Today marks the 138th birthday of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, who died in 1973 at age 92. I have read economics for over a half century and von Mises has influenced me more than anyone. I consider him not only the best economist, but also the greatest social thinker of the last century. I honor his birthday by presenting a small sample of his writings, very lightly edited for modernity and length.
Sovereign consumer: “The common man is the sovereign consumer whose buying, or abstention from buying, determines the quality and quantity of what is produced, and who in preceding ages were serfs, slaves and paupers. They are the customers for whose favor businesses compete and who always are right. Wealth is only acquired by serving customers in a daily plebiscite in which every penny gives the right to vote.“
Anti-capitalist mentality: “Laissez-faire capitalism has raised living standards to unprecedented levels. A nation is more prosperous the less it puts obstacles in the way of free enterprise. The US is more prosperous than all other countries because its government embarked later than others on policies that obstruct business. The bias and bigotry of public opinion manifests itself by attaching the epithet ‘capitalistic’ exclusively to things abominable but never to those of which all approve.“
Socialism: “The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent on abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office – every man a clerk in a bureau.”
Foreign aid: “Making underdeveloped nations more prosperous cannot be solved by material aid. It is a spiritual and intellectual problem. Prosperity is not simply a matter of capital investment. It is an ideological issue.”
Von Mises Sampler: “If history teaches anything, it is that private property is inextricably linked with civilization. . . . All rational action is in the first place individual action. . . . Every government intervention creates unintended consequences which lead to further interventions. . . . Every socialist is a disguised dictator. . . . Tyranny is the political corollary of socialism as representative government is the political corollary of a market economy. . . . . Worship of state is the worship of force. . . . . . Socialism is not what it pretends to be. It is not the pioneer of a better world, but the spoiler of thousands of years of civilization; it does not build, it destroys.“
Following is the conclusion of von Mises’ magnum opus, Human Action
“Economic knowledge is an essential element to human civilization; it is the foundation on which all moral, intellectual and technological achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will use this rich treasure, or leave it unused. But if they disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.”
Note: The Ludwig von Mises Institute is an outstanding source of information; it has a free daily email newsletter (available at email@example.com) to which you may subscribe. It is one of only a very few publications I read every day. Try it; you will be glad you did.
Next on October 6th is “Condor Cuisinart” or, liberalism is for the birds.