on 10 September 2006
This little classic is still relevant today although certain things have changed for the better since it was first published in 1956. Much of what has improved is due to the age of Thatcher and Reagan and technological advances, in particular the Internet. The book investigates the anti-capitalistic mentality from a psychological, sociological and economic perspective. Everything that Mises identified is still prevalent amongst that mindset today although the mental virus has mutated since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
The first part explains the features of capitalism with reference to the sovereign consumer and the process of economic improvement. It also exposes the roots of the hostility towards the free market from various quarters. For example, entrenched elites hate the merit principle. Mises also looks at the animosity on the part of intellectuals, white-collar workers and Hollywood/Broadway entertainers.
Part Two discusses capitalism as seen by the ordinary person, considering the influence of the intelligentsia and celebrities. Ignorance and the emotions of envy and the hatred are the driving forces behind the anti-capitalistic mentality. The erroneous idea that one person's gain must be another's loss is still very prevalent today. The market is often demonized for the results of state intervention against its unfettered operation. In other words, the critics do not understand cause and effect or they do but deliberately distort the facts.
Literature Under Capitalism is the title of the third section, in which Mises analyses success on the book market, the popularity of detective stories, the bigotry of the literati, plus social novels and plays. He identifies two types of anti-capitalistic writers of fiction and observes that leftist dogmatism is an eclectic and self-contradictory mixture of various doctrines. Today, the most toxic of these are multiculturalism, moral relativism and political correctness, the scourges of post-modernism. Fortunately, the arrival of the Internet has made the free exchange of ideas universally accessible, canceling out the author's gloomy predictions of increasing censorship.
Part 4 explores the non-economic objections to capitalism, including the arguments concerning happiness, materialism and injustice. Mises discusses all the tired old lies that blame capitalism for all the ills under the sun. He also goes into detail here, explaining the role of savings, productivity and capital accumulation. There have always been Western advocates of tyranny and in the 20th century anti-liberalism sneaked into the culture under the guise of superliberalism, i.e. communism, socialism, fascism and the welfare state. In the course of the century, the collectivists in the USA have appropriated the term "liberal" for their very illiberal brood of ideologies mention above. Ronald Reagan said something to the effect that liberals know so many things that just aren't so. This remains a very insightful observation.
Chapter five in this section: Liberty And Western Civilization, compares the individual freedom in the West and its resultant progress with the stagnation of the East. Mises correctly identifies the root of this freedom as the Enlightenment, but a case can also be made for Judeo-Christian values as the ultimate root. And thankfully, some countries in the East adopted Western values to become prosperous, like Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan, to name a few. They did so successfully without sacrificing their cultures. Even China is growing economically due to its adoption of a market economy although the government is still totalitarian.
Part five examines anti-communism versus free market capitalism. Here Mises refers to the Western concept of the welfare state as it manifested during the 1950s. Even today, supposedly anti-totalitarian "liberals" propagating the welfare state mercilessly condemn capitalism while reserving only mild criticism for repressive leftist regimes. The revolution of Reagan and Thatcher has borne good fruits, mostly in the Anglosphere but also in some countries of formerly Eastern Europe and certain Asian states. Unfortunately, the collectivist fallacy is still very much alive in the academic sphere, in certain sectors of the mass media an in Old Europe. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire it has mutated into a hatred of globalization, the United States, Israel and Judeo-Christian values.
Mises brilliantly exposes the forces arrayed against capitalism and the emotions behind it in this short but highly informative book. I highly recommend the following works for further insight into this destructive phenomenon that just will not die: The Road To Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, In Defense Of Global Capitalism by Johan Norberg, Sinisterism by Bruce Walker, 110 People Who Are Scewring Up America by Bernard Goldberg and from a somewhat unusual perspective, Freedom: Alchemy For A Voluntary Society by Stephan Hoeller.