Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

Ludwig von Mises
Mises, Ludwig von
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J. Kahane, trans.
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Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
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Foreword by Friedrich A. Hayek not available online
38 of 47


Ethical Socialism, Especially That of the New Criticism

1 The Categorical Imperative as a Foundation for Socialism


Engels called the German Labour Movement the heir to the German classical philosophy.*41 It would be more correct to say that German (not only Marxian) Socialism represents the decadence of the school of idealist philosophy. Socialism owes the dominion it won over the German mind to the idea of society as conceived by the great German thinkers. Out of Kant's mysticism of duty and Hegel's deification of the State it is easy to trace the development of socialist thought; Fichte is already a socialist.


In recent decades the revival of Kantian criticism, that much praised achievement of German philosophy, has benefited Socialism also. The Neo-Kantians, especially Friedrich Albert Lange and Hermann Cohen, have declared themselves socialists. Simultaneously Marxians have tried to reconcile Marxism with the New Criticism. Ever since the philosophical foundations of Marxism have shown signs of cracking, attempts to find in critical philosophy support for socialist ideas have multiplied.


The weakest part of Kant's system is his ethics. Although they are vitalized by his mighty intellect, the grandeur of individual concepts does not blind us to the fact that his starting-point is unfortunately chosen and his fundamental conception a mistaken one. His desperate attempt to uproot Eudaemonism has failed. In ethics, Bentham, Mill, and Feuerbach triumph over Kant. The social philosophy of his contemporaries, Ferguson and Adam Smith, left him untouched. Economics remained foreign to him. All his perception of social problems suffers from these deficiencies.


In this respect, Neo-Kantians have made no better progress than their master. They, too, lack insight into the fundamental social law of the division of labour. They only see that the distribution of income does not correspond to their ideal, that the largest incomes do not go to those whom they consider the most deserving, but to a class they despise. They see people poor and in want, but do not try to discover whether this is due to the institution of private property or to attempts to restrict it. And they promptly condemn the institution of private ownership itself, for which they—living far away from the troubles of business—never had any sympathies. In social cognition they remain bound to the external and symptomatic. They tackle all other problems without a qualm, but here timidity restrains them. In their embarrassment, they betray their underlying bias. In social philosophy it is often difficult for thinkers who are otherwise quite open-minded to avoid all resentment. Into their thoughts obtrudes the recollection of those more prosperous than themselves; they make comparisons between their own value and the lack of it in others on the one hand, and their own poverty and the wealth of others on the other. In the end anger and envy, rather than reason, guide their pen.


This alone explains why such lucid thinkers as the Neo-Kantians have not yet clearly thought out the only salient problems in social philosophy. Not even the rudiments of a comprehensive social philosophy are to be found in their works. They make numerous unfounded criticisms of certain social conditions, but omit to discuss the most important systems of sociology. They judge, without having first made themselves familiar with the results of economic science.


The starting-point of their Socialism is generally the sentence: "Act in such a way that you use your being, equally with the being of anyone else, always as a purpose, never merely as a means." In these words, says Cohen, "the most profound and powerful meaning of the categoric imperative is expressed; they contain the moral programme of the modern age and of all future world history."*42 And from that to Socialism, he seems to infer, is no great distance. "The idea of the purpose preference of humanity becomes transformed into the idea of Socialism by the definition of every individual as ultimate purpose, an end in himself."*43


It is evident that this ethical argument for Socialism stands or falls by the assertion that in the economic order based on private ownership in the means of production all men, or some men, are means and not purpose. Cohen considers this to be completely proved. He believes that in such a social order two classes of men exist, owners and non-owners, of whom only the first lead an existence worthy of a human being, while the second merely serve. It is easy to see where this notion comes from. It rests on popular ideas on the relations of rich and poor, and is supported by the Marxian social philosophy, for which Cohen professes great sympathy without, however, making his views about it clear.*44 Cohen completely ignores the liberal social theory. He takes it for granted that this is untenable, and thinks that it would be a waste of time to criticize it. Yet only by refuting the liberal views of the nature of society and the function of private property could he justify the assertion that in a society based on private ownership in the means of production men serve as means, not as ends. For liberal social theory proves that each single man sees in all others, first of all, only means to the realization of his purposes, while he himself is to all others a means to the realization of their purposes; that finally, by this reciprocal action, in which each is simultaneously means and end, the highest aim of social life is attained—the achievement of a better existence for everyone. As society is only possible if everyone, while living his own life, at the same time helps others to live, if every individual is simultaneously means and end; if each individual's well-being is simultaneously the condition necessary to the well-being of the others, it is evident that the contrast between I and thou, means and end, automatically is overcome. This, after all, is just what the simile of the biological organism is supposed to make us perceive. In the organic structure no parts are to be regarded only as means and none only as ends. According to Kant the organism is a being "in which everything is end and reciprocally also means."*45 Now Kant was thoroughly familiar with the nature of the organic, but he did not see—and in this he lagged far behind the great sociologists who were his contemporaries—that human society is formed according to the same principle.


