Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Richard Ebeling: The Case For Freedom and Free markets in the writings of Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Ayn Rand

Dr. Richard Ebeling, American libertarian author, former president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and professor of economics, in a recent speech dealt with the works of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek and Ayn Rand as providing for the intellectual and ethical foundations for the case of Freedom and Free markets.  

From Dr. Ebeling at the Northwood University Blog (bold mine)
Three names are widely associated with the cause of human freedom and economic liberty in the 20thcentury: Friedrich A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand. Indeed, it can be argued that Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) and The Constitution of Liberty (1960), Mises, Socialism ((1936) Human Action(1949), and Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) did more to turn the intellectual tide of opinion away from collectivism in the second half of the twentieth century than any other works that reached out to the informed layman and general public.

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century their enduring influence is seen by the continuing high sales of their books, and the frequency with which all three are referred to in the media and the popular press in the face of the current economic crisis and the concerns about the revival of dangerous statist trends in the United States and other parts of the world.

The Influence of Mises, Hayek, and Rand

In Hayek’s case, his influence has reached inside academia, that bastion of the social engineering mentality in which too many professors, especially in the social sciences, still dream wistfully about society being remade in their own images of “social justice” and political correctness – regardless of the expense in terms of people’s personal and economic liberty.

Hayek’s message of intellectual humility – that there is more to the complexities of the world than any government planning or intervening mind can ever master – has forced some in that academic arena to take seriously the possibility that there may be “limits” to what political paternalism can achieve without undermining the essential institutional foundations of a free and prosperous society.

Mises continues to be recognized as the most original and influential member of the Austrian School of Economics during the greater part of the 20th century. Mises stands out as that unique and original thinker who proved why socialist planning cannot work, that government intervention breeds inescapable distortions and imbalances throughout the market, and how central bank manipulation of money and interest rates sets in motion the booms and busts of the business cycle. The current recession has brought new attention to the Austrian theory of money and economic fluctuations, which was first formulated by Mises in the early decades of the 20th century.

While the academe of philosophers is still not willing to give Ayn Rand the respect and serious attention that others believe she rightly deserves, it is nonetheless true that her novels and non-fiction writings, especially The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) and Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal (1966), continue to capture the interest and imagination of a growing number of students in the halls of higher education in the United States. In other words, her ideas continue to reach out to that potential generation of “new intellectuals” that Rand hoped would emerge to offer a principled and morally grounded defense of individualism and capitalism.

The Common Historical Contexts of Their Time

Hayek, Mises and Rand each made their case for freedom and the political order that accompanies it in their own way. While Mises was born in 1881 and, therefore, was 18 years older than Hayek (who was born in 1899) and nearly a quarter of a century older that Rand (who was born in 1905), there were a number of historical experiences they shared in common, and which clearly helped shape their ideas.

First, they came from a Europe that was deeply shaken by the catastrophic destruction and consequences of the First World War. Both Mises and Hayek saw the horrors of combat and the trauma of military defeat while serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army, as well as experiencing the economic hardships and the threat of socialist revolution in postwar Vienna. Rand lived through the Russian Revolution and Civil War, which ended with the triumph of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and the imposition of a brutal and murderous communist regime; she also experienced “socialism-in-practice” as a student at the University of Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St Petersburg) as the new Marxist order was being imposed on Russian society.

Second, they also experienced the harsh realities of hyperinflation. Rand witnessed the Bolshevik’s intentional destruction of the Russian currency during the Russian Civil War and Lenin’s system of War Communism, which was designed as a conscious attempt to bring about the abolition of the market economy and capitalist “wage-slavery.” In postwar Germany and Austria, Mises and Hayek watched the new socialist-leaning governments in Berlin and Vienna turn the handle of the monetary printing press to fund the welfare statist and interventionist expenditures for instituting their collectivist dreams. In the process, the middle classes of Germany and Austria were decimated and the social fabric of German and Austrian society were radically undermined.

