Friday, October 11, 2019

Context is Everything

I would not have found or bothered with this conversation had I not earlier been made aware of the ad hominem comments made by the Saker toward me, based on – as far as I can tell (and my most generous interpretation) – a statement of mine portrayed out of context by Yvonne Lorenzo.  The subject of this current post is Lorenzo now taking Ludwig von Mises out of context (or at least not portraying a more accurate picture of his position and his science) and then using this to then criticize him. 

Lorenzo offered her criticisms in the comments section of the interview (on October 06, 2019 at 2:40 pm EST/EDT), offering an excerpt from a book by Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality (PDF).  Lorenzo offers an excerpt from the book where Mises examines one of the typical criticisms of capitalism, from one who feels he has not received his just due. 

The section cited by Lorenzo is from pages 13 & 14.  It is a section that introduces the various complaints people make about capitalism, in this case, complaints made when they feel that they didn’t get their fair share out of life.  The section opens on page 11:


Now we can try to understand why people loathe capitalism.

Mises then proceeds to examine this criticism, using language that might be typical of one filled with such resentment.  It is a legitimate exercise for an economist to examine such a criticism – it is, in fact, the purpose of the book – to examine the anti-capitalist mentality.  Yet Lorenzo concludes:

Is that observation of what human beings live under and how they measure their worth not anti-Christian.

Now, what else has Mises written in this same book that might be worth considering before coming to such a conclusion?  One might consider the following from the introduction:

The substitution of laissez-faire capitalism for the pre-capitalistic methods of economic management has multiplied population figures and raised in an unprecedented way the average standard of living. A nation is the more prosperous today the less it has tried to put obstacles in the way of the spirit of free enterprise and private initiative.

It cannot be denied that economies that are closer to the free-market policies offered by Mises and others in the Austrian school have both a higher economic standard of living and / or have pulled more people out of desperate poverty and into the middle class than those economies who adhere to something moving toward socialism.

In the last thirty years, hundreds of millions of people have come out of a life of abject poverty into a life of the middle class.  Just consider China, Southeast Asia, the sub-continent for example.  Yes, many of these economies still have strong socialist and / or central planning aspects; this is not the point.  The point is that these have moved more toward a free market – it isn’t the absolute level of freedom that matters, it is the relative shift in the last decades.

An improved economic standard of living isn’t everything, but it is also not nothing – especially for those who until only recently were living in dirt.

The bias and bigotry of public opinion manifests itself most clearly in the fact that it attaches the epithet "capitalistic" exclusively to things abominable, never to those of which everybody approves.

It is easy to point to the negatives of capitalism and a free market – it is easy to point to the negatives of any social or economic or political concept.  What of the positive aspects?  Like moving hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty even in the last few decades?  It might not mean much to those of us who live comfortably in the West (as even the poorest of us do), but it sure means a lot to those who have been pulled out of the dirt.

It is the task of this essay to analyze this anti-capitalistic bias and to disclose its roots and its consequences.

And here you have the task of Mises’s book – to examine precisely the negative bias and understand the consequences of these.  One must take into account the purpose of the book before pulling random quotes out of this context. 

That Mises describes the bias before addressing it seems rather necessary.  It isn’t appropriate to just take the description of the bias out of this context and leave it at this, as Lorenzo has done.

But this is just from the introduction; the key point is made on page 9 – still before the section cited by Lorenzo:

Now, nobody ever contended that under unhampered capitalism those fare best who, from the point of view of eternal standards of value, ought to be preferred. (Page 9)

Nobody ever contended this, but this is the stick with which Lorenzo beats Mises.

What the capitalistic democracy of the market brings about is not rewarding people according to their "true" merits, inherent worth and moral eminence. (Page 9)

Yes, one may find fault in this, but the point is these faults raise questions – and perfectly legitimate questions – for other disciplines (philosophy, theology, ethics, political science, etc.) – these are not questions for the economist as economist!

Read Lorenzo’s criticism again:

Is that observation of what human beings live under and how they measure their worth not anti-Christian.

Mises states plainly that the outcome from a capitalist economy is not a measure of a person’s inherent worth and Lorenzo beats him because a capitalist economy is not a measure of a person’s inherent worth!

Mises states this clearly – just because he describes the bias and then describes the consequences, this says nothing about what ought to be preferred, and certainly says nothing about what he calls “eternal standards of value” or a person’s “inherent worth.”  These questions are for other disciplines – these are not questions for economics properly considered.

How much more plainly could he have stated it?  Mises makes this clear statement – which anyone familiar with the proper role for economics would understand – that so clearly points out the dishonest portrayal by Lorenzo of Mises’s further statements. 