The teleological view, which differentiates means and end, is permissible only in so far as we make the will and action of individual men or individual human associations the subject of investigation. It ceases to have any meaning as soon as we go further and look at the effects of this action in society. For every individual who acts there exists an ultimate purpose, the purpose which Eudaemonism enables us to understand; in this sense one may say that every man is an end to himself and an end in himself. But as an observation applied to the whole of society, this mode of expression is without any cognitive value. Here we cannot speak of purpose with more justification than of any other phenomenon of nature. When we ask whether, in society, this or that is end or means, we mentally substitute for society—that is, for the structure of human co-operation held together by the superiority of the division of labour over isolated labour—a structure welded together by one will, and then ask what is the aim of this will. This is animistic thought, it is not in any way sociological or scientific.


Cohen's special argument for the abolition of private property reveals the obscurity in which he still labours with regard to this fundamental problem of social life. Things, he says, have value. Persons, however, have no value. They have dignity. The market price of the value of labour is incompatible with the dignity of the person.*46 This leads us into the abyss of Marxian phraseology and the doctrine of the "commodity-character" of labour and its objectionableness. This is the phrase which found its way into the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain in the form of a demand for the acceptance of the basic principle; "that labour should not be regarded merely as an article of commerce."*47 Enough, however, of these scholastic trivialities.


After this we need not be surprised to find repeated in Cohen all those catchwords which for thousands of years have been brought to bear against the institution of private property. He rejects property because the owner, by getting control over an isolated action, becomes in fact the owner of the person.*48 He rejects property because it withdraws from the worker the produce of his labour.*49


Clearly the argument for Socialism presented by the Kantian school always leads us back to the economic concepts of the various socialistic writers; above all to Marx and the "academic" socialists who followed in his steps. They have no arguments other than economic and sociological arguments, and these prove to be untenable.

2 The Duty of Work as a Foundation for Socialism


"If any would not work, neither should he eat," says the Second Epistle of the Thessalonians, which was ascribed to the Apostle Paul.*50 This admonition to work is directed to those who want to live on their Christianity at the expense of the working members of the congregation; they are to support themselves without burdening their fellows.*51 Torn out of its context, this has long been interpreted as a rejection of unearned income.*52 It contains a most succinctly expressed moral precept which is continually being advocated with great vigour.


The train of thought which has led people to this principle can be followed in a saying of Kant: "Man may be as ingenious as he will, yet he cannot force Nature to accept other laws. Either he must work himself or others for him, and his labour will rob others of as much of their happiness as he needs to increase his own above the mean."*53


It is important to note that Kant cannot base the indirect rejection of private property which lies in these words otherwise than on a utilitarian or eudaemonistic view. The conception from which he proceeds is that through private property more work is laid on some, while others are allowed to idle. This criticism is not proof against the objection that private ownership and the differences in the amount of property do not take anything from anyone, that, rather, in a social order where neither were permitted so much less would be produced, that the per capita quota of the product of labour would amount to less than what the propertyless worker receives as income in a social order based on private property. It collapses as soon as one disproves the statement that the leisure of the possessors is bought by the extra efforts of those without possessions. Such ethical judgments against private property also show clearly that all moral evaluation of economic functions rests ultimately on a view of their economic achievements—on that and nothing else. To reject on "moral grounds" only an institution not considered objectionable from the utilitarian standpoint is, if we look more closely, not the aim of ethical considerations. Actually, in all such cases the only difference of opinion is a difference of opinion about the economic function of such institutions.


That this fact has been overlooked is because those who tried to refute ethical criticism of private property have used the wrong arguments. Instead of pointing out its social significance they have usually been content to demonstrate the right of ownership or to prove that the owner, too, is not inactive, since he has worked to acquire his property and works to maintain it, and other arguments of this nature. The unsoundness of all this is obvious. It is absurd to refer to existing law when the problem is what the law should be; to refer to work which the owner does or has done when the problem is, not whether a certain kind of work should or should not be paid for, but whether private property in the means of production is to exist at all, and, if it exists, whether inequality of such ownership can be tolerated.


Therefore, from the ethical point of view, one is not permitted to ask whether a certain price is justified or not. Ethical judgment has to choose between a social order resting on private ownership in the means of production and one based on common ownership. Once it has arrived at this decision—which, for eudaemonistic ethics, can be based only upon an opinion of what each of the two imagined forms of society would achieve—it cannot proceed to call immoral single consequences of the order it has selected. That which is necessary to the social order it has chosen is moral, and everything else is immoral.

3 The Equality of Incomes as an Ethical Postulate


Against the assertion that all men should have equal incomes, as little can be said scientifically as can be said in support of it. Here is an ethical postulate which can only be evaluated subjectively. All science can do is to show what this aim would cost us, what other aims we should have to forgo in striving to attain this one.


Most people who demand the greatest possible equality of incomes do not realize that what they desire would only be achieved by sacrificing other aims. They imagine that the sum of incomes will remain unchanged and that all they need to do is to distribute it more equally than it is distributed in the social order based on private property. The rich will give as much as they receive over and above the average, and the poor receive as much as is needed to make up their incomes to the average. But the average income itself will remain unchanged. It must be clearly understood, however, that this idea rests on a grave error. It has been shown that, in whatever way one envisages the equalization of incomes this must always and necessarily lead to a very considerable reduction of the total national income and, thus, also, of the average income. On this showing, the matter takes on quite a different complexion. For we have then to decide whether we are in favor of an equal distribution of income at a lower average income, or inequality of incomes at a higher average income.


