All I Need to Know About the Mises Institute

All I Need to Know About the Mises Institute December 24, 2015

I’m not an economist. I’m just a Catholic schlub trying to figure out what God wants and do it. I couldn’t tell a Laffer curve from a Keynesian theory if my life depended on it.

But one thing I do know: Any defense of Ebenezer Scrooge as he was before his conversion is a apology for being a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner and that’s all there is to it. I now know one thing about the Mise(r)s Institute: it defends profound evil. If you look to it as a moral guide, you are as endangered by the everlasting fires of hell as Scrooge was.

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  • HornOrSilk

    Mises is misspelled. It’s the Miser institute.

    • Clare Krishan

      What the Dickens! Perhaps that Ghost of Christmas’ Past might be litigious enough to sue for copyright infringement, eh? Ebenezer’s ficticious soul’s been left in the shade by his legions of latter-day imposters, even the Financial Times is in on the act (behind their paywall, no financial news for the likes of Bob Cratchit on the day of his Redeemer’s birth, eh) with their ‘Business Enterprise of the Y̶e̶a̶r̶ Millenia’ award http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/64a59670-a7d3-11e5-9700-2b669a5aeb83.html#axzz3vFDqNcu3 cross posted at http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-12-25/dear-santa-activist-hedge-fund-manager-addresses-st-nicks-one-long-party

      What y’all CST-ers miss with all’yer yummy Yuletide sentiments of Solidarity’s inestimable value vs avarice is that subsidiarity wins the day: multitudes of ‘Tiny Tim’-like trials weigh more in the balance at the final judgement, any earthly capital malinvested in a so-called objective ‘labor theory of value’ that fails to account for the truely priceless labor with accrued compound interest on her rights to all future live broadcasts of “The Angelic Greeting”_* of Mary at Bethlehem is the worst kind of subjective ** theory of value!

      __
      * also transmitted as the ‘Ave Maria’ in global print media, with perpetual
      translation rights held by her designated heirs and assigns, the curia of the Universal Church in communion with the Petrine See, by appointment to His Majesty, cosmic copyright holder and redeemer of debts of last resort, Christ Pantocrator

      ** with the self as arbiter on the time-value of money vs the marginal-utility of price discovery under delayed gratification subject to an eternal reward

    • Mike Petrik

      Clever and appropriate in light of the essay, though to be fair LvM himself favored altruism. Unfortunately, libertarian organizations tend to include objectivist Randians, and Rand famously despised altruism.

  • Joe

    Which makes their motto all the more ironic:

    Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito

    Yield not to evils, but go against them more daringly

  • Ha. I just read an article in the WSJ about how gifts are inefficient, and the best thing is for everyone to spend their money on themselves (or if you must give, give money only). What a joyful world these people live in.

    • Mariana Baca

      Some cultures/people do practice giving money as gifts, though, and that is not necessarily wrong or unjoyful. And many people find gift giving and gift receiving stressful and not necessarily loving, and sometimes wasteful. So I don’t think eschewing gift giving during the holidays is necessarily bad or joyless.

      “Efficiency” though, shouldn’t really enter into the equation of “fun,” I agree.

      • Right. I have no problem with deciding not to give gifts. I have a big problem with valuing the practice of giving gifts solely through the lens of economic efficiency. Merry Christmas!

        • Peggy R

          One can also consider the personal utility a person obtains from giving and receiving a gift. Some people value it more than others, as you folks are pointing out. That’s part of the non-price component of gift exchanging. We might call them externalities in economics. Maintaining family or professional relationships is important to us personally. We are more likely to buy gifts toward that end and expressing love, respect, etc. We economists find a way to talk about everything from a standpoint of our field. It’s about use/allocation of resources to maximize personal utility (or happiness as we sometimes say).

    • So long as you rightly understand the papal critique of that world, you can criticize as much as you like and find the vast majority of pro-free marketers (myself included) on your side.

      The form of your gift transfers non-economic information to enhance a system that is integrated with economics but distinct from economics and far more than it. I’m talking about civilization. If your worldview (not yours Beadgirl) has shrivelled and shrunk to include only economics, discussions on this sort of subject become as confusing as the sphere’s first appearance in flatland. You have become, in a strange sort of way, a totalitarian. It’s the least evil form of human totalitarianism I’ve ever heard of but still, it fits the definition.

