may display his mastership in the treatment of any kind of subject. Their blunder consists rather in the tendentious misrepresentation and misinterpretation of social conditions. They fail to realize that the shocking circumstances they describe are the outcome of the absence of capitalism, the remnants of the precapitalistic past, or the effects of policies sabotaging the operation of capitalism. They do not comprehend that capitalism, in engendering big-scale production for mass consumption, is essentially a system of wiping out penury as much as possible. They describe the wage earner only in his capacity as a factory hand and never give a thought to the fact that he is also the main consumer either of the manufactured goods themselves or of the foodstuffs and raw materials exchanged against them. -- Ludwig von Mises
Posted by John Kranz at 10:08 AM | Comments (5)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

You want "socially conscious"? Read Charles Dickens. You need go no farther than Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol to find virtuous rich characters, virtuous poor characters, evil rich characters, and evil poor characters. For those of you who majored in math and not literature, put "wealth" on the X-axis and "virtue" on the Y-axis. There is no correlations.

Ebenezer Scrooge was not required to sell all he had and give to the poor to find redemption (Scrooge always was a much-misunderstood character).

When a writer romanticizes poverty and the underclass as being inherently noble, or as "victims of the system," they not only fail to portray reality - they also display their own flawed worldview.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at May 3, 2011 12:08 PM
But jk thinks:

My favorite Dickens -- by far -- is "Bleak House." That is a book that destroys all the literary subtypes of rich and poor.

I read several of his novels when I was young and was appreciative but not blown away. I read Bleak House six or eight years ago (Buffy Summers of vampire slaying fame was said to be named after and somewhat modeled after the protagonist Esther Summerson) and was absolutely enthralled.

This had me wondering whether I missed something in my youth or if I really just needed to wait for the right work.

Posted by: jk at May 3, 2011 12:20 PM
But jk thinks:

OTOH, Brother Keith, I would not want to give up Steinbeck or Cheever or Updike or Stephen King just because they are economically bankrupt. I fear art will be the last to catch up.

Posted by: jk at May 3, 2011 12:26 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I'll confess to having no great love for Steinbeck; The Grapes of Wrath is the classic example in my mind of the romantic ennoblement of the poor. I hate reading Steinbeck for his writing more than for his bad politics and his worldview. I have no doubt in my corrupt mind that there is a line of philosophy that runs directly from Steinbeck to Huckabee.

I will defend Stephen King, though. His politics may be awful, but as much as he overuses stereotypes for characters, he is a master of storytelling. I re-read The Stand the end of last year; I see it as one of the most fully developed portrayals of the working of good and evil in literature. I also recently read Under The Dome.

Which brings us full circle - King does write a lot about "social consciousness," but mostly in terms of the moral rather than the economic, from the point of view of "what comes out of individuals when truly bad things happen?"

Which we may be living soon, the way things are going...

Posted by: Keith Arnold at May 3, 2011 1:59 PM
But jk thinks:

I'll spot ya "Grapes of Wrath." But "Sweet Thursday," "Cannery Row," "Tortilla Flat," or on a good day, "Of Mice and Men" are all brilliant works.

Posted by: jk at May 3, 2011 2:21 PM

February 13, 2011

LvM Quote of the Day

I had the ruby slippers all along. Lew Rockwell's site -- which I have maligned over the years -- has the complete text of Ludwig von Mises's "Socialism." I had been highlighting sections on my Kindle to share with my ThreeSources brothers and sisters but had no way to copy. After finishing the book yesterday, I now find the text online. I may go back and post some favorites in lieu of a Review Corner. I can review corner it in two sentences: It is the best book ever written. Five stars.

Today's LvM QOTD is from the conclusion. Near and dear to all ThreeSourcers, the struggle of ideas and the path forward. I think you'll hear a bit of Ayn Rand and some Michael Novak in there:

Nor have these disciples of Liberalism been any more fortunate in their criticisms of Socialism. They have constantly declared that Socialism is a beautiful and noble ideal towards which one ought to strive were it realizable, but that, alas, it could not be so, because it presupposed human beings more perfect morally than those with whom we have to deal. It is difficult to see how people can decide that Socialism is in any way better than Capitalism unless they can maintain that it functions better as a social system. With the same justification it might be said that a machine constructed on the basis of perpetual motion would be better than one worked according to the given laws of mechanics--if only it could be made to function reliably. If the concept of Socialism contains an error which prevents that system from doing what it is supposed to do, then Socialism cannot be compared with the Capitalist system, for this has proved itself workable. Neither can it be called nobler, more beautiful or more just.

It is true, Socialism cannot be realized, but it is not because it calls for sublime and altruistic beings. One of the things this book set out to prove was that the socialist commonwealth lacks above all one quality which is indispensable for every economic system which does not live from hand to mouth but works with indirect and roundabout methods of production: that is the ability to calculate, and therefore to proceed rationally. Once this has been generally recognized, all socialist ideas must vanish from the minds of reasonable human beings.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:44 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

I had hoped another would comment first, for my first thoughts were decidedly critical. I admire and welcome what appears to be a new 3Srcs franchise, the "LvM QOTD" and did not want to argue with the very first installment.

With time and reflection, and reading some other paragraphs from the linked pages, I believe I can offer an integration with Objectivist thought instead of a disputation.

LvM offers a case for the impossibility of Socialism as an economic order among men that is apart from the Objectivist denunciation of altruism. Setting aside the issue of altruism for now... [to paraphrase Mises] Socialism cannot be realized because it lacks the ability to calculate and plan ahead, which is necessary for every economic system in which one is not required to produce his own food. What LvM might have overlooked here is the fact that, some men do not aspire to anything greater than a hand-to-mouth existence. Similarly, some men are not "reasonable human beings."

The men who continue to advocate a socialist economic order are these men. They want to "live simply, that others may simply live." They attempted this in the sixties with communal living and to the extent they left others alone, they were free to do so. Unfortunately they came to believe they have some moral prerogative to force all other men to follow them "back to the caves."

There's more to it than this, of course, but it does seem to me that LvM doesn't fully address the problem of the non-productive or the non-reasonable man.

Posted by: johngalt at February 16, 2011 3:39 PM