The decision will depend, of course, essentially, on how high one estimates the reduction which alteration in the social distribution of income will cause. If we conclude that the average income will be lower than that received today by the poorest, our attitude will probably be quite different from the attitude of most socialists of the sentimental type. If we accept what has been said in the second part of the book about how low productivity under Socialism and especially the contention that economic calculation would be quite impossible, then this argument of ethical Socialism also collapses.


It is untrue that some are poor because others are rich.*54 If an order of society in which incomes were equal replaced the capitalist order, everyone would become poorer. Paradoxical though it may sound, the poor receive what they do because rich people exist.


And if we reject the argument for the general conscription of labour and for equality of wealth and incomes which is based on the statement that some have their leisure and fortune at the expense of the increased labour and poverty of others, then there remains no basis for these ethical postulates except resentment. No one shall be idle if I have to work; no one shall be rich if I am poor. Thus we see, again and again, that resentment lies behind all socialist ideas.

4 The Ethical-Aesthetic Condemnation of the Profit-Motive


Another reproach which philosophers level against the capitalist economic order is that it encourages rank over-development of the acquisitive instinct. Man, they say, is no longer lord of the economic process, but its slave. That economic activity exists merely to satisfy wants and is a means, not an end in itself, has been forgotten. Life wears itself out in the perpetual hurry and scurry to get rich, and men have no time left for inner composure and real enjoyment. They lay waste their best powers in the exhausting daily struggle of free competition. And the ideologists look back into a distant past, where all is romantically transfigured. They see the Roman patrician at his country seat, meditating peacefully on the problems of the stoa, the medieval monk dividing his hours between devotion and the classics; the prince of the Renaissance at whose court artists and scholars meet, the Rococo lady in whose salon the encyclopedists develop their ideas—marvellous pictures, these, which produce in us a deep longing for the past. And our loathing for the present deepens when we turn from these visions to the life led by those who lack culture in our own time.


The weakness of this argument, which appeals to the feelings rather than to the mind, is not only that it contrasts the brightest flowers of all times and peoples with the weeds of modern life. It is clear that one cannot compare the life of a Pericles or Maecenas with the life of the ordinary man in the street. But it is still quite untrue that the haste of modern business life has killed man's sense of the beautiful and the sublime. The wealth of the "bourgeois" civilization is not spent on base enjoyments alone. If argument be necessary, one need only point to the way in which serious music has become popular in the last decades, particularly among that class of the population which is caught in the whirl of business life. There never has been a time when art was closer to the heart of large circles of the people. It is no phenomenon peculiar to our time that coarse and vulgar amusements appeal more to the great mass of the people than nobler forms of enjoyment. It was always so. And we may take it that in the socialist community good taste will not always predominate.


Modern man has always before his eyes the possibility of growing rich by work and enterprise. In the more rigid economy of the past this was less easy. People were rich or poor from birth, and remained so through their lives unless they were given a change of position through some unforeseen accident, which their own work or enterprise could not have caused or avoided. Accordingly, we had the rich walking on the heights and the poor who stayed in the depths. It is not so in capitalistic society. The rich can more easily become poor and the poor can more easily become rich. And because every individual is not born with, as it were, his own or his family fate sealed, he tries to rise as high as he can. He can never be rich enough, because in capitalist society no wealth is eternal. In the past nobody could touch the feudal landlord. When his lands became less fertile he had less to consume, but as long as he did not get into debt he stayed on his property. The capitalist who lends out his capital and the entrepreneur who produces must stand the test of the market. Whoever invests unwisely, or produces too dearly, is ruined. Unhampered seclusion from the market no longer exists. Even landed fortunes cannot escape its influences; agriculture, too, must produce capitalistically. Today a man must earn or become poor.


Let those who wish to eliminate this coercion to work and enterprise understand quite clearly that they are proposing to undermine the foundations of our well-being. That in 1914 the earth nourished far more human beings than ever before, and that they all lived far better than their ancestors, was due entirely to the acquisitive instinct. If the diligence of modern industry were replaced by the contemplative life of the past, unnumbered millions would be doomed to death by starvation.


In the socialist society the lordly ease of government offices will take the place of the keen activity of modern financial houses and factories. The civil servant will supplant the energetic entrepreneur. Whether civilization will gain by it, we leave to the self-constituted judges of the world and its institutions to deride. Is the bureaucrat really the ideal human type, and must we aspire to fill the world with his kind at any price?


Many socialists describe with great enthusiasm the advantages of a society of civil servants over a society of profit-seekers.*55 In a society of the latter kind (the Acquisitive Society), every one pursues only his own advantage; in the society of those devoted to their profession (the Functional Society) everyone does his duty in the service of the whole. This higher evaluation of officialdom, in so far as it does not rest on a misconception of the social order based on private ownership in the means of production, is merely a new form of that contempt for the work of the painstaking citizen in which feudal landowners, soldiers, literary men, and bohemians have always indulged.