Third, Rand was fortunate enough to escape the living hell of socialism-in-practice in Soviet Russia by being able to come to America in the mid-1920s. But from her new vantage point, she was able to observe the rise and impact of “American-style” collectivism, during the Great Depression and the coming of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. In Europe, Mises and Hayek watched the rise of fascism in Italy in the 1920s and then the triumph of Hitler and National Socialism in Germany in 1933, the same year that FDR’s New Deal was implemented in the United States. For both Mises and Hayek, the Nazi variation on the collectivist theme not only showed it to be one of the most deadly forms that socialism could take on. It represented, as well, a dark and dangerous “revolt against reason” with the Nazi’s call to the superiority of blood and force over the human mind and rational argumentation.

Their Common Premises on Collectivism and the Free Society

What were among the common premises that Mises, Hayek and Rand shared in the context of the statist reality in which they had lived? Firstly, I would suggest that it clarified conceptual errors and political threats resulting from philosophical and political collectivism. The “nations,” “races,” “peoples” to which the totalitarian collectivists appealed resulted in Mises, Hayek and Rand reminding their readers that these do not exist separate or independent from the individual human beings who make up the membership of these short-hand terms for claimed human associations.  Anything to be understood about such “collectives” of peoples can only realistically and logically begin with an analysis of and an understanding into the nature of the individual human being, and the ideas he may hold about his relationships to others in society.

Furthermore, political collectivism was a dangerous tool in the hands of the ideological demagogues who used the notions of the “people’s will,” or the “nation’s purposes,” or the “society’s needs,” or the “race’s interests,” to assert their claim to a higher insight that justified the right for those with this “special intuitive gift” to guide and rule over others.

Secondly, all three rejected positivism’s denial of the human mind as something real, and as source for knowledge about man and his actions. Mises and Rand, especially, emphasized the importance of man’s use of his reasoning ability to understand and master the world in which he lived, and the importance of reasoned reflection for conceiving rational rules and institutions for a peaceful and prosperous society of free men.  Mises and Rand considered the entire political trend of the 20thcentury to be in the direction of a “revolt against reason.”

Even Hayek, who is sometimes classified as an “anti-rationalist” due to his emphasis on the limits of human reason for designing or intentionally constructing the institutions of society, should also be classified as an advocate of man’s proper use of his reasoning powers when reflecting on man and society. While the phrasing of his arguments sometimes created this confusion, in various places Hayek went out of his way to insist that he was never challenging the centrality of man’s reasoning and rational faculty. Rather, he was reminding central planners and social engineers that one of the important uses of man’s reasoning ability is to understand the limits of what man can and cannot know or hope to do in terms of trying to remake society according to some preconceived design.

Thirdly, all three firmly believed that there was no societal arrangement conceivable for free men and human betterment other than free market capitalism. Only a private property order that respects and protects the right of the individual to his life, liberty, and honestly acquired possessions give people control over their own lives. Only the voluntary associative arrangements of the marketplace minimize the use of force in human relationships. Only the market economy allows each individual the institutional means of being free from the power of the government and its historical patterns of plunder and abuse. And only the market economy gives each individual the latitude to live for himself and use his knowledge and abilities to further his own ends as he best sees fit.

And, finally, Mises, Hayek, and Rand all emphasized the importance of the intellectuals in society in influencing the tone and direction of political, economic, and social ideas and trends. These “second-hand” thinkers of ideas were the driving force behind the emerging and then triumphing collectivist ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries. They were the molders of public opinion who have served as the propagandizers and rationalizers for the concentration of political power and the enslavement and deaths of hundreds of millions of people – people who were indoctrinated about the need for their selfless obedience and sacrifice to those in political power for a “greater good” in the name of some faraway utopia.