      Speaking about efficiency in gift giving is entirely missing the point because you’re stripping out non-economic information from a memetic practice and calling it efficiency. That’s just dumb because restricting memetic transfer to explicit communication makes it less reliable and, dare I say, less efficient. Part of the out-of-band stuff going on is joy in both giving and receiving.

      Yes, this is a long winded way of saying “you’re right Beadgirl” but it’s also a practical example of the inefficiency of in-band vs out-of-band communication. You managed two paragraphs of meaning in six words “what a joyful world these people live in”. The only advantage my presentation has is that it might just get through to a few more of those poor souls because all they are attuned to is the in-band stuff. They’re pretty clear that they’ve tuned out the out-of-band stuff so your six words just come across to them as insulting just as the flatland perception of the sphere is a perfect circle that varies in size, a description that is perfectly accurate within the limits of the flatland viewer but entirely inadequate as a true description.

      • “Speaking about efficiency in gift giving is entirely missing the point
        because you’re stripping out non-economic information from a memetic
        practice and calling it efficiency. That’s just dumb because restricting
        memetic transfer to explicit communication makes it less reliable and,
        dare I say, less efficient. Part of the out-of-band stuff going on is
        joy in both giving and receiving.”
        I’m not entirely familiar with the terminology you are using, but I think I get your point. It’s the same reaction I’ve had to other articles similar to this (it is economically inefficient to cook all but the simplest dishes rather than buying prepared foods; it is economically inefficient to make your own clothes) — the failure to take into

        account non-economic benefits like the pleasure derived from the activity, the ability to customize, and so on. More generally, I disagree with the perspective that views everything in life through the filter of economics.

        Merry Christmas! But am I remembering correctly that you celebrate on a different day?

        • Heh, it gets complicated but only at Easter. The calendar in use is “modified Julian” which settles on the Gregorian for Christmas and the Julian method of calculation for Easter. Since most of our parishes spent most of their time under Roman rite bishops, they ended up going full gregorian. Last I heard our major archbishop has initiated a calendar reform to bring the US back in line with everybody else on modified Julian.

          So Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

    • falstaff77

      “…gifts are inefficient, and the best thing is for everyone to spend their money on themselves (or if you must give, give money only).”

      Then you object to the thesis of that article on *how* to give, as you recognize that giving (via money) is in alignment with that thesis. Why do you object to the how? Must it be, buy-another-tie-for-Dad or Christmas is joyless?

  • Stu

    I’m left gobsmacked

  • LSpinelli

    This wasn’t a rejected Onion piece?

  • Dave G

    Words fail me.

  • Tom G

    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

  • Elaine S.

    I suspect this article was at least partly tongue in cheek and not meant to be taken 100% seriously, sort of in the vein of Swift’s “Modest Proposal”. In fact I think it could be read as a sort of cautionary tale for libertarians — of how they could end up thinking and acting like Scrooge if they take their economic beliefs TOO literally. Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, the article is 15 years old. Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone (left, right, and in between)

    • Marthe Lépine

      Actually, whether or not this article is partly tongue in cheek, the same lesson can be taken from it by thinking people, and you got it right. On the other hand, people who would be totally steeped into the popular “rightist” ideology might unfortunately take it seriously: We need to pray for them!

  • The problem of capitalism is when it grows totalitarian. In other words, capitalism is a partial system that is acceptable in what it covers (economics) but unacceptable when people imagine that what capitalism covers is all that there is.

    The article is in poor taste as the comments are pretty much in agreement. Condemning the Mises Institute out of an explicitly announced ignorance of what it does is also in poor taste. This institute has an about page on its website. Mark would profit by reading it.

    https://mises.org/about-mises/what-is-the-mises-Institute

    There is something missing there, any talk at all of morals. There is a desire for peace, liberty, and economic freedom. For an unabashedly capitalist institution this is happily *not* totalitarian (and thus not what the popes are warning about). The institute’s mission leaves a place for God to fill in all that stuff that is not in their wheelhouse. This is as it should be. This does not make them infallible, just properly humble.

    I wrote a lengthy comment on why the article is not up to Mises’ usual standards in comments over there. I don’t think I need to repeat it here. Unfortunately, Mark misses the point of Scrooge from the other side. It is not Scrooge’s economic decisions that make him such a pathetic and wrongheaded figure. It is his non-economic decisions. It is making economics the alpha and omega of his life where he starts to go wrong long before he refuses that extra lump of coal for the office fire.

    Sometimes money’s just a tool to achieve non-economic ends and Scrooge does not understand this at the beginning of the story. He does understand it by the end.