5 The Cultural Achievements of Capitalism


The inexactness and untruthfulness of ethical Socialism, its logical inconsistencies and its lack of scientific criticism, characterize it as the philosophic product of a period of decay. It is the spiritual expression of the decline of European civilization at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Under its sway the German people and with them the whole of humanity were swept from the height of their culture to their deepest degradation. It created the mental premises for the World War and for Bolshevism. Its theories of violence were triumphant in the carnage of 1914-18, which brought to a close the finest flowering of civilization that world history has ever known.


In Ethical Socialism imperfect understanding of human social co-operation is combined with the resentment of the ne'er-do-well. It is the inability to understand the difficult problems of social life which renders ethical socialists so unsophisticated and so certain that they are competent to solve social problems offhand. Resentment strengthens that indignation which is always sure of a response from those of like mind. But the fire of their language comes from a romantic enthusiasm for unrestraint. In every man there is a deep-rooted desire for freedom from social ties; this is combined with a longing for conditions which fully satisfy all imaginable wishes and needs. Reason teaches us not to give way to the first unless we are prepared to sink back into the deepest misery, and reminds us further that the second cannot be fulfilled. Where reason ceases to function the way to romanticism is open. The anti-social in man triumphs over the mind.


The romantic movement, which addresses itself above all to the imagination, is rich in words. The colourful splendour of its dreams cannot be surpassed. Its praises awaken infinite longing, its curses breed loathing and contempt. Its longing is directed towards a past envisaged not soberly, but as a trans figured image, and towards a future which it paints with all the bright colours of desire. Between the two it sees the sober, everyday working life of bourgeois society and for this it feels only hatred and abhorrence. In the bourgeois it sees embodied everything that is shameful and petty. It roams the world at will, praises all ages and all lands; but for the conditions of the present day it has neither understanding nor respect.


The great creative minds, whom we honour above all others as Classics, understood the profound significance of the bourgeois order. The romanticists lack this insight. They are too small to sing the song of bourgeois society. They deride the citizen, despise "shopkeepers' ethics," laugh at the law. They are extraordinarily quick to see all the faults of everyday life and as quick to trace them back to defects in social institutions. No romantic has perceived the grandeur of capitalist society. Compare the results achieved by these "shopkeepers' ethics" with the achievements of Christianity! Christianity has acquiesced in slavery and polygamy, has practically canonized war, has, in the name of the Lord, burnt heretics and devastated countries. The much abused "shopkeepers" have abolished slavery and serfdom, made woman the companion of man with equal rights, proclaimed equality before the law and freedom of thought and opinion, declared war on war, abolished torture, and mitigated the cruelty of punishment. What cultural force can boast of similar achievements? Bourgeois civilization has created and spread a well-being, compared with which all the court life of the past seems meagre. Before the War, even the less favoured classes of the urban population could not only clothe and nourish themselves respectably but could enjoy genuine art and undertake journeys into distant lands. The romantics, however, saw only those who were not so well-off; the reason for their comparative poverty being that bourgeois civilization had not yet created sufficient wealth to make everybody comfortable. The same romantics had no eyes for those who were already comfortably circumstanced.*56 What they saw was always only invariably the dirt and the misery capitalist civilization had inherited from the past, not the values which it had already achieved.

Notes for this chapter

Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie, 5th ed. (Stuttgart, 1910), p. 58.
Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, Berlin, 1904, pp. 303 ff.
Ibid., p. 304.
"The direct purpose of capitalist production is not the production of goods but of surplus value, or of profit in its developed form; not of the product but of the surplus product.... In this view the workers themselves appear as what, in the capitalist production, they are—mere means of production, not ends in themselves, not purpose of production." Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (Stuttgart, 1905), Part 2, pp. 333 ff. That the workers play a role in the economic process as consumers also, Marx never understood. Publisher's Note: Only a part of the work by Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert (Stuttgart, 1905) has been translated into English in the book titled Theories of Surplus Value: Selections, translated from the German by G. A. Bonner and Emile Burns (New York: International Publishers, 1952), 432 pp.
Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Works, Vol. VI), p. 265. Publisher's Note: In English, Critique of Judgment. In Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement. Part II. Critique of Teleological Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952).
Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, p. 305. See also Steinthai, Allgemeine Ethik, pp. 266 ff.
Art. 427 of the Treaty of Versailles and Art. 372 of the Treaty of Saint Germain.
Cohen, Ethik des reinen Willens, p. 572.
Ibid., p. 578.
II Thessalonians, III, 10. On the letter not being Paul's see Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum, Vol. I, PP. 95 ff.
Against this Paul, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (IX, 6-24), favours on principle the Apostle's claim to live at the cost of the congregation.
Todt (Der radikale deutsche Sozialismus und die christliche Gesellschaft, 2nd ed. (Wittenberg, 2878), pp. 306—19, is a good example of how, out of this and similar passages, people try to justify from the New Testament modern catchwords of the anti-liberal movement.
Kant, "Fragmente aus dem Nachlass," Collected works, ed. Hartenstein, Vol. VIII (Leipzig, 1868), p. 622.
This, for example, is also how Thomas Aquinas imagines it. See Schreiber, Die voikswirtschaftlichen Anschauungen der Scholastik seit Thomas yon Aquin (Jena, 1913), p. 18.
Ruskin, Unto this last (Tauchnitz-Ed.), pp. 19 ff.; Steinbach, Erwerb und Beruf (Vienna, 1896), pp.13 ff.; Otto Conrad, Volkswirtschaftspolitik oder Erwerbspolitik? (Vienna, 1918), pp. 5 ff.; Tawney, The Acquisitive Society, p. 38.
English economic history has destroyed the legend which taxed the rise of factory industry with having made the position of the working classes worse. See Hurt, "The Factory System of the Early 19th Century" in Economica, Vol. VI, 1926, p. 78 ff.; Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain, 2nd ec. (Cambridge, 1930), pp. 548 ff. Publisher's Note: The Hutt article, "The Factory System of the Early 19th Century," was reprinted in Capitalism and the Historians, ed. F. A. Hayek, essays by T. S. Ashton, L. M. Hacker, W. H. Hutt, B. de Jouvenel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), pp. 160-188.

