Mises Quote of the Day

10 March 2010 at 10:10 am 8 comments

| Peter Klein |

Nothing can be known about such matters as inflation, economic crises, unemployment, unionism, protectionism, taxation, economic controls, and all similar issues, that does not involve and presuppose economic analysis. All the arguments advanced in favor of or against the market economy and its opposites, interventionism or socialism (communism), are of an economic character. A man who talks about these problems without having acquainted himself with the fundamental ideas of economic theory is simply a babbler who repeats parrotlike what he has picked up incidentally from other fellows who are not better informed than he himself.

This is from Mises’s introduction to the 1959 edition of Böhm-Bawerk’s massive 3-volume set, Capital and Interest. Mises gives some further admonitions: “A man not perfectly familiar with all the ideas advanced in these three volumes has no claim whatever to the appellation of an economist.” This is, shall we say, a minority view. And my personal favorite: “A citizen who casts his ballot without having studied to the best of his abilities as much economics as he can fails in his civic duties. He neglects using in the appropriate way the power that his citizenship has conferred upon him in giving him the right to vote.”

Those lacking time to study Capital and Interest in its entirety may enjoy this new edition of Böhm-Bawerk’s essay “Control or Economic Law,” which is more easily digested.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Austrian Economics, Classical Liberalism, Education, History of Economic and Management Thought, People, Recommended Reading.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Arend  |  10 March 2010 at 10:33 am

    I also like this related quote on socialism in the introduction of Socialism @ http://mises.org/books/socialism/introduction.aspx

    It’s basicly the same point.

    “We must never judge a scientific method in advance. There is only one touchstone for its ability to achieve results: success. It is quite possible that the cultural-historical-psychological method will also contribute much towards a solution of the problems which Socialism has set to Science. That its results have been so unsatisfactory is to be ascribed not only to the incompetence and political prejudices of those who have undertaken the work, but above all to the fact that the sociological-economical treatment of the problems must precede the cultural-historical-psychological. For Socialism is a programme for transforming the economic life and constitution of society according to a defined ideal. To understand its effects in other fields of mental and cultural life one must first have seen clearly its social and economic significance. As long as one is still in doubt about this it is unwise to risk a cultural-historical-psychological interpretation.”

  • 2. Bent M. Sørensen  |  10 March 2010 at 10:58 am

    Such (eloquently written) statements only serve to confirm that economics degenerated into a quasi-religion, long before Marxism did that in the 1970ies.

    We may learn the absurdity of the quotes by considering, that the same could be said of, for instance, Marx’s work, or Weber’s, that is, no one on this blog is allowed to say anything about Marxism (or Marxist ecomic theory) without having read Marx’s entire oevre, or, at least, the three volumes of Capital (plus the unfinished vol. IV).

    This is all absurd, and would, if followed, pose a serious scientific and not least democratic problem. But the current crisis at least shows that such problems were not always real problems to scientific economists.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  10 March 2010 at 11:03 am

    Bent, Mises did say exactly that about Marx. He also insisted that his (American) students learn German to read Weber, etc. in the original language. Mises was not one for shortcuts. :-)

  • 4. Bent M. Sørensen  |  10 March 2010 at 11:12 am

    Even better, Peter, and I certainly believe you, but as is probably wellknown, the matematician who knew ‘all’ matematics died in the early 20th century, and since then it has been practically impossible to manage that.

    I guess the touch of ironi in the posts signals something along what I am saying, ie, if the social sciences deny debates between the fields on these (dubious) grounds, there are absolutely no way we are going to engage with the public (who, as you guys so admirably never forget to point out, pay our wages.)

  • 5. Peter Klein  |  10 March 2010 at 11:17 am

    Yes, I’m not disagreeing with you at all. I’m poking a little fun at Mises for his, shall we say somewhat unusual, standards.

    There is a larger, more serious point, though, and that’s the extent to which the social sciences, like the natural sciences, proceed in Whiggish fashion toward greater and greater truth, such that one can absorb the received, tried-and-true knowledge of the discipline from reading the latest textbooks and journal articles, without any need to read the classics. Rothbard, in his history of economic thought project, strongly rejected this view, arguing that the distillations of core theories that appear in the textbooks and journals are often incomplete, misleading, or just wrong, and that there is value in studying the originals. Then again, as you say, there are only so many hours in the day. . . .

  • 6. Rafe Champion  |  10 March 2010 at 4:07 pm

    On the topic of textbooks for schools and undergrads, I am surprised that libertarians and classical liberals don’t make more fuss. Not enough hours in the day of course, but what a long-term payoff if the contents improved.

    For people with spare shelf space there is a special offer somewhere at present to get practically all of B-B for about $130.

  • 7. jck  |  10 March 2010 at 4:36 pm

    If you dont have time for Bohm- Bawerk ( I remember some critical words about his work in the Human Action) there is always Turgot´s “Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Riches ” and his Gournay´s Eulogy who presented the same subject in 50 pages

  • 8. En väljares plikt « Nonicoclolasos  |  23 March 2010 at 11:27 am

    […] lämna en kommentar » Ludwig von Mises: […]

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