Taken from a discussion in the comments from my post, My Journey So Far. The discussion begins with a comment by Anonymous July 12, 2017 at 6:52 AM; the dialogue proceeds to include the ideas of utilitarian vs. moral considerations as the basis of libertarian philosophy. The dialogue concludes (at least for now) with a comment from gpond July 13, 2017 at 8:42 AM:
bm, I don't recall if Mises spoke of good and bad law. I do know that he did not agree with Rothbard regarding objective ethics.
The essay I will link is the best write-up on Mises' utilitarianism that I have ever come across. It may at least whet your appetite for understanding Mises' position on such things.
The essay is written by Daniel Sanchez, which inherently means it is well written and thorough. The essay begins:
"The only fully Misesian economists are Rothbardians, and most Rothbardians have abandoned Mises's entire approach to the 'why' of liberalism."
Heaven help me…. I recall when I first stepped into the subject of immigration and open borders; I found the very disparate views of Hans Hoppe and Walter Block. I addressed this in a post entitled Dances With Elephants. Given the two named individuals, you can understand both the title and my trepidation.
That was nothing compared to this…. Mises and Rothbard…. I will say up front, I will not dive deeply into this topic; I am so immensely unqualified to do so – I have read two essays by someone expanding on the comments of Mises. I have read not much else form either Mises or Rothbard on this topic, or to the extent I have I do not intend to dig through it for this post.
But I have an even more over-riding reason to not dive deeply into the topic, and this will become clear by the end of the post. Let’s just say no argument will change my view. If you call this a “religion,” you would be both figuratively and literally correct.
The essay suggested by gpond led me to an earlier essay by Sanchez, to be found here. I have read, via Gary North, that it was Rothbard that placed a moral foundation under Austro-libertarian theory. After having read these two essays, I have some understanding of what North was getting at.
To me, the second essay was very clarifying; both must be read to better grasp the meaning. As background for the essays, Mises offers a utilitarian argument as to the “why,” but it isn’t the utilitarian argument most of us think of when we dwell on this question. Rothbard offers a moral argument, based on natural rights. Sanchez develops Mises’ arguments; he suggests that Mises’ position is both misunderstood and a more appropriate foundation.
For the purposes of this post, I offer the following from the second essay as my version of a summary / conclusion of Sanchez’s argument:
People develop the custom of abiding by general rules (including the rules of justice) because of a general recognition that when both the long-run and short-run are taken into account, any given individual is likely to be better off, according to his own preferences, with the rules, than without them.
The general expediency of certain codes of conduct are recognized by thought leaders in society. These thought leaders convince others, who in turn convince still others. Over time, and as codes of conduct are passed across generations and intellectual strata, consciously formulated customs gradually evolve into blindly imbibed folkways.
And if a general awareness of the relative inexpediency of a custom arises, this will erode the utilitarian basis of its social acceptance, and it will eventually topple.
I will put my thoughts in a very simpleton form:
Mises, as he considers the term “utilitarian,” says killing and stealing would not be chosen because these decrease social cooperation, and under social cooperation all would be better off in the long term. We would therefore act accordingly and adopt customs against killing and stealing.
But what if it can be shown by thought leaders that a little killing and stealing (death penalty, abortion, preventative war, low levels of taxation, regulations on food and drugs, pollution standards) that we would all be better off under these rules. What if the thought leaders could convince enough people of this “truth”? Would this make killing and stealing appropriate?
Pragmatists (to avoid the term “utilitarian”) say killing and stealing are wrong as these introduce artificial restrictions to free markets, and only under free markets can each individual achieve his highest utilities.
But what if it can be shown by thought leaders that some issues are too big for markets (national defense, control of money and credit), and only government action (a little killing and stealing) can solve such problems and that we would, therefore, be better off under these rules? What if the thought leaders could convince enough people of this “truth”? Would this make killing and stealing appropriate?
Moralists, at least in my definition of the term, say killing and stealing are wrong, full stop. They require no justification for this view beyond holding it; therefore no argument by thought leaders can shake them from this view.
Now…I describe my view and analysis as “simpleton” because I find little reason to consider anything more than what I have described as the moralist view; this allows me to hold to a position that cannot be swayed by thought leaders. I guess this puts me somewhere in the Rothbardian camp, albeit perhaps due to a different foundation.
And this foundation is my traditional Christian foundation. Of course, if others conclude that killing and stealing are wrong based on a different foundation, I don’t complain. But I don’t find the reason of thought leaders to be as stable a foundation.
If traditional Western Christian civilization can’t keep this morality in focus for Western civilization, no other argument meant to avoid killing and stealing has a chance to succeed.
In other words, perhaps this is where liberalism leads.