Today is the 40th anniversary of F.A. Hayek’s Nobel Prize. My article in The Freeman tells the story behind the so-called Nobel, the controversy around Hayek’s winning it (and sharing it with a socialist economist), and what the prize did for Hayek’s personal life, his reputation, and his impact on the fall of European communism.
Category Archives: Austrian Economics
President Obama recently remarked that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol (a sign of more lax federal enforcement?). But former Rep. Patrick Kennedy has now countered, saying,
In fact, today’s [marijuana is] modern, genetically modified marijuana, so its much higher THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] levels far surpass the marijuana that the president acknowledges smoking when he was a young person.… He is wrong when he says that it isn’t very harmful, because the new marijuana is not the old marijuana.
Kennedy believes, of course, that the government must crack down on pot smokers to save them from this deadly modern marijuana. But why exactly did pot get so much stronger? Well, for that you might want to check out BK Marcus’s Freeman article from last year, where he hit it on the nose:
If you prohibit a drug, the potency of that drug on the black market will increase.
In other words,
It was the War on Drugs itself that had made the pot more powerful.
For the full story, and the economic laws that made the rise in weed potency inevitable, read BK’s “Why Rhett Butler’s Weed Is So Strong.”
One advantage a libertarian author has when working with Invisible Order is that we in the Order are well read in the relevant literature and have worked extensively with both scholarly and popular texts.
For example, one writer recently asked us what Ludwig von Mises would have to say about a passage he had found online:
Schelling recognized that genuine democracy is only possible given a citizenry aware of the cosmological, anthropological, and theological complexities of authentic freedom. Without a philosophical culture capable of sustaining inquiry into the cosmic and spiritual depths of human nature, the equality rightly demanded by democratic societies can only devolve into the leveling homogenization of consumer capitalism, where freedom is reduced to the ability to identify with the corporate brand of one’s choice. The trivialization and inversion of freedom inherent to “democratic” capitalism makes human beings forgetful of their divine-cosmic ground, functioning not only to alienate individuals from their communities, but humanity from earth.
Here is my reply:
I don’t know anything about Schelling beyond a quick perusal of his page at Wikipedia. I’ve searched Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism for his name and found nothing, so I don’t know what Mises had to say about Schelling’s philosophy or whether or not the student you quote is accurately representing Schelling’s thinking. But he seems to be making a claim that Mises does address at some length — that capitalism promotes materialism and diverts our thinking from more important spiritual concerns:
It is assumed that there is little connection between the two aspects of civilization, that the spiritual is more sublime, deserving, and praiseworthy than the “merely” material, and that preoccupation with material improvement prevents a people from bestowing sufficient attention on spiritual matters. (Theory and History)
According to Mises, this assumption
serves the American socialists as a leading argument in their endeavor to depict American capitalism as a curse of mankind.… Reluctantly forced to admit that capitalism pours a horn of plenty upon people and that the Marxian prediction of the masses’ progressive impoverishment has been spectacularly disproved by the facts, they try to salvage their detraction of capitalism by describing contemporary civilization as merely materialistic and sham. (Theory and History)
Implicit in this position on capitalism and materialism (and, I believe, in the Schelling student’s claims about capitalism making people “forgetful of their divine-cosmic ground”) is a claim about history: “They bemoan the passing of a way of life in which, they would have us believe, people were not preoccupied with the pursuit of earthly ambitions” (Theory and History).
But this implicit historical claim is false: “It is hard to find a doctrine which distorts history more radically than this antisecularism” (Theory and History).
“Modern Western civilization is this-worldly,” Mises concedes. “But it was precisely its secularism, its religious indifference, that gave rein to the renascence of genuine religious feeling” (Theory and History).
“Wisdom and science and the arts thrive better in a world of affluence than among needy peoples” (Theory and History).
“[T]the drop in infant mortality, the prolongation of the average length of life, the successful fight against plagues and disease, the disappearance of famines, illiteracy, and superstition tell in favor of capitalism” (Theory and History).
And here are a couple of passages from Human Action on the classical-liberal belief that laissez-faire promotes the higher concerns:
They [the market liberals] do not share the naïve opinion that any system of social organization can directly succeed in encouraging philosophical or scientific thinking, in producing masterpieces of art and literature and in rendering the masses more enlightened. They realize that all that society can achieve in these fields is to provide an environment which does not put insurmountable obstacles in the way of the genius and makes the common man free enough from material concerns to become interested in things other than mere breadwinning. In their opinion the foremost social means of making man more human is to fight poverty. (Human Action)
The nineteenth century was not only a century of unprecedented improvement in technical methods of production and in the material well-being of the masses. It did much more than extend the average length of human life. Its scientific and artistic accomplishments are imperishable. It was an age of immortal musicians, writers, poets, painters, and sculptors; it revolutionized philosophy, economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. And, for the first time in history, it made the great works and the great thoughts accessible to the common man. (Human Action)
I hope I correctly understood the PhD student’s claims and your question about their connection to Misesian thinking, and I hope these passages prove helpful in addressing that question.
In BK Marcus’s latest Freeman article, he takes on the development of that mawkish, pedantic habit of old TV comedies: the laugh track. Is capitalism really responsible for canned laughter?
Dartmouth College Psychology professor Bill Kelley studies the brain’s response to humor. He explains, “We’re much more likely to laugh at something funny in the presence of other people. Hearing others laugh—even if it’s prerecorded—can encourage us to chuckle and enjoy ourselves more.”
If capitalism is mass production for the masses, then perhaps the laugh-track-loving executives at the networks were just giving the people what they wanted. Maybe the critics are just snobs, blaming the market for the facts of supply and demand.
Greater competition in the pursuit of profit, however, has now actually pushed canned laughter into full retreat. The studio system that allowed the laugh track to dominate television had its roots in patterns of government intervention laid down before television even came about.
Read the whole thing in the Freeman online.
Invisible Order is pleased and honored to have been involved in the production of all four versions of LFB’s new edition of Jeffrey A. Tucker’s Bourbon for Breakfast.
Four versions, you say?
Yes, four versions! This great collection of essays is available not only in a paperback edition but also as an eBook, a multimedia eBook (with videos of the author), and an audiobook narrated by Steven Ng.
And all four versions are in the top-five LFB bestsellers!
Invisible Order worked on all three text versions (eBook, paper, and multimedia) and also helped produce Steven Ng’s audio version (using our “editing” ears instead of pens).
Check out “Why Rhett Butler’s Weed is So Strong.”
Prohibition has driven the development of ever-stronger drugs, where a free market would see a proliferation of lighter options.
Here’s a snapshot from the American landscape of convoluted crony capitalism: starting this September, if a man in Los Angeles buys a book from Amazon.com, the local sales tax he pays could go to the city of San Bernardino, which will then give 80 percent of the tax money back to Amazon itself.
Such roundabout arrangements of redistributive robbery are in fact an unavoidable consequence of the doctrine Mises called "interventionism." Nowadays, it is more often called "economic development," but it still means the same thing: government manipulations with the stated goal of improving on the free market.
When I first read James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State, I was studying at a far-left Canadian university, and in one of its furthest-left graduate programs. I, like many of my instructors and peers, assumed that the proper goal of scholarly research was to help the state help its subjects — with everything from raising crops to raising children. I looked forward to a career as a wise academic providing the state with all the knowledge it needs to improve its subjects’ condition. But my statist assumptions came to an end when I read, as Scott’s subtitle puts it, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.
A large portion of all the possible wavelengths for radios, iPhones, and other marvelous devices is still locked up in the arms of the state or its favorite broadcasting corporations. In his classic article, “Radio Free Rothbard,” BK Marcus explains the origins of this atavistic cartel, and he points the way to a real, radical liberation of the radio spectrum.
Today on Politico, telecom industry lobbyist Steve Largent displays the usual timid, statist pace of radio-spectrum privatization. He’s asking for the release of about one fifth of 1 percent of the total spectrum over the next 10 years. This, he predicts — through the usual magical math — would add 350,000 American jobs and, the real carrot for legislators, “Boost government revenue by $36.7 billion.”
Government revenue aside, it certainly would be good to pry more of the radio spectrum away from the state’s claws. But is it possible to pry it all away? Could we actually assign property rights in radio waves? Could we do away with state intervention in the radio spectrum entirely?
BK Marcus answers yes, yes, and, emphatically, yes. Read his radical and scholarly article to see how much further freedom and private property can take us.
Unlike most black markets, the black market for information is characterized by peace and stability. There is a near-perfect harmony between the supply and the demand for movies, music, songs, and other digital content that falls under the control of intellectual-property legislation.
In the market for information, we do not see the kinds of conflicts that are rampant in other black markets. There are no turf wars between gangs for the right to offer the latest pop hit or blockbuster movie; there are no robberies committed by would-be users who need the money to get their fix. The vast majority of copyright violators go about their business without harming anyone.
In fact, those who upload, host, and share illegal content are not in any significant danger at all. What sets the black market in information apart from other black markets? Why is it nonviolent?