The Consequentialist Rationale for Freedom

But where they differed was on the philosophical justification for the free society and the rights of individuals within the social order. Both Mises and Hayek were what today might go under the term “rule utilitarians.” Any action, policy or institution must be evaluated and judged on the basis of its “positive” or “negative” consequences for the achievement of human ends.

However, the benchmark for such evaluation and judgment is not the immediate “positive” or “negative” effects from any action or policy. It must, instead, be placed into a longer-run context of theoretical insight and historical experience to determine whether or not the policy or action and its effects are consistent with the sustainability of the overall institutional order that is judged to be most effective in furthering the long-run possible goals and purposes of the members of society, as a whole.

Thus, the rule utilitarian is concerned with the “moral hazard” arising from an action or policy implemented. That is, will it create “perverse incentives” that results in members of society acting in ways inconsistent with the long-run betterment of their circumstances?

Welfare payments may not only involve a transfer of wealth from the productive “Peters” in society to the unproductive “Pauls.” It may also reduce the motives of the productive members of society to work, save and invest as much as they had or might, due to the disincentive created by the higher taxes to pay for the redistribution. At the same time, such wealth transfers may generate an “entitlement” mentality of having a right to income and wealth without working honestly to earn it. Thus, the “work ethic” is weakened, and a growing number in society may become welfare dependents living off the honest labor of others through the paternalistic transfer hands of the State.

The net effect possibly is to make the society poorer than it otherwise might have been, and therefore making everyone potentially worse off in terms of the longer-run consequences of such policies.
Read the rest here.

I would add the great Murray Rothbard, but contra rule utilitarians Mr. Rothbard was a champion of natural rights based libertarianism

1 comment:

theyenguy said...

I respond, please consider bible revelation as being both relevant and authoritative, and that thus faith should be used as a starting point for conversation of economics.

The Apostle Paul wrote that reality is in Jesus Christ, Ephesians 4:24, and that He is sovereign over all things, Colossians 1:15-17, and that He is in charge of the economic and political plan of God, for the fulfillment and completion of every age, epoch, era and time period, Ephesians 1:10. And on this basis, that the Dispensationalist Manifest ... ... serves as the basis of Dispensationalist Economics setting out the best prism and outline for economic and political thinking.

European economic collectivism came through the adoption of the Euro as a currency on January 1, 1999. Now fourteen years later, Portugal News communictes that Portugal is an insolvent sovereign Public debt soars 250% in just over 2 years. And Reuters reports the same as well of Italy relating Italy places 50-year bond, eases refinancing pressure. Mike Mish Shedlock writes the same of Spain Spain records largest first quarter deficit in history. Insolvent sovereigns cannot provide governance or seigniorage. The bible is very specific regarding Europe’s future. The Apostle John, in Apocalyptic Vision, given to him by angels while in exile on the Isle of Patmos, in roughly 90 AD, foretells that regional governance will be established in each of the world’s ten regions, as well as totalitarian collectivism, debt servitude, and austerity, in all of mankind’s seven institutions, commencing from the sovereign default and banking system crash of the profligate Mediterranean nation states of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, Revelation 13:1-4.

There will be no escaping for Portugal, or for Germany, as that manner. The periphery indebted nations will soon be revolving as hollow moons about planet Germany. While the Portuguese cannot be Germans, both will be one, living in a diktat union of economic, political, and banking governance. This being confirmed in the bible prophecy of the Statue of Empires, seen in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, where ten toes of iron diktat and clay democracy, form as ten regional empires, out of the iron hegemony of the former British Empire and today’s US Dollar Hegemonic Empire, the Unites States of America, Daniel 2:25-45.

New sovereignty and new seigniorage is coming. Out of a soon coming global credit bust and financial system collapse, Revelation 13:3, EU leaders will meet in summits and workgroups to waive national sovereignty and pool sovereignty regionally for regional security, stability and sustainability. Pooled sovereignty is the EU’s future. Regional Nannycrats will provide the seigniorage of diktat.