Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thought For The Day From Ludwig von Mises

Omnipotent Government, The Rise of the Total State and Total War, by Ludwig von Mises, was originally published by the Yale University Press in 1944.  It can now be found on-line at the von Mises Institute.  Here is a pertinent quote from the preface to that work.

Most people are intolerant
of any criticism of their social and economic tenets. they do not
understand that the objections raised refer only to unsuitable meth-
ods and do not dispute the ultimate ends of their efforts. they
are not prepared to admit the possibility that they might attain
their ends more easily by following the economists’ advice than by
disregarding it. they call an enemy of their nation, race, or group
anyone who ventures to criticize their cherished policies.
This stubborn dogmatism is pernicious and one of the root
causes of the present state of world affairs. An economist who
asserts that minimum wage rates are not the appropriate means
of raising the wage earners’ standard of living is neither a “labor
baiter” nor an enemy of the workers. On the contrary, in suggesting
more suitable methods for the improvement of the wage earners’
material well-being, he contributes as much as he can to a genuine
promotion of their prosperity.
To point out the advantages which everybody derives from the
working of capitalism is not tantamount to defending the vested
interests of the capitalists. An economist who forty or fifty years
ago advocated the preservation of the system of private property
and free enterprise did not fight for the selfish class interests of the
then rich. He wanted a free hand left to those unknown among
his penniless contemporaries who had the ingenuity to develop all
those new industries which today render the life of the common
man more pleasant. Many pioneers of these industrial changes, it
is true, became rich. But they acquired their wealth by supplying
the public with motor cars, airplanes, radio sets, refrigerators, mov-
ing and talking pictures, and a variety of less spectacular but no
less useful innovations. These new products were certainly not
an achievement of offices and bureaucrats. Not a single techni-
cal improvement can be credited to the Soviets. The best that the
Russians have achieved was to copy some of the improvements of
the capitalists whom they continue to disparage. Mankind has not
reached the stage of ultimate technological perfection. There is
ample room for further progress and for further improvement of
the standards of living. The creative and inventive spirit subsists
notwithstanding all assertions to the contrary. But it flourishes
only where there is economic freedom.
Neither is an economist who demonstrates that a nation (let
us call it Thule) hurts its own essential interests in its conduct of
foreign-trade policies and in its dealing with domestic minority
groups, a foe of Thule and its people.
It is futile to call the critics of inappropriate policies names and
to cast suspicion upon their motives. That might silence the voice
of truth, but it cannot render inappropriate policies appropriate.The advocates of totalitarian control call the attitudes of their
opponents negativism. They pretend that while they themselves
are demanding the improvement of unsatisfactory conditions, the
others are intent upon letting the evils endure. This is to judge all
social questions from the viewpoint of narrow-minded bureaucrats.
Only to bureaucrats can the idea occur that establishing new offices,
promulgating new decrees, and increasing the number of govern-
ment employees alone can be described as positive and beneficial
measures, whereas everything else is passivity and quietism.The program of economic freedom is not negativistic. It aims
positively at the establishment and preservation of the system of
market economy based on private ownership of the means of pro-
duction and free enterprise. It aims at free competition and at the
sovereignty of the consumers. As the logical outcome of these
demands the true liberals are opposed to all endeavors to substitute
government control for the operation of an unhampered market
economy. Laissez faire, laissez passer does not mean: let the evils
last. On the contrary, it means: do not interfere with the operation
of the market because such interference must necessarily restrict
output and make people poorer. It means furthermore: do not
abolish or cripple the capitalist system which, in spite of all ob-
stacles put in its way by governments and politicians, has raised
the standard of living of the masses in an unprecedented way.
Liberty is not, as the German precursors of Nazism asserted, a
negative ideal. Whether a concept is presented in an affirmative
or in a negative form is merely a question of idiom. Freedom from
want is tantamount to the expression striving after a state of affairs
under which people are better supplied with necessities. Freedom of
speech is tantamount to a state of affairs under which everybody cansay what he wants to say.At the bottom of all totalitarian doctrines lies the belief that the
rulers are wiser and loftier than their subjects and that they there-
fore know better what benefits those ruled than they themselves.
Werner Sombart, for many years a fanatical champion of Marxism
and later a no less fanatical advocate of Nazism, was bold enough to
assert frankly that the Führer gets his orders from God, the supreme
Führer of the universe, and that Führertum is a permanent revela-
tion.  Whoever admits this, must, of course, stop questioning the
expediency of government omnipotence.Those disagreeing with this theocratical justification of dictatorship claim for themselves the right to discuss freely the problems involved. They do not write state with a capital S. They do not
shrink from analyzing the metaphysical notions of Hegelianism
and Marxism. They reduce all this high-sounding oratory to the
simple question: are the means suggested suitable to attain the ends
sought? In answering this question, they hope to render a service
to the great majority of their fellow men.

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