End of Notes

39 of 47


Economic Democracy

1 The Slogan "Economic Democracy"


One of the more important arguments in favor of Socialism is that contained in the slogan "self-government by industry." As in the political sphere the King's absolutism was broken by the peoples' right to share decisions and later by its sole right to decide, so the absolutism of owners of the means of production and of entrepreneurs is to be abolished by consumers and workers. Democracy is incomplete as long as everyone is obliged to submit to the dictatorship of the owners. The worst part of Capitalism is by no means inequality of income; more unbearable still is the power which it gives the capitalists over their fellow citizens. As long as this state of affairs continues there can be no personal freedom. The People must take the administration of economic matters into their own hands, just as they have taken over the government of the state.*57


There is a double error in this argument. It misconceives on the one hand, the nature and function of political democracy, and on the other, the nature of the social order based on private ownership in the means of production.


We have already shown that the essence of democracy is to be found neither in the electoral system, nor in the discussions and resolutions of national councils, nor in any sort of committee appointed by these councils. These are merely the technical tools of political democracy. Its real function is to make peace. Democratic institutions make the will of the people effective in political matters, by ensuring that its rulers and administrators are elected by the people's votes. Thus are eliminated those dangers to peaceful social development which might result from any clash between the will of the rulers and public opinion. Civil war is averted through the operation of institutions which facilitate a peaceful change of the government. In the economic order based on private ownership in the means of production no special institutions, such as political democracy has created for itself, are needed to achieve corresponding success. Free competition does all that is needed. All production must bend to the consumers' will. From the moment it fails to conform to the consumers' demands it becomes unprofitable. Thus free competition compels the obedience of the producer to the consumer's will and also, in case of need, the transfer of the means of production from the hands of those unwilling or unable to achieve what the consumer demands in to the hands of those better able to direct production. The lord of production is the consumer. From this point of view the capitalist society is a democracy in which every penny represents a ballot paper. It is a democracy with an imperative and immediately revocable mandate to its deputies.*58


It is a consumers' democracy. By themselves the producers, as such, are quite unable to order the direction of production. This is as true of the entrepreneur as of the worker; both must bow ultimately to the consumers' wishes. And it could not well be otherwise. People produce, not for the sake of production, but for the goods that may be consumed. As producer in an economy based on the division of labour, a man is merely the agent of the community and as such has to obey. Only as a consumer can he command.


The entrepreneur is thus no more than an overseer of production. He of course exercises power over the worker. But he cannot exercise it arbitrarily. He must use it in accordance with the requirements of that productive activity which corresponds to the consumers' wishes. To the individual wage-earner whose outlook is enclosed by the narrow horizon of daily work, the entrepreneur's decisions may seem arbitrary and capricious. Seen from too close up the shape of things lose their true significance. If the entrepreneur's disposal of production injures the worker's momentary interest, it is sure to seem to him unfounded and arbitrary. He will not realize that the entrepreneur works under the rule of a strict law. True, the entrepreneur is free to give full rein to his whims, to dismiss workers off hand, to cling stubbornly to antiquated processes, deliberately to choose unsuitable methods of production and to allow himself to be guided by motives which conflict with the demands of consumers. But when and in so far as he does this he must pay for it, and if he does not restrain himself in time he will be driven, by the loss of his property, into a position where he can inflict no further damage. Special means of controlling his behavior are unnecessary. The market controls him more strictly and exactingly than could any government or other organ of society.*59


Every attempt to replace this rule of the consumers by a rule of producers is absurd. It would run contrary to the very nature of the productive process. We have already treated an example of this in greater detail—the example most important for modern conditions—the example of the syndicalist economy. What is true of it, is true of any producers' policy. All economy must be a consumers' economy. The absurdity of these endeavours to institute "economic democracy" by the creation of syndicalist institutions becomes apparent if we imagine these institutions transferred to the political field. For example, would it be democracy if judges had to decide what laws should be in force and how they should be administered? Or if soldiers had to decide at whose disposal they would place their arms and how to use them? No, judges and solders have to conform to law if the state is not to become an arbitrary despotism. The catchword "industrial self-government" is the most blatant of all misconceptions of the nature of democracy.


In the socialist community, too, it is not the workers in separate branches of production who decide what is to be done in their own particular economic territory, but the supreme authority of society. If this were not so, we should have not Socialism but Syndicalism, and between these two there is no possible compromise.

