The Mises blog links to a post which is supposedly refuting Mises’ economic calculation argument against socialism. Nothing of that sort is happening, but as a commentator noted in a different context, the post is “revealing.”
I don’t like utilitarian defenses of any position. I do engage in them myself, most times without realizing that I am doing so, but I don’t like them. And that is the problem with using the Misesian argument. He believed economics is a “value free” science. It cannot make moral value judgments, but can only comment on whether a particular program accomplishes what it was meant to. I have read about this in a few articles and books, but he clarifies this in the preface to his “Omnipotent Government.”
In dealing with the problems of social and economic policies, the social sciences consider only one question: whether the measures suggested are really suited to bringing about the effects sought by their authors, or whether they result in a state of affairs which—from the viewpoint of their supporters—is even more undesirable than the previous state which it was intended to alter. The economist does not substitute his own judgment about the desirability of ultimate ends for that of his fellow citizens. He merely asks whether the ends sought by nations, governments, political parties, and pressure groups can indeed be attained by the methods actually chosen for their realization.
The problem with utilitarianism is, it works on the cost-benefit principle. It is true, if we live in a sane universe, that what is good according to natural rights ethics will be proved good under utilitarianism; a theory that is impracticable is no theory at all. But it still does not address the problem of morality. What is the point in saying that central planning cannot be made to work because rational pricing is impossible when the central planning is bad regardless of whether it works or not? It must be conceded though that no argument will convince a person who wants central planning regardless of what it does to human beings. For that is the principle behind socialism. The socialist does not care if a system can work rationally. He only cares about planning.
The post title is from a section in a chapter on planning from the above-mentioned book. In it, Mises writes-
Man is born an asocial and antisocial being. The newborn child is a savage. Egoism is his nature. Only the experience of life and the teachings of his parents, his brothers, sisters, playmates, and later of other people force him to acknowledge the advantages of social cooperation and accordingly to change his behavior. The savage thus turns toward civilization and citizenship. He learns that his will is not almighty, that he has to accommodate himself to others and adjust his actions to his social environment, and that the aims and the actions of other people are facts with which he must reckon.
The neurotic lacks this ability to adapt himself to his environment. He is asocial; he never arrives at an adjustment with the facts. But whether he likes it or not, reality has its own way. It is beyond the neurotic’s power to eliminate the will and the actions of his fellowmen and to sweep everything before him. Thus he escapes into daydreams. The weakling, lacking the strength to get on with life and reality, indulges in reveries on dictatorship and on the power to subdue everybody else. The land of his dreams is the land in which his will alone decides; it is the realm in which he alone gives orders and all others obey. In this paradise only that happens which he wants to happen. Everything is sound and reasonable, i.e., everything corresponds exactly to his ideas and wishes, is reasonable from the viewpoint of his reason.
In the secrecy of these daydreams the neurotic assigns to himself the role of the dictator; he himself is Caesar. When addressing his fellow citizens he must be more modest. He depicts a dictatorship operated by somebody else. But this dictator is only his substitute and handyman; he acts only as the neurotic wants him to act. A day-dreamer who refrained from this cautious restriction and proposed himself for the post of the dictator, would risk being considered and treated as a lunatic. The psychiatrists would call his insanity megalomania.
Nobody ever recommended a dictatorship aiming at ends other than those he himself approved. He who advocates dictatorship always advocates the unrestricted rule of his own will, although operated by an intermediary, an amanuensis. He wants a dictator made in his own image.
Now we may grasp the causes of the popularity of planning. Everything that men do has to be planned, is the realization of plans. In this sense all economic activity means planning. But those disparaging anarchic production and advocating planned economy are eager to eliminate the plans of everybody else. One will alone should have the right to will, one plan alone should be realized, namely, the plan which the neurotic approves, the reasonable plan, the only plan. All obstacles should be removed, all other people’s power should be broken, nothing should prevent the wretched neurotic from arranging the world according to his whims. Every means is right if it helps to raise the daydreamer’s reason to the throne.
The unanimous approval of planning by our contemporaries is only apparent. The supporters of planning disagree with regard to their plans. They agree only in the refutation of the plans brought forward by other people.
Many popular fallacies concerning socialism are due to the mistaken belief that all friends of socialism advocate the same system. On the contrary, every socialist wants his own socialism, not the other fellow’s. He disputes the other socialists’ right to call themselves socialists. In the eyes of Stalin the Mensheviks and the Trotskyists are not socialists but traitors, and vice versa. The Marxians call the Nazis supporters of capitalism; the Nazis call the Marxians supporters of Jewish capital. If a man says socialism, or planning; he always has in view his own brand of socialism, his own plan. Thus planning does not in fact mean preparedness to cooperate peacefully. It means conflict.