About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Reason For Despair

Now in the market economy this alleged dualism of two independent processes, that of production and that of distribution, does not exist. There is only one process going on. Goods are not first produced and then distributed. There is no such thing as an appropriation of portions out of a stock of ownerless goods. The products come into existence as somebody's property. If one wants to distribute them, one must first confiscate them. It is certainly very easy for the governnlental apparatus of compulsion and coercion to embark upon confiscation and expropriation. But this does not prove that a durable system of economic affairs can be built upon such confiscation and expropriation.

When the Vikings turned their backs upon a community of autarkic peasants whom they had plundered, the surviving victims began to work, to till the soil, and to build again. When the pirates returned after some years, they again found things to seize. But capitalism cannot stand such reiterated predatory raids. Its capital accumulation and investments are founded upon the expectation that no such expropriation will occur. If this expectation is absent, people will prefer to consume their capital instead of safeguarding it for the expropriators. This is the inherent error of all plans that aim at combining private ownership and reiterated expropriation.

The above quotation is from Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, page 800-801.

Throughout human history in virtually every human society well-intentioned social reformers have observed with disdain a dichotomy of wealth: on the one hand there are the rich; on the other there are the poor. This dichotomy has existed and does exist in all societies no matter how they are organized with respect to property, freedom and peace. The reason this dichotomy exists is obvious: human beings are different. Some are strong; others are weak. Some are ruthless; others are gentle. Some are talented; others are dull. Some are industrious; others are lazy. Society is a cooperative arrangement between and among individual human beings. The differences between individual human beings in society are not without consequence. These differences result in differences in status and wealth between and among individuals, no matter how society is economically organized.

Well-intentioned social reformers dispute this last sentence. They imagine a society in which human differences are levelled, not in fact but in effect. They take an imaginary inventory of all desirable social products and services without regard to their productive source and then divide this inventory by the number of individuals in that society. Their mental gymnastics result in an imaginary society without rich and poor, a society wherein all individuals are blessed with more or less the same portion of desirable goods and services. Imagining such a society is easy. Imagining how such a society could be implemented in the real world is the hard part. Mises put his finger on the reason why.

We cannot imagine a human society able to exist in the real world without taboos against random killing and taking. Society is cooperative action between individuals. Individuals cooperate to attain goals they cannot attain without cooperative action. How could a cooperative society exist if the goals attained by some individuals could be legitimately appropriated by other individuals by means of random killing and taking? Such a society could not exist, at least not for long. Rational individuals would not form such a society, nor would they long cooperate in such a society. However, human beings are clever and creative.

While no society can exist wherein random killing and taking are legitimate social actions, societies can and do exist in which specific acts of killing and taking are legitimate social actions. Cooperative individuals draw distinctions between certain acts of killing and taking based on social context. Most societies allow individuals to legitimately kill in self-defense. Most allow individuals to legitimately take in taxation. Thus, specific social acts of killling and taking which are not deemed legitimate in a particular society are regarded as taboo and are called murder and theft. Therefore, by variously and creatively defining the taboos of murder and theft, societies of cooperative individuals are able to exist in the real world wherein the goals of some individuals can be legitimately appropriated by other individuals by means of legitimatized killing and taking. Of course, the longevity of such a society still depends completely on the willingness of individuals to cooperate in such a society.

Social reformers who seek to create an egalitarian society by apportioning the total goods and services in that society more or less equally among all individuals in that society can only do so by legitimizing more and more social acts of killing and taking. This must be so because, as Mises points out, desirable goods and services are produced not by some disembodied force of nature, but by individuals. Now, all individuals in such a society may selflessly volunteer the products of their toil to the common store in full measure according to their ability. Moreover, all individuals in such a society may prudently take products from the common store in a measure congruent only to their needs. However, these individuals would be imaginary. They would not be individuals in the real world who may be selfish, greedy or ruthless. In order to implement their imaginary egalitarian society in the real world social reformers must control and suppress these undesired traits of certain human individuals. They do so by legitimizing social acts of suppression, i.e., specific acts of killing and taking performed on some by others.

That collectivist societies can exist is clear. Mises tells us why they cannot exist for long. Eventually and inexorably capital is consumed. As a result the total inventory of goods and services in the collectivist society diminishes. Consequently, the portion allocated to each individual diminishes and approaches nothing. The collectivist social reformers never understand that the cornucopia of riches they seek to divide and allocate among the masses exists only because of capital owned and employed by individuals. As the reformers socialize ends they simultaneously destroy the only means by which those ends can be attained.

In light of the above consider this latest Gallup Poll: Americans Divided on Taxing the Rich to Redistribute Wealth. According to the poll a representative number of Americans were asked: Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich? 47% answered in the affirmative. Moreover, according to the attendent article, Gallup "polling last year found two-thirds of Americans in favor of the wealthy paying higher Social Security taxes as a way to help keep that system solvent."

With almost half of Americans putting themselves in the collectivist camp of social reformers, there is reason to despair for the future prosperity of our great nation. I wonder how many of these social reformers understand that the policies they advocate will inevitably and inexorably lead not only to their own impoverishment, but also to the destruction of the very engine that makes prosperity possible -- private property.

How many of these individuals will read and understand Mises' quotation above? How many will believe it? 

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