“The FTSE 100 has at last topped the record it set at the close of 1999. Should Britons celebrate ? Probably not.”
– John Authers, The Financial Times, ‘FTSE hits record, but hold off the bubbly.”
“To refer to a personal taste of mine, I’m going to buy hamburgers the rest of my life. When hamburgers go down in price, we sing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in the Buffett household. When hamburgers go up in price, we weep. For most people, it’s the same with everything in life they will be buying — except stocks. When stocks go down and you can get more for your money, people don’t like them anymore.”
– Warren Buffett, 10th December 2001.
“I’m thinking of making a purchase of Berkshire [Hathaway], but I’m concerned about something happening to you, Mr. Buffett. I cannot afford an event risk.”
– Attendee at a shareholders’ meeting of Berkshire Hathaway.
“Neither can I.”
– Warren Buffett’s response.
“The most realistic distinction between the investor and the speculator is found in their attitude toward stock-market movements. The speculator’s primary interest lies in anticipating and profiting from market fluctuations. The investor’s primary interest lies in acquiring and holding suitable securities at suitable prices. Market movements are important to him in a practical sense, because they alternately create low price levels at which he would be wise to buy and high price levels at which he certainly should refrain from buying and probably would be wise to sell.”
– Benjamin Graham.
“Investors’ delight as shares smash record.”
– The Times.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Warren Buffett’s taking control of the Berkshire Hathaway company, his annual letter to shareholders has been keenly anticipated. It does not disappoint. The compounded annualised gain in book value per share for the company from 1965 to 2014 equates to 19.4%. The annualised percentage gain for the S&P 500 over the same period, with dividends reinvested, equates to 9.9%. That differential has delivered astronomical comparative performance. The overall gain for the US market comes to 11,196% over the period. The overall gain for Berkshire Hathaway stock comes to 751,113%. If the efficient market hypothesis were correct, a differential of that magnitude could not possibly exist, in this or any other universe. As Buffett himself has remarked,
“I’d be a bum on the street with a tin cup if the markets were always efficient.”
So it is something of a shame that Buffett has never been awarded a Nobel prize for economics, as opposed to Eugene Fama, the father of the efficient market hypothesis, who has. No doubt Buffett’s net worth of roughly $60 billion takes some of the sting away.
Buffett in this year’s letter takes an explicit swipe at another piece of conventional investment wisdom – the idea that risk is essentially encapsulated in price volatility (step forward, Harry Markowitz, and any number of cheerleaders and ‘consultants’ who claim to be professional investors):
“For the great majority of investors.. who can – and should – invest with a multi-decade horizon, quotational declines are unimportant. Their focus should remain fixed on attaining significant gains in purchasing power over their investing lifetime. For them, a diversified equity portfolio, bought over time, will prove far less risky than dollar-based securities [i.e. cash and bonds]. If the investor, instead, fears price volatility, erroneously viewing it as a measure of risk, he may, ironically, end up doing some very risky things. Recall, if you will, the pundits who six years ago bemoaned falling stock prices and advised investing in “safe” Treasury bills or bank certificates of deposit. People who heeded this sermon are now earning a pittance on sums they had previously expected would finance a pleasant retirement.”
In October 2009, Buffett’s business partner and Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger was interviewed on the BBC and was asked about how much concern he had for the company’s latest stock price decline. His response:
“Zero. This is the third time that Warren and I have seen our holdings in Berkshire Hathaway go down, top tick to bottom tick, by 50%. I think it’s in the nature of long term shareholding of the normal vicissitudes, in worldly outcomes, and in markets that the long-term holder has his quoted value of his stocks go down by, say, 50%. In fact, you can argue that if you’re not willing to react with equanimity to a market price decline of 50% two or three times a century you’re not fit to be a common shareholder, and you deserve the mediocre result you’re going to get compared to the people who do have the temperament, who can be more philosophical about these market fluctuations.” [Emphasis ours.]
There will be plenty of commentary online about Buffett’s letter and we don’t intend to distract readers from the source material. There’s just one line from it we’d like to reiterate:
“Although our form is corporate, our attitude is partnership.”
Berkshire’s structure is unusual. It’s a diversified holding company but clearly for many shareholders it has acted extraordinarily well as an investment manager. Berkshire and Buffett have benefited, in turn, from access to genuinely permanent capital and to unusually patient shareholders – a fact Buffett is only too happy to acknowledge. But the bottom line is that the relationship has been symbiotic: a partnership between co-investors, as opposed to an adversarial relationship between lots of mouths needing to be fed, and customers who are second in the queue for capital returns after all those mouths have been fed. As at year-end 2014, Berkshire was a business with $526 billion in assets, with a corporate headquarters employing just 25 people. Now that is decentralised capital allocation.
50 years. A 750,000% return. But the most striking thing about Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway is not even the absurdly enviable track record of demonstrable investment success. The ‘value’ methodology, originally developed by Benjamin Graham, and subsequently adapted by Buffett to take account of Berkshire’s ever-increasing size, is almost entirely transparent, and a matter of historical record, not least in the Berkshire shareholders’ letters. Buffett himself acknowledged the perversity in his 1984 Appendix to Graham’s ‘The Intelligent Investor’:
“I can only tell you that the secret has been out for 50 years, ever since Ben Graham and David Dodd wrote ‘Security Analysis’ [and since Ben Graham followed up with ‘The Intelligent Investor’], yet I have seen no trend toward value investing in the 35 years that I’ve practised it. There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult..
“There will continue to be wide discrepancies between price and value in the marketplace, and those who read their Graham and Dodd will continue to prosper.”
No, the most striking thing about Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, and ‘value’ investing is why on earth anybody would want to invest any other way.
No need to say much more than the quotations cited above with regard to the latest non-event from the FTSE 100 index:
The new ‘high’ is only a high in nominal terms. As Merryn Somerset Webb points out, UK retail prices have risen by more than 50% since the last ‘high’ 16 years ago.
As the FT’s John Authers points out, the UK’s annualised real return of 1.4% since the last ‘high’ severely lags behind the rest of the world (2.1%) and even Spain (3.4%). And as Authers rightly also observes, the composition of the FTSE 100 is itself pretty arbitrary – 100 large companies, with particular concentration in banking and commodities, that just happened to list in the UK.
Per Buffett, if you are an ongoing consumer of UK stocks as hamburgers, this is actually bad news. It just means the market is more expensive.
If, like us, you have no interest in index-tracking, and are instead looking for compelling value, this is nothing more than a giant, irrelevant yawn. We are far more interested in what Ben Graham called “the ever-present bargain opportunities in individual securities”. Anglophile investors should be aware that there are currently more attractive sources of value in markets outside the UK and US.
This ‘news’ clearly appeals to those participants in the financial media for whom relevance to the real world comes secondary to the excitement and entertainment engendered by a good sports story.
The last word should probably to America’s finest news source.
NEW YORK–Excitement swept the financial world Monday, when a blue line jumped more than 11 percent, passing four black horizontal lines as it rose from 367.22 to 408.85.
It was the biggest single-day gain for a blue line since 1994.
“Even if you extend the blue line’s big white box back many vertical lines, you won’t find a comparably large jump,” said Milton Vogel, a senior analyst with Merrill Lynch. “That line just kept going up, up, up.”
The blue line, which had been sluggish ever since the red line started pointing down in April, began its rebound with an impressively pointy 7 percent rise Friday. By noon Monday, it had crossed the second horizontal line from the top for the first time since December.
Ecstatic investors are comparing the blue line to the left side of a very tall, steep blue mountain.
“It’s a really steep line,” said Larry Danziger, a San Jose, CA, day trader and golf enthusiast. “I stand to make a tremendous amount of money as a result of the steepness of this line.”
“It looks like the line’s about to shoot out of the box,” said Boston-area investor Michael Lupert, enjoying a glass of white zinfandel on the bow of his 30-foot yacht. “I’m definitely going to keep a close eye on this line as it continues to move to the right.”
Despite such bullishness, some financial observers are urging caution.
“Given this line’s long history of jaggedness, we really should take a wait-and-see approach,” Fortune magazine associate editor Charles Reames said. “And even if this important line continues its upward pointiness, we must remember that there are other shapes, colors, numbers, and lines to consider when judging the health of the economy.”
Reames also warned that the upward angle of the line, which most analysts agreed was approximately 80 degrees, may have been exaggerated by the way the graph was drawn.
“The stuff that’s written along the bottom of the graph is all squished together, making the line look a lot more impressive than it is,” Reames said. “Had that same stuff been spread out more, the line would have looked a lot less steep.”
Still, most U.S. investors found it hard to contain their enthusiasm as the blue line shot up sharply, outperforming the green line, the yellow line, and even the thriving dotted purple line.
“Typically, the blue line rises or falls no more than 10 in a day,” said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Gruber. “But Monday, it went up an astonishing 41–and during a time when we have a big red slice showing on our pie charts, no less. We live in a truly remarkable time.”
[Editor’s Note: this lengthy piece, by Richard Ebeling, primarily based on the “lost papers” of Ludwig von Mises that he and his wife, Anna, discovered in a formerly secret KGB archive in Moscow, Russia, is well worth reading as it shows Mises’s brilliance for understanding the problems of his time as well as purely abstract economics.]
Introduction to Volume 3
Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Ideas
All except one of the essays in this volume were written by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises in the four years immediately after his arrival in the United States in the summer of 1940 as a refugee from war-torn Europe. Half of them were delivered as lectures. The others were prepared as monographs on special topics. Their general theme is the problem of international reconstruction and reform in the era succeeding the Second World War.
In the Europe he had left behind, Ludwig von Mises had been one of the most celebrated—and controversial—economists of his time. Over the preceding thirty years, he had acquired an international reputation as one of the leading contributors to the Austrian School of economics and as possibly the foremost critic of the collectivist trends of the early twentieth century. In the 1920s, when the appeal of socialism in its various forms was at its zenith, Mises boldly challenged the feasibility of a fully centralized planned economy. He also questioned the long-term stability of an interventionist or mixed economy as a sustainable “middle way” between a free market system and a socialist, centrally planned economy. And he forcefully argued that only a system of laissez-faire capitalism—of genuine capitalism—could successfully assure freedom and prosperity.
At the same time, he developed his analysis of alternative systems of social and economic order in the wider context of a philosophical and methodological approach that ran counter to the Marxist, positivist, and historicist prejudices of the time. He insisted that social analysis had to have as its starting point a general theory of individual human action and choice. It could not be successfully constructed on the basis of mythical racial, class, or nationalistic aggregates.
An understanding of Mises’s arguments on these subjects, as well as his [ix] work as an influential economic policy analyst in the Austria between the two world wars, is essential if one is to appreciate his ideas on postwar reconstruction and reform. In 1920, Mises published “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,” which he expanded into a comprehensive treatise on Socialism in 1922.In 1927, he published Liberalism, which was followed two years later by Critique of Interventionism. In these important books, he offered a detailed and consistent defense of free-market capitalism in opposition to the regulated economy and socialism.
For Mises, one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind has been the discovery of the higher productivity arising from a division of labor. The classical economists’ analysis of comparative advantage—under which specialization in production increases the quantities, qualities, and varieties of goods available to all participants in the network of exchange—is more than merely a sophisticated demonstration of the mutual gains from trade. As Mises was to later express it, the law of comparative advantage actually is the law of human association: The mutual benefits resulting from specialization of activities constitute the origins of society and the development of civilization.
The rationality of the market economy lies in its ability to allocate the scarce means of production in society for the most efficient satisfaction of consumer wants in a complex system of division of labor—that is, to see to [xi] it that the means at individuals’ disposal are applied to the most highly valued uses, as expressed in the free choices those individuals make in the marketplace. Of course, this requires some method of discovering the alternative uses for which scarce means might be employed and their relative value in their competing uses. Mises explained that competitively determined market prices, in an institutional setting of private ownership over the means of production, provide the only reliable method for solving this problem. On the market for consumer goods, buyers express their valuations for commodities in the form of the prices they are willing to pay. Similarly, on the market for producer goods, entrepreneurs express their appraisals of the relative future profitability of using factors of production in manufacturing various goods through the prices they are willing to pay.
Market prices, expressed through the common denominator of money, are what make economic calculation possible. The relative costs and expected revenues from alternative productive activities are compared and contrasted with ease and efficiency. The competitive processes of the market tend to assure that none of the scarce factors of production is applied for any productive purpose for which there is a more highly valued use (as expressed in a rival entrepreneur’s bid for their hire). The value of the goods desired by consumers is imputed back to the scarce means of production through the competitive rivalry of entrepreneurs. Thus the means available in society are applied to best serve people’s ends.
Mises’s crucial argument against all forms of socialism and interventionism is that they prevent the effective operation of this market process and thus reduce the rationality of the social system. The triumph of socialism—with its nationalization of the means of production under government control and central planning—meant the irrationalization of the economic order. Without market-based prices to supply information about the actual opportunity costs of using those resources (as estimated by the competing market actors themselves) decision-making by socialist central planners is inevitably arbitrary and “irrational.” The socialist economy is, therefore, fundamentally anti-economic.
Interventionism does not abolish the market economy. Instead, it introduces various forms of onerous controls and regulations that deflect production from the paths that would have been followed if entrepreneurs, in the search for profits through the best satisfaction of consumer demand, had been left free to fully follow their own judgments concerning the use and disposal of the factors of production under their control. Price controls, [xii] in particular, distort competitively determined relationships between selling prices and cost prices, resulting in severe misallocations of resources and misdirected production activities.
One other major contribution by Mises during his years in Europe was his pioneering work on monetary theory and policy. Before the first World War he published The Theory of Money and Credit(1912). In this book, he applied the Austrian theory of marginal utility to the problem of explaining the value of money on the basis of individuals’ demands for holding cash balances. He also developed a dynamic sequence analysis, enabling him to explain the process by which changes in the quantity of money bring about redistributions of wealth, relative price changes that modify the allocation of real resources among various sectors of the market, as well as how monetary changes introduced through the banking system can distort interest rates in such a way as to generate business cycles. One of the conclusions that Mises reached in his analysis of monetary processes is that business cycles are not a phenomenon inherent in the market economy. Rather, they are caused by government mismanagement of the monetary and banking system. He later restated and refined his arguments relating to monetary policy in Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy.
A wider theme of Mises’s writings in the period between the world wars is the philosophical and methodological foundations of economic science. In a series of essays written in the 1920s and early 1930s he argued that economics belongs to a more general science of human action, which he came to call “praxeology.” He stated that economics begins with the concept of intentionality and purposefulness, and that this makes economics—and its methods of analysis—different from the approaches followed for the study of the physical sciences. At the same time, the logic of action and choice, which economists take as their starting point for [xiii] analysis of market phenomena, has universal properties and characteristics concerning the human condition from which the general laws of economics can be derived. As a result, Mises strongly opposed the highly popular positivist and historicist ideas of his time. The essays in which he developed these ideas on the methodology of the human sciences were published as a collection in 1933.
Besides his writings on capitalism, socialism, interventionism, and the monetary order, Mises also attempted to influence the course of events in Austria as a policymaker. Beginning in 1909, he was employed in the department of finance at the Vienna Chamber for Commerce, Trade, and Industry as an economic analyst. In this capacity he evaluated and made recommendations about various legislative proposals in the areas of banking, insurance, monetary and foreign-exchange policy, and public finance. In the years between the two world wars, he was a senior secretary with the Chamber, enabling him to argue with some authority on the economic policy issues confronting the Austrian government.
A review of documents and memoranda he prepared for the Vienna Chamber of Commerce during the 1920s and early 1930s shows his consistent emphasis on the desirability of freeing the Austrian economy of high taxes and tariffs, foreign-exchange controls, industrial regulation and price controls, and the excessive power of special interest groups, especially trade unions to control labor markets. The general consensus of economists and others who knew Mises during this period is that he was extremely influential in moderating collectivist and inflationary policies in Austria. For [xiv] example, he was instrumental in preventing the full nationalization of the Austrian economy by a socialist government immediately after the end of the first World War. He successfully helped to redirect public and political opinion to bring the Great Austrian Inflation to an end in 1922. And in the aftermath of this monetary disaster, he played an important role in the writing of the statutes and by-laws of the National Bank of Austria, which was reconstructed under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1923.
Mises’s early activities at the Chamber were interrupted in 1914 when his reserve unit in the Austro-Hungarian army was called up for active service in the first World War. For part of the next four years, he served as an artillery officer on the Russian front. Three times he was decorated for bravery under fire. Following the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between imperial Germany and Lenin’s new Bolshevik government that ended the war on the Eastern front in March of 1918, Mises was appointed the officer in charge of currency control in Austrian-occupied Ukraine. His headquarters were in Odessa. Later in the same year he was transferred to duty in Vienna to serve as an economic expert for the Austrian General Staff. In this role he was responsible for preparing memoranda on inflation, war industry, war finance, and related issues. With the end of the war, Mises returned to civilian life. Besides his duties with the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, he was appointed in late 1918 as director of the League of Nations Reparations Commission for the settlement of prewar debts and war claims. He held this position until 1920.
In 1913, Mises had been granted the right to teach at the University of Vienna as a Privatdozent, or unsalaried lecturer; in 1918, he was promoted to the title of Professor Extraordinary. Except during the war, he taught a course at the university almost every semester until 1934, thus influencing a new generation of young Viennese and foreign scholars. He also cofounded and served as vice president of the Austrian Economic Society. In 1920, Mises began a Privatseminar, or private seminar, that normally met twice a month from October to June at his Chamber office. This seminar brought together a group of Viennese scholars in economics, political science, philosophy, sociology, and law, many of whom went on to become world-renowned scholars in their respective fields. Almost [xv] to a man, the participants recalled that the seminar was one of the most rigorous and rewarding experiences of their lives.
One other singularly important activity of Mises during this period was his founding of the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research in 1926. With the future Nobel laureate, twenty-seven-year-old Friedrich A. Hayek, as the first director, the Institute was soon internationally recognized as a leading center for economic forecasting and policy analysis in Central Europe. Shortly after it was founded the Institute began to be commissioned by the League of Nations to prepare reports and studies on the economic situation in Central and Eastern Europe. When, in 1931, Hayek accepted an appointment at the London School of Economics, another young Austrian economist, Oskar Morgenstern, assumed the position of Institute director. Morgenstern remained the director until 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Mises served as the Institute’s vice president until 1934.
In March of 1934, William E. Rappard, cofounder and director of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote to Mises in Vienna inquiring if he would be willing to accept a visiting professorship in international economic relations. Mises accepted the appointment and assumed his responsibilities at the Graduate Institute in October of 1934. Shortly after arriving in Geneva, he began a project he had in mind for many years, namely the writing of a comprehensive treatise on economics. Apart from his light teaching responsibilities (one course and one seminar a semester), most of his time during the next six years was devoted to this project. In May of 1940, as Europe was falling under the dark cloud of Nazi occupation, this monumental work,Nationalökonomie, was published in Switzerland. It served as the basis for his later English-language treatise, Human Action, published in 1949.