    • Pete the Greek

      Reminded me of an article I was down from City Journal years back where the author argued, tongue in cheek, about how the Empire in Star Wars was actually the good guys.

      • That’s actually taken root, kind of like the engineering analysis of ringworld’s stability leading to a sequal to fix the problems (though the Star Wars guys aren’t that far along yet).

        Such discussions are useful because the Church is right here and the very best illustration of how it is right is in spirited analysis of a fictional story that won’t affect any real world government policy whatsoever. It’s disappointing that Mark’s going all fortress catolicus on this issue. We’ve got the much stronger hand to squash that revisionism like a bug and engage in a bit of evangelization at the same time. But that happy result only happens if we show up in the comments over at Mises.org and in forums where such revisionist arguments are presented.

  • Peggy r

    Your lack of knowledge shows. It would profit you to attempt to understand how markets work. Idont have time to read mises piece. I don’t like a Christmas Carol

  • Peggy R

    So, if I said:

    “All I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9/11” that would be wrong?

    But you can say that about a field of intellectual thought which relies on data and analyses to test theories. Is that right?

    • Hobo

      One of the knocks against economics is its lack of predictive power in the empirical world, that it isn’t a scientific discipline. Some of the harshest critics argue that economists can crank out fancy mathematical models that strangely fail to predict market crashes or recessions. I’m not saying these criticisms are correct (or that Mark is correct), only that there is room for skepticism.

      • Peggy R

        Skepticism of techniques and results is one thing. Contempt for something one doesn’t understand is different. It is arrogant and judgmental.

        Theories hold if demonstrated by empirical evidence. The fun is in that many economics have many different opinions and can produce results supporting any of those opinions. But some fundamentals hold. That is why basic micro and macro can be taught with some certainty.

        Now, if some folks who buy into global warming would accept that same flaw in modeling to the fraud, errors and shortcomings of modeling future global temps.

        • Hayseed

          Sort of like the contempt shown towards the theory of natural selection by many conservative folks who don’t seem to understand it?

          • Peggy R

            Understood.

            Scientific and social study tries to understand how things/people work. What makes X happen? How? Those questions need to be asked and answered. We need to know so we can choose the best approach to addressing the shortcomings we see, to achieve what we believe is just.

  • Dan F.

    Unrelated fyi. There is a planned parenthood advertisement at the bottom of this page

  • Shellie Garrett

    The comments to the article seem to agree with you, and attest to the lack of competence of the writer as to opining beyond the limits of economics. They even questioned the economic factors he relied upon in the article. As for me, however,
    I agree with that philosopher Mr. Jinks the cat: “I hate Mises to pieces!”

  • Pete the Greek

    All I need to know about Pope Francis I learned from an article from Bishop Williamson.

  • ivan_the_mad

    That’s the problem with trying to deduce moral prescriptions from a science that is essentially descriptive.

    Regarding von Mises, I’ve always found interesting his principle of methodological individualism, i.e. its insistence that the action of any social group is only through the intermediary of its members; perhaps there is a rough concordance with the Catholic understanding of economic activity as a sphere of human activity, and so an aggregate of moral decisions and personal relations.

    • Mike Petrik

      Interesting perspective.
      I would add that, unlike the miserable Rand, both Mises and Hayek lauded altruism. Hayek even admitted to the possibility of government being an agent of altruism (e.g., universal health care assistance) — something Rand found unforgivable.

      • W. Randolph Steele

        I read the 2009 biography of Ayn Rand and came awy so disgusted that I wanted to vomit. What a truly evil woman.

  • W. Randolph Steele

    The New Yorker published a commentary that EXPLAINS rather than defends Scrooge. In the view of the author, who read the entire story, which most people don’t, because of Scrooge’s terribly lonely childhood, he grew up to become clinically depressed. For Scrooge, then money was a protection from the pain of being left out or not having “enough”. Another recent story, had the idea that Scrooge came of age during the economic downturn in Great Britain that occurred after the Napoleonic Wars thus skrewing his world view. These are explanations NOT defenses as in the Von Mises piece is. Scrooge, in their view is to be pitied not hated and i agree with them.

    • Peggy R

      I think even the movie versions show through the Ghost of Christmas Past his sad and lonely childhood. The MaGoo version, our kids’ favorite, does.

      • W. Randolph Steele

        yeah, they do,but I’d never read an article that described it as clinical depression. The writer himself suffers from it and recognized the symptoms from his own experience.