Mises recognizes this shortcoming as a shortcoming, and then gets brow-beaten for the shortcoming.  But these are not questions for the economist as economist!

I will add further: proper students of Mises understand this quite well.  From Murray Rothbard:

What I have been trying to say is that Mises's utilitarian, relativist approach to ethics is not nearly enough to establish a full case for liberty. It must be supplemented by an absolutist ethic — an ethic of liberty, as well as of other values needed for the health and development of the individual — grounded on natural law, i.e., discovery of the laws of man's nature.

Rothbard is not suggesting that Mises’s economic analysis is faulty; he is merely stating that without an absolutist ethic it is not sufficient for liberty.  One is free to disagree with Rothbard’s (or my) view of that absolutist ethic, but this is a discussion outside of the discipline of economics – hence, Mises did not incorporate this in a book about economics! 

This is exasperating.

Now, it only took me about five minutes to find these relevant passages in Mises’s book.  In other words, with barely any effort one would have come to a different conclusion than the one portrayed by Lorenzo.

Returning to Lorenzo’s comments:

Perhaps in reading The Saker’s replies, and not just about faith, Rockwell, for whom this piece was originally composed and he was provided with Saker’s response to Romans 13, but then rejected it, might explain his rejection although I can only speculate.

Before I comment on this, as a refresher remember these words from Lorenzo, words she clearly fails to live by:

In what has frequently been described, and rightly so I believe, as “post-Christian” America, Christians are under attack. In this extremely hostile environment, one would think despite differences in interpretation of scripture and ritual, Christians would try to learn more about one another and become mutually supportive, no matter their background.

One certainly cannot question Rockwell’s devotion to Catholicism.  Lorenzo opens her introduction to this interview with a reference to C. S. Lewis – a Protestant of some variety.  Yes, I understand neither is the same as the Saker’s Orthodox Christianity, but read Lorenzo’s words again and tell me – do these “differences in interpretation of scripture and ritual” really matter in this “hostile environment” of “post-Christian America” in which “Christians are under attack”?

The hypocrisy is, frankly, sickening given the current social and economic situation especially in the West.


Ephesians 6: 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

I read much of Rockwell, as I do of the Saker.  On too many issues, they are wrestling against the same principalities and powers: war, empire, banking controlled by a small elite, the lack of ability for individuals to properly exercise agency, societal and cultural destruction.  The two are far more alike than they are different.  It would be nice if Christians such as these could come together instead of being driven apart as Lorenzo seems intent on doing.


Lorenzo continues:

An irreparable breech formed between us [Lorenzo and Rockwell] and should I continue to write, I’ll write for The Saker and Unz.

Apparently, there is some backstory to this antagonism.  It is unfortunate that this dispute is driving Lorenzo to such tactics.  As noted both in Ephesians and by Lorenzo, Christians – whatever their truly petty differences about the details of their faith might be – have much bigger fish to fry. 

Lorenzo should take her own advice on this.


  1. Lorenzo seems to have her own agenda. I also don't see the rub. I like Ron Unz's site. I like Orthodox Christianity. I like C.S. Lewis too.

    The conservative argument that state regulation of the market is required to bring morality to bear on private exchange is probably the weakest reed in the anti-capitalist arsenal.

    It's the Nirvana Fallacy. In the free market, people will be greedy, corrupt, and degenerate and thus the worse will rise to the top, but in the condition where the state regulates trade, the consequences of these same vices manifesting within the state (an organization with an earned reputation for accelerating and magnifying vices) somehow disappear from their analysis. How convenient.

    For the Christian, it should be easy to see through this. Don't trust a Satanic organization (and the state is that) to bring about a flourishing community of Christ.

    A condition of freedom allows the possibility of vice to flourish, but, and here's what misguided conservatives overlook, it also allows what is true and good to do the same. Life under the state virtually guarantees oppression against or at least strong head winds for Christians.

    There is an argument to be made that it is only in conditions of oppression that Christianity really does purify and renew itself. But what Christian can in good conscience work towards bringing about conditions of tyranny so that a virtuous Christian community may rise up to resist it?


    1. Christians who look to the state for moral salvation are lazy Christians. They don't want to do the hard work: humility, prayer, funding, action.

      They also lack faith: God is much more powerful than any state.

    2. Well, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:8 this little phrase. "Shall we do evil so that good may come?" If you stopped there, it would be great fodder for anti-Christian debate, but the greater context is that he claimed that others were slandering him by saying that he actually was advocating evil in order to accomplish good, which was simply not true.

      Ripping something out of context is a great way to make your own case against something someone else has said or written. It is also unprofessional and fraudulent. By their works, you will know them.

      "When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."--author unknown, attributed to Socrates.