In June of 1940, Mises resigned from his position at the Graduate Institute. On July 4, he left Geneva for the United States. After a harrowing journey across France and Spain to Lisbon, Portugal, he embarked on an ocean liner on July 24, and he arrived in New Jersey on August 2, 1940.
Mises’s first years in the United States—the period when the essays in this volume were written—were not easy ones. He experienced great difficulty in finding a permanent teaching position, partly because of his age (he was fifty-nine years old when he arrived) and partly because of the intellectual climate that then prevailed. His was a voice for an older classical liberalism and free-market capitalism that was out of step with the popular trends of socialism, interventionism, and Keynesian economics embraced by a large majority of American academics and policymakers.
However, Mises was supported through research grants generously supplied by the Rockefeller Foundation as well as an affiliation with the National Bureau of Economic Research. He completed two works that were both published in 1944: Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War and Bureaucracy. A third book, written shortly after his arrival in the United States,Government and Business, remained unpublished until just recently, when it appeared under the titleInterventionism: An Economic Analysis.
Not until 1945 was Mises appointed to an academic post as a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Business at New York University, a position he retained until his retirement in 1969 at the age of eighty-eight. During almost a quarter of a century of teaching in the United States, he was able to train a new American generation of “Austrian” economists. He also published a number of significant books, including [xvii] Planning for Freedom,The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality,Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution,The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, and The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics.
When Ludwig von Mises died on October 10, 1973, at the age of ninety-two, there is no doubt that he left a profound and lasting legacy as an economic theorist and a champion of liberty.
Economic Nationalism in the Period Between the Two World Wars
The catastrophe of the Second World War was, in Mises’s view, the logical culmination of the political and economic policies of the 1920s and 1930s. Having after 1914 abandoned the principles and practice of economic liberalism and free trade, Europe (and the world in general) had created a political environment in which social conflict within countries and war between nations was almost inevitable.
In a social setting of free-market capitalism, in which governments basically confined themselves to the equal protection of each person to his liberty and property before the law, sectional and national conflicts were practically nonexistent. Directed by the incentives of market opportunities, every individual found his place in the social system of division of labor. Labor, capital, and commodities migrated to those places offering the most attractive returns. Production and employment were localized where market profitability suggested the greatest productive advantage.
Moreover, in such a free-market setting, rivalries between competitors [xviii] were private affairs in which their only weapons were cheaper and better products to capture more consumer business. With governments limited to the protection of life and property, national boundaries were merely administrative lines on maps with no economic significance. Men, money, and goods moved freely and unhindered by politically imposed barriers.
In the generally free-market order before 1914, most of the world’s monetary system was based on a market-based commodity: gold. Though governments through national central banks relegated to themselves control over the money supply, they managed the monetary system by the “rules” of the gold standard. The quantity of money was determined by the profitability of gold mining based on the demand for gold for monetary as well as commercial uses. The purchasing power of money was set by the market forces of supply and demand, and only to a relatively limited extent by the manipulations of governments pursuing various and sundry political goals.
It is always easy to look back at earlier times and to picture them nostalgically as “golden ages” from which the present represents a tragic fall. In fact, however, the period before the first World War possessed many of the characteristics summarized in Mises’s conception of a world of free trade and free markets. It is true that even before the first World War destroyed this epoch of classical liberalism, the world had been returning to policies of governmental intervention and trade restrictions, with imperial Germany in the lead. Nonetheless, the era before 1914 was a world characterized by what Gustav Stolper called the epoch of the “three freedoms”: freedom of movement for men, for goods, and for money. In addition, the world enjoyed an unprecedented level of peace. Conflicts and even wars did occur, but, under the classical liberal ideal of individual freedom, private property, and limited government, wars—especially in Europe—were [xix] few in number, short in duration, and restrained in their damage to life and property.
The First World War ushered in an era of economic planning, price and production controls, foreign-exchange regulations, restrictions on international trade, capital movements, and migration, and a flood of paper-money inflations to cover the costs of war. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, the world had to reconstruct the political and economic landscape. The political map of Europe was radically redrawn, with the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires carved up to make a tapestry of new and differently shaped nation-states in Central and Eastern Europe. But with the emergence of political nationalism came the rise of economic nationalism. Each of the new successor states imposed tariff barriers and artificially stimulated the creation of greater agricultural or industrial sectors in their economies. These policies were enacted through subsidies, monopoly rights of production and sale, import and export regulations and quotas, tax incentives, foreign exchange controls, and restrictions on the free movement of capital and labor.
Each of these nations of Europe considered that political independence required a corollary: economic independence. The ideal of “autarky” —economic self-sufficiency—increasingly became the basis upon which the governments of these countries judged the appropriateness of any economic policy.Domestic and foreign economic policies by one country became the cause for suspicion and planned counter-policy by its [xx] neighbors. Nor did the countries of Western Europe fully return to the freer policies that prevailed before 1914; they, too, retained various forms of the controls that had been implemented during the war. Consequently, a climate of antagonism, fear, and economic warfare came to dominate the arena of international politics.
Furthermore, whereas the gold standard had formed the basis of the monetary system of virtually all major countries before the first World War, in the postwar era monetary nationalism joined economic nationalism as the new currency order of the world. Under the prewar gold standard, a unit of each nation’s currency was fixed as a certain quantity of gold, exchangeable on demand at that ratio at any representative bank. Through this common gold connection, the national currencies of the world were bound into a unitary and international monetary order.
After the monetary chaos of the immediate postwar period, during which some currencies, like Germany’s, were literally destroyed by hyperinflation, there was an attempt to return to monetary stability and a weaker form of the gold standard. Most governments, however, were unwilling or unable to follow the “rules of the game” required under the gold standard. Money was no longer a market-based medium of exchange through which were facilitated the domestic and global transactions of private trade and investment. Instead, money was increasingly viewed as a tool of national economic policy. Money’s domestic purchasing power and external foreign-exchange value were things to be manipulated by governments to further “national purposes.” With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, these tendencies merely continued and intensified.
There were half-hearted attempts to restore international trade and [xxi] monetary order in the 1920s and 1930s, but they all failed. The forces of political and economic nationalism, the emerging idea of economic planning, the pragmatic politics of interventionist policies to foster the special interests of domestic groups, and the formal abandonment of the gold standard in favor of purely fiat monies exacerbated the disintegration of the international economic order. In the 1930s, governments increased their subsidies and protectionist supports to industry and agriculture, their interference in the management and control of private enterprise, their monetary and fiscal manipulations to influence domestic output and employment, their taxing policies to modify the distribution of wealth, and their regulation of foreign trade and foreign-exchange rates. The benefits of a free international economic order were forgotten.
With the growth of political and economic nationalism came political [xxii] and economic tyranny. Dictators emerged all across the face of Central and Eastern Europe. Freedom was under attack as never before in modern times. Political and economic nationalism in Europe finally culminated in the barbarism and destruction of World War II.
International Reconstruction and Reform after the Second World War
Even before the worst carnage of the war had occurred, economists, political scientists, historians, sociologists, and men of practical politics had begun to ask themselves how the world had reached such a state of disorganization and chaos and how the era to come after the war could be made better. At first, when the outcome of the war was still uncertain, the analysis often focused on what the alternative international orders might look like were the postwar world to be primarily totalitarian or democratic, or if there were to be a division of the globe between the two rival political systems. As the war progressed, it became clear that the Western democracies would triumph, with fascist and Nazi totalitarianism unconditionally defeated. Accordingly, the world was faced with the serious need to reconstruct the international political and economic order. A general consensus existed, especially among economists, that the world required a reversal of the economic nationalism and protectionism that had plagued the interwar period. There was plenty of evidence that such policies only [xxiii] led to economic disaster and political tension. The postwar world would desperately need the benefits of free trade and the advantages of an international division of labor.
There were some who forcefully called for a revival of classical liberal ideals for domestic and international economic reconstruction and reform. But such voices for a return to pre–World War I classical liberalism were in a small minority. The general view among proponents of a new international economic order was that an unregulated and unplanned market economy was a thing of the past—and would be undesirable even if it were feasible. Under the influence of Keynesian economics and the apparent “advantages” of wartime planning, the majority of economists expected that, in peacetime, governments would still extensively intervene in and regulate the market economy. They asserted with confidence, in the words of Howard Ellis, that “governments have definitely accepted welfare economics as a basic policy; and it is altogether unlikely that any nation will again leave to the vagaries of unregulated international competition the crucial matter of total effective demand for its products and its manpower.” As Charles E. Merriman, a supporter of this new consensus, said: “Planning is coming. Of this there can be no doubt. The only question is whether it will be democratic planning of a free society, or totalitarian in character.”
The ideal was the so-called “middle way” between laissez-faire and a totally planned economy. But a middle way necessarily involved a [xxiv] pre-eminent position for governments in regulating prices and production, and in managing domestic aggregate employment and output and the price level through various monetary and fiscal methods. If a world economic order were to be reconstructed, governments would have to be the overseers and coordinators, meshing their internal plans with any intergovernmental policies for international trade, investment, and exchange-rate stability.
International organizations, therefore, became the vehicle for intergovernmental planning and coordination: the International Monetary Fund, the International Trade Organization, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank, and numerous agencies surrounding the United Nations. The creation of these organizations involved a radically different ordering of international economic relationships. Before 1914, international trade and investment were mostly private matters of business and commerce, with the leading governments securing the political and legal framework within which private enterprises went about their market-oriented affairs.After the Second World War, the new [xxv] international order was to be based on planned, regulated, and intergovernmentally managed trade.
It is true that, for the first two decades after the end of the Second World War, the Western world experienced a degree of economic prosperity and stability unknown in the period between the world wars. Freer trade was the hallmark of postwar international commerce in comparison to the aggressive economic nationalism of the interwar era. But it was governments, through the international organizations established after the war, that determined the degree and form that trade and investment patterns assumed. Additionally, the apparent stability of foreign-exchange rates and the international monetary order were punctuated with periods of crisis and disorder because of national inflationary policies.
The period following the Second World War was also deeply affected by the protracted tensions and conflicts of the Cold War. Communism and central planning became the new ideals of the emerging Third World countries. Consequently, some feared that freedom and democracy would perish in the ideological contest with Marxism around the globe. Even Western economists looked at the trends of growth in Gross National Product in the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s and concluded, by extrapolation, that before the end of the century the revolutionary center of communism might very well outstrip the world’s bastion of capitalism in production and standards of living.
The world has turned out differently from what many had either anticipated or feared in the 1960s and 1970s. Notwithstanding the regime in China, communism officially died in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The former Soviet-bloc countries are implementing some market-style reforms through privatization. Western and Central Europe [xxvi] are moving toward economic integration. Third World countries have begun turning away from central planning and have entered the epoch of market-oriented industrialization and computerization. But bureaucrats and politicians still manipulate the global marketplace. The welfare state still remains entrenched in the Western world. Through central banks, monetary central planners still control and manipulate the currencies of every country. Economic crises due to governmental mismanagement of monetary, fiscal, and foreign-exchange institutions still erupt. Much of the world still subscribes to the policies of the interventionist state and the mentality of the social engineer.
Mises’s Proposals for International Economic Reconstruction and Reform
In the first five essays in this collection—delivered as lectures at Yale University, New York University, and Columbia University—Ludwig von Mises explored the causes of Europe’s decline into war and destruction in the years between the two world wars, and the general ideological and policy changes that were needed for a return to peace and prosperity in the postwar period. He argued that the reconstruction of the international economic order could be fully successful only if the nations of the world abandoned the ideology of economic nationalism. There could be neither domestic nor international peace as long as governmental policy had as its objective the bestowing of privileges and favors on some at the expense of others. Mises explained that economic nationalism is the foreign policy corollary of internal interventionism for the purpose of bestowing such privileges and favors.
Generally speaking, less efficient producers who are unable to devise ways of meeting the competition of their more efficient rivals in the domestic market turn to the government for protection and financial assistance to maintain their market position and to limit or prohibit the ability of their rivals within the country to compete against them. In the arena of international trade, less efficient producers turn to their respective governments to limit or prohibit foreign rivals from competing in their domestic market. The purpose of economic nationalism is to impose “harm” on foreign producers who otherwise would have profited from better [xxvii] satisfying the wants of consumers than some domestic manufacturers and suppliers.
By politicizing the market rivalries of private producers, international trade becomes one of “affairs of state.” Foreign producers and investors came to be viewed as “enemies” to defeat or take advantage of through political means. The tools of “economic warfare” between countries guided by economic nationalism are tariffs and import quotas, export subsidies, foreign-exchange controls and manipulations, and taxes and regulations on foreign investors. The results, insisted Mises, are international tensions and hostilities that narrow or even destroy the international division of labor. finally, he warned that actual war can grow out of economic nationalism if one of the “combatants” in these trade conflicts believes he is strong enough to defeat an opponent and capture his resources, raw materials, and markets. Mises pointed out that the distinctive feature of economic nationalism in Germany under the Nazis was the German political leadership’s confidence it could use military force to conquer Lebensraum (“living-space”) for the German people—living space in terms of resources, land, markets, and military security in a world in which other nations were also attempting to close off their markets for the exclusive advantage of their own citizens.
Mises was not surprised that in the 1930s collective security had failed to frustrate the territorial ambitions and conquests of Europe’s tyrants. Considering that the various nations of Europe viewed each other as rivals and even “enemies” in the arena of economic warfare, it was unlikely that they could successfully unify their political and military efforts to prevent Nazi, fascist, and Soviet aggrandizement.
Furthermore, as Mises explained, political and economic problems in Central and Eastern Europe contained a distinctive quality not present to the same extent in Western Europe. Almost all the countries in the eastern half of Europe were made up of “mixed” populations of diverse linguistic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Interventionist policies in these countries were frequently used as tools for discrimination against minorities. Taxing, regulatory, licensing, and trade policies were often applied as devices to impose economic disadvantages upon some of these national [xxviii] minorities for the economic benefit of more politically influential groups. Social peace within the borders of these nations was impossible as long as economic nationalism was the prevailing ideology.
Antagonisms in Central and Eastern Europe were reinforced by the politics of national self-determination, according to which countries coveted territories belonging to their neighbors on the basis of the idea that all peoples speaking the same language should be unified within the same nation-state. But precisely because linguistic and ethnic groups in this part of Europe were so intermingled within geographic areas, no redrawing of boundaries could successfully separate peoples in such a way that nationalistic tensions could be eliminated or even significantly minimized. The only answer, Mises declared, was a return to the political philosophy of classical liberalism and a consistent free-market capitalism, under which social and economic relationships would be depoliticized.
Mises warned that the end of the Second World War would find Europe economically destroyed. Capital would have been consumed and ill maintained as a result of the war. The infrastructure of the society—roads, bridges, railways, housing—would be ruined or in a state of disrepair. The quantity and quality of the work force would be weakened due to the conflict, lowering the productivity of labor. Agriculture would be less productive. Postwar Europe would be much poorer than before the conflict. In such a setting, Europe would no longer be able to afford the politics of redistribution and the economics of intervention and nationalism.
Work, savings, investment, and capital formation would be essential. A reconstitution and reintegration of Europe within the global division of labor would be imperative. For this to happen, Mises wrote, three changes needed to occur in the European mentality. The first required change concerned the attitude that economic policy was only about achieving short-run goals. Practical politics in the earlier decades of the twentieth century had been geared to providing immediate benefits to various groups that could be satisfied only by undermining the long-run prospects and prosperity of society. In the new postwar era, Mises argued, taxes could no longer be confiscatory. International debts could no longer be repudiated or diluted through currency controls or foreign-exchange rate manipulations. Foreign investors could no longer be viewed as victims to be violated or plundered through regulation or nationalization.
The countries of Europe would have to think about and design their economic policies from a long-term point of view. To avoid reliance solely [xxix] on internal savings, Europe would desperately need infusions of foreign capital. But attracting private foreign investors—which in the postwar period primarily meant private American investors—would require a secure system of property rights, strict enforcement of market contracts for both domestic and foreign businessmen, low and stable taxes, reduced and limited government expenditures and balanced budgets, and a stable, noninflationary monetary system. Only then would governments have done everything in their power to create the political and economic environment most conducive for participants in the market to begin and achieve economic recovery. Consistent with a leading theme expressed in many of his writings, Mises emphasized that the prime movers in the social system of division of labor were the entrepreneurs—the creators and coordinators of the market process—whose central role needed to be appreciated and given unrestricted freedom of action. The ideology of anti-capitalism, therefore, had to be rejected in its entirety.
The second change required of European thinking, Mises wrote, concerned the attitude that politics should be geared toward special interest groups. Earlier in the twentieth century, governments had increasingly used their regulatory and fiscal powers to prevent the market forces of supply and demand (and the market forces of profit and loss) from determining success and failure in the economy. Instead, government interventions had maintained less efficient producers by placing barriers in the way of new and innovative entrepreneurs, by fixing prices at nonmarket-determined levels, and by imposing tariff and other trade walls against foreign competitors. Economic reconstruction required the acceptance that such short-sighted “producer policies” are counter to the economic wellbeing of the society. The essential function of market competition is to continuously discover each participant’s comparative advantage and, therefore, most economically appropriate place in the system of division of labor. Market prices are the mechanism through which the opportunity costs of using resources (including labor) and the relative profitabilities of alternative lines of production are discovered for purposes of assuring the greatest satisfaction of consumer demands.
Mises warned that postwar Europe would be too poor to afford the waste and misuse of its scarce factors of production. The purpose of production is consumption. The use and value of the means has to reflect the importance and value of the ends for which they are applied. This requires a “consumer-oriented” policy in which production would be constantly [xxx] adjusted to actual and changing demand and supply conditions in the market. The only rational policy for reconstruction and rising standards of living, therefore, is unhampered free-market competition.
The third of Mises’s recommendations for a change in European thinking concerned the ethics of the redistributive state. Mises emphasized several times in these first essays that Europe’s problem at the end of the Second World War would be moral and spiritual. The “dependency state” had become the ideal and demand of large segments of the European population. Governments had been expected to be the guarantor of employment and profits, and the provider of income and security. The redistribution of wealth, rather than its creation, had become the hallmark of “progressive economic policy.” But, in truth, he wrote, governments can supply none of these in the long run. Employment and profits arise out of savings, investment, work, and intelligent direction of production to serve consumer demands by market-selected entrepreneurs. Governments can provide and secure income for some only by taxing and redistributing the income and wealth of others. Such redistributive policies weaken incentives, retard the formation of capital, and consume the private wealth accumulated in the past. The inevitable results from such policies are stifled growth and a diminished standard of living.