2 The Consumer as the Deciding Factor in Production


People sometimes maintain that in guarding their own interests entrepreneurs force production in a direction opposed to the interests of consumers. The entrepreneurs have no scruples about "creating or intensifying the public's need for things which provide for merely sensual gratification but inflict harm on health or spiritual welfare." For instance the fight against alcoholism, the dread menace to national health and welfare, is said to be made more difficult because of the opposition "of the vested interests of alcohol capitalism to all attempts to combat it." The habit of smoking would not be "so widespread and so greatly on the increase among the young if economic interests played no role in promoting it." "Luxury articles, baubles and tinsel of all kinds, trashy and obscene publications" are today "forced upon the public because the producers profit by them or hope to do so."*60 It is common knowledge that the large-scale arming of the Powers and therefore, indirectly, war itself are ascribed to the machinations of "armament-capital."


Entrepreneurs and capitalists in search of investments turn towards those branches of production from which they hope to obtain the greatest profit. They try to fathom the future wants of consumers so as to gain a general survey of demand. As Capitalism is constantly creating new wealth for all and extending the satisfaction of wants, consumers are frequently in the position of being able to satisfy wants which formerly remained unsatisfied. Thus it becomes a special task of the capitalist entrepreneur to find out what formerly unsatisfied wants can now be provided for. This is what people have in mind when they say that Capitalism creates wants in order to satisfy them.


The nature of the things demanded by the consumer does not concern the entrepreneur and the capitalist. They are merely the obedient servants of the consumer and it is not their business to prescribe what the consumer shall enjoy. They give him poison and murderous weapons if he wants them. But nothing could be more erroneous than to suppose that products which serve a bad or harmful purpose bring in more than those which serve a good one. The highest profit is obtained from articles for which there is the most urgent demand. The profit-seeker therefore sets about producing those commodities in which there is the greatest disproportion between supply and demand. Of course, once he has invested his capital, it is to his interest to see that the demand for his product increases. He tries to expand sales. But in the long run he cannot prevail against a change of demand. Neither can he obtain much advantage from growth in the demand for his products, for new enterprises turn their attention to his branch of industry and thereby tend to reduce his profits to the average.


Mankind does not drink alcohol because there are breweries, distilleries, and vineyards; men brew beer, distil spirits, and grow grapes because of the demand for alcoholic drinks. "Alcohol-capital" has not created drinking habits any more than it has created drinking songs. The capitalists who own shares in breweries and distilleries would have preferred shares in publishing firms for devotional books, had the demand been for spiritual and not spirituous substance. "Armament capital" did not create wars; wars created "armament capital." It was not Krupp and Schneider who incited the nations to war, but imperialist writers and politicians.


If a man thinks alcohol and nicotine harmful, let him abstain from them. Let him try, if he will, to convert his fellows to his own views on abstinence. What is certain is that he cannot, in a capitalist society, whose basic principle is the self-determination and self-responsibility of each individual, force them against their will to renounce alcohol and nicotine. If this inability to impose his will on others causes him regret, then at least he can console himself with the thought that neither is he at the mercy of the commands of others.


Some socialists reproach the capitalist social order primarily for the rich variety of its goods. Instead of producing uniform products, which could be brought out on the largest scale, people manufacture hundreds and thousands of types of each commodity, and production is made much more expensive thereby. Socialism would put at the comrades' disposal only uniform goods; it would unify production and thereby raise national productivity. Simultaneously Socialism would dissolve separate family households, and in their place provide communal kitchens and hotel-like dwellings; this, too, would increase social wealth by eliminating the waste of labour power in tiny kitchens which serve only a few consumers. Many socialist writings, above all those of Walter Rathenau, have dealt with these ideas in great detail.*61


Under Capitalism each buyer has to decide whether he prefers the cheaper uniformity of mass production or the greater expense of articles specially manufactured to suit the taste of the individual or the small group. There is unmistakably a tendency towards progressive uniformity of production and consumption through standardization. Commodities used in the productive process itself are daily becoming more standardized. The shrewd entrepreneur soon discovers the advantage of using the standard type—with its lower purchasing cost, its replaceability and adaptability to other productive processes rather than articles produced by a special process. The movement to standardize the implements of production is impeded today by the fact that numerous enterprises are indirectly or directly socialized. As they are not rationally controlled, no stress is laid on the advantage of using standard types. Army administrations, municipal building departments, State railways, and similar authorities resist, with bureaucratic obstinacy, the adoption of types in universal use. The unification of the production of machines, factory equipment and semi-finished products does not require a change to Socialism. On the contrary, Capitalism does this more quickly of its own accord.


