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The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics; Edited by: Dolan, Edwin G.
8 paragraphs found.
Part 2, Essay 3

De Roover noted, however, that this acceptance of market price did not mean that the Scholastics adopted a laissez-faire position. On the contrary, they were often willing to accept governmental price fixing instead of market action. A few prominent Scholastics, however, led by Azpilcueta and including Molina, opposed all price fixing; as Azpilcueta put it, price controls are unnecessary in times of plenty and ineffective or positively harmful in times of dearth. *72

Part 2, Essay 4

The Wertfreiheit doctrine had come under attack in a number of different ways. One episode of particular interest involves the evolution of Gunnar Myrdal's attitude toward the doctrine. In The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory, published in 1929 when he was still a young man and not translated into English until 1954, he charged that economists have consistently violated the Wertfreiheit ideal. From the beginning of economic science until our own times, economists have consciously or unconsciously—possibly quite innocently—permitted their value judgments and ethical positions to color their analyses and help determine their normative conclusions. He saw his task as being to complete Weber's work by criticizing, from the perspective of the Wertfreiheit doctrine, "the political speculation in classical and neoclassical economic theory." *102 This task required him to expose the errors introduced into economic doctrines by "the insertion of valuations." *103 Both from his 1929 preface and from the 1953 preface to the English translation, it is clear that what stimulated his research was his wish to protest the "uncompromising laissez-faire doctrine" that "dominated the teaching of economics in Sweden" in the late 1920s. By exposing the valuations that must be smuggled into economic analysis before such a normative doctrine as laissez-faire can be extracted, he hoped to discredit the dominant "economic liberalism" of his time. *104

Part 2, Essay 5

Let us now turn to the position of Ludwig von Mises on the entire matter of praxeology, value judgments, and the advocacy of public policy. The case of Mises is particularly interesting, not only because he was a leader in the modern Austrian school and in praxeology, but also because he was, of all the economists in the twentieth century, the most uncompromising and passionate adherent of laissez-faire and at the same time the most rigorous and uncompromising advocate of value-free economics and opponent of any sort of objective ethics. How then did he attempt to reconcile these two positions? *129


We see, therefore, that Mises's attempt to advocate laissez-faire while remaining value-free, by assuming that all of the advocates of government intervention will abandon their position once they learn of its consequences, falls completely to the ground. There is another and very different way, however, that Mises attempted to reconcile his passionate advocacy of laissez-faire with the absolute value-freedom of the scientist. This was to take a position much more compatible with praxeology, by recognizing that the economist qua economist can only trace chains of cause and effect and may not engage in value judgments or advocate public policy. In so doing, Mises conceded that the economic scientist cannot advocate laissez-faire but then added that as a citizen he can do so. Mises, as a citizen, proposed a value system but it is a curiously scanty one. For he was here caught in a dilemma. As a praxeologist he knew that he could not as an economic scientist pronounce value judgments or advocate policy. Yet he could not bring himself simply to assert and inject arbitrary value judgments. And so, as a utilitarian (for Mises, along with most economists, was indeed a utilitarian in ethics, although a Kantian in epistemology), he made only one narrow value judgment: that he desired to fulfill the goals of the majority of the public (happily, in this formulation, Mises did not presume to know the goals of everyone).


As Mises explained in his second variant:

Liberalism (i.e., laissez-faire liberalism) is a political doctrine.... As a political doctrine liberalism (in contrast to economic science) is not neutral with regard to values and ultimate ends sought by action. It assumes that all men or at least the majority of people are intent upon attaining certain goals. It gives them information about the means suitable to the realization of their plans. The champions of liberal doctrines are fully aware of the fact that their teachings are valid only for people who are committed to their valuational principles. While praxeology, and therefore economics too, uses the terms happiness and removal of uneasiness in a purely formal sense, liberalism attaches to them a concrete meaning. It presupposes that people prefer life to death, health to sickness...abundance to poverty. It teaches men how to act in accordance with these valuations. *135

In this second variant, Mises successfully escaped the self-contradiction of being a value-free praxeologist advocating laissez-faire. Granting in this variant that the economist may not make such advocacy, he took his stand as a citizen willing to make value judgments. But he was not willing, as Simons was, to simply assert an ad hoc value judgment; presumably he felt that a valuing intellectual must present some sort of system to justify such value judgments. But for Mises the utilitarian, his system is a curiously bloodless one; even as a valuing laissez-faire liberal, he was only willing to make the one value judgment that he joined the majority of the people in favoring their common peace, prosperity, and abundance. In this way, as an opponent of objective ethics, and uncomfortable as he must have been with making any value judgments even as a citizen, he made the minimal possible degree of such judgments; true to his utilitarian position his value judgment is the desirability of fulfilling the subjectively desired goals of the bulk of the populace.


A full critique of this position must involve a critique of utilitarian ethics itself, and this cannot be done here. But a few points may be made. In the first place, while praxeology can indeed demonstrate that laissez-faire will lead to harmony, prosperity, and abundance, while government intervention leads to conflict and impoverishment, *136 and while it is probably true that most people value the former highly, it is not true that these are their only goals or values. The great analyst of ranked value scales and diminishing marginal utility should have been more aware of such competing values and goals. For example, many people, whether through envy or a misplaced theory of justice, may prefer far more equality of income than will be attained on the free market. Many people, pace the aforementioned intellectuals, may want less abundance in order to whittle down our allegedly excessive affluence. Others, as I have mentioned, may prefer to loot the capital of the rich or the businessman in the short run, while acknowledging but dismissing the long-run ill effects, because they have a high time preference. Probably very few of these people will want to push statist measures to the point of total impoverishment and destruction—although this may happen, as in the case of Communist China. But a majority coalition of the foregoing might well opt for some reduction in wealth and prosperity on behalf of these other values. They may well decide that it is worth sacrificing a modicum of wealth and efficient production because of the high opportunity cost of not being able to enjoy an alleviation of envy, or a lust for power, or a submission to power, or, for example, the thrill of "national unity," which they might enjoy from a (short-lived) economic crisis.


The burden of this paper has been to show that, while praxeological economic theory is extremely useful for providing data and knowledge for framing economic policy, it cannot be sufficient by itself to enable the economist to make any value pronouncements or to advocate any public policy whatsoever. More specifically, Ludwig von Mises to the contrary notwithstanding, neither praxeological economics nor Mises's utilitarian liberalism is sufficient to make the case for laissez-faire and the free-market economy. To make such a case, one must go beyond economics and utilitarianism to establish an objective ethics that affirms the overriding value of liberty and morally condemns all forms of statism, from egalitarianism to the murder of redheads, as well as such goals as the lust for power and the satisfaction of envy. To make the full case for liberty, one cannot be a methodological slave to every goal that the majority of the public might happen to cherish.