Europe’s moral and spiritual decay, in the early twentieth century, was due to a declining sense of individual responsibility, a loss of the understanding that the truly “social” requires relationships of peaceful and voluntary cooperation through the market, and a growing illusion that society can long endure in a setting of plunder, confiscation, group conflict, and war. Consequently, Mises wrote, the revival of prosperity and a sustainable future of material and cultural improvement could not be imported from or subsidized by foreign sources. In other words, the economics, politics, and ethics of the free and prosperous society could only come from within each nation—from a change in the minds and ideas of each nation’s citizens.
Government-to-government aid and loans or government-subsidized and government-guaranteed investments to private enterprise would merely perpetuate the interventionist myths of the past that had brought so much misery, poverty, crises, and war. International organizations for intergovernmental cooperation in matters of money, finance, and trade, Mises concluded, are unworkable in the long run if the member governments continue to function on the basis of interventionism and economic nationalism. His reasoning was that each nation would try to use [xxxi] governmentally directed organizations to further its own “interests” at the expense of other countries. If, on the other hand, each nation were to adopt and follow the precepts of classical liberalism and economic liberty in domestic and foreign trade policies, such international organizations would be unnecessary. If the major nations of the world were to practice free trade in both their domestic and foreign affairs, international order would emerge out of the peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships of private transactors in the marketplace. Intergovernmental agreements and international bureaucracies, Mises concluded, are not a substitute for sound policies of economic freedom at home.
The various proposals for intergovernmental monetary coordination during the war years, eventually instituted through the Bretton Woods Agreement and the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and related organizations, were viewed by Mises, therefore, as misplaced solutions to the fundamental problem of international monetary order. His reasons for this view and his alternative proposal are presented in “A Noninflationary Proposal for Postwar Monetary Reconstruction” and “The Main Issues of Present-Day Monetary Controversies.”
The interwar period had seen the demise of an international monetary system. The gold standard that prevailed prior to the first World War had been destroyed by governments wishing to use the printing press to finance their wartime expenditures. The half-hearted attempts to reconstruct the gold standard in the 1920s had been a failure because governments were no longer willing to allow the supply and value of money to remain outside of their direct and discretionary control. Whether to finance current expenditures to satisfy special interest groups or to inflate the general level of prices to influence employment and production in the domestic economy, monetary manipulation was a vital tool in the quest for the attainment of short-run policy goals.
If the world after the Second World War was to once again have a sound monetary system, each country would have to begin the process “at home.” The determinates behind the quantity and value of money would have to be put beyond the immediate reach of governments. Historically, the only monetary regime that had succeeded to any great extent in doing this was the gold standard. Therefore, Mises proposed a return to a gold standard.
The first step toward a sound monetary system for any country, Mises argued, would be to balance the government’s budget, so that the pressure to increase the money supply to cover current expenditures would [xxxii] be relieved. The second step would be the adoption of a 100 percent gold reserve system. The existing money supply would be frozen, and any additions to the supply of money in the form of currency or bank demand deposits would occur only through a new deposit of a sum of gold. The ratio of currency or bank deposit money to be issued on the basis of a new gold deposit would be temporarily set by the market price between dollars and gold plus a margin of 10 percent. The third step, instituted at the same time as the second, would be the abolition of all restrictions on a free market for gold and foreign-exchange dealings. The fourth and final step would occur after a period of time during which foreign-exchange markets would have established a fairly stable rate of exchange between, for example, dollars and gold. At that point, a new gold parity for the dollar would be legally fixed between gold and the total quantity of currency and bank deposit money in the U. S. economy. After that, dollars would be fully redeemable on demand in gold. Currency and deposit money would be fully backed, dollar for dollar, with a sum of gold held as a 100 percent reserve at currency-issuing and deposit-issuing institutions.
Mises was not unique or alone in proposing a 100 percent reserve banking system. In the 1930s, a number of economists proposed such an institutional change. However, these proponents advocated a 100 percent fiat money system managed and controlled by the government. The government would have the task of consciously changing the total quantity of money in circulation to maintain a particular policy target—usually price-level stabilization. Mises’s proposal, in contrast, had the precise goal of removing government from the monetary process except for the initial role in establishing the monetary “rules of the game”: a 100 percent gold reserve requirement on all banking institutions, redemption of all currency and deposits by those institutions on demand at the specified gold parity, and a free foreign-exchange market on the basis of the gold [xxxiii] standard. The quantity of money and its value (or purchasing power) over goods would be determined by the market forces of supply and demand, not by government. Mises’s reasoning was that government simply could not be trusted with control over a monopoly printing press. Furthermore, as these two essays demonstrate, he did not believe that it was in government’s power or ability to successfully manage the monetary system or stabilize any “targets” such as the general price level. Mises’s ultimate ideal for a monetary order most consistent with a free society was for a system of free banking based on a market-selected commodity like gold. But he considered the establishment of this ideal system to be possible only far off in the future, when there would have been a complete renunciation of socialist and interventionist ideas.
Mises knew that a sound monetary system did not require international agreements or intergovernmental monetary organizations. Any country could adopt such a gold-based monetary order independent of what other nations might do. If international agreements attempted to restrain member countries from following inflationary paths in an ideological environment in which national governments had the desire to continue abusing their monetary powers, the result would be tensions, conflicts, crises, and a final collapse of the intergovernmental monetary system. The disintegration in 1971 of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates under a system of national currencies open to governmental manipulation strongly suggests that Mises was correct in his judgments.
The one essay in this collection written by Mises before his arrival in the United States is “A Draft of Guidelines for the Reconstruction of Austria.” It was prepared in May of 1940 for Otto von Habsburg, former archduke of Austria, shortly before Mises’s departure from Geneva. It diagnoses the reasons for Austria’s political and economic problems in the 1920s and 1930s and presents the reforms and policy changes that would have to be implemented for Austria’s rebirth and revival as a prosperous and [xxxiv] independent nation in the postwar period. Because Austria is a small country with various economic disadvantages in comparison with other, larger nations better endowed with resources and fertile land, Mises recommended that the country adapt to the international trade environment. Austria should find its place in the global system of division of labor and acquire through imports the food, raw materials, and capital it needed from other countries by exporting those industrial goods for which it had a comparative advantage.
But, Mises asked, given the inevitable state of postwar poverty under which Austrians would be living, how would the incentives be created to begin the process of economic recovery? The answer is that domestic regulations would have to be abolished, labor markets would have to be freed from trade-union domination and control, government expenditures and redistributionist policies would have to be drastically cut back, nationalized industries would have to be privatized, Austrian businessmen driven from their homeland by anti-Semitism and Nazi policies would have to be invited back and made welcome in their own country, the multiple levels of bureaucratic administration throughout the country would have to be reduced and streamlined, the monetary system would have to be based on gold, and international economic relations would have to be guided by the idea of free trade. The only permissible trade restrictions would be retaliatory tariffs against specific countries that might discriminate against or prohibit Austrian goods from being sold in their markets.
Crucial to Austrian recovery and reconstruction, Mises wrote, would be fiscal policy. The fostering of savings, investment, and capital formation would be imperative. He proposed the end of all direct income taxation. Instead, the primary sources of all government revenues would be, first, general consumption taxes, including: (a) excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, (b) sales taxes, but only on final goods sold to the consuming public, and (c) a playing-card stamp tax. Second, there should be wealth taxes on consumption, including: (a) a progressive tax on higher consumption levels, based on housing expenditures (excluding those in the lower-income housing categories), (b) a tax on ownership of higher-priced automobiles for private use, and (c) a tax on lottery winnings. Third, there should be business and employment taxes, including: (a) a moderate tax on net profits paid out to shareholders of corporations and partners in limited partnerships, when the annual disbursements exceed six percent of capital assets, (b) administrative fees for patent rights, registration of brand names, and other official stamps, and (c) a wage tax [xxxv] paid by employers to cover social insurance programs, but which would not be deducted from wages. Mises stressed that, except for the wage tax and the net profits tax, all earnings would be exempt from direct taxation. This would create the fewest disincentives to income and wealth creation.
Such, he concluded, is the path to economic recovery for a small country like Austria. But Mises pointed out there were problems unique to Central and Eastern Europe because of their mixed populations of numerous linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups. The essay “An Eastern European Democratic Union: A Proposal for the Establishment of a Durable Peace in Eastern Europe” is Mises’s suggestion for solving these problems in a world still in the grip of political and economic nationalism.
In two of his earlier works, Nation, State, and Economy and Liberalism, Mises dealt extensively with the problem of nationality and national self-determination. He emphasized that among the principles of classical liberalism is the right of self-determination and freedom of association. In classical liberal thought, this means the self-determination of the individual. Each individual has, in principle, the right to decide of which political entity he will be a member. But, because of administrative constraints, the practical meaning of this principle is that the citizens within districts and regions, and even towns and villages, should have the right of plebiscite to express their preference to remain part of the nation-state to which they presently belong, to join some other nation-state, or to form a new state of their own.
Unfortunately, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this idea had been distorted to mean “national self-determination,” that is, that all peoples belonging to the same linguistic or ethnic group should belong to the same nation-state, regardless of the actual wishes of the individual residents within a geographical area. This idea of national self-determination has been the cause of many of the tensions, antagonisms, and conflicts within and between nations in Europe. And it served as the rationale for Hitler’s insistence on the annexation of parts of countries adjoining Nazi Germany that contained German-speaking peoples.
Mises noted that the problem of nationalist antagonisms is exacerbated in an ideological setting of interventionism. Governments become the tools for linguistic and ethnic groups seeking to use the power of the state for their own benefit through discriminatory laws and policies against others. The only way to protect against such a political environment is to create a vast political and economic union. Mises proposed such a union for all the countries of Eastern Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Aegean Sea, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, and the part of Germany east of the Oder-Neisse Rivers. Only such a union, Mises reasoned, would have the combined strength to repel military aggression against these countries by either Germany or Russia. More important, such a union would diminish the ability of the member governments to use their domestic power to discriminate against national minorities and threaten war on their neighbors in the name of political or economic nationalism.
Mises proposed that political authority and legislative power would be reserved to a single parliamentary chamber that would have the only power to tax and upon which the member states would be dependent for disbursement of funds for administrative expenditures. The member states would retain their flags, symbols, anthems, and even embossed coins and stamps, but they would no longer have the power to pass legislation or impose laws that could infringe on a regime of private property and free trade within their jurisdictions and between the member states. Discriminatory laws against linguistic, ethnic, or religious groups would be forbidden. There would be for all citizens the freedom to move, live, and work within the boundaries of the union, and the same rights would apply to foreigners who chose to live, work, and invest in any part of this Eastern European Union.
In Mises’s view, under such a regime of free markets and free trade, no individual would or could be abused by national political power. All persons would be free to pursue the trade, profession, and occupation of their choice without political restraint and to speak and educate their children in the language and customs of their own choice. Schools would be primarily private and eligible for receiving lump-sum per-pupil tax revenues [xxxvii] as long as they were in compliance with certain basic rules and standards specified by the central government of the union.
Mises was not so naive as to expect to see the immediate acceptance and establishment of a broad political and economic union along the lines he recommended. But he believed that movement toward this goal was the only way to introduce restrictions on the interventionist power of national governments. And, indeed, the only rationale for such a union was to bring about the implementation of the ideals of the free market and free trade. Unless a union were constituted for this purpose, its existence would be impossible to justify.
Under the sponsorship of the School of Economics at the National University of Mexico, Mises spent January and February of 1942 lecturing in Mexico City and other Mexican cities. In June of 1943 he prepared for an association of Mexican businessmen a detailed report, “Mexico’s Economic Problems,” in which he recommended policies that would most likely assist in fostering Mexican economic development and industrialization.
In this report, Mises maintained that the war-related trading opportunities that Mexico was enjoying with the United States were likely to end with the cessation of the conflict. Mexico, therefore, must look forward to an agenda of postwar market-oriented reforms for further economic improvement. Free trade is essential to the country’s future, he wrote, and in this context he emphasized that the benefit from trade comes from the imports obtainable at prices less costly than those incurred by alternative domestic production. Exports are the means for acquiring those imports and not an end or a good in themselves.
Anticipating one of the major schemes proposed by postwar development planners, Mises strongly criticized what he labeled the “closed door method of industrialization,” which became more widely known and popular in Third World countries after 1945 as the “import-substitution method” for development. According to this method, industrialization is to be forced through trade restrictions and high tariff barriers behind which domestic industries will be stimulated at artificially high prices far above those in the general global market. He pointed out that countries implementing this method inevitably make their own people poorer and less productive.
To the extent that imports are reduced so, too, Mises wrote, are exports. Potential foreign buyers of Mexican goods would lose the means of earning the Mexican revenue that would have provided them with the financial wherewithal to purchase Mexican exports. This would bring about a misdirection of Mexican production inconsistent with a most efficient use of the country’s resources. Mexico would be locked out from maximizing the income it could earn from exporting those goods for which it had the greatest comparative advantage in the international market. And consumers would have to pay the cost of such a method of “hothouse” industrialization through a lower standard of living due to the higher prices and lower quality of the domestic substitutes they would be forced to purchase on the Mexican market. Import-substitution methods of economic development merely represent a modern version of the eighteenth-century mercantilist fallacies.
Equally disastrous for Mexican development would be any attempt to raise Mexican wages to comparable United States levels through either government legislation or trade-union pressure. Mexico in the 1940s, Mises added, was a capital-poor country with a relatively large supply of labor. This necessarily meant that labor productivity was far lower than that of American workers. The only way that Mexican labor could compete with American labor and other competitors in the global market would be to take advantage of those opportunities in which it could be a lower-cost producer in labor-intensive lines of production. The standard of living in Mexico could permanently rise only through the normal processes of market-directed capital formation over time and through migration of a part of the labor force to other countries where wages and the marginal productivity of labor were higher. Since the latter method was generally closed off, due to immigration barriers in the United States and other countries, only the former method was available to Mexico under prevailing international conditions, Mises reasoned. Raising wages above market-determined levels could only condemn a part of the Mexican labor force to permanent unemployment or more primitive lines of employment.
Since Mexico had long practiced protectionist, interventionist, and socialist policies, the country would have to make a transition to a regime of free markets and free trade. Those familiar with Mises’s apparently “intransigent” and “dogmatic” advocacy of laissez-faire economics may be surprised that he proposed a series of “gradualist” policies for Mexico. For example, because a number of industries had been long protected behind high tariff walls, Mises suggested a transition to free trade over a period of [xxxix] years during which tariff levels would be reduced by 10 percent a year. (In this, Mises merely followed in the tradition of many of the earlier classical economists who also called for a gradual shift to free trade so as to minimize the severity of the economic adjustment.)
While generally critical of government-sponsored and supported cooperative movements, Mises argued that full land privatization in Mexico should be supported for the poor peasantry through government assistance in forming farm-producer cooperatives and even limited but temporary state subsidies to help them get started. In the area of privatization, Mises argued that the most desirable course of action was full denationalization. But, given the ideological climate in Mexico, Mises proposed that the national railway system, for instance, be transformed into a government-owned but independent corporation; management of the rail system would operate on a for-profit basis.
Crucial and central to any economic reform project in a country such as Mexico, Mises again emphasized, would be the establishment and the strict enforcement of property rights and contract, for both Mexican and foreign investors alike. Inflationary monetary policies would have to be renounced, and a policy of free trade would have to be practiced.
Ludwig von Mises’s purpose in preparing the lectures and writing the monographs included in this volume was to restate fundamental truths at a time when many of the most important premises of sound economic thinking seemed to have been forgotten or rejected. He realized that in a world dominated by socialist and interventionist ideas this was often a thankless task. But he believed that no real change for the better was possible unless the truth was spoken.
Mises was determined to explain why, after the Second World War, economic liberty was both desirable and essential if the world was to avoid the mistakes of the past. Yet he was aware that ways had to be found to [xl] encourage a rebirth of the ideal and practice of market freedom. The first task was to explain how the world had arrived in its present state and why previous ideologies and policies had led to disaster. Next, the logic and benefits of the free-market order had to be articulated once again. finally, specific policies had to be formulated to begin the process of international reconstruction and reform.
Today the world is searching for a new international economic order, just as it was searching for one in the mid–1940s. The former communist bloc countries, including the former Soviet Union, are groping with varying degrees of success toward the establishment of a market order and democratic political regimes. The countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are trying to escape from socialist and neo-mercantilist experiments of previous decades. The Western industrial democracies are looking for ways to overcome the burdens of the welfare state and the regulated economy.
The world at the third millennium abounds with proposals for economic and monetary unions, international trading agreements and intergovernmental rules for investment and capital movements. But what is lacking in many, if not most, of these proposals is a clear statement of first principles and a clear conception of where any particular policies implemented should be leading in terms of a long-run vision of the free and prosperous society. Many in the public arena praise and endorse the idea of a global free-market order. But beneath the rhetoric of some alleged free-market proponents are variations on the old interventionist theme. These proponents are merely proposing islands of market activity in an ocean of regulations, controls, and political redistributions of wealth.
This is not the meaning of the free market as it was understood by Ludwig von Mises. He chose to call things by their real names and explain them in terms of their real meanings. Anything less, he believed, would be a betrayal of truth and understanding. It is perhaps appropriate, therefore, to conclude by recurring to Mises’s own thoughts on this point, which ended his lecture on “The Fundamental Principle of Pan-European Union”:
It is a thankless job indeed to express such radical and “subversive” [free-market] opinions and to incur the hatred of all supporters of the old [interventionist] system that has amply proven its inexpediency. But it is not the duty of an economist to be fashionable and popular; he has to be right. Those timid souls who fear challenging spurious doctrines and superstitions because they have the support of influential circles will never improve conditions. Let them call us “orthodox”; it is better to be an intransigent orthodox than an opportunist time-server.
[1.] Two other previously unpublished papers from 1943 by Mises on the related topics of “Autarky and Its Consequences” and “Economic Nationalism and Peaceful Economic Cooperation” were included in an earlier collection; see Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Money, Method, and the Market Process: Essays by Ludwig von Mises (Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer Academic Press, 1990), pp. 137–65.
[2.] Ludwig von Mises, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,”  in F. A. Hayek, ed., Collectivist Economic Planning (London: Routledge & Sons, 1935), pp. 87–130.
[3.] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund,  1981); on Mises’s critique of socialism and its relation to earlier criticisms of central planning, see Richard M. Ebeling, “Economic Calculation under Socialism: Ludwig von Mises and His Predecessors,” in Jeffrey M. Herbener, ed., The Meaning of Ludwig von Mises (Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer Academic Press, 1993), pp. 56–101.
