October 23, 2011
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. 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."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.
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.
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
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.