Planning for Freedom – Ludwig von Mises

The Essence of Society is Peacemaking - Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. - Mises Daily

[Address delivered before the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Philadelphia, Pa., March 30, 1945, and reprinted in Planning for Freedom]

1. Planning as a Synonym for Socialism

The term “planning” is mostly used as a synonym for socialism, communism, and authoritarian and totalitarian economic management. Sometimes only the German pattern of socialism—Zwangswirtschaft—is called planning, while the term socialism proper is reserved for the Russian pattern of outright socialization and bureaucratic operation of all plants, shops, and farms.

At any rate, planning in this sense means all-around planning by the government and enforcement of these plans by the police power. Planning in this sense means full government control of business. It is the antithesis of free enterprise, private initiative, private ownership of the means of production, market economy, and the price system. Planning and capitalism are utterly incompatible. Within a system of planning, production is conducted according to the government’s orders, not according to the plans of capitalists and entrepreneurs eager to profit by best filling the wants of the consumers.

But the term planning is also used in a second sense. Lord Keynes, Sir William Beveridge, Professor Hansen, and many other eminent men assert that they do not want to substitute totalitarian slavery for freedom. They declare that they are planning for a free society. They recommend a third system, which, as they say, is as far from socialism as it is from capitalism, which, as a third solution of the problem of society’s economic organization, stands midway between the two other systems, and while retaining the advantages of both, avoids the disadvantages inherent in each.

2. Planning as a Synonym for Interventionism

These self-styled progressives are certainly mistaken when they pretend that their proposals are new and unheard of. The idea of this third solution is very old indeed, and the French have long since baptized it with a pertinent name; they call it interventionism. Hardly anybody can doubt that history will link the idea of social security, more closely than with the American New Deal and with Sir William Beveridge, with the memory of Bismarck whom our fathers did not precisely describe as a liberal.

All the essential ideas of present-day interventionist progressivism were neatly expounded by the supreme brain-trusters of imperial Germany, Professors Schmoller and Wagner, who at the same time urged their Kaiser to invade and to conquer the Americas. Far be it from me to condemn any idea only on account of its not being new. But as the progressives slander all their opponents as old-fashioned, orthodox, and reactionary, it is expedient to observe that it would be more appropriate to speak of the clash of two orthodoxies; the Bismarck orthodoxy versus the Jefferson orthodoxy.

3. What Interventionism or Mixed Economy Means

Before entering into an investigation of the interventionist system of a mixed economy, two points must be clarified:

First: If within a society based on private ownership of the means of production, some of these means are owned and operated by the government or by municipalities, this still does not make for a mixed system which would combine socialism and private ownership. As long as only certain individual enterprises are publicly controlled, the characteristics of the market economy determining economic activity remain essentially unimpaired. The publicly owned enterprises, too, as buyers of raw materials, semi-finished goods, and labor and as sellers of goods and services must fit into the mechanism of the market economy. They are subject to the law of the market; they have to strive after profits or, at least, to avoid losses. When it is attempted to mitigate or to eliminate this dependence by covering the losses of such enterprises with subsidies out of public funds, the only result is a shifting of this dependence somewhere else. This is because the means for the subsidies have to be raised somewhere. They may be raised by collecting taxes. But the burden of such taxes has its effects on the public, not on the government collecting the tax. It is the market, and not the revenue department, which decides upon whom the tax falls and how it affects production and consumption. The market and its inescapable law are supreme.

4. Two Patterns of Socialism

Second: There are two different patterns for the realization of socialism. The one pattern—we may call it the Marxian or Russian pattern—is purely bureaucratic. All economic enterprises are departments of the government just as the administration of the army and the navy or the postal system. Every single plant, shop, or farm, stands in the same relation to the superior central organization as does a post office to the office of the Postmaster General. The whole nation forms one single labor army with compulsory service; the commander of this army is the chief of state.

The second pattern—we may call it the German or Zwangswirtschaft system—differs from the first one in that it, seemingly and nominally, maintains private ownership of the means of production, entrepreneurship, and market exchange. So-called entrepreneurs do the buying and selling, pay the workers, contract debts and pay interest and amortization. But they are no longer entrepreneurs. In Nazi Germany they were called shop managers or Betriebsfuhrer. The government tells these seeming entrepreneurs what and how to produce, at what prices and from whom to buy, at what prices and to whom to sell. The government decrees at what wages laborers should work and to whom and under what terms the capitalists should entrust their funds. Market exchange is but a sham. As all prices, wages, and interest rates are fixed by the authority, they are prices, wages, and interest rates in appearance only; in fact they are merely quantitative terms in the authoritarian orders determining each citizen’s income, consumption, and standard of living. The authority, not the consumers, directs production. The central board of production management is supreme; all citizens are nothing but civil servants. This is socialism, with the outward appearance of capitalism. Some labels of the capitalistic market economy are retained, but they signify here something entirely different from what they mean in the market economy.