[4.] Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism in the Classical Tradition (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., and San Francisco, Calif.: Foundation for Economic Education and the Cobden Press,  1985).
[5.] Ludwig von Mises, Critique of Interventionism (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education,  1996).
[6.] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism, pp. 258–61; Human Action, A Treatise on Economics (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 4th rev. ed., 1996), pp. 157–66.
[7.] Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 3rd revised ed., [1924; 1953] 1980).
[8.] Ludwig von Mises, “Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy,”  in Percy L. Greaves, ed., On the Manipulation of Money and Credit (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Free Market Books, 1978); see Richard M. Ebeling, “Ludwig von Mises and the Gold Standard,” in Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., ed., The Gold Standard: An Austrian Perspective (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1983), pp. 35–59; and Richard M. Ebeling, “Variations on the Demand for Money Theme: Ludwig von Mises and Some Twentieth Century Views,” in John W. Robbins and Mark Spangler, eds., A Man of Principle: Essays in Honor of Hans F. Sennholz (Grove City, Pa.: Grove City College Press, 1992), pp. 127–38.
[9.] Ludwig von Mises, Epistemological Problems of Economics (New York: New York University Press,  1976); for an exposition and analysis of Mises’s ideas on the logic of human action and his comparative study of capitalism, socialism, and interventionism, see Richard M. Ebeling, “A Rational Economist in an Irrational Age: Ludwig von Mises,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., The Age of Economists: From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 26 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1999), pp. 69–120; Mises’s theory of human action was influenced by the phenomenological method of Edmund Husserl and the sociological approach of Max Weber; see Richard M. Ebeling, “Austrian Subjectivism and Phenomenological Foundations,” in Peter J. Boettke and Mario J. Rizzo, eds., Advances in Austrian Economics, Vol. 2A (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1995), pp. 39–53; and Richard M. Ebeling, “Expectations and Expectations Formation in Mises’ Theory of the Market Process,” in Peter J. Boettke and David L. Prychitko, eds., The Market Process: Essays in Contemporary Austrian Economics (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1994), pp. 83–95.
[10.] Ludwig von Mises, Notes and Recollections (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1978), pp. 71–92.
[12.] For recollections of Mises’s Privatseminar by former members, see the appendix in Margit von Mises, My Years with Ludwig von Mises (Cedar Falls, Iowa: Center for Futures Education, 2nd ed., 1984), pp. 199–211; see also Earlene Craver, “The Emigration of the Austrian Economists,” History of Political Economy, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1986), pp. 1–32.
[13.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “Friedrich A. Hayek: A Centenary Appreciation,” The Freeman (May 1999), pp. 28–33.
[14.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “William E. Rappard: An International Man in an Age of Nationalism,”The Freeman (January 2000), pp. 39–46.
[15.] Ludwig von Mises, Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handelns und Wirtschaftens (Munich: Philosophia Verlag,  1980).
[16.] Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War (Spring Mills, Pa.: Libertarian Press,  1985).
[17.] Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy (Spring Mills, Pa.: Libertarian Press,  1983).
[18.] Ludwig von Mises, Interventionism: An Economic Analysis (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1998).
[19.] On the history and ideas of the Austrian School of economics, see Ludwig M. Lachmann, “The Significance of the Austrian School of Economics in the History of Ideas,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Austrian Economics: A Reader, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 18 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1991), pp. 17–39; and Richard M. Ebeling, “The Significance of Austrian Economics in Twentieth-Century Economic Thought,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Austrian Economics: Perspectives on the Past and Prospects for the Future, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 17 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1991), pp. 1–40.
[20.] Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 4th ed., 1980).
[21.] Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality (Spring Mills, Pa.: Libertarian Press,  1990).
[22.] Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution(Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute,  1985).
[23.] Ludwig von Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method (Kansas City, Kans.: Sheed Andrews and McMeel,  1978).
[24.] Ludwig von Mises, “The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics,”  in Bettina Bien Greaves, ed., Austrian Economics: An Anthology (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996), pp. 53–76.
[25.] See Mises, Omnipotent Government, pp. 95–96; also John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, in D. E. Moggridge, ed., The Collected Works of John Maynard Keynes(New York: Macmillan Co.,  1971), pp. 5–7
[26.] See Hermann Levy, Economic Liberalism (London: Macmillan Ltd., 1913), p. 1; Wilhelm Röpke,German Commercial Policy (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1934); and Gustav Stolper, German Economy, 1870–1940 (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1940), pp. 60–92.
[27.] Gustav Stolper, This Age of Fable: The Political and Economic World We Live In (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1942), pp. 7–8.
[28.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “World Peace, International Order and Classical Liberalism,”International Journal of World Peace (December 1995), pp. 47–68.
[29.] See T. E. Gregory, “Economic Nationalism,” International Affairs (May 1931), pp. 289–306; Lionel Robbins, “The Economic Consequences of Economic Nationalism,” Lloyds Bank Limited Monthly Review (May 1936), pp. 226–39; William E. Rappard, “Economic Nationalism,” in Authority and the Individual, Harvard Tercentenary Conference of Arts and Sciences (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1937), pp. 74–112; Michael A. Heilperin, Studies in Economic Nationalism(Geneva: Libraire E. Droz, 1962).
[30.] See Leo Pasvolsky, Economic Nationalism of the Danubian States (New York: Macmillan Co., 1928); Antonin Basch, The Danubian Basin and the German Economic Sphere (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943); Frederick Hertz, The Economic Problems of the Danubian States: A Study in Economic Nationalism (London: Victor Gollancz, 1947).
[31.] See A. G. B. Fisher, Economic Self-Sufficiency (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939); and Leo Grebler, “Self-Sufficiency and Imperialism,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science(July 1938), pp. 1–8.
[32.] See F. A. Hayek, “Monetary Nationalism and International Stability”  in Stephen Kresge, ed., The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Vol. VI: Good Money, Part II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 27–100; and Lionel Robbins, Economic Planning and International Order (London: Macmillan Ltd., 1937), pp. 280–301.
[33.] See Wilhelm Röpke, International Order and Economic Integration (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1959), pp. 75–77; also T. E. Gregory, The Gold Standard and Its Future (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1935), pp. 1–21; and Moritz J. Bonn, “The Gold Standard in International Relations,” in William E. Rappard, ed., Problems of Peace, 8th Series (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries,  1968), pp. 163–79.
[34.] See Leland B. Yeager, Experiences with Stopping Inflation (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1981), pp. 45–98.
[35.] See Frederic Benham, “The Muddle of the Thirties,” Economica (February 1945), pp. 1–9.
[36.] See William E. Rappard, Post-War Efforts for Freer Trade (Geneva: Geneva Research Centre, 1938) and “The Common Menace of Economic and Military Armaments,”  in Varia Politica,Republication of Essays by William Rappard on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (Zurich: Editions Polygraphics, 1953), pp. 76–100; Jacob Viner, “International Economic Relations and the World Order,” in Walter H. C. Laves, ed., The Foundations of a More Stable World Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), pp. 42–45; Commercial Policy in the Interwar Period: International Proposals and National Policies (Geneva: League of Nations, 1942); and Ragnar Nurkse,International Currency Experience: Lessons of the Inter-war Period (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1944).
[37.] See Ludwig von Mises, “The Disintegration of the International Division of Labor,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Money, Method, and the Market Process, pp. 113–36; and Wilhelm Röpke,International Economic Disintegration (Philadelphia, Pa.: Porcupine Press,  1978).
[38.] See Moritz J. Bonn, “Introductory Address,” in The State and Economic Life, A Record of a First International Study Conference (Paris: International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, 1932), pp. 7–15; J. B. Condliffe, “Vanishing World Trade,” Foreign Affairs (July 1933), pp. 645–56; Lionel Robbins, The Great Depression (London: Macmillan Ltd., 1934); Gustav Stolper, “Politics versus Economics,” Foreign Affairs (April 1934), pp. 357–76; P. W. Martin, “The Present Status of Economic Planning: I. An International Survey of Governmental Economic Intervention,” International Labour Review (May 1936), pp. 619– 45; Henry J. Tosca, World Trade Systems (Paris: International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, 1939); Margaret S. Gordon, Barriers to World Trade: A Study of Recent Commercial Policy (New York: Macmillan Co., 1941); and Richard M. Ebeling, “Liberalism and Collectivism in the 20th Century,” in Alexsandras Shtromas, ed., The End of “Isms”? Reflections on the Fate of Ideological Politics After Communism’s Collapse (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), pp. 69–84.
[39.] See J. B. Condliffe, “The Value of International Trade,” Economica (May 1938), pp. 123–37.
[40.] William E. Rappard, “Nationalism and the League of Nations Today,” in Problems of Peace, 8th Series (New York: Books for Libraries Press,  1968), pp. 17–19; also by Rappard, The Crisis of Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938); and William Henry Chamberlin,Collectivism: A False Utopia (New York: Macmillan Co., 1938).
[41.] See J. B. Condliffe, The Reconstruction of World Trade: A Survey of International Economic Relations (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1940); Michael A. Heilperin, “Totalitarian Trade,” World Affairs Interpreter (January 1941), pp. 1–8; Lewis L. Lorwin, Economic Consequences of the Second World War (New York: Random House, 1941); Douglas Miller, You Can’t Do Business with Hitler(Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1941); Thomas Reveille, The Spoil of Europe: The Nazi Technique in Political and Economic Conquest (New York: W. W. Norton, 1941); Howard Ellis, “The Problems of Exchange Systems in the Postwar World,” American Economic Review (May 1942), pp. 195–205; Frank Munk, The Legacy of Nazism: The Economic and Social Consequences of Totalitarianism (New York: Macmillan Co., 1943); and Jacob Viner, Trade Relations Between Free Market and Controlled Economies (Geneva: League of Nations, 1943).
[42.] See Henry Simons, “Trade and the Peace,” in Seymour E. Harris, ed., Postwar Economic Problems (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1943), pp. 141–55; also Benjamin M. Anderson, “The Road Back to Full Employment,” in Paul T. Homan and Fritz Machlup, eds., Financing American Prosperity: A Symposium of Economists (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1945), pp. 9–70.
[43.] Howard Ellis, “Removal of Restrictions on Trade and Capital,” in Seymour Harris, ed., Postwar Economic Problems, p. 345; see also Richard M. Ebeling, “The Global Economy and Classical Liberalism: Past, Present, and Future,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., The Future of American Business, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 24 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hills-dale College Press, 1996), pp. 9–60, especially pp. 18–23, on the relationship between domestic intervention and “demand management,” and regulation of international trade.
[44.] Charles E. Merriam, “The Place of Planning,” in Seymour E. Harris, ed., Saving American Capitalism: A Liberal Economic Program (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p. 161
[45.] See Eugene Staley, World Economy in Transition: Technology vs. Politics, Laissez Faire vs. Planning, Power vs. Welfare (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press,  1971), pp. 127–200 and 225–326, and “The Economic Side of Stable Peace,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (July 1945), pp. 27–36; and J. B. Condliffe, Agenda for a Postwar World (New York: W. W. Norton, 1942).
[46.] See Jacob Viner, “The International Economic Organization of the Future,” in Ernest H. Wilkins, ed., Toward International Organization (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1942) and “International Economic Cooperation,” in William B. Willcox and Robert B. Hall, eds., The United States in the Postwar World (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1947), pp. 15–36; also J. B. Condliffe and A. Stevenson, The Common Interest in International Economic Organization (Montreal: International Labor Organization, 1944).
[47.] See H. W. Arndt, The Economic Lessons of the Nineteen-Thirties (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), pp. 295–302; Murray Shields, ed., International Financial Stabilization: A Symposium(New York: Irving Trust Co., 1944); Michael A. Heilperin, International Monetary Organization: The Bretton Woods Agreements (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Association, 1945); Nathaniel Weyl and Max J. Wasserman, “The International Bank, An Instrument of World Economic Reconstruction,” American Economic Review (March 1947), pp. 93–107; Raymond F. Mikesell, “Quantitative and Exchange Restrictions under the ITO Charter,” American Economic Review (June 1947), pp. 351–68; Philip Cortney, The Economic Munich: The I.T.O. Charter, Inflation or Liberty, The 1929 Lesson (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949); Henry Hazlitt, From Bretton Woods to World Inflation: A Study of Causes and Consequences (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1984)
[48.] However, on the extent to which governments did attempt to influence for political or economic reasons the private patterns of foreign loans and investments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Jacob Viner, “Political Aspects of International finance,” Journal of Business (April and July 1928), pp. 141–73 and 324–63.
[49.] Henry Hazlitt, “The Coming Economic World Pattern,” [1944–45] in From Bretton Woods to World Inflation: A Study of Causes and Consequences, pp. 127–42.
[50.] See Gottfried Haberler, “The Liberal International Economic Order in Historical Perspective,”  in Anthony Y. C. Koo, ed., The Liberal Economic Order, Vol. I (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1993), pp. 354–55; and Jagdish Bhagwati, Protectionism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), pp. 1–15.
[51.] See Jan Tumlir, Protectionism: Trade Policy in Democratic Societies (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1985)
[53.] Paul Samuelson, Economics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 7th ed., 1967), pp. 790–92; and Campbell R. McConnell, Economics: Principles, Problems, and Policies (New York: McGraw-Hill, 10th ed., 1987), p. 904.
[54.] The term and concept of Lebensraum apparently was first coined and argued for by the German author Moeller van den Bruck (1876–1925), after the first World War; see Frank Munk, The Economics of Force (New York: George W. Stewart, 1940), pp. 23–24.
[55.] See Henry Simons, Economic Policy for a Free Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 62–65 and 160–83; Irving fisher, 100% Money (New Haven: City Printing Co., 1945); James W. Angell, “The 100 Per Cent Reserve Plan,” Quarterly Journal of Economics (November 1935), pp. 1–35; and Frank D. Graham, “Partial Reserve Money and the 100 Per Cent Proposal,” American Economic Review (September 1936), pp. 428– 40; also Milton Friedman, “A Monetary and Fiscal Framework for Economic Stability,”  in Essays in Positive Economics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 135–36, and A Program for Monetary Stability (Bronx, N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 1960), pp. 65–76; and Lloyd W. Mints, Monetary Policy for a Competitive Society(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950).
[56.] For a defense of a 100 percent gold reserve system by a student of Mises’s, see Murray N. Rothbard, “The Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar,” in Leland B. Yeager, ed., In Search of a Monetary Constitution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962), pp. 94–136.
[57.] Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit, pp. 434–38; “Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy,” pp. 138–40, 145–46, 156; and Human Action, pp. 443–48; also Lawrence
H. White, “Mises on Free Banking and Fractional Reserves,” in John W. Robbins and Mark Spangler, eds., A Man of Principle, 517–33.
[58.] Ludwig von Mises, Nation, State, and Economy: Contributions to the Politics and History of Our Time (New York: New York University Press,  1983), pp. 9–56.
[60.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “World Peace, International Order, and Classical Liberalism,” pp. 59–62, and “Nationalism and Classical Liberalism,” “Nationalism: Its Nature and Consequences,” “National Conflicts, Market Liberalism, and Social Peace,” and “Social Conflict, Self-Determination, and the Boundaries of the State,” in Richard M. Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger, eds., The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars (Fairfax, Va.: Future of Freedom Foundation, 1996), pp. 327–48.
[61.] This report has been translated into Spanish and published in Mexico for the first time as a monograph fifty-five years after it was originally written under the title Problemas Economicos de Mexico: Ayer y Hoy (Mexico City: Instituto Cultural Ludwig von Mises, 1998).
[62.] For example, see Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library,  1937), Book IV, Ch. II, p. 438; Jean-Baptiste Say, A Treatise on Political Economy (New York: Augustus M. Kelley,  1971), p. 170.
[63.] See Ludwig von Mises, “Observations on the Cooperative Movement,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Money, Method, and the Market Process, pp. 238–79.
[64.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “The Free Market and the Interventionist State,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Between Power and Liberty: Economics and the Law, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 25(Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1998), pp. 9–46.
[This piece can be seen at Sean’s blog here http://truesinews.com/2015/02/24/chart-of-the-day/]
Taken over a forty year history, US gasoline is trading in its 3rd percentile – 1.8 sigmas from the mean – when expressed as a ratio of the price of heating oil. In seasonal terms, this makes sense as the winter draw for space heating coincides with the consumption lull in (discretionary) road transport and the anticipatory change of emphasis by the refiners. Given the severe weather being endured Stateside these past several weeks, it should surprise no-one to learn that stocks of heat are more than 8% below the mean for thetime of year, while those for mogas are 4.3% above that norm. Hence the wider price differential.
On a much shorter timeframe, however, we can see heat coming under pressure in the current trading session as the recent crude-led rally fades. Gasoline, conversely, is so far holding up rather better. Time to spread ‘em in anticipation of the arrival of spring?
With the yuan-dollar rate edging ever higher (led by pressures which seem to emanate from activity in the offshore version in HK), the Chinese press is starting to resound to the sound of calls for a more active policy of devaluation interspersed with a counterpoint of official denials that this is in any way being contemplated.
Apart from the slump in the euro – the ‘Zone being at least as important as the US as a Chinese export destination – the real killer has been the post-Abenomics move versus the yen, especially when gauged in terms of real (i.e., domestic price-adjusted) effective (trade-weighted) rates. Since the latter part of 2012, China’s currency has undergone a 73% overall, 19% annualized, rise versus that of Japan, prompting some of the latter’s companies to start thinking about relocating production back to their homeland. Not so much yendaka, as yuandaka, this time.
As WantChina Times put it in a recent piece, the effects may already be beginning to make themselves felt:-
‘Citizen China, which produces Japanese Citizen watches, to fold its production base in Guangzhou, on the heels of Microsoft which announced on Dec. 17 its decision to close the mobile-phone factories of Nokia, under its auspices, in Beijing and Dongguan by the Spring Festival moving facilities to Nokia’s factory in Hanoi.
A number of other foreign enterprises are scheduled to join the exodus this year, including Panasonic, Sharp, Daikin, and TDK, all Japanese firms, which plan to transfer some capacity from China back to Japan or to other countries. Others, such as Uniqlo, Nike, Foxconn, Funai, Clarion, and Samsung, are setting up new factories in Southeast Asia and India, while scaling down their Chinese operations.’
So, you can see why some think China will be tempted to – err – address the balance, shall we say?
One thing is for sure, whether we look at Asian currencies’ relationship to the Greenback with (ADXY+J) or without (ADXY) the yen, the charts are pointing lower and that, in turn, suggests there is only one way for commodites to trade, too.
