The Anticapitalistic Mentality

Saturday, Nov 28, 2009

Some more interesting quotes from Mises' The Anticapitalistic Mentality:

People are anxious to endorse the tenets they consider as fashionable lest they appear boorish and backward.

Ruere in servitium, they plunged into slavery, Tacitus sadly observed in speaking of the Romans of the age of Tiberius.

What makes many feel unhappy under capitalism is... that everybody is aware of his own defeat and insufficiency.

To the grumbler who complains about the unfairness of the market system only one piece of advice can be given: If you want to acquire wealth, then try to satisfy the public by offering them something that is cheaper or which they like better... Equality under the law gives you the power to challenge every millionaire. It is—in a market not sabotaged by government-imposed restrictions—exclusively your fault if you do not outstrip the chocolate king, the movie star and the boxing champion.

The characteristic feature of the market economy is the fact that it allots the greater part of the improvements brought about by the endeavors of the three progressive classes—those saving, those investing the capital goods, and those elaborating new methods for the employment of capital goods—to the nonprogressive majority of people.

No technological improvement can be put to work if the capital required has not previously been accumulated by saving. Saving—capital accumulation—is the agency that has transformed step by step the awkward search for food on the part of savage cave dwellers into the modern ways of industry.

A hundred workers in a modern factory produce per unit of time a multiple of what a hundred workers used to produce in the workshops of precapitalistic craftsmen. This improvement is not conditioned by higher skill, competence or application on the part of the individual worker. (It is a fact that the proficiency needed by medieval artisans towered far above that of many categories of present-day factory hands.) It is due to the employment of more efficient tools and machines which, in turn, is the effect of the accumulation and investment of more capital.

Nobody is needy in the market economy because of the fact that some people are rich. The riches of the rich are not the cause of the poverty of anybody. The process that makes some people rich is, on the contrary, the corollary of the process that improves many peoples’ want satisfaction. The entrepreneurs, the capitalists and the technologies prosper as far as they succeed in best supplying the consumers.

The people of the United States are more prosperous than the inhabitants of all other countries because their government embarked later than the governments in other parts of the world upon the policy of obstructing business.

The substitution of laissez-faire capitalism for the precapitalistic 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.

Few Americans are fully aware of the fact that their country enjoys the highest standard of living and that the way of life of the average American appears as fabulous and out of reach to the immense majority of people inhabiting non-capitalistic countries. Most people belittle what they have and could possibly acquire, and crave those things which are inaccessible to them.

There is but one means available to improve the material conditions of mankind: to accelerate the growth of capital accumulated as against the growth in population. The greater the amount of capital invested per head of the worker, the more and the better goods can be produced and consumed.

The entrepreneurs and capitalists owe their wealth to the people who patronize their businesses. They lose it inevitably as soon as other men supplant them in serving the consumers better or more cheaply.

What the capitalistic democracy of the market brings about is not rewarding people according to their “true” merits, inherent worth and moral eminence. What makes a man more or less prosperous is not the evaluation of his contribution from any “absolute” principle of justice, but evaluation on the part of his fellowmen who exclusively apply the yardstick of their own personal wants, desires and ends. It is precisely this that the democratic system of the market means. The consumers are supreme—i.e., sovereign. They want to be satisfied...

What counts in the frame of the market economy is not academic judgments of value, but the valuations actually manifested by people in buying or not buying.

It is important to realize that the opportunity to compete for the prizes society has to dispense is a social institution. It cannot remove or alleviate the innate handicaps with which nature has discriminated against many people. It cannot change the fact that many are born sick or become disabled in later life.

The much talked about sternness of capitalism consists in the fact that it handles everybody according to his contribution to the well-being of his fellowmen. The sway of the principle, to each according to his accomplishments, does not allow of any excuse for personal shortcomings. Everybody knows very well that there are people like himself who succeeded where he himself failed. Everybody knows that many of those whom he envies are self-made men who started from the same point from which he himself started. And, much worse, he knows that all other people know it too.

This search for a scapegoat is an attitude of people living under the social order which treats everybody according to his contribution to the well-being of his fellowmen and where thus everybody is the founder of his own fortune. In such a society each member whose ambitions have not been fully satisfied resents the fortune of all those who succeeded better. The fool releases these feelings in slander and defamation. The more sophisticated do not indulge in personal calumny. They sublimate their hatred into a philosophy, the philosophy of anti-capitalism, in order to render inaudible the inner voice that tells them that their failure is entirely their own fault. Their fanaticism in defending their critique of capitalism is precisely due to the fact that they are fighting their own awareness of its falsity.

The gulf between what a man is and achieves and what he thinks of his own abilities and achievements is pitilessly revealed. Day-dreams of a “fair” world which would treat him according to his “real worth” are the refuge of all those plagued by a lack of self-knowledge.

The Anticapitalistic Mentality, Ludwig von Mises, 1956,