It is otherwise with goods for use and consumption. If a man satifies his special, personal taste in preference to using the uniform products of mass production and believes that his satisfaction balances the extra cost, then one cannot objectively prove him wrong. If my friend prefers to dress, be housed, and eat as it pleases him and not to do as everyone else does, who can blame him? For his happiness lies in the satisfaction of his wishes; he wants to live as he pleases and not as I or others would live were we in his place. It is his valuation that counts, not mine or other people's. I may be able to prove to him that the judgments on which he bases his values are false. For example I may demonstrate that the foods he consumes have a smaller nutritional value than he assumed. But if his values have been built, not on untenable views about the relation of cause and effect, but on subjective sentiments and feelings, my arguments cannot change his mind. If, notwithstanding the advantages claimed for hotel life and communal kitchens, he still prefers a separate household because such sentiments as "own home" and "own hearth" weigh with him more than arguments in favour of unitary organization, then nothing further remains to be said. If he wishes to furnish his dwelling according to his personal taste and not according to the public taste which guides the furniture manufacturer, there are no arguments with which to refute him. If, knowing the effects of alcohol, he still drinks it, because he is prepared to pay even dearly for the pleasure it gives him, I may certainly, from the standpoint of my values, call him unwise, but it is his will, his valuation that will decide. If I, as a dictator, or as a member of a despotically ruling majority, prohibit the drinking of alcohol, I do not thus raise the productivity of social production. Those who condemn alcohol would have avoided it without prohibition. For all others, the prohibition of an enjoyment which they value above anything they can obtain by renouncing it means a falling-off in satisfaction.


The contrast of productivity and profitableness, which, as we see from arguments explained in a previous chapter, is valueless for the understanding of the working of production directed to given ends, must lead definitely to false conclusions if applied to the ends of economic action.*62 In dealing with means to a given end, one may call this process or that the more practical, that is, capable of a higher yield. But when we ask whether this or that means gives a greater direct increase of welfare to the individual, we have no objective standards that will serve. Here the subjective will of man is the deciding factor. A man's preference for water, milk, or wine does not depend on the physiological effects of these drinks, but on his valuation of the effects. If a man drinks wine and not water I cannot say he is acting irrationally. At most I can say that in his place I would not do so. But his pursuit of happiness is his own business, not mine.


If the socialist community does not supply the comrades with the goods which they themselves want to enjoy, but with those which the rules think they ought to enjoy, the sum of satisfactions is not increased, but diminished. One certainly could not call this violation of the individual will "economic democracy."


For it is an essential difference between capitalist and socialist production that under Capitalism men provide for themselves, while under Socialism they are provided for. The socialist wants to feed and house humanity and cover its nakedness. But men prefer to eat, dwell, dress and generally to seek happiness after their own fashion.

3 Socialism as Expression of the Will of the Majority


The number of our contemporaries who decide in favour of Socialism because the majority has already so decided is by no means negligible. "Most people want Socialism; the masses no longer support the capitalist social order, therefore we must socialize." One hears this constantly. But it is not a convincing argument in the eyes of those who reject Socialism. Certainly if the majority want Socialism, Socialism we shall have. Nobody has shown more clearly than the liberal philosophers that there is no resisting public opinion, and that the majority decides, even when it is in error. If the majority makes a mistake, the minority must also suffer the consequences and cannot complain. Has it not been party to the error in having failed to enlighten the majority?


But in discussing what is to be, the argument that the great mass of people violently demand Socialism would be valid only if Socialism were desired as an ultimate end for its own sake. But this is by no means so. Like all other forms of social organization Socialism is only a means, not an end in itself. Those who want Socialism, like those who reject it, want well-being and happiness, and they are socialists only because they believe that Socialism is the best way to achieve this. If they were convinced that the liberal order of society was better able to fulfill their wishes they would become liberals. Therefore, the argument that one must be socialist because the masses demand Socialism is the worst possible argument against an enemy of Socialism. The will of the people is the highest law for the representatives of the people who have to execute its commands. But those who seek to direct thought must not bend to this will. Only he is a pioneer who speaks out and attempts to bring his fellow citizens to his ways of thinking, even when they differ from those generally held. This argument that one should defer to the masses is nothing else than a demand that those who still oppose Socialism by reasonable criticism should abdicate reason itself. That such an argument can be put forward only shows how far the socialization of intellectual life has already gone. In the very darkest epochs of early history, such arguments have not been used. Those who opposed the prejudices of the greatest number were never told that their opinions were false simply because the majority thought otherwise.


If Socialism is inherently impracticable the fact that everyone desires it will not enable us to accomplish it.

Notes for this chapter

"The central wrong of the Capitalist system is neither the poverty of the poor nor the riches of the rich: it is the power which the mere ownership of the instruments of production gives to a relatively small section of the community over the actions of their fellow-citizens and over the mental and physical environment of successive generations. Under such a system personal freedom becomes, for large masses of the people, little better than a mockery.... What the Socialist aims at is the substitution, for this Dictatorship of the Capitalist, of govermnet of the people by the people and for the people, in all the industries and services by which the people live." Sidney and Beatrice Webb, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (London, 1920), pp. xiii ff. See also Cole, Guild Socialism Re-stated (London, 1920), pp. 12 ff.
"The market is a democracy where every penny gives a right to vote." Fetter, The Principles of Economics, pp. 394, 410. See also Schumpeter, Theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (Leipzig, 1912), pp. 32 ff. Nothing is more topsy-turvy than a saying such as: "Who is less questioned at the building of a house in a large city than its future tenants?" Lenz, Macht unt Wirtshaft (Munich, 1915), p. 32. Every buider tries to build in a way that best suits the wishes of the future tenants, so that he may be able to let the buildings as quickly and profitably as possible. See also the striking remarks in Withers, The Case for Capitalism (London, 1920), pp. 41 ff.
People overlook this entirely when, like the Webbs, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, p. xii, they say that the workers have to obey the orders "of irresponsible masters intent on their own pleasure or their own gain."
Messer, Ethik (Leipzig, 1918), pp. 111 ff.; Natorp, Sozialidealismus (Berlin, 1920), p. 13.
Rathenau, Die neue Wirtschaft (Berlin, 1918), pp. 41 ff.; also the critique of Wiese, Freie Wirtschaft (Leipzig, 1918).
See pp. 123 ff., 350 ff.