Finally, as Mme. Yellen gives us the usual rigmarole of soft-cop-hard cop-soft cop in her Congressional testimony, the market’s first reaction has been to believe that the Ghost of ’37 is still far from being laid: bonds have rallied nicely, especially in the belly where mid-curve euro$ have jumped 12bps or so in the immediate aftermath of her comments.
If, however, we compare the actual real Fed funds rate to the state of the job market – either using continuing jobless claims as a percentage of the population (here inverted) or the real wage fund (hours x pay rates / CPI) – you can see that Ms. Yellen is taking rather more of a gamble than she is willing to admit. From the Volcker Era to the Anti-Vocker Era, indeed.
“We are all at a wonderful ball where the champagne sparkles in every glass and soft laughter falls upon the summer air. We know, by the rules, that at some moment the Black Horsemen will come shattering through the great terrace doors, wreaking vengeance and scattering the survivors. Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no-one wants to leave while there is still time, so that everyone keeps asking, “What time is it ? What time is it ?” But none of the clocks have any hands.”
– From ‘Supermoney’ by Adam Smith.
It was not supposed to be like this. As we highlighted last week, after the Great Debt Bubble, there has been no Great Deleveraging. In fact, as the McKinsey Global Institute showed in their February 2015 report,
“After the 2008 financial crisis and the longest and deepest global recession since World War II, it was widely expected that the world’s economies would deleverage. It has not happened. Instead..
“Debt continues to grow. Since 2007, global debt has grown by $57 trillion, raising the ratio of debt to GDP by 17 percentage points.”
Herbert Stein’s Law mandates that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises expressed the same sentiment and came to a somewhat gloomier conclusion:
“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as a result of the voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”
As the McKinsey data show, the voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion has clearly not occurred. If Mises is correct, and we are minded to consider that he is, then draw your own conclusions.
We have now become used to so many years of utterly extraordinary monetary experimentation and policy-making on the hoof that there is a danger that Alice-in-Wonderland central banking activity simply gets taken for granted as the natural state of affairs. This is the same type of absurd but incremental behaviour that gets frogs in pans boiled alive with their tacit approval.
Blithe sceptics to this line of thought will no doubt argue that if seven years of making-it-up-as-we-go-along monetary policy hasn’t derailed the system, then perhaps the system won’t get derailed. Perhaps it’s even un-derailable. But this sounds suspiciously like Ben Bernanke’s own flawed thinking when he suggested in July 2005 that
“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis.”
In other words, because something has never happened before, it never will.
(This from the same person who observed in March 2007 that
“At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.”)
No, the insoluble problem facing every investor today is not just that the system is unsustainable. It clearly is. The problem is that we lack a means of forecasting accurately when the system is likely to break apart. The financial market is a complex, adaptive system, reliant on confidence, the ongoing robustness of which is completely unforecastable. That confidence has been robust is not in question. The creation of trillions of dollars, pounds, euros, yen and renminbi worth of ex nihilo money has yet to dent confidence entirely in an unbacked paper money system (notwithstanding the 345% gain in the dollar price of gold since the start of the millennium).
Just before the turn of the millennium, inside the late Peter L. Bernstein’s excellent history of risk, ‘Against the Gods’, we came across the following quotation by the Swiss mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli: when managing money for wealthy people,
“The practical utility of any gain in portfolio value inversely relates to the size of the portfolio.”
Bernoulli (1700-1782) has a good claim to being one of the world’s first behavioural economists, in that he observed that investment performance for the wealthy is not exactly the same as investment performance for the non-wealthy. For the objectively wealthy, or super-wealthy, any further gain in portfolio value has to be seen in the context of maintaining the original value of the portfolio. Since human beings are typically loss averse, maintaining the original purchasing power of the pot is much more important than generating further incremental gains, especially in an environment where the pursuit of those further gains risks existentially jeopardising that original pot.
US stock markets reached record highs last week. Question: does that make them riskier, or less risky ? We think the former. But for us the question is somewhat academic since we’re not remotely interested in index-tracking. Other investors, however, evidently are. Among the top 10 ETF purchases by customers of Barclays Stockbrokers last week were funds tracking:
The S&P 500 (iShares and Vanguard)
The FTSE 100 (iShares and Vanguard)
The FTSE 250
The Euro Stoxx 50
We foresee all kinds of risks in taking indexed exposure to stock markets close to or at their all-time highs. Index-tracking funds offer many things. Relatively low cost market exposure, for one. But as and when stock markets go into reverse, purchasers of low cost trackers will find that they have been penny-wise and pound foolish, because low cost trackers offer precisely zero discernment or discretion when it comes to market direction. If the market goes down, they go down with it.
So rather than tag along for the ride, we much prefer to follow the ‘value’ route (to capital preservation and growth, in that order). Index benchmarking is utterly inappropriate, we would suggest, for the private investor, for whom the ultimate reference rate should be cash, since cash remains the only asset that cannot decline in nominal terms. Or at least that used to be the case, before acronyms like QE, ZIRP and now NIRP (Negative Interest Rate Policy) steamrollered over all assets in their path, like financial terminators.
If we define ‘value’ as inherent quality plus attractive valuation, it has relevance to both debt and equity market investing today. Bond markets as a whole are clearly grotesquely overvalued but may remain so or become even more overvalued because there is an 800lb gorilla in the market determinedly gobbling them up. As of March 2015, the ECB will be buying €60 billion worth every month. We doubt whether there’s that much quality debt on offer in the euro zone. But there may be elsewhere, not least because most of the world’s creditor countries lie outside the euro zone.
In equity markets, we see almost no compelling value in US stocks, which if nothing else are intensely well covered (we mean by number of analysts, not necessarily by quality of coverage) by Wall Street. We see compelling pockets of genuine value, however, in markets like Japan, which simply aren’t well covered by the analyst community, which has been scared off by 20 years of bear market conditions.
We then supplement our debt and equity exposure with uncorrelated investments (namely systematic trend-followers), which we have always regarded as bellwether holdings, and with real assets, notably the monetary metals, gold and silver.
The result: four discrete asset classes that will behave in different ways under different market conditions. High quality debt offers income and a degree of capital preservation (especially in an environment of outright deflation). High quality ‘value’ equity offers income and the potential for attractive capital growth (especially in an environment of modest inflation). Systematic trend-followers are broadly market neutral, but with the potential to deliver outsized gains in an environment of systemic financial distress (most trend-followers generated double or triple digit percentage returns in 2008, for example). And real assets, again, offer the potential to deliver outsized gains in an environment of systemic financial distress or high inflation, or both.
Unlike most of our fund management peers, we accept that we can’t predict the future. Unlike many of them, we are at least preparing for it.
But that brings us back to our initial dilemma. We think the system is desperately unsound, so we take out what insurance we can, whilst still retaining a stake in a variety of markets (on our terms admittedly, rather than according to somebody else’s irrelevant benchmark).
But insurance only works if you have it when the crisis erupts. You don’t buy house insurance after the roof catches fire.
[This piece can be seen at Sean’s blog here http://truesinews.com/2015/02/17/macro-market-update/]
More than half a century ago, in his role as an advisor to the men responsible for trying to set Taiwan on the road to prosperity, a redoubtable economist called Sho-Chie Tsiang argued that the monetary authorities should stop suppressing interest rates and directly rationing credit and should move instead toward a more market-oriented system where real rates were sufficiently elevated to encourage productive saving.
His reasoning was that the existing combination of what we might call Z(Real)IRP with ‘macro-prudential’ control was plagued with several significant drawbacks.
Firstly, rationed credit tended to be crony credit – with only the politically-favoured having any hope of persuading the banks to lend to them. Secondly, the erosion of purchasing power suffered by any one depositing money in the bank at the prevailing yields meant that savers looked for other outlets for their surpluses, such as property and precious metals, neither of which did much to augment the stock of productive capital. Thirdly, this lack of genuine saving meant that all extra funding had to rely on inflationary credit creation and thus necessitated even more macro-prudential monkeying with the price mechanism. Fourthly, anyone outside the charmed circle of accepted borrowers – which tended to mean anyone with a hint of genuine entrepreneurship – had to raise funds in a quasi-illicit and certainly non-transparent manner and so had to promise exorbitantly high ‘curb’ rates of interest to compensate their lenders for the extra hazards involved.
Tsiang argued – and was soon to be proved totally correct in his assertions – that by allowing the rate of interest to find a level where market for funds cleared – essentially where the impulse to thrift intersected the expectation of profit – not only would all these disadvantages be eradicated, but the funding rate applicable to the WHOLE economy, as opposed to that charged to the privileged few, would be lower on average, not higher, as the risk premia associated with the ‘shadow’ market were removed.
In the decades after the Second World War, Taiwan, not entirely coincidentally, transformed itself from a backward, low-value added, crisis-wracked basket case into the economic prodigy to which we still look for so many of our high tech gizmos today.
The reason for the history lesson should be obvious if we consider that much of the same reasoning is relevant to mainland China today, even if the scale of the problem is somewhat larger in a country of 1 1/3 billion people.
Beijing knows that it cannot afford to persist with ‘business as usual’, that the ‘three overhangs’ relating to past over-expansion and misdirected effort have to be overcome while moving to the ‘new normal’ of less force-fed growth-for-growth’s sake. The issues with this are twofold: will the authorities stick to their course, even when the waters get choppy and, if they do, can they then hope to bring the ship of state safely into harbour before the leaks springing from its every timber send it to the bottom?
On the monetary front alone, the issue is fraught. The PBoC, as everyone knows, was moved to cut the required reserve rate a week or so back and so sparked a renewed clamour for further, substantial easing even though the main reason for the reduction was technical: the traditional Lunar New Year cash squeeze was bumping up against the very substantial reserve drain occasioned by the last few months’ sizeable forex outflows.
[CLICK TO ENLARGE ALL GRAPHS]
Against such a backdrop, the monthly money and credit numbers were exceptionally hard to read. TSF rose, but less than it did in each of the past two years. Loan growth, however, was the second highest on record. On the other side of the balance sheet M2 slowed to a multi-year low increase of 10.2% (even though overall deposits jumped by the most on record!) and yet, within that total, M1 money remained unchanged in a month in which it often falls so its rate of climb therefore rose to a 20-month high of 10.6%. Confusion confounded, indeed!
What is key here is that Lui Lei of the central bank came out to argue that any intervention should henceforth only be aimed at alleviating liquidity shortages, not at fostering hothouse growth, while Xu Lin of the NDRC hinted that the latest Five-year Plan would insist on a ‘floor’ for growth of a mere 6.5% – a significant psychological climb down from the economy-doubling 7-handles to which the regime has heretofore grimly clung. Guan Tao of the SAFE next went so far as to make explicit reference to the parallels between his country today and its Asian neighbours back in 1997 on the eve of their great crisis (and he should know: $10 billion+ leaked out again in January, his employers had just revealed).
For all the worries, this was not enough to prevent the ChiNext from making a new high – taking its run to 233% these past two years. We suspect, however, that it will pay to sell a reversal somewhere in the next 10%. We are also intrigued by the similarity between the HK H-Shares chart and that for pre-collapse crude – or, for that matter, between the index and all manner of commodity-related indices in recent months.
It is also fascinating to watch sentiment start to dissolve among the US punditry. As the newsflow become more nuanced, market participants have become schizophrenic with regard to oil prices – lower is ‘a tax cut for the consumer’ but is also about to blow up the junk bond market, depending on who is talking. The Dow, for its part, has rallied on cheap energy, but also rallied on a rebound in oil prices which was said to signal continued demand. So long as it rallies, one supposes…
Amid a stretch of numbers which, aside from those concerning employment, were somewhat disappointing to a consensus only lately set four-square behind the thesis of US economic triumphalism, some unusual attention has been paid of late to the lacklustre retail and wholesale sales numbers – mainly becuase they, too, looked weak.
For our part, since these are the nearest thing we get to a timely measure of economy-wide revenues (and hence not just to an NGDP number, all you market monetarists and Neo-Hayekians out there, but to an NSOP – a nominal structure-of-production flow) we tend to pay close attention to them as a matter of routine. What is at issue here, however, is the very fact that these arenominal numbers and are therefore hard to interpret when large, supply-side price changes are underway, as is arguably the case in all things related to natural resources as well as, for the US with its persistently strengthening currency, to imported goods of a more general character.
Since it is the sales margin that ultimately counts for the success of an enterprise, the first thing we need to assure ourselves is that falling revenues need not be wholly bad, as long as costs fall commensurately alongside them. There are, as ever, several caveats to this broad pronouncement.
Firstly, we have to hope that the aggregate decline in selling and buying prices does not mask too great a disparity between conditions in one business and the next. We must also beware the fact that any resulting windfall for one is not ruined by the shortfall for another when the impact is not a simple matter of addition and subtraction but acts in a non-linear fashion – e.g., through its implications for the credit structure. Finally, we have to wonder how the necessary fall in nominal costs will be achieved when it comes to those associated with the payroll. We should all recognise that real wages are what determine our standard of living, but we must also bear in mind that it is the nominal ones over which we fight and for whose maintenance jobs are often sacrificed.
With that in mind, let us note three broad trends which are at work. Number one, inventory/sales ratios are rising to levels not seen (barring the Snowball Earth episode of the Lehman Crash) in anything up to thirteen years across manufacturing, wholesale, and retail. To what extent this just reflects a lag in marking down inventory values but having instantlyto recognise lower sale sprices, rather than something much more sinister, only time will tell. Nevertheless, the adjustment, when it comes, will have to be reflected in both a capital write down and a temporary reduction in profits in the relevant period, so there is scope for further anguish.
Number two, wage bills in relation to sales receipts have also been pushed to their least favourable in more than a decade and, again, while the marginal return on labour could come out unchanged if the margins are unaltered, lowered revenues could nonetheless serve to jeopardize employment levels. Number three is that the value of outstanding C&I loans is rising in relation to the stock it is financing i.e., collateral coverage is slipping to an extent which may soon start causing jitters among the lenders.
While bearing this wobble in mind, also consider that P/Es are back to where they were on the eve of the last crash as is price/book. Price/sales is where it was at the height of the Tech Bubble and returns on capital – measured using both cash flow and free cash flow – are at or approaching their lowest in five years. As ever, the main source of support for the stock market is the deliberately suppressed level of bond yields.
One way of illustrating this distortion of the bond market is to look at bond risk – such as modified duration – versus bond return, i.e., yield-to-worst. Off the scale, is the simplest way to describe it.
As unsustainable as all this looks – not to mention how perilous it all is – the key is to try to find a reversal clear enough to be played. A week or two back, we suggested that the T-bond might be headed to 2.20% and that, if such a level held, one should try to sell against it, scaling in above 2.45/50%. Well, 2.22% has been the low so far and we have had a smart 43bp, 8.3% price reversal since hitting it. So far, so good, so short.
As for the rest of the market, WTI is testing the top of a neat profile built at the bottom of the rout (and so, theoretically signalling much lower lows ahead). If it breaks the top of this band, it could swing up to a nice, round $60/bbl where the mid-point of the Thanksgiving Day massacre comes in. Brent looks a touch more positive, so signals are mixed and while not yet convinced we have seen the worst, we would hesitate just yet to position too aggressively as a result of the disparity.
Copper, too has seen a little cautious buying, taking it back to the bottom of the old range. On the one hand we have maximum spec shorts both outright and as a percentage of O/I: on the other, the recent, hefty cash premium has almost disappeared as LME inventories have built rapidly, rising 85% since Christmas to a 16-month high. Sell any identifiable failure here but stop out if it does build back above $6000
Likewise, gold – while below $1245/50 – stays negative, looking for a possible retest of $1180 and, one day, a break of the decade-old uptrend to usher in the opening up of a route back to the LEH crisis levels down around $800/oz.
If gold is to weaken further, that almost presumes that risk will not spike higher and also that dollar strength will continue at what is now an important technical level for the greenback – at the 50% retracement of the 2002-11 decline and at fairly overbought levels.
While below $1.450/00 the euro does not look like spoiling the party but rather giving it a boost by falling to the long-term linear mid at $1.0700 (and possibly, since the trend on this chart has already given way to the log one at $9275/00)
However it is espressed in the weakness of pair currencies, a continued USD advance should mean positive feedback with other US asset classes so it is worth noting that the MSCI US index is fast approaching its historic peak relative to the ROW equivalent. Bears will hope that top holds: bulls will be wishing for a full, swing pattern repeat of the 1988-2002 move and hence for much more upside to come.
The Nikkei, meanwhile, remains locked – once we peel back the veil of weak Yen money illusion – in the range which has contained it these last 18 months or so. the best hope is that this consolidation wil eventually move the longest line higher both on the medium term scale of the last 5 years of rebound and on the larger scale of the whole three decades of bubble-and-bust.
The sad fact remains that, if we adjust for changes in the yen’s international worth via the TWI, returns for the entirety of that period sweep out a quasi-normal, mean reverting distribution. Still, a push to the top of that formation’ s value area would be nothing to sniff at, were it to come about through the processes just discussed.
Finally to Europe, where NIRP is beginning to preclude even momentum-driven returns on bonds and is pushing people instead into the stock market. The DAX appears to have broken out against the REX as a result, meaning it has every chance to test the last cyclical highs, set back in 2007, in the weeks ahead.
Note, however, that though the idea of European outperformance is becoming more widely shared – not least because of effects of the rapid growth in money supply even pre-QEuro – there is actually little in the graph of Germany v the USA in common currency to suggest this presentiment will be borne out in practice. If you do wish to play for a rise on the Continent, therefore, it seems as though you would be best advised to hedge up your forex exposure when you do so.
[Editor’s Note: this lengthy piece, by Richard Ebeling, primarily based on the “lost papers” of Ludwig von Mises that he and his wife, Anna, discovered in a formerly secret KGB archive in Moscow, Russia, is well worth reading as it shows Mises’s brilliance for understanding the problems of his time as well as purely abstract economics.]
Introduction to Volume 2
The “Lost Papers” of Ludwig von Mises
All of the articles and essays contained in this volume were written by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises during the twenty years between the two world wars, from 1918 to 1938. The common themes running through most of them concern the monetary disorder and inflation that followed the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the first World War; the monetary, fiscal, and interventionist problems in Austria and Europe in general in the 1920s and 1930s, including during the Great Depression; and the collectivist policies and ideas that were leading Europe down the road to the Second World War. Also included from this period are articles on the Austrian economists, the methodology of the social sciences, and the problem of economic calculation under socialism.
They all were originally written in German and about a quarter of them have never been published before. Virtually all are taken from the “lost papers” of Ludwig von Mises.
