Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
Passionate and intriguing, though maybe harsh, look into the decline of free market capitalism
on August 26, 2013
The Austrians, especially more radical members like Mises and Rothbard, are known for being uncompromising and outspoken, maybe even shockingly blunt, and while this can come off as dogmatic and abrasive, one can't deny their passion. I actually don't see this work as THAT bad, I think simply it's more in your face than we are used to. It makes some harsh claims to boot, who wants to be told the cold truth? Though sometimes you have to at least admire someone for going there.
That said, Mises makes some interesting points into his look at the decline of free market capitalism. Not all are so bad. Mises points out it's in our nature to want to better ourselves, we are not content with just how things are and want more. This is a good thing, though he points out it can lead to frustration...someone may be doing great under capitalism but the natural urge to want more could cause them to say: "Why isnt capitalism doing more for me?" even though, Mises points out, in the US people live better than in any other country. Of course this was written in the 50s, today in 2013 Id say most of the "western" world is about on par, but the average American still lives great, even the poor in America have lives that many would envy in poorer countries.
This is fair and most people probably wouldn't be offended, but he farthers the point: many may turn against free market capitalism because of envy/laziness. We are not bettering ourselves to our liking, but instead of doing something to remedy this we can turn to government to demand redistribution, we can criticize markets for not "fairly" spreading income.
It's a tough point to swallow. Technically he is right, in a free market capitalist system anyone can go for it. There's nothing stopping anyone from starting a business, from pursuing any job. If I want to make $1million a year I can go into Wall Street, or you can start a business...Steve Jobs went from hippie to one of the richest men on Earth in 30ish years. Of course this is NOT EASY. Most businesses fail, those that dont will probably not reach Apple or Wal Mart level. It's hard to make it on Wall Street. This is a point Mises makes, though I think he could've done it better. Instead of simply saying "we cant own up to our failings" he could've stressed those super successful people either took a risk or worked extremely hard, things we havn't chosen to do so thus can't feel envious. This is at least an easier pill to swallow, though it's the point Mises is making: We control our success in free market capitalism.
Still, an open minded person can understand this. Mises goes a but off track when he discusses the intellectual dislike of capitalism. Basically, it's envy and frustration again. Aimed at their peers. Basically: intellectuals face a pretty brutal market (as someone who hoped to be a professor, I know. Its worse today, I was told I need a PhD from a top tier school to even be considered for associate/low level professor at a branch campus. Masters even for comm college!)and they take their frustration out on capitalism itself.
Two things: I think this is dated, since the 80s much of economic academia has turned to markets, and two I think this is not fully correct. Being in academia is a naturally different feel. It's shielded from markets, they are not there to compete but to educate. Slow growth, working on research, papers etc I think L Randall Wray put it better on the NEP blog, he spoke of how being in the market is naturally masculine, father like (work hard, "failure" is brutally punished etc) while being a teacher is more nurturing. Basically, I think there is a naturally more progressive mentality in academia, this included the want to change things. It is naturally liberal to want to "fix" things and this isn't bad, but it could foster an anti market view, this is mainly what I see in anti market mentality.
Mises goes into the communist mentality of Hollywood, I find this part silly and datedto be honest, and a bit stereotypical. He then goes into how many terms of ideas of what Capitalism is was introduced by Marxism, thus is misunderstood and continues on into various specifics and why progressives are wrong.
I find some of it drab/unnecessary and the book progresses into more personal opinion attack. Which is fine, Mises is free to do so (many make scathing personal attacks of his school of beliefs) but it's a let down from how it started. He goes into how total free market capitalism is the only way, since even moderating means accepting welfare, planning and etc which leads to a slippery slope.
So this book makes a solid foundation argument, one that is a bit brutal but fair. It's a passionate defense of what makes market capitalism good at its core, the freedom it provides, and how we should not envy but work harder, and realize we have great lives because of capitalism. Outside the book dives deeper into unnecessary and poorly made points. Guess it would've been better as a very short book.
Also when I first read this it was an intriguing book, but I know realize it's not totally original even. Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" made the moderation point already, and Schumpeter argued long before that failed expectations especially in academia would lead to a slow path away from market capitalism. One can also debate some of Mises' points...even though I consider myself pretty free market why does this mean there MUST be slashing of welfare? Personal opinion: seems a permanent underclass is necessary to market capitalism, so while it works best we can't throw em to the wolves.
Anyway, an interesting book on psychology/human nature that dares to make some bold points, though it's a bit much, not entirely original and a bit dogmatic in its beliefs.