2022 marks the centenary of Ludwig von Mises’ groundbreaking publication Socialism. Written long before the multitudinous faults of the socialist experiment had been empirically proven, Socialism had already demonstrated why such an economic system could not work even in theory. Much has happened in the past one hundred years, but it pays revisiting Mises’ seminal text – and two events garnered Mises the attention he well deserves.
The first, held on 30 November at the Hayek Institut, attracted an astounding 50+ participants from various walks of life. The reasons were not far to seek: punitive taxation, exorbitant inflation, and several other tools of what Mises had referred to as “destructionism” are top of mind for everyone today. AEC/HI Research and Strategy Advisor Scott B. Nelson invited and moderated a panel of three speakers, elucidating different facets of Mises’ work: historical, economic, and philosophical.
Alexander Linsbichler, Lecturer of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Vienna, couched his discussion of Mises in the broader context of the Austrian School of Economics. For Linsbichler, some of the defining characteristics of the Austrian School are that its proponents are much more than just economists; there is a true culture of discussion, born of the various intellectual circles that existed in early 20th century Vienna; and there is a focus on knowledge and its preconditions. In all three of these dimensions Mises was exemplary.
AEC/HI Senior Research Fellow Martin Gundinger examined the economic aspects of Mises’ work, particularly the impossibility of economic calculation under a socialist regime. Its impossibility lies in its unwillingness to take seriously the subjective and individual nature of consumers’ valuations. It is therefore unable to calculate what sorts of products and in what sorts of quantities should be produced. Building on this, Gundinger concluded by surveying the various forms of destructionism that Mises explicated in Socialism: labour legislation, compulsory social insurance, trade unions, unemployment insurance, socialization, taxation, and inflation.
Rounding out the aforementioned with a deep philosophical analysis, Lead Consultant at W&W Pharmaconsult GmbH Wolfgang Wein argued that Mises’ philosophy constituted a form of rationalist utilitarianism. Integrating Mises into the broader history of philosophy, Wein argued that many of the deleterious policies and perspectives in vogue today are traceable to a fallacious materialist philosophy. The antidote is Mises’ idealism, which emphasizes the freedom of the individual, creativity, reason, competition, and the diversity of human beings.
An intense general discussion followed, concluding the three-hour event. One of the most salient themes at the event, underlined by both the panelists as well as the audience, was the importance of ideas. Mises concludes Socialism by noting, “The history of mankind is the history of ideas. For it is ideas, theories and doctrines that guide human action, determine the ultimate ends men aim at, and the choice of means employed for the attainment of these ends.” He might also have noted in this respect the indispensability of influencing the youth with ideas.
Mises at IES Vienna
And this was precisely what the second event, held on 2 December in the Antonio Vivaldi Saal, sought to do. In the very first collaboration between the Austrian Economics Center, Hayek Institut, and IES Vienna, a study abroad institute for American college and university students, over 60 students of the Business and Economics department were invited to partake in Mises lectures and workshops.
The three-hour event commenced with opening remarks from Scott B. Nelson, indicating some of the problems many younger generations face today and how Mises could provide a useful perspective. Martin Gundinger and Alexander Linsbichler then outlined the economic and moral cases for capitalism respectively. Gundinger walked the students through the calculation problem, so essential to Mises’ argument, as well as the importance of private property and the fundamentally subjective and individualist nature of proper economic science.
Linsbichler gave an overview of some of the arguments that have been made in favour of capitalism, categorizing them according to appeals to authority or consequentialism. He noted that Mises’ own argument in favour of capitalism partially rests on the superiority of capitalism in securing material welfare, which is what the majority of people in the world desire. He concluded with evidence pointing to at the very least a correlation between countries with economic freedoms and greater political freedoms and prosperity.
Armed with these reflections, the students broke off into smaller workshop groups for guided discussion on deeper themes – namely, democracy and equality, economic calculation, speculation, capitalist ethics, taxation and inflation, and the role of government. They reconvened to hear Helmut Hojesky, Head of Department VI/1 Climate Policy Coordination in Austria’s Federal Ministry, discuss climate change and the recent Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP27). Hojesky’s talk emphasized the urgency of the matter and pointed to some of the difficulties in reaching consensus among so many national governments.
The event concluded with a roundtable discussion between IES Vienna Business and Economics Coordinator Wolfgang Mölzer, AEC/HI Researcher Simon Sarevski, Helmut Hojesky, Martin Gundinger, Alexander Linsbichler, and Scott B. Nelson.
Scott B. Nelson is Research and Strategy Advisor at the Austrian Economics Center and Hayek Institut. He lectures on politics and philosophy and publishes books, scholarly articles, and commentary. His last book is Tragedy and History: The German Influence on Raymond Aron’s Political Thought. His next book is on Cicero and prudence in politics.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.