In the years between the two world wars, Ludwig von Mises was one of the most famous and controversial economists on the European continent. Born in Lemberg, Austria-Hungary on September 29, 1881, Mises entered the University of Vienna in 1900 and was awarded a doctoral degree in 1906. In 1909, the Austrian Chamber of Commerce in Vienna hired Mises as one of its economic staff members. In 1913, he was given the title of Privatdozent, permitting him the right to teach at the University of Vienna as an unsalaried lecturer, with promotion to the title of Professor Extraordinary in 1918.
Over the next twenty-seven years, until his emigration to the United States in July 1940, Ludwig von Mises caused firestorms of controversy. In 1912, he published The Theory of Money and Credit, in which, besides its many other theoretical contributions, Mises formulated what became known as the Austrian theory of the business cycle. Inflation and depression were not inherent to a capitalist economy, but were the result of government control and mismanagement of the monetary system through manipulation of market rates of interest.
It was an article he published in 1920, and which two years later he expanded into the book-length treatise Socialism, that caused the whirlwind of debate that surrounded him for the rest of his life. In this work, Mises demonstrated that the central planners of a socialist state would have no way of knowing how to use the resources of the society at their disposal for least-cost and efficient production. Without market-generated prices, the planners would lack the necessary tools for “economic calculation.” The reality of the promised socialist utopia would be poverty, economic imbalance, and social decay. Furthermore, Mises argued that any type of collectivism that was applied comprehensively would result in a terrible tyranny, since the state would monopolize control over everything needed for human existence.
In 1927, Mises published Liberalism, in which he presented the [xv] classical liberal vision of the free and prosperous society, one in which individual freedom would be respected, the market economy would be free, open and unregulated, and government would be limited to the primary functions of protecting life, liberty and property. He followed this work with Critique of Interventionism in 1929, a collection of essays in which he tried to explain that the interventionist-welfare state was not a “third way” between capitalism and socialism, but a set of contradictory policies that, if fully applied, would eventually lead to socialism through incremental increases in government regulation and control over the economy—and that Germany in the 1920s was heading down a dangerous political road that would lead to the triumph of national socialism.
Not surprisingly, both Marxists and Nazis viewed Ludwig von Mises as a serious intellectual enemy. In fact, in 1925, the Soviet journal Bolshevik published an article calling him a “theorist of fascism.”What was Mises’s “crime” deserving of such a charge? In a 1925 article on “Anti-Marxism,” Mises had written that Marxist Russia and a “national socialist” Germany would be natural allies in a war in Eastern Europe—thereby anticipating the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which served as the prelude to the beginning of the Second World War.
By the early 1930s, Mises understood that a Nazi victory in Germany would threaten Austria. As a classical liberal and a Jew, he could be sure that after a Nazi takeover of Austria, the Gestapo would come looking for him. So when in March 1934 he was offered a way out by William E. Rappard, cofounder and director of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, who offered him a position as Professor of International Economic Relations, Mises readily accepted and moved to Geneva in October 1934.
Mises kept his apartment in Vienna, where he and his mother had been living since 1911. After she died in April 1937, he returned the apartment to the owner of the building but continued to sublet a room from the new tenant. In this room he stored his papers, manuscripts, family and personal documents, correspondence, and files of his own and other writers’ articles, as well as much of his personal library, which included more than two thousand volumes.
On March 12, 1938, the German army crossed the Austrian border. When Adolf Hitler arrived in Vienna on March 15 he announced that his native Austria had been incorporated into Nazi Germany. Over the next several weeks the Gestapo arrested tens of thousands of Viennese. An estimated seventy thousand were soon imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. Among the immediate victims were the Jews of Vienna, who were harassed, beaten up, tortured, murdered, and humiliated by being made to scrub the streets of Vienna on their hands and knees with toothbrushes while being surrounded by tormenting crowds of onlookers. The new Nazi regime soon began a methodical program of appropriating the 33,000 Jewish-owned businesses and enterprises in Vienna. Among those that the Gestapo came looking for soon after the Anschluss was Ludwig von Mises.
Towards the end of March 1938, the Gestapo came to Mises’s Vienna apartment. He was safe in Switzerland, but the Nazis boxed up everything in his room and carried it away. A year later, on March 4, 1939, Mises sent out a letter of “information” to friends in Europe, explaining what had happened to his possessions:
From 1911 until the death of my mother, I resided at 24 Wollzeile, Apartment 18 (Vienna, I). Upon her death I returned the apartment to the [xvii] owner of the building, who rented it out to the physician, Dr. Joseph Reitzes. However, I kept one room in the apartment as his subtenant. In this room I had my library, as well as my personal correspondence, my family papers, diplomas and other important documents. Furthermore, I had there silver tableware, and a considerable number of other silver items—large platters, candelabras, etc. finally, there was some linen. At the end of March 1938 the Gestapo forcibly entered my locked room and hauled away the contents in twenty-one boxes. Then my room was sealed. In September or October, the rest of the objects in the room were taken away by the Gestapo. Dr. and Mrs. Reitzes have meanwhile left Vienna, and no correspondence from them has reached me. From what I have heard, the Gestapo gave them strict orders not to get in touch with me. In August of last year, I learned from Baron Richthofen that my possessions were in the hands of the Gestapo. When my lawyer, Dr. Rintelen, inquired about what had become of my possessions, he was reportedly given the answer that they could not be found anywhere. My personal library includes about 2,500 books, 1,500 pamphlets and reprints. These works deal with such subjects as economics, economic policy, financial questions, economic conditions in various countries, all varieties of socialism, world and Austrian history, economic history, jurisprudence, philosophy, and belles-lettres.
Mises then listed the collections of books, journals and papers that had been among the property taken away by the Gestapo.
Until his death on October 10, 1973, at the age of 92, Mises believed that everything had been destroyed—either by the Nazis or in the chaos of the war. Considering the manner in which the Nazi regime had earlier burned books as a symbolic rejection of ideas opposed to their own, this was, perhaps, a reasonable assumption. However, Mises’s papers had not [xviii] been destroyed. Instead, they had been kept by the Nazis and ended up in Czechoslovakia, along with most of the other documents, papers, and archival collections the Nazis had seized in various German-occupied countries during the war.
During the first days of May 1945, as the war in Europe was reaching its end, the Soviet army, having conquered eastern Germany, began its conquest of the Czech region of Bohemia. Reaching the small town of Halberstadt, the Soviet soldiers began to fan out and occupied the railway station. On a track siding were twenty-four boxcars that the Nazi authorities had been preparing to evacuate to territory still under their control. When Soviet officials opened the boxcars, they found them stuffed with documents, files, dossiers, and personal and professional papers that the Gestapo had looted from France, Belgium, Austria, Holland, Poland, and many other countries, including Germany itself. Among these literally millions of pages of stolen documents were the “lost papers” of Ludwig von Mises.
This massive cache of material was turned over by the Soviet army to the KGB, who reported the find and its apparent content to Stalin. Stalin ordered the boxcars to be transported to Moscow, where a special building was constructed in the early 1950s to store and preserve these papers. They included 20 million documents from twenty countries. From the outside, the building looked like an ordinary residential complex. It had no nameplate on the door, and only the bars on the windows suggested that it was something other than what it appeared. For the next forty-five years the only people allowed access to the documents stored in the building were members of the KGB and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The employees—all KGB archivists—were forbidden to tell even their families where they worked and were restricted from meeting with foreigners, or even eating at restaurants patronized by foreigners in Moscow.
Each of the archival collections had been carefully studied and organized by the KGB. Mises’s papers were divided into 196 files containing approximately 8,000 items. In 1951, the KGB prepared an index to his papers, with a one-paragraph description of each file. The entire collection was labeled “Fund # 623—Ludwig Mises.”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the documents were declassified and the archive was opened on a limited basis under its new name, the Moscow Center for Historical and Documental Collections. Even foreign researchers could now request to see parts of the collection.
I first heard a rumor that Mises’s papers might be in Moscow in the summer of 1993. My wife and I were in Vienna looking for archival [xix] material about Mises’s life and career. A friend in the Austrian Chamber of Labor, Dr. Gunther Chaloupek, told me that some German diplomats had been in Moscow looking for material about antifascist Germans from the interwar period and had come across a reference to Mises’s name among the indexes to captured documents they were permitted to examine.
In 1994, I found Mises’s “information” letter from 1939 among Friedrich A. Hayek’s papers at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, so I now had an idea of exactly how and what the Nazis had stolen. It was only in July 1996 that I found out the exact location of Mises’s “lost papers.” I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C., hoping that the researchers there could tell me whether, by chance, a Gestapo file on Mises had survived the war. No one could locate such a file. However, I asked a research staff member whether they could find out if any of Mises’s papers were now in Russian hands. She introduced me to a senior researcher, Karl Modek, who specialized in Holocaust material relating to the Soviet Union. Opening a spiral binder containing a full list of the material stored at the Moscow Center for Historical and Documental Collections, he turned to the pages listing the fund numbers and the names of collections in the archive. There it was: “Fund # 623—Ludwig Mises.”
Since the archive had been open to researchers since 1991, the question arises as to why the existence of Mises’s papers had not come to light earlier, and why hadn’t anyone taken the time to examine them and obtain copies? An answer was provided by Kurt Leube, former personal assistant to Friedrich Hayek.
In 1994, Mr. Leube also had heard that Mises’s papers appeared to have survived in Russia. He found out that some Austrian researchers, including Gerhard Jagschitz of the University of Vienna and Stefen Karner of the University of Graz, had traveled to Moscow and seen the indexes to Austrian documents captured by the Soviet army. They confirmed that they had seen an index to Mises’s papers. Mr. Leube had asked them to examine the files and describe their contents, but they replied that their own research schedule did not permit the time to do so.
In March 1997, Dr. Mansur Mukhamedjanov, then Director of the Moscow Center for Historical and Documental Collections, delivered a speech at Hillsdale College and explained:
The Ludwig von Mises fund was accessible to researchers. But from the time when the archive has been opened, not one researcher looked into or worked with the materials of this fund. Russian economists who are involved in working out the concept of market reform never showed any interest in Mises’s fund. I don’t think they even know about its existence. Foreign researchers were interested in anything but Mises. Some of them probably saw the index and knew that such a fund existed, but nobody, I repeat, nobody ever showed any interest or desire to look into the documents. Our careful records show that no researchers ever requested “Fund # 623—Ludwig Mises.”
Mises’s Vienna papers remained unexamined until my wife, Anna, and I traveled to Moscow in October 1996. From October 17 to 27, we spent every working day examining each of the files. We arranged the photocopying or microfilming of virtually the entire collection of papers, manuscripts, articles, correspondence, personal documents, and related materials. They now have been rearranged and computer-cataloged and are restored in the Ludwig von Mises Library Room at Hillsdale College.
The articles and essays in the present volume contain material from Mises’s “lost papers” covering the period from between the two world wars. They offer a view of a different side of Ludwig von Mises in comparison to many of his other works that have been more readily available from this period of his life.
The Economist as the Historian of Decline
In the months immediately after he arrived in the United States in the summer of 1940, Ludwig von Mises set down on paper his reflections on his life and contributions to the social sciences. It is less an autobiography and more a restatement of his most strongly held ideas in the context of the times in which he had lived in Europe. It carries in it a tone of despair and dismay about the direction in which European civilization seemed to be moving at the end of the first four decades of the twentieth century. In clear anguish and frustration, he summarized how he viewed his efforts as an economist in Europe in general and Austria in particular during those years between the two world wars:
Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But I have never allowed myself to be deceived. I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.
His activities between 1918 and 1938 were divided into two categories: his scholarly writings, and his work as an economic policy analyst and advocate for the Vienna Chambers of Commerce, Crafts, and Industry. The reader of The Theory of Money and Credit,Socialism,Liberalism, and Critique of Interventionism easily would have a conception of Mises as primarily a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary economic and social theorist who was especially concerned with advancing various aspects of monetary and general economic theory in the context of critically evaluating the ideological and policy trends of his time.
This view of Mises would also be easily reinforced from reading his economic treatise, Human Action, a massive work that represents the capstone of his thinking on a vast number of subjects. He writes on a large canvas that incorporates a theory of human knowledge; the conception of the origin and structure of human society; the foundations and construction of a theory of the competitive market process; the nature of money, interest, capital, and the business cycle; and a detailed critique of the socialist, interventionist, and welfare-statist alternatives to the market order.
Some of the articles and essays included in the present volume show him as a clear and concise expositor of these general and critical ideas. In the context of the Austria of this time, however, they also show Mises as a contemporary policy analyst focusing on a variety of specific political, economic, and monetary problems in the wake of the first World War. In these writings he is an advocate of particular policies, reforms, and institutional changes meant to move his native Austria in the direction of freer markets, a more stable monetary order, and a less distorting fiscal regime.
His efforts in these areas of public policy grew out of his position at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, where he first worked in October 1909 [xxii] as an assistant for the drafting of documents, later becoming a deputy secretary in 1910. Mises was promoted to Leitenden Kammerssekretärs (first secretary) of the Vienna Chamber when he returned to his duties after serving as an officer in the Austrian army during the first World War. He was in charge of the Chamber’s finance department, which was responsible for banking and insurance questions, currency problems, foreign exchange regulations, and public finance and taxation. He also consulted on issues relating to civil, administrative, and constitutional law. Indeed, because of his wide interests and knowledge, practically every facet of the Chamber’s activities concerning public policy and regulation fell within his expertise.
Mises also was assigned special tasks. From November 1918 to September 1919, he was responsible for financial matters relating to foreign affairs at the Chamber. From 1919 to 1921, he was in charge of the section of the Austrian Reparations Commission for the League of Nations concerned with the settling of outstanding prewar debt. After he accepted [xxiii] the appointment as professor of international economic relations at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies, he went on extended leave from the Chamber, though he continued to return to Vienna periodically to consult on various policy matters until February 1938.
At the Chamber, Mises explained, “I created a position for myself.” While always having a superior nominally above him, he came to operate on his own with the assistance of a few colleagues. Though he felt that his advice was not often taken, he viewed himself as “the economist of the country” whose efforts were “concentrated on the crucial economic political questions,” and as “the economic conscience” of Austria in its postwar period.
Friends often suggested to him that he could have had more of a positive impact on Austrian economic policy if he had been willing to give a little and modify his principled stance on various issues. Yet Mises’s only regret, as he looked back on his years at the Chamber, was that he often felt that he compromised too much, though he stated that he had always clearly understood that in politics compromise was inevitable. The challenge was to “give” on the less important issues so as to have a better chance to succeed on the essential ones. This is how he viewed the positions he often took within the Chamber in an effort to get the organization to publicly back policies that he considered crucial at various times during these years.
By the time he left Vienna for Geneva in October 1934, however, Mises believed that he had done little more than fight a series of rearguard actions to delay the decay and destruction of his beloved Austria. “For sixteen years I fought a battle in the Chamber in which I won nothing more than a mere delay of the catastrophe… Even if I had been completely successful, Austria could not have been saved,” Mises forlornly admitted. “The enemy who was about to destroy it came from abroad [Hitler’s Nazi Germany]. Austria could not for long withstand the onslaught of the National-Socialists who soon were to overrun all of Europe.” Still, he had no regrets over the efforts he had made. “I could not act otherwise. I fought because I could do no other.”
To appreciate Mises’s frustration and sense of failure in having begun, as he expressed it, with the hope of being a reformer and instead ending up in the role of a historian of decline requires an appreciation, however [xxiv] brief, of the history of Austria between the world wars. Familiarity with this period will also serve to place into their appropriate context most of the articles and essays included in the present volume, writings through which Mises had clearly attempted to influence the course of events in his native land.
Austria-Hungary under the Habsburg monarchy had been a vast, polyglot empire in Central and Eastern Europe encompassing a territory of approximately 415,000 square miles with a population of 50 million. The two largest linguistic groups in the empire were the German-speaking and Hungarian populations, each numbering about 10 million. The remaining 30 million were made up of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Romanians, [xxv] Ruthenians, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Italians, and a variety of smaller groups of the Balkan region.
During the last decades of the nineteenth century and the opening decade and a half of the twentieth century, the empire increasingly came under the strain of nationalist sentiments from these various groups, each desiring greater autonomy and some forcefully demanding independence. The first World War brought the 700-year-old Habsburg dynasty to a close The war had put severe political and economic strains on the country. Power was centralized in the hands of the military command, civil liberties were greatly curtailed, and the economy was controlled and regulated. Yet the more that power was concentrated and the more that the fortunes of war turned against the empire, the more the national groups, most insistently the Hungarians and then the Czechs, Croats, and Poles, demanded self-determination to form their own nation states.
The empire formally began to disintegrate in October 1918, when first the Czechs declared their independence, followed by the Hungarians and the Croats and Slovenes. In early November 1918, the last of the Habsburg emperors, Karl Franz Josef, stepped down from the throne, and on November 12, a provisional national assembly in Vienna proclaimed a republic in German-Austria, as this remnant of the empire was now named. Yetin the second article of the document of independence, it was stated that “German-Austria is an integral part of the German Republic.” Thus the new Austria was born—reduced to 52,000 square miles with a population of 6.5 million inhabitants, one-third of whom resided in Vienna— with a significant portion of the population not wishing their country to be independent but unified (an Anschluss) with the new republican Germany.
For almost five months after the empire had politically broken apart, the Austro-Hungarian National Bank continued to operate as the note-issuing central bank within German-Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. The Czechs, however, increasingly protested that the Bank was expanding the money supply to cover the expenses and food subsidies of the German-Austrian government in Vienna. In January 1919, the new [xxvi] Yugoslavian government declared that all notes of the Austro-Hungarian Bank on their territory would be stamped with a national mark, and only such stamped money would then be legal tender. The Czech government announced the same in late February 1919. The Czech border was sealed to prevent smuggling of notes into the country, and the notes within Czechoslovakian territory were stamped between March 3 and 10. Soon after, both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia began to issue their own national currencies and exchange the stamped Austrian notes for their new monetary units.
In Hungary the situation was more chaotic. In March 1919, a Bolshevik government took power in Budapest and began printing huge quantities of small-denomination notes with Austro-Hungarian Bank plates in their possession, as well as larger notes of their own design, causing a severe inflation. The Bolshevik government was overthrown in August 1919 by invading Romanian armies.
The Austrian Bank notes were not embossed with a national stamp until March 1920, and a separate national currency was introduced in Hungary in May 1921.
The Austrian government, in response to the monetary decisions of the Yugoslavians and Czechs, began their own official stamping of Austro-Hungarian Bank notes within its territory between March 12 and 24, 1919. However, the limiting of notes considered legal tender in the new Austria did not end the problem of monetary inflation. In a matter of weeks after the declaration of the Austrian Republic, the coalition government made up of the Social Democrats, the Christian Socialists, and the Pan-German Nationalists began the introduction of a vast array of social welfare programs. They included a mandatory eight-hour work day, a guaranteed minimum one-to two-week holiday for industrial employees, a continuation and reinforcement of the wartime system of rent controls in Vienna, centrally funded unemployment and welfare payments, and price controls on food supplies that were supplemented with government rationing and subsidies. The cost for these latter programs was huge and kept growing. In 1921, half of the Austrian government’s budget deficit was caused by the food subsidies.
