Saturday, October 17, 2009

Initial Studies on Mises

I’ve been reading two works by Ludwig von Mises over the past few weeks, on the “recommendation” of more than one Libertarian (usually in the context: “Read Mises you fucking retard!”).

Excluding my rudimentary high school and college Economics textbooks, I’ve never read a book on economics.

However, I have read a couple works by Marx. I don’t consider Marx to be an economist; he was a sociologist. His doctoral dissertation was on “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.” Marx understood group behavior and human nature through his extensive studies of history, especially pertaining to religion. My own interests tend to coincide with his.

Mises, on the other hand, is an economist. I don’t know a decent definition of “economy” that applies to all its applications. However, I know with great certainty what an economist is: one who understands how markets and money are manipulated. An economist may or may not be in the business of making money. This is in contrast to a someone who is an Economics Major, which is usually someone who goes to college to be a white-collar criminal.

Before I read his works, I did a lot of research on Ludwig von Mises. I find it helps to have a picture of a person in your head before reading their work. The quote that most stood out in my mind came from his student, Friedrich Hayek:

“I came to know him mainly as a tremendously efficient executive, the kind of man who, as was said of John Stuart Mill, because he does a normal day's work in two hours always has a clear desk and time to talk about anything. I came to know him as one of the best educated and informed men I had ever known.”

I’ve also been reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” and I must say that I am not surprised. I suppose if you have nothing but free time from only allotting yourself two hours of work per day, I would imagine it’s quite easy to dream up methods of maintaining your cushy lifestyle on the sweaty backs of others. To me, the way a person lives is several orders of magnitude more important than the words they utter.

Mises takes laissez-faire capitalism to its extreme, claiming that no government intervention in the economy is good… while I would contend that no government intervention in an economy is impossible. [More about this in another post after I have finished reading Mises thoroughly.]

Libertarians hold lofty ideals that are incompatible with human nature and historical precedent. What’s more disturbing, they often imagine themselves to be something they aren’t: anarchistic. The term “anarchy” comes up in Mises from time to time, though I wouldn’t call him an anarchist. If anything, he is a market anarchist.

Of course, Mises has no problem with drafts/conscription, so clearly he’s pro-military, pro-war, and even pro-government. For all the talk of “negative liberty” that circulates in online Mises discussion circles, Mises himself only indicated the government should abstain from intervening in economics. He has yet to explain in anything I have read how one can maintain an Army without having an effect on the economy. He does discuss the losses in war (including “human capital”) as needing to be weighed economically against the “gains.” Advocacy for wars of acquisition? Who knows…

Before I end this pre-rant on Mises, I want to point out the major flaw in the reasoning [or in his words, praxeology] of Mises: he believes everyone is a utilitarian. Like Mill, Mises seems to assume that most people, or even all of us, are like himself. Even if one ignores the bottom 5% (which I assume includes most of the mentally challenged and socially deranged), there is still massive variation in what drives the functioning 95% of society.

I agree that many at the top will think and act much like Mill and Mises, by which I mean they will live privileged, sheltered lives without what they perceive to be excess. They will likely not associate with the wasteful, extravagant wealthy, or the bitterly hard-working middle class. They will work only towards their own selfish interests, like a good utilitarian.

Libertarianism is not a Bourgeois ideology. It comes from the Intelligentsia. In this respect, it has similar roots to Socialism. Indeed, Marx was largely underemployed his whole life, mostly associating with fellow Socialist thinkers and writers. Marx enjoyed a level of personal freedom similar to that of Mills and Mises.

In a way, Communism and the economics of Mises are very similar: they work beautifully on paper.

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