End of Notes

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Capitalist Ethics

1 Capitalist Ethics and the Impracticability of Socialism


In the expositions of Ethical Socialism one constantly finds the assertion that it presupposes the moral purification of men. As long as we do not succeed in elevating the masses morally we shall be unable to transfer the socialist order of society from the sphere of ideas to that of reality. The difficulties in the way of Socialism lie exclusively, or predominantly, in men's moral shortcomings. Some writers doubt whether this obstacle will ever be overcome; others are content to say that the world will not be able to achieve Socialism for the present or in the immediate future.


We have been able to show why the socialist economy is impracticable: not because men are morally too base, but because the problems that a socialist order would have to solve present insuperable intellectual difficulties. The impracticability of Socialism is the result of intellectual, not moral, incapacity. Socialism could not achieve its end, because a socialist economy could not calculate value. Even angels, if they were endowed only with human reason, could not form a socialistic community.


If a socialist community were capable of economic calculation, it could be set up without any change in men's moral character. In a socialist society different ethical standards would prevail from those of a society based on private ownership in the means of production. The temporary sacrifices demanded of the individual by society would be different. Yet it would be no more difficult to enforce the code of socialist morals than it is to enforce the code of capitalist morals, if there were any possibility of making objective computations within the socialist society. If a socialist society could ascertain separately the product of the labour of each single member of the society, his share in the social product could be calculated and his reward fixed proportionately to his productive contribution. Under such circumstances the socialist order would have no cause to fear that a comrade would fail to work with the maximum of energy for lack of any incentive to sweeten the toil of labour. Only because this condition is lacking, Socialism will have to construct for its Utopia a type of human being totally different from the race which now walks the earth, one to whom labour is not toil and pain, but joy and pleasure. Because such a calculus is out of the question, the Utopian socialist is obliged to make demands on men which are diametrically opposed to nature. This inadequacy of the human type which would cause the breakdown of Socialism, may appear to be of a moral order; on closer examination it turns out to be a question of intellect.

2 The Alleged Defects of Capitalist Ethics


To act reasonably means to sacrifice the less important to the more important. We make temporary sacrifices when we give up small things to obtain bigger things, as when we cease to indulge in alcohol to avoid its physiological after-effects. Men submit to the effort of labour in order that they may not starve.


Moral behaviour is the name we give to the temporary sacrifices made in the interests of social co-operation, which is the chief means by which human wants and human life generally may be supplied. All ethics are social ethics. (If it be claimed that rational behaviour, directed solely towards one's own good, should be called ethical too, and that we had to deal with individual ethics and with duties to oneself, we could not dispute it; indeed this mode of expression emphasizes perhaps better than ours, that in the last analysis the hygiene of the individual and social ethics are based on the same reasoning.) To behave morally, means to sacrifice the less important to the more important by making social co-operation possible.


The fundamental defect of most of the anti-utilitarian systems of ethics lies in the misconstruction of the meaning of the temporary sacrifices which duty demands. They do not see the purpose of sacrifice and foregoing of pleasure, and they construct the absurd hypothesis that sacrifice and renunciation are morally valuable in themselves. They elevate unselfishness and self-sacrifice and the love of compassion, which lead to them, to absolute moral values. The pain that at first accompanies the sacrifice is defined as moral because it is painful—which is very near asserting that all action painful to the performer is moral.


From the discovery of this confusion we can see why various sentiments and actions which are socially neutral or even harmful come to be called moral. Of course, even reasoning of this sort cannot avoid returning furtively to utilitarian ideas. If we are unwilling to praise the compassion of a doctor who hesitates to undertake a life-saving operation on the ground that he thereby saves the patient pain, and distinguish, therefore, between true and false compassion, we re-introduce the teleological consideration of purpose which we tried to avoid. If we praise unselfish action, then human welfare, as a purpose, cannot be excluded. There thus arises a negative utilitarianism: we are to regard as moral that which benefits, not the person acting, but others. An ethical ideal has been set up which cannot be fitted into the world we live in. Therefore, having condemned the society built up on "self-interest" the moralist proceeds to construct a society in which human beings are to be what his ideal requires. He begins by misunderstanding the world and laws; he then wishes to construct a world corresponding to his false theories, and he calls this the setting up of a moral ideal.


Man is not evil merely because he wants to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain—in other words, to live. Renunciation, abnegation, and self-sacrifice are not good in themselves. To condemn the ethics demanded by social life under Capitalism and to set up in their place standards for moral behaviour which—it is thought—might be adopted under Socialism is a purely arbitrary procedure.

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