To cover these expenditures, the Austrian government resorted to the printing press. Between March and December 1919, the paper money of the Austrian Republic increased from 831.6 million crowns to 12.1 billion crowns. By December 1920, it had increased to 30.6 billion crowns; by December 1921, to 174.1 billion crowns; by December 1922, to 4 trillion crowns; and to 7.1 trillion crowns by the end of 1923. Prices rose dramatically through this period. A cost-of-living index, excluding housing (with July 1914 = 1), stood at 28.37 in January 1919; by January 1920, it had risen to 49.22; by January 1921, it had gone up to 99.56; in January 1922, it stood at 830; by January 1923, it had shot up to 11,836; and in April 1924, it was at 14,850.
The foreign-exchange value of the Austrian crown also dramatically fell during this period. In January 1919, one dollar could buy 16.1 crowns on the Vienna foreign-exchange market; by May of 1923, a dollar traded for 70,800 crowns.
Adding to the monetary and financial chaos was the virtual political disintegration of what remained of Austria. Immediately after the declaration of the Austrian Republic, political power devolved to the provinces [xxviii] and the local communities, which showed little loyalty to the new national government and great animosity towards the capital city of Vienna. They soon blocked the provincial borders, imposing passport and visa restrictions for entering and exiting their territories. Some of the provinces in 1919 even entered into independent negotiations with Switzerland and Bavaria about possible political incorporation into these neighboring countries. A primary motivation for this provincial “nationalism” or “particularism,” however, was the food and raw materials crisis.
The imperial government had forcefully requisitioned food from the agricultural areas of German-Austria during the war. The new republican government in Vienna continued the practice of forced requisition at artificially low prices, using a newly formed Volkswehr [People’s Defense Force] to seize the food supplies sold in Vienna at controlled prices for ration tickets. The provincial governments used their local power to prevent the export of their agricultural products to Vienna at these below-market prices. Vienna, however, received food from the countryside through a vast black-market network that operated throughout the country.
time after the armistice by the Allied powers but mostly imposed by the Czechs, Hungarians, and Yugoslavians. Coal supplies throughout 1919 and early 1920 were hard to come by. The Czechs and Hungarians refused to supply coal unless they received actual manufactured goods as payment in trade. The inability to acquire coal and other essential raw materials resulted in Austrian and especially Viennese industry grinding to a halt, with no way to produce the goods necessary to pay for the resources required for production. Throughout 1919 and part of 1920, Vienna was on the verge of mass starvation, with food and milk rations almost nonexistent except for the very young. Only relief supplies provided by both the Allied powers and private charities saved thousands of lives in the city..
In October 1920, a new constitution was promulgated as the law of the land. Written primarily by the Austrian legal philosopher Hans Kelsen, it defined the lines of authority between the central government and the [xxix] provinces. The provinces were given wide powers at the local and regional level, but the supremacy of the federal authority over essential political and economic matters that the constitution established ended the provincial nationalism and “particularism.”
One new element resulting from the constitution was that the city of Vienna was now administratively recognized as having a separate “provincial” status. Thus, neither the surrounding province of Lower Austria nor the federal government located in Vienna had jurisdiction over the affairs of the city. From 1920 until 1934, the city became known as “Red Vienna.” Throughout the interwar period, Austrian politics were dominated by the battle between the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists. The Social Democrats, while rejecting the Bolshevik tactic of dictatorship to achieve their ends, were dedicated to the ideal of marching to a bright socialist future. But outside of Vienna (where they consistently won a large electoral majority) they were thwarted in this mission by the Christian Socialists, who held the majority in the Alpine provinces of Austria and therefore in the National Assembly that governed the country as a whole. The Christian Socialists based their support in the agricultural regions of the country where there was a suspicion and dislike for socialist radicalism. The Christian Socialists, however, were willing to use, in turn, domestic regulations, trade restrictions, and income transfer programs to benefit segments of the rural population at the expense of the larger municipalities, and especially Vienna.
The battle between these two parties had first been fought out in 1921 and 1922, when government expenditures and the mounting increases in the money supply to pay for them were threatening runaway inflation and a financial and economic collapse. After several appeals to the Allied powers, the League of Nations extended a loan to the Austrian government to repay outstanding debts left over from the war and temporarily to cover current expenditures. In return the League supervised a demanding austerity plan that required sizable cuts in government spending, including the ending of the expensive food subsidies for the urban population and the firing of 80,000 civil servants. In addition, the League assisted in the construction of a new Austrian National Bank, for which Mises played a central role in the writing of the charter and bylaws.
In Vienna the Social Democrats remained determined to press on with creating a model socialist community. Huge sums of money were spent in the 1920s on building dozens of schools, kindergartens, libraries, and hospitals in the “working class” districts of the city. They also [xxx] constructed vast new housing complexes, sometimes built literally like fortresses ready to be defended against any counterrevolutionary attacks; one of the most famous of these complexes was Karl Marx Hof. In other parts of the city rent controls kept the cost of apartment housing artificially low at the expense of the landlords. Municipal social and medical insurance programs provided cradle-to-grave protection—including free burials —for the constituents of the Social Democratic Party in Vienna.
To pay for these programs and projects, the Social Democrats imposed a “soak the rich” tax system. Various progressive tax devices were introduced on income, consumption, “entertainment,” and “luxury” expenditures, as well as on rents, business enterprises, and capital assets within the boundaries of the city’s jurisdiction. One newspaper referred to the city’s fiscal system as “the success of the tax vampires,” especially since to cover these municipal expenditures the tax base and rates soon enveloped a large portion of Vienna’s middle class as well as “the rich.”
Parallel to the electoral combat between Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists were paramilitary battles around the country as well. In 1919 and 1920, under the threat of foreign invasion—especially by Yugoslavian armed forces along Austria’s ill-defined southern border—and the plundering expeditions of private gangs and the government’s Volkswehr attempting to forcibly seize food supplies from the rural population, the farming communities created a Heimwehr [Home Defense Force]. It soon became the paramilitary army of the Christian Socialists. In turn, the Social Democrats created theSchutzbund [Protection League] as their private armed force. Armed with war surplus and other weaponry, they both had training camps, parades, and military drills, and held maneuvers in the countryside during which they would sometimes clash in actual combat.
One of the most serious of these clashes occurred in January 1927, in a town near the Hungarian border southeast of Vienna. In the fighting several people were killed, including a small child. In July 1927, three members of the local Heimwehr where the combat occurred were put on trial in Vienna but soon were acquitted. Mobs from the “working class” districts of the city, who were led by known communists, rampaged through parts of the center of Vienna; they burned down the federal palace of justice, requiring the police to use deadly force to put down the violence. In response, the Social Democratic mayor of the city declared the police incompetent and set up a new parallel police force, the Wiener Gemeindewache [Vienna Municipal Guard], manned mostly by recruits from the Social Democrats’Schutzbund, and all at the taxpayers’ extra expense.
Throughout the 1920s, Austria lived a precarious economic existence. Heavy taxes and domestic regulations hampered private investment in the country with both the private sector and the municipal authorities dependent upon foreign lenders and domestic credit expansion for financing many of their activities. Indeed, the burden of rising taxes and social insurance costs, increasing wage demands by labor unions, and tariff regulations actually resulted in capital consumption in the Austrian economy through the 1920s. In a report for the Austrian government that Ludwig von Mises had coauthored in 1931, it was shown that between 1925 and 1929 taxes had risen by 32 percent, social insurance by 50 percent, industrial wages by 24 percent, agricultural wages by 13 percent, and transportation costs by 15 percent—while an index of the prices of manufactured goods bearing these costs had increased only 4.74 percent between 1925 and early 1930.
This was the political and economic situation in the country as Austria entered the Great Depression in 1929. Austria’s crises in the early [xxxii] 1930s were both political and economic. Between 1929 and 1932, Austria had four changes in the government, with finally Engelbert Dollfuss becoming chancellor in May 1932. The economic crisis became especially severe in May 1931. One of Austria’s old imperial-era banks, the Credit-Anstalt, had taken over the Boden-KreditAnstalt in October 1929. The latter bank had branches throughout central Europe and suffered heavy financial losses through most of 1929 into 1930. To sustain the Boden-KreditAnstalt and its own financial position, CreditAnstalt borrowed heavily in the short-term market. In May 1931, panic set in that CreditAnstalt would not be able to meet its financial obligations, precipitating a run on the bank. At the same time, there was a rush to exchange Austrian schillings for foreign currencies and gold.
The Austrian government responded by passing a series of emergency measures between May and December 1931. Concerned about continuing losses of hard-currency reserves, the Austrian government instituted foreign-exchange controls. Distortions, imbalances, and corruption resulting from that law led to three revisions during the first year, each one loosening the controls a little more. The controls were phased out by 1934, after the Austrian government received loans from a group of foreign sources.
In June 1931, Austria had appealed for financial assistance to provide funds needed to stem the massive loss of gold and foreign exchange. The Bank of England and the Bank for International Settlements in Basil, Switzerland, extended credits to the Austrian National Bank. In August 1931, the Austrian government appealed to the League of Nations for a loan, as it had in 1922. The loan agreement was finally signed almost a year later in July 1932. It supplied funds to repay the credits extended by the Bank of England and the Bank for International Settlements. Refinancing of the loan a short time later at a lower rate of interest significantly reduced Austria’s total foreign debt.
But the events that were to seal Austria’s fate were being played out in [xxxiii] the political arena. The League loan, like the one in 1922, required a League representative to supervise the allocation and use of the funds and insisted upon austerity measures to reduce the government expenditures, in addition to a renewal of the pledge against an Anschluss with Germany. The Social Democrats and Pan-German Nationalists in the Austrian Parliament unsuccessfully attempted to block passage of the loan bill, an action which left a bitter and tense relationship between these two parties and Dollfuss’s Christian Socialists.
In March 1933, a procedural argument arose during a parliamentary vote and the leading members of each of the major parties stepped down from the rostrum, bringing the proceedings to a halt. The next day, Chancellor Dollfuss used this as an excuse to suspend the parliament and announce that he was going to rule by decree. Tensions continued to mount for the next year until finally the situation exploded into civil war. Based on information that units of the Schutzbund, the paramilitary arm of the Social Democratic party, were going to initiate a coup attempt, the Christian Socialists’ Heimwehrattempted to disarm them in several cities around the country, including Linz. When fighting broke out, the Austrian army was called into action to put down the combat.
In Vienna, the Social Democrats called for armed insurrection in “selfdefense” against the “reactionary” forces of the Austrian army and the Heimwehr. For four days, deadly and destructive fighting went on in the outer districts of Vienna, with hundreds either killed or wounded and the government forces using artillery pieces to bombard Social Democratic strongholds. When the fighting ended, the Social Democratic forces were completely defeated. Most of the party’s leadership fled the country, and the party was declared illegal.
Then in July 1934, a group of Austrian Nazis, inspired by Hitler’s rise to power in Germany the preceding year, attempted a coup. They seized the Chancellery building, captured and killed Dollfuss, and proclaimed a National Socialist government. They were swiftly defeated by forces loyal to the Austrian government, as was another Nazi-led uprising in the region [xxxiv] of Styria at the same time. When Mussolini declared Italy’s intention to preserve Austria’s independence by sending military forces to the Brenner Pass at the Italian-Austrian border, Hitler repudiated his Austrian followers (for the time being).
Kurt von Schuschnigg became chancellor following Dollfuss’s death, a position he held until March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria. Thus ended Austria’s tragic twenty-year history between the two world wars.
Monetary Disorder, Inflation, and Interventionist State (1918–32)
The first three chapters in this volume were written in 1918, before the end of the first World War. At this time, Mises was serving as an economic consultant to the Austrian General Staff in Vienna. The chapters look forward to a return to peace, but they contain nothing suggesting the actual cataclysm of events that were to follow. In his article, “The Quantity Theory,” Mises restated the basic principles behind the quantity theory of money and emphasized that it had been the abuse of the printing press that had caused the wartime inflation. The task ahead would be to end the inflation and restore the soundness and stability of the Austrian currency when the fighting stopped.
In response to questions raised by two commentators, Mises made clear in “On the Currency Question” that monetary theory as a social-scientific endeavor offered no answer to the question as to which policy was best to follow in the postwar period. One option would be to end the printing of bank notes and allow the value of the Austrian crown to stabilize in terms of its then-current depreciated market value in exchange for gold and foreign currencies. A new fixed rate of exchange could be established, Mises suggested, say, one year from the day the war ended. If, on the other hand, there were a strong preference to return to the status before the war began in 1914, including a restoration of the prewar foreign-exchange value of the Austrian crown, it would be necessary for the government to run a budget surplus and pay off its debt to the Austro-Hungarian Bank, which would then take the bank notes out of circulation. The monetary contraction would have to continue until the value of the crown had once again risen to its prewar parity.
Mises emphasized that such a monetary deflation would have various disruptive social consequences in the transition to the higher foreign-exchange rate for the crown. Whether to contract the money supply or stabilize the value of the crown at its depreciated value was a political question that economic theory could not answer, other than to explain the consequences that were likely to follow from either course of action.
In the spring of 1918, following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that ended the war on the eastern front that imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary had waged with the new Bolshevik government in Russia, Mises served as the officer in charge of currency control in Austrian-occupied Ukraine, with his headquarters in Odessa. An independent Ukraine had been declared in Kiev during this time, and in “Remarks Concerning the Establishment of a Ukrainian Note-Issuing Bank,” Mises outlined the institutional rules that should be followed by a Ukrainian central bank. All bank notes issued and outstanding should be at all times covered with gold or foreign exchange redeemable in gold equal to one-third of the bank’s liabilities. Bank assets in the form of secure, short-term loans should back the remaining two-thirds of the notes in circulation. Mises admitted that there were particular institutional and historical circumstances that would have to be taken into consideration in setting the conditions under which certain types of borrowers might have access to the lending facilities of the Ukrainian central bank. But what was crucial for Ukraine to have a sound monetary system were ample reserves for redemption of bank notes on demand and limits on the term-structure of the loans made by the bank.
These first essays have an almost surrealistic quality to them in suggesting a postwar period in which there would be a calm, stable, and relatively smooth transition to a restructured monetary system as a complement to the return to a tranquil peacetime economy. Instead, the problems that Mises attempted to grapple with in the essays that followed [xxxvi] concerned an actual situation of monetary disintegration, high inflation, political disorder, and general economic chaos.
The next three essays, “The Austrian Currency Problem Prior to the Peace Conference,” “On the Actions to Be Taken in the Face of Progressive Currency Depreciation,” and “The Reentry of German-Austria into the German Reich and the Currency Question,” were all written in the first half of 1919. They deal, respectively, with distinct but interrelated questions: how shall a previously unified monetary system be separated into different national currencies; how might the private banking sector create a transition to a new currency after government mismanagement of the monetary system will have brought about a sudden inflationary collapse of the currency; and how shall two separate national currency systems be unified or reunified into a single monetary regime?
In “The Austrian Currency Problem Prior to the Peace Conference,” Mises outlined alternative possibilities that might be followed in establishing a new monetary order in the wake of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire and its unified currency system. He discussed the possibilities of maintaining a common single-currency area with a single central bank, or a monetary union with independent central banks, or completely independent national currencies issued and managed by separate central banks. Mises assumed that none of the newly independent “successor states” would opt for the first alternative. Thus the issue at hand was how all the people presently holding notes issued by the Austro-Hungarian National Bank would convert them into units of the respective new national currencies. He suggested that those residing in the respective successor states should have the freedom of converting their old notes into either the national currency of the new country in which they resided or into the currency of any other of the successor states, as they found most convenient and useful. The same free choice of currency conversion also should be available to those holding quantities of the old notes in countries outside the territory of the former empire. The additional problem to which the currency conversion would be tied was the distribution of the Austro-Hungarian prewar and wartime debt among the successor states. Mises offered a detailed formula of how the distribution of this debt and the conversion of the old notes into new currencies might be reasonably balanced without an undue financial burden on any one of the new countries.
But in the spring of 1919, a far greater problem that confronted the [xxxvii] new Austria was the danger of runaway or hyperinflation. With state spending seemingly out of control because of the welfare-redistributive programs introduced by the Social Democratic and Christian Socialist coalition government, and especially because of the cost of subsidized food for the urban populations, the monetary system seemed headed for a collapse. Mises was cautious to say that it was neither certain nor inevitable that such a currency collapse had to occur. But if it did, Austria—and particularly Vienna, with its large urban population—could be faced with social disintegration, food riots, and mass destruction and theft of property as the value of the medium of exchange fell to zero. Government would have lost all legitimacy and trust in relation to monetary matters. It was to solve this problem that Mises presented his proposal, “On the Actions to Be Taken in the Face of Progressive Currency Depreciation.”
It would fall on the shoulders of the private sector—banks and businesses—to devise the mechanism to bridge the gap between any dramatic and rapid collapse of the old currency and the spontaneous shift to the use of alternative monies by the citizens of the society. Thus, Mises presented a plan for these elements in the private sector to use export revenues and sales of assets to accumulate cash reserves of small-denomination units of Swiss money to use as the temporary, emergency medium of exchange. It would be used to pay salaries and pensions and to loan to the government and other employers in the market so that the population would have access to a medium of exchange they could have confidence in accepting and using for survival. This only would be necessary until normal export sales and capital transfers supplied over time the required quantities of gold or foreign currencies to be used as the permanent substitute monies in a post-inflationary Austrian economy. Mises also explained the process by which private banks could form an informal consortium to jointly cover the costs and clearings of providing this emergency alternative currency.
While Mises alluded to the possibility of a private monetary order without a central bank in the wake of a currency collapse, realistically central banking was and would remain the prevailing monetary regime. The question then arose as to whether the new Austria should have its own independent central bank and national currency or instead should be integrated into a common currency area with the new Germany. This also related, in the long run, to whether or not there should be political unification,Anschluss, between Germany and Austria, which is the theme of [xxxviii] “The Reentry of German-Austria into the German Reich and the Currency Question.” 
If Austria were to be integrated into a common monetary system with Germany, certain preconditions were essential for the unification. first and foremost, both countries would have to renounce inflationary monetary policies if there were to be a stabilization of their respective currency’s value for purposes of conversion and unification. But this was not likely to be possible until and unless both countries brought an end to deficit spending, which usually was the impetus for monetary expansion to cover the government’s spending in excess of tax revenues. Therefore, also essential for currency unification would be the establishment of parallel sets of fiscal-policy rules to govern taxing and spending in the two countries.
