Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Sassy Mises

Obviously Ludwig von Mises was the greatest economist of the 20th century  and, unfortunately, among the least influential when it comes to shaping the future of the the economics profession. Good thing that's about to change. After all, we have the Mises Weekend podcast, we have the Mises Reader (both in limited and unabridged versions) and the The Quotable Mises. The set is now even closer to completion: I present to you, The Sassy Mises  the unofficial yet totally comprehensive collection of the best and most arrogant quotes and insults by Mises. In the highly unlikely event that some quote worthy of this list has been left out, you as a reader are obliged to provide me with it. Enjoy!

All references are to the Scholar's edition of Human Action, unless otherwise stated.

Let's begin with the eternally relevant idea of power and who's interests and values should be promoted in society. In regards to interventions by some benevolent ruler who better knows what's good for you, Mises says:
the idea is to treat human beings in the same way in which the engineer treats the stuff out of which he builds his bridges, roads, and machines. The social engineer's will is to be substituted for the will of the various people he plans to use for the construction of his utopia. Mankind is to be divided into two classes: the almighty dictator, on the one hand, and the underlings who are to be reduced to the status of mere pawns in his plans and cogs in his machinery, on the other. (p. 113)
All people who believe similar things are neatly categorised into collectivist doctrines together with nationalism, socialism and statolatry, described as: 
present-day counterfeit religions [...] intent upon silencing dissenters or upon beating them into submission. (p. 145)
After a long discussion of how bias or various special interests (read: financial backers) is irrelevant for intellectual arguments, Mises concludes that you should refute arguments rather than complain about biases:
Reference to a thinker's bias is no substitute for a refutation of his doctrines by tenable arguments. Those who charge the economists with bias merely show that they are at a loss to refute their teachings by critical analysis. (p. 28)
In what could go into a one-line snappy ridicule of government interventions, Mises says:
Economic history is a long record of government policies that failed because they were designed with a bold disregard for the laws of economics. (p. 67)
Basically following up on this discussion with regards to Marxians and Polylogism:
consistency is not one of their virtues. (p. 76)
...before the ultimate ridicule of Marxians of any flavour:
It is useless to argue with mystics and seers. They base their assertions on intuition and are not prepared to submit them to rational examination. The Marxians pretend that what their inner voice proclaims is history's self-revelation. If other people do not hear this voice, it is only a proof that they are not chosen. It is insolence that those groping in darkness dare to contradict the inspired ones. Decency should impel them to creep into a corner and keep silent. (p. 83)
On the next page, Mises adds to the sometimes infuriating notion that Soviet-Style socialism somehow differed in virtue or outcomes from German-style National Socialism:
Who is proletarian? Doctor Marx, the manufacturer and 'exploiter' Engels, and Lenin, the scion of the Russian gentry, were certainly not of proletarian background. But Hitler and Mussolini were genuine proletarians and spent their youth in poverty. The conflict of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks or that between Stalin and Trotsky cannot be presented as class conflicts. They were conflicts between various sects of fanatics who called one another traitors. (p. 84)
Considering, then, the debates over environmentalism, hatred towards capitalism and how irrelevant climate change is, Mises can provide additional sassiness:
The natural condition of man is extreme poverty and insecurity. It is romantic nonsense to lament the passing of the happy days of primitive barbarism. In a state of savagery the complainants would either not have reached the age of manhood, or if they had, they would have lacked the opportunities and amenities provided by civilization. Jean Jacques Rousseau and Frederick Engels, if they had lived in the primitive state which they describe with nostalgic yearning, would not have enjoyed the leisure required for their studies and for the writing of their books. (p. 165)
Mises doesn't care much for intellectuals throughout history, for instance his entertaining take-down of August Comte:
He planned to substitute a new religion for Christianity, and selected a lady who in this new church was destined to replace the Virgin. Comte can be exculpated, as he was insane in the full sense which pathology attaches to this term. (pp. 72-73) 
So, how come people believe and pursue inaccurate or mistaken ideologies or fields of study?
It is true that often errors in reasoning are caused by the individual's disposition to prefer an erroneous conclusion to the correct one. There are even hosts of people whose affections simply prevent them from straight thinking. (p. 42, In Historical Setting of the Austrian School)
or maybe because...
the immense majority of our contemporaries are mentally and intellectually not adjusted to life in the market society although they themselves and their fathers have unwittingly created this society by their actions. (p. 316)
What pushes the masses into the camp of socialism is, even more than the illusion that socialism will make them richer, the expectation that it will curb all those who are better than they themselves are.  (p. 123, Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science)
or my personal favourite:
There are men whose nerves are so sensitive that they cannot endure an unvarnished account of many facts about the physiological nature of the human body and the praxeological character of human action. Such people take offense at the statement that man must choose between the most sublime things, the loftiest human ideas, on the one hand, and the wants of his body on the other. They feel that such statements detract from the nobility of the higher things. They refuse to notice the fact that there arise in the life of man situations in which he is forced to choose between fidelity to lofty ideals and such animal urges as feeding."(p. 25, Theory and History)
 At the end of a list of examples for how the consumer is free to do what he likes with his income:
He who buys at a charity sale usually combined a purchase with a donation for a charitable purpose. He who gives a dime to a blind street musician certainly does not pay for the questionable performance; he simply gives alms. (p. 242)
A perfect ending to a great week at the Rothbard Graduate Seminar. Mises  my man!  is delivering. As always.


  1. These are excellent! What sort of cover design would be fitting for "The Sassy Mises"?

    1. Thanks! I imagine something like this one would be pretty great:

    2. And maybe replace the thumbs up with a middle finger...