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The specific purpose of this book is to refute the mythology of an omnipotent dictator, who guides better than can markets. Unlike his other books, Mises relies more on history than theory to make his case. Omnipotent Government examines modern European history in an effort to explain the problems of twentieth century Europe.
Understanding the problems of Europe requires inquiry into the history of events and the history of ideas both. Liberalism is the policy of international peace, yet somehow people came to embrace particularly aggressive forms of nationalistic socialism (i.e. Nazism). Since the free trade policies of Europe are central to peaceful international relations, hostility between socialist nations (i.e. the Nazi and Soviet nations) is hardly surprising.
The productivity of modern industry hinges upon the international division of labor. Without international trade, productivity would fall to the point where only a fraction of the world population could survive. The consequences of National Socialism, and even protectionism, are therefore dire. The analysis in this book is not entirely new. Mises got into some of this material in his 1922 book Socialism, and Economic and Sociological Analysis. Lionel Robbins also did similar work in his Economic Planning and International Order.
Omnipotent is the most historical of Mises' books. This book is important as a historical work. It is also important because it explains the international aspects of the calculation critique of socialism better than his other works. Omnipotent Government also shows that Mises was not anti-empirical. Mises stressed the importance of theory because he rejected empirical analysis. Mises stressed the need for logically valid theory as the means of understanding history. As Mises notes towards the end of this book, the Classical Liberal program of free trade was rejected because people did not understand the importance of international division of labor.
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I loved this book. It gives an account of what led to the world wars from a man who not only was there and watched it happen and lived through it but also understood how the world works well enough to recognize the causes of what was happening. It also explains the why of what has happened in the world since then. I only wish that Mises was alive today. I would love to hear what he would have to say about today's situations coming from the immense stores of wisdom that he accumulated during his lifetime. I never heard about most of these key historical incidents in history class at school. This always left me wondering what caused these wars. Now I understand. To understand this book you must understand what the word liberal means. He uses it to mean the classical liberalism of the 19th century and the founding of the United States not what that word means in America now (which is nearly the exact opposite).
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