For the transition to a common currency, Mises suggested the German mark could first be introduced as a “core” or reserve currency in Austria, with a specified ratio of exchange at which the Austrian bank would be obliged to redeem Austrian notes for German marks, and vice versa. Increases and decreases in the number of units of Austrian currency in circulation would be dependent upon deposits or withdrawals of marks from the Austrian banking system. The Austrian National Bank would no longer be an independent authority that determined the quantity of money in the country (similar to the currency boards in a number of countries around the world). final unification would then come through the German central bank redeeming all Austrian bank notes for marks at a specified ratio of conversion, after which there only would be one monetary system and one currency in use in both countries.
At the same time Mises was considering the currency question, he was working through the Chamber of Commerce to eliminate a major stumbling block to Austrian economic recovery through international trade. In “Foreign-Exchange Control Must Be Abolished,” he argued that exchange [xxxix] control limited the ability of importers to acquire required raw materials and goods for the production of manufactured exports and placed insufferable delays and hurdles in the way of entrepreneurial adjustment to changing market opportunities.
This problem was matched by the economic disintegration of trade between the provinces and regions making up the new Austria, a theme that Mises took up in his essay, “Vienna’s Political Relationship with the Provinces in Light of Economics.” The cause, he argued, was preferential abuse of the fiscal structure through the system of differential tax incidence borne by the rural areas in comparison to the urban population, and Vienna in particular. The price controls on food supplies and the government’s subsidies for Vienna residents at the financial expense of the farmers reinforced the tension. Far worse, considering that Vienna was on the verge of mass starvation, was the loss of the bourgeois spirit of enterprise and work that is both the hallmark and the necessity of city life. Attempting to live off the output of the rural areas by means of either begging or the use of arms would only drive a deeper wedge between the regions of Austria, threatening a further political breakup of what remained of the country. Free trade and division of labor on the basis of market prices was the only path to salvation if the new Austria were to survive.
Mises discussed the fiscal problems of Austria further in his two articles, “Direct Taxation in City and Country” and “Viennese Industry and the Tax on Luxury Goods.” Both during and after the war, the tax burden had been shifted from the agricultural sectors to the urban industrial and commercial centers of the country; consequently, the manufacturing capital of the society was being consumed, which was seriously reducing Austria’s productive capability. In Vienna, the socialist city government had imposed heavy taxes on “luxury goods.” Mises warned that these taxes threatened the income-earning capacity of the city, particularly in relation to the tourist industry and the specialized goods for which Austria had built up an international reputation in its export trade.
Yet the greatest threat facing Austria, Germany, and many other countries over the next three years was worsening inflation, as Mises described in “A Serious Decline in the Value of the Currency,” “The Abolition of Money in Russia,” and “Inflation and the Shortage of Money.” In the latter essay, Mises emphasized that as inflation accelerates people start anticipating future declines in the value of money and rush to reduce their cash holdings before money’s value falls even more. Prices start rising faster [xl] than the increase in the quantity of money, creating the illusion of a “shortage of money.” If the monetary authority tries to compensate for this by expanding the money supply at an even faster rate, this will only succeed in reinforcing popular inflationary expectations and speed up the currency’s race to its collapse.
With the currency reform in Austria in 1922 and the monetary reconstruction in Germany after the inflationary destruction of the mark in 1923, plus the end to inflation in a number of other countries, Europe turned once more to a gold standard. Yet, as Mises argued in his 1924 essay, “The Return to the Gold Standard,” the battle to end inflation now was replaced with a debate over the most appropriate monetary system. Mises explained the merits of a gold standard, most especially the fact that a gold-based currency removed direct control of the printing press from the grasping hand of government. He also critically evaluated the counterproposals of Irving fisher and John Maynard Keynes for “managed currencies,” the value of which would be manipulated by government to stabilize the price level or assure a desired level of employment and output.
Equally worrisome, Mises argued in his essays, “Restoring Europe’s State finances,” “Changes in American Economic Policy,” and “Commercial and Bureaucratic Business Management,” was the direction of government spending, regulation, and nationalization of enterprises. The governments of Europe threatened the longer-term prosperity of their countries with burdensome levels of taxation and spending to finance income-transfer programs and to subsidize bankrupt state enterprises that should, in fact, either be privatized or shut down. Even in America, the bastion of free enterprise, political currents were moving in the direction of increasing government intervention and regulation. Those who hoped that state enterprises could be made profitable by introducing business-management styles into their operation failed to see fully the difference between an enterprise guided by the profit motive and one designed to pursue costly and inefficient “social” ends.
The Political Economy of the Great Depression (1931–36)
This continuing drift toward government intervention, regulation, and planning was accelerated and intensified with the start of the Great Depression in 1929. In an ideological environment dominated by socialist and interventionist leanings, Mises tried hard to defend the market order in a series of articles on “The Economic Crisis and Capitalism,” “The Gold Standard and Its Opponents,” “The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism,” “Interventionism as the Cause of the Economic Crisis,” “Planned Economy and Socialism,” and “The Return to Freedom of Exchange,” as well as in “Two Memoranda on the Problems of Monetary Stabilization and Foreign-Exchange Rates.”
The economic crisis through which the world was passing, Mises explained, was not caused by the market economy but was due to the monetary and credit-expansion policies of the previous years that had brought about a misdirection of resources and a malinvestment of capital. An economic adjustment was unavoidable once the inflationary policies had come to an end, but the severity and duration of the economic crisis was being caused by interventionist policies that prevented the necessary changes in the structure of relative prices and wages to bring the economy back into balance. Instead, governments supported inefficient industries and fostered trade-union resistance to cuts in the level of money wages. The result was idle resources and unemployment. Perversely, all of the disastrous effects resulting from these interventionist policies were being used to claim that it was capitalism that had failed. The new ideal of “planning” that was being advocated in place of the market economy was merely a new name for socialism, and government direction of a society’s economic activities would merely lead to worse economic consequences.
The gold standard, Mises said, was being opposed and overthrown as a complement to the regime of interventionism so governments could have a free hand to manipulate the value of money; he attempted, at the same time, to refute many of the arguments against the gold standard. Through devaluation and monetary depreciation, the goal was to restore [xlii] full employment by lowering workers’ real wages by increasing the prices of goods and services while trying to keep money wages at their initial level or at least not rising as fast as prices were going up. At the end of the day, Mises argued, such a policy would fail. Nor could national prosperity and balance be restored through the introduction of foreign-exchange control. Artificially fixing the price at which a currency might be bought and sold, and putting control over the allocation of foreign exchange in the hands of the government, only intensified the distortions and imbalances in both the domestic and international markets.
Austrian Economic Policy and the Great Depression (1927–35)
In his native Austria, Mises considered that economic policy was continuing to follow the wrong direction even before the Great Depression set in. In “The Balance Sheet of Economic Policies Hostile to Property” and “Adjusting Public Expenditures to the Economy’s financial Capacity,” he emphasized that taxes and government expenditures were strangling the Austrian economy. One indication of this was that the trade balance was in deficit because of foreign borrowing to compensate for capital consumption in the country. At the heart of the country’s problems was a wrongheaded conception that said that, while in the private individual’s budget expenses must be restrained by income, on the government balance sheet taxes should be adjusted to cover any level of expenditures considered desirable. This was a road to ruin, Mises warned, because there were always rationales for government to spend more money and never reduce any existing spending. This attitude had to be turned around to the view that it is the amount of taxes collectable without threatening the capital, standard of living, and growth of the economy to which government spending needed to conform.
Another element in Austria’s policy irrationalities, Mises explained, was its labyrinth of layered and redundant government bureaucracies and regulations at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels. Government administration and regulation needed to be streamlined, simplified, and reduced. This in itself would not only make the economy more flexible and competitive, but also reduce the size and cost of government.
With the start of the Great Depression and the collapse of the [xliii] CreditAnstalt Bank in Vienna in May 1931, Mises’s focus became the financial and economic crisis into which Austria had now fallen. He offered his policy prescriptions in five papers written in 1932 that he prepared for meetings of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce: “Foreign-Exchange Control and Some of Its Consequences,” “An Agenda for Alleviating the Economic Crisis,” “An International Loan as the ‘Breathing Room’ for Austrian Economic Reform,” “On Limiting the Adverse Effects of a Proposed Increase in the Value-Added Tax,” and “Foreign-Exchange Policy.”
To try to save the CreditAnstalt, the Austrian National Bank had extended credits for which there was no gold backing as required by the bank’s reserve requirements; to stop the run on its reserves, the bank had ended redemption on demand. The value of the Austrian schilling fell on the foreign-exchange markets. The government’s response was to institute foreign-exchange control pegged at the former gold-parity rate. Mises explained that this would not bring about recovery in the market or restore balance in the international trade accounts. Instead, it would artificially induce even more imports and stymie the sale of exports—the exact opposite of what the government said it wished to do in terms of the country’s balance of trade. The inconsistencies and contradictions in the foreign-exchange control system manifested itself in the fact that, as the year went on, the government was forced to loosen the restrictions on the sale and purchase of foreign currencies and allow more market-based allocation and pricing of foreign exchange. The only lasting cure, Mises insisted, was to immediately abolish the entire network of controls and return to a free market in foreign-exchange dealings.
The fundamental cure for Austria’s problems in the world economic crisis required, among other things, the restoration of redemption of the Austrian currency at the legal gold parity. To do so, the Austrian National Bank had to reverse the monetary and credit expansion it had been following. Mises clearly stated that this monetary deflation had to be instituted as quickly as possible before the entire structure of prices and wages in the country had fully adjusted to the depreciated value of the schilling. At that point, returning to the legal gold parity would necessitate a wrenching adjustment of prices and wages downwards that might not be possible.
Equally crucial to a return to economic balance and the path to prosperity were reductions in government spending to alleviate the strain on the private sector from a state budget that was pushing the country to live beyond its means. It was government spending that was creating the [xliv] pressure for tax increases, which Mises considered a serious danger to Austrian business. If certain taxes were raised, he maintained, they should at least be imposed in a way that did not unduly discriminate against some sectors of the economy for the benefit of others.
When the Austrian government applied for and received an international loan from the League of Nations to facilitate a solution to its financial difficulties, Mises endorsed it, but only if it was understood and used as a “breathing space” for actual and real institutional reform in the government’s taxing and spending practices. Otherwise, Austria would be merely digging its financial grave even deeper.
At the end of 1934, as Mises was departing for Geneva, Switzerland, to take up his teaching appointment at the Graduate Institute of Economic Studies, he wrote “The Direction of Austrian financial Policy: A Retrospective and Prospective View.” Democratic government had ended in Austria, a brief civil war had been fought and had crushed the Social Democrats, and now Mises hoped that a new calm in the country could serve as the backdrop for returning to the path of economic reform and recovery. He reviewed the course of Austrian economic policy during the preceding fifteen years since the end of the first World War, and emphasized that what the country still needed was less government spending and taxing, more flexibility in the country’s price and wage structure, a stable currency, and acceptance that as a small nation in a large global economy Austria had to adjust to the international conditions of supply and demand. Sadly, in under four years, Austria’s fate would be sealed for the duration of the Second World War.
The Political Economy of Irrationalism, Autarky, and Collective Security on the Road to War (1935–38)
From his new vantagepoint in Geneva at the Graduate Institute, Mises was freed from the everyday affairs of Austrian economic policy that had been the focus of his attention at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. As he wrote in the foreword to the first edition of Human Action, “In the serene atmosphere of this seat of learning …I set about executing an old plan of mine, to write a comprehensive treatise on economics.”
Still, he devoted his attention to the political, ideological, and economic currents in Europe and periodically commented on them. In “The Cult of the Irrational,” prepared for a Hungarian publication, Mises challenged those who argued against the liberal market economy and for nationalism and protectionism on the basis that there is more to public policy than logic and reason. Humanity’s only tool for evaluating the reasonableness of any course of action is rationality, Mises insisted, otherwise it is blind in deciding what alternatives are more likely to yield the ends desired. Furthermore, if people were, in fact, driven by irrational forces of national “belonging” to prefer those goods that were domestically manufactured, then why did governments need to use their power to prevent their citizens from purchasing foreign commodities?
This led Mises to warn of “Autarky: The Road to Misery.” Self-sufficiency neither guaranteed security nor provided prosperity. European civilization was based and dependent upon the international division of labor. Abandoning it would only lead to societal decay and destruction. In “The League of Nations and the Raw-Materials Problem,” Mises explained that a country’s prosperity did not require “ownership” of mines and raw materials and land in other parts of the world. The market economy brought all of the means of production around the globe to everyone’s service through trade. If the League of Nations was to prove its worth as a force for peace, then it had to challenge the argument that wars were inevitable among nations for control of the resources of the world.
Finally, in “Guidelines for a New Order of Relationships in the Danube Region,” Mises explained that the nations of Eastern Europe had no hope of avoiding being the plundered pawns of their larger, stronger, and aggressive neighbors unless they turned away from their respective policies of political and economic nationalism. They needed to form a political and economic union that would guard their freedom from external enemies and finally secure liberty and prosperity within their territories.
In two essays that he wrote in the 1930s and 1920s, respectively, Mises briefly summarized what he considered to be some of the more important contributions and insights of the Austrian economists, including the theory of marginal utility and the formation of prices for both final goods and the factors of production. He also stated that the ideas of the Austrians still contained insights that could be useful in public policy. At the University of Vienna, Mises had attended the seminar of Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, who was one of the most famous of the Austrian economists. Mises’s short memorial piece on the tenth anniversary of Böhm-Bawerk’s death shows just how much he considered his old teacher to have contributed to both economic theory and policy.
Methodology of the Social Sciences
In the spring of 1933, Ludwig von Mises published a collection of essays, Epistemological Problems of Economics, devoted to questions of methodology in economics and the social sciences in general.They dealt with the issue of whether economics is an a priori and deductive science that is able to derive qualitative and logical laws of human action and market relationships, or a discipline constructed on the basis of empirical observation, historical induction, and quantitative analysis.
Mises’s position was that economics is inherently an axiomatic-deductive science that derives its insight through introspective reflection, on the basis of which it is able to formulate the logic of action and choice. History is the study of actual actions undertaken and their intended and unintended consequences. However, to do history there first must be a theory of what it means for man to choose: to weigh alternatives, compare costs and benefits, to make evaluations at “the margin,” and to act once a goal in mind has been decided upon. But insight into the logic of action and choice cannot be derived from empirical experience. We discover them, their meaning, and their logical implications, by looking inside ourselves and asking what it means for a person to “act.”
In June 1933, Mises had been asked to contribute a short essay for a volume in honor of the German scholar, Christian Eckert, on “The Logical Problem of Economics.” The volume never appeared because of the “new environment” under the Nazi regime. The unpublished essay, among Mises’s “lost papers,” explored the similarities between positivism and historicism, in spite of their apparent antagonism toward each other. The crucial element, Mises argued, is to understand the difference between the logic of economic theory and the logic of historical analysis—and that, while they are distinct, they are not in conflict with one another.
In June 1937, Mises delivered a lecture at a philosophy conference in Paris on “The Logical Character of the Science of Human Action.” In a nutshell Mises stated his general position on the nature of the social sciences. He emphasized that knowledge in the human sciences is derived from a fundamentally different source—introspection and reflection on the meaning and implications of “action”—from the basis of knowledge in the natural sciences, which comes from empirical investigation and [xlviii] laboratory experimentation. Inanimate matter does not assign meanings to its movements or to the other objects around it. A person most certainly does do these things, and this is what makes one’s movements and doings “actions,” which can only be formally comprehended through introspective reflection.
Economic Calculation under Socialism
After the appearance of Mises’s treatise on Socialism in 1922, a large number of works were written by socialists and others who challenged or questioned his argument that the abolition of private property, market competition, and money prices for the factors of production under central planning made impossible any rational economic calculation for an efficient allocation and use of the resources of society. In the 1932 revised edition of Socialism, Mises added comments and replies to some of his critics. Human Action contains a refined restatement of his critique of socialist planning in the context of criticisms that had been made since that revised edition of Socialism.
In addition, he wrote two articles in the 1920s in direct response to his critics, “New Contributions to the Problem of Socialist Economic Calculation” (1923) and “Recent Writings Concerning the Problem of Economic Calculation under Socialism” (1928), neither of which has been previously published in English. In the first and longer article, Mises pointed out that those who challenged his argument either in fact ended up conceding his main thesis or were confused and misunderstood what the debate was about. He devoted the most attention to writings of the economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi and the Christian socialist Eduard Heimann, as well as to the arguments of a group of Soviet economists and German socialists, including Karl Kautsky and Otto Leichter.
In the 1928 article, Mises discusses the writings of Jacob Marschak, Otto Neurath, and the Russian economist Boris Brutzkus. In Brutzkus’s work Mises finds a reinforcement of his own argument against socialism in the context of the failure of the Soviet experiment with planning during the period of War Communism in Russia between 1918 and 1922.
Also among Mises’s “lost papers” was an unpublished manuscript on “Economic Calculation under Commercial Management and Bureaucratic Administration.” It was written in longhand on the back of the pages of one of his reports for the Chamber of Commerce presented in July 1932. Mises explained that only where there is private property in the means of production and a goal of profit maximization by the enterprise can there be fully rational economic calculation. The very nature of bureaucratic administration is that among its chief goals are management of the public enterprise for purposes other than profit maximization. As a consequence, to restrain expenditures and prevent any arbitrary discretion on the part of the bureaucratic personnel, the public enterprise must be made to follow precisely defined and delimiting rules and regulations concerning all facets of its activities. In other words, there is no escape from it being managed “bureaucratically.” The more government imposes regulations that steer private enterprises away from their market tasks of satisfying consumer demand in the pursuit of profits, the greater becomes the bureaucratic element in all economic activities. Thus, the choice society faces is profit-oriented businesses or bureaucratically directed enterprises. There is no sustainable alternative in between.
The final piece in the present volume, included as an appendix, is the 1925 article by Soviet economist F. Kapelush on “‘Anti-Marxism’: Professor Mises as a Theorist of Fascism,” which appeared in the Soviet journal Bolshevik. It provides a taste of the tone, style, and mode of argumentation by many Soviet scholars in response to antisocialist writings during this time. Readers may draw their own conclusions about the intellectual caliber of some of Mises’s opponents in the Soviet Union.
The essays in this volume, and his other writings from the period between the two world wars, closed off a chapter in the life of Ludwig von Mises. After 1940, when he was living in America, Mises wrote with a different purpose in mind than had been the case to a great extent during the 1920s and 1930s. In America he was not concerned with unraveling and critically arguing against particular policies or