Friday, May 11, 2012

The 99 and the 1 at Mises

Daniel James Sanchez has written a very wonderful piece, published today at  In it he describes the false assumptions of the 99 percent regarding the lines of conflict, as opposed to the true lines of demarcation.  The dividing line is not the super-rich vs. the rest, but those who live extraordinarily well from government and central banking largess vs. the rest.

While he has captured this well, this distinction is not what I most appreciated – most observers of the economic situation today, especially those who come from an Austrian tradition, realize this. What I appreciated in this article is that Mr. Sanchez has described very well that the 99 percent are in the situation because they desire to be in the situation.

In the current manifestation of this battle, those who speak most loudly for the 99 are calling for help from the same entity that is causing the dichotomy in the first place. 

Not only do the 99% put up with the ruling 1%; they put them up on their lofty pedestals. The 99% give the 1% their power.

As Ludwig von Mises made clear, real power, what he called "ideological might," always lies in the support of public opinion. If public opinion were ever to turn on any regime, its days would be numbered.

Mises went even further to argue that public opinion not only determines who is in charge but the general character of the legal order, or as he put it, "whether there is freedom or bondage."

Ultimately the only kind of tyranny that can last is a tyrannical public opinion.

The struggle for freedom is ultimately not resistance to autocrats or oligarchs but resistance to the despotism of public opinion.

If the 99% are oppressed, they are also ultimately their own oppressors, by dint of oppressive public opinion.

Mr. Sanchez rightly describes this as a battle of ideas.  This battle is made quite difficult for those in the 99 and against the 1 because several significant levers are control by the 1 – the two most important, in my opinion, being public funding of education at all levels and central banking. 

But the internet has opened up new possibilities. 

If our civilization is to be rescued — if the tide of public opinion is ever to turn again — it will be thanks to the sound ideas formulated by theorists like Mises and the scholars who work in his tradition. But that can only happen if those ideas are effectively disseminated by a new generation of communicators.

This is why the Mises Institute and are so vital. It is also why this generation's amateur communicators — who spread the message of liberty through Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and the like — are also hugely important.

As Mises wrote,

The flowering of human society depends on two factors: the intellectual power of outstanding men to conceive sound social and economic theories, and the ability of these or other men to make these ideologies palatable to the majority.

May sound ideas win the day, and may human society flower again.

Not too long ago, for someone to learn of the ideas of Mises or Rothbard, or to learn anything of the possibilities of an economy without a central bank, one had to be fortunate enough to stumble onto an obscure mailing list.  Ideas were disseminated at the pace, distribution, and bandwidth that a postage stamp could provide.  It is no longer true. 

Today, there are countless outlets for these ideas; what was developed in the minds of masters such as Mises now is communicated effectively through various means enabled by the internet.  For every Lew Rockwell, there are countless people toiling on blogs, comment boards, You-Tube channels and the like: each one perhaps reaching a few dozen people, but through these efforts an unknowable but not insignificant number are being exposed to ideas of classical liberalism and free-market economics.

It has been said that the right tool comes when it is most needed.  We are blessed today with two fortuitous occurrences: we have been gifted the communication tool of the internet, and Ron Paul has remained consistent throughout his entire adult life, offering the standard bearer that has helped to focus millions of people worldwide.  The Daily Bell has called him today’s Martin Luther, benefiting from today’s Gutenberg press.

I refer to an earlier quoted line from his piece, as I found it succinctly captured the condition of the 99:

Ultimately the only kind of tyranny that can last is a tyrannical public opinion.

This is where the battle lies.  It will not take a change of the majority, but only of a dedicated minority – perhaps as little as 20 percent.  As witnessed by the explosion of these ideas on the internet, and as witnessed by the extraordinary grass-roots efforts of thousands of dedicated supporters of Ron Paul, a dedicated minority is likely all it will take.

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