It is necessary to point out this fact to prevent a confusion of socialism and interventionism. The system of hampered market economy or interventionism differs from socialism by the very fact that it is still a market economy. The authority seeks to influence the market by the intervention of its coercive power, but it does not want to eliminate the market altogether. It desires that production and consumption should develop along lines different from those prescribed by the unhindered market, and it wants to achieve its aim by injecting into the working of the market orders, commands, and prohibitions for whose enforcement the police power and its apparatus of coercion and compulsion stand ready. But these are isolated interventions; their authors assert that they do not plan to combine these measures into a completely integrated system which regulates all prices, wages, and interest rates, and which thus places full control of production and consumption in the hands of the authorities.

5. Only Method of Permanently Raising Wage Rates for All

The fundamental principle of those truly liberal economists who are nowadays generally abused as orthodox, reactionaries, and economic royalists, is this: There are no means by which the general standard of living can be raised other than by accelerating the increase of capital as compared with population. All that good government can do to improve the material well-being of the masses is to establish and to preserve an institutional setting in which there are no obstacles to the progressive accumulation of new capital and its utilization for the improvement of technical methods of production. The only means to increase a nation’s welfare is to increase and to improve the output of products. The only means to raise wage rates permanently for all those eager to earn wages is to raise the productivity of labor by increasing the per-head quota of capital invested and improving the methods of production. Hence, the liberals conclude that the economic policy best fitted to serve the interests of all strata of a nation is free trade both in domestic business and in international relations.

The interventionists, on the contrary, believe that government has the power to improve the masses’ standard of living partly at the expense of the capitalists and entrepreneurs, partly at no expense at all. They recommend the restriction of profits and the equalization of incomes and fortunes by confiscatory taxation, the lowering of the rate of interest by an easy money policy and credit expansion, and the raising of the workers’ standard of living by the enforcement of minimum wage rates. They advocate lavish government spending. They are, curiously enough, at the same time in favor of low prices for consumers’ goods and of high prices for agricultural products.

The liberal economists, that is, those disparaged as orthodox, do not deny that some of these measures can, in the short run, improve the lot of some groups of the population. But, they say, in the long run they must produce effects which, from the point of view of the government and the supporters of its policies, are less desirable than the previous state of affairs they wanted to alter. These measures are, therefore, when judged from the point of view of their own advocates, contrary to purpose.

6. Interventionism the Cause of Depression

It is true, many people believe that economic policy should not bother at all about long-run consequences. They quote a dictum of Lord Keynes: “In the long run we are all dead.” I do not question the truth of this statement; I even consider it as the only correct declaration of the neo-British Cambridge school. But the conclusions drawn from this truism are entirely fallacious. The exact diagnosis of the economic evils of our age is: we have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of policies which did not take them into consideration. The interventionists have silenced the warning voices of the economists. But things developed precisely as these much abused orthodox scholars had predicted. Depression is the aftermath of credit expansion; mass unemployment prolonged year after year is the inextricable effect of attempts to keep wage rates above the level which the unhampered market would have fixed. All those evils which the progressives interpret as evidence of the failure of capitalism are the necessary outcome of allegedly social interference with the market. It is true that many authors who advocated these measures and many statesmen and politicians who executed them were impelled by good intentions and wanted to make people more prosperous. But the means chosen for the attainment of the ends aimed at were inappropriate. However good intentions may be, they can never render unsuitable means any more suitable.

It must be emphasized that we are discussing means and measures, not ends. The matter at issue is not whether the policies advocated by the self-styled progressives are to be recommended or condemned from any arbitrary preconceived point of view. The essential problem is whether such policies can really attain the ends aimed at.

It is beside the mark to confuse the debate by referring to accidental and irrelevant matters. It is useless to divert attention from the main problem by vilifying capitalists and entrepreneurs and by glorifying the virtues of the common man. Precisely because the common man is worthy of all consideration, it is necessary to avoid policies detrimental to his welfare.

The market economy is an integrated system of intertwined factors that mutually condition and determine one another. The social apparatus of coercion and compulsion, i.e., the state, certainly has the might to interfere with the market. The government or agencies in which the government, either by legal privilege or by indulgence, has vested the power to apply violent pressure with impunity, are in a position to decree that certain market phenomena are illegal. But such measures do not bring about the results which the interfering power wants to attain. They not only render conditions more unsatisfactory for the interfering authority. They disintegrate the market system altogether, they paralyze its operation, they bring about chaos.

If one considers the working of the market system as unsatisfactory, one must try to substitute another system for it. This is what the socialists aim at. But socialism is not the subject matter of this meeting’s discussion. I was invited to deal with interventionism, i.e., with various measures designed to improve the operation of the market system, not to abolish it altogether. And what I contend is that such measures must bring about results which from the point of view of their supporters are more undesirable than the previous state of affairs they wanted to alter.

Continue reading at Planning for Freedom – Ludwig von Mises – Mises Daily.

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