“Ludwig von Mises was born in 1881, so when he recalls that mid-nineteenth century advocates of laissez-faire capitalism mistakenly thought that capitalism and classical liberalism would inevitably overcome all opposition, he almost knows this first-hand; and he knows that if they had been correct...”see full review » see other reviews »
“Ludwig von Mises was born in 1881, so when he recalls that mid-nineteenth century advocates of laissez-faire capitalism mistakenly thought that capitalism and classical liberalism would inevitably overcome all opposition, he almost knows this first-hand; and he knows that if they had been correct he would not have felt it necessary to write this book.
For those who feel that the free market is the best economic system and are chagrined that much of the world nevertheless keeps trying planned, redistributive programs, even though they always fail, it seems necessary to explain why this is so, and it also seems that there must be some way to explain to the true believers in planned economies and redistributive schemes why they are wrong. (Of course, the second belief contains its own refutation: no one wants to be told that they have been wrong; curing people of socialism is like curing an alcoholic: they won’t turn themselves around until they hit rock bottom.)
In this book, Mises proposes to explain the why of anti-capitalism. Some of his observations seem insightful, but I am doubtful that he has said the last word on the subject. He does not seem very interested in persuading the reader who comes from any of the planned-economic schools of thought. (In this Mises is different from his protégé, F.A. Hayek—see my review of “The Road to Serfdom”—because Mises does not suffer naysayers as patiently as Hayek does.)
This book’s chief merit is its brevity, only five chapters and 55 or so pages. Its defense of capitalism is to the point and its refutations of all objections to capitalism are forceful. Views that capitalism is unfair, immoral or promotes social degradation and inequality are refuted by pointing out that in a capitalist system, the consumer is king, and entrepreneurs rise and fall based on whether they can produce what the average man wants to buy. There is no hereditary nobility. Wealth can only be maintained by risking it on new enterprises or new methods in old ones. Wealthy companies that rest on their laurels are replaced by new ones, eager to please customers. What is more, capitalism provides opportunities for betterment that are available to the average person under capitalism as they are under no other economic system where patronage by some personage or state institution is the only mode of advancement. While it is true that there is a lot of "least common denominator" culture precisely because the average man is king, this does not prevent the production of great art and literature from time to time.
The subjects of Mises’ chapters are not as dull as the reader not interested in economics might think. One chapter focuses on authors and producers of entertainment, which is only as it should be, because popular authors and movies spread ideas and attitudes including anti-capitalism. For example, Mises thinks that mystery writers pin the murder on a businessman so often because they resent capitalism. There seems to be a grain of truth in this theory. Many mystery writers, including the great Dashiell Hammett, have been socialists, and often the villain does turn out to be a businessman. The night before I read this passage in Mises' book, I watched a mystery on television in which the killer did turn out to be the head of a company, but the next night I watched another one in which the murder was pinned on a police chief. Statistically, though, it is more often the richest character in the story that did it. The day when the butler was likely to be the killer seems to be past, although it is occasionally still done.
The reasons for anti-capitalism, according to Mises, seem to be unreasoning fear, envy and ignorance or misunderstanding. Mises mocks the idea that the problem with underdeveloped countries is that developed countries have hoarded all of the industrial machines (a position pretty much stated by the World Council of Churches in a 1948 publication that the author quotes). “This makes sense,” Mises retorts, “only if one implies that the Lord presented mankind with a definite quantity of machines and expected that these contrivances will be distributed equally among the various nations.” Rather, Mises argues that these nations have kept themselves underdeveloped by not adopting capitalism. This is not as tautological as it might seem. Why would an impoverished society not rush to adopt an economic system that has made its practitioners rich? Obviously, the rulers and some of their subjects in such countries must think they already know that capitalism would not be advantageous for them—and it certainly might not be advantageous for the rulers—but what if it were liberating for their country as a whole? They refuse to consider this alternative and assume that the experiment would be pointless before they have given it any chance.
This book was written in the mid-twentieth century, and so, as I read it, I kept wondering just how much of what Mises says that was true in the 1950s is true today. For example, Mises points out that labor union leaders denied the capitalist theory of labor, and yet they fought against immigration for fear that it would lower the wages of their union members. More than half a century later, many labor union leaders have embraced the uncontrolled immigration of undocumented workers; yet Mises’ point seems to be buttressed rather than undermined by this fact. After all, the problem of lower wages and fewer jobs for native union members due to the competition of immigrant workers has been born out by recent experience, not to mention the question of whether today’s union leaders taking such positions proves that they do not represent the interests of their rank and file.
One of my favorite moments in the book is Mises’ argument with himself over the expendability of the anti-capitalist writers and pseudo-intellectuals who proliferate under capitalism (paradoxically owing their very existence to the system they hate, in Mises view). On the one hand, Mises cannot see any “direct” harm that would result from these people being eliminated, but then he acknowledges that “[f]reedom must be granted to all, even to the base people, lest the few who can use it for the benefit of mankind be hindered.” Who, after all, would decide what ideas should be quashed or which writers eliminated? Mises dashes his own suggestion of censorship (or mass guillotining?) immediately upon the realization that if the authorities had that kind of power, they would probably silence him. This characteristic of thinking out loud and printing it instead of editing out the remark seems to speak to Mises level of frustration with the numerousness and obtuseness of influential naysayers against capitalism, and that is definitely something that has not changed since 1956.”
“Ludwig Von Mises' short 1956 book 'The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality,' his first excursion into sociology, explores why some hate Capitalism as he debunks myths and explains history and economics at the same time. It's a rich little book that is surprisingly relevant after over 50 years since its original release. ”uk6strings wrote this review Friday, December 14, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Essentially a rebuttal, written in 1956, to Obama's "You didn't build that" comment as well as a straight forward, psychological description of the people who believe such things.
"Capitalism is essentially a system of mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses. It pours a horn of plenty upon the common man. It has raised the average standard of living to a height never dreamed of in earlier ages."
"Unfamiliar with the nature of business and the market, they are--with Marx--convinced that capital automatically 'begets profits.'"
"The poverty of the backward nations is due to the fact that their policies of expropriation, discriminatory taxation, and foreign exchange control prevent the investment of foreign capital while their domestic policies preclude the accumulation of indigenous capital."
"Under capitalism, they declared, self-realization is only possible for the few. 'Liberty in a laissez-faire society is attainable only by those who have the wealth or opportunity to purchase it.' Hence, they concluded, the state must interfere in order to realize 'social justice'--what they really meant was, in order to give the frustrated mediocrity 'according to his needs.'"”
“The Economist (a "sad little book") and National Review ("know-nothing conservatism" at its "know-nothingest") panned it when it came out in 1956. With 55 years of hindsight, I suggest Ludwig von Mises's [not so sad] little book looks pretty fresh and describes Hollywood, the ivory tower, and #occupywallstreet as well as anything released this century.
It is a peculiar book from Mises. The technical, philosophical, economic,. epistemological content one expects is contained in this book -- yet it is wrapped in an accessible candy shell. I suspect Mises purposefully wanted to reach a larger audience, and I will agree with The Economist that is gets rather polemical in spots. But it is a question we still ask. Everybody I know who loves liberty has asked once: "Why the bleedin' heck is liberty such a tough sell?"
“This was an interesting work. There's no economics here, if that's what you're looking for. It's more of a psychology book really. Further work has been done on this subject by Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine. Check out his book, The Mind of the Market.”Brian Denton wrote this review Monday, June 16, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Communists are socialists in a hurry, or so I recalled when I read this passage from this incredible 1947 book by Mises:
"There is no economic difference between socialism and communism. Both terms, socialism and communism, denote the same system of society's economic organization, i.e., public control of all the means of production, namely capitalism. The two terms...are synonyms. The document which all Marxian socialists consider as the unshakable foundation of their creed is called the Communist Manifesto. On the other hand, the official name of the communist Russian empire is Union of the Socialist Soviet Republics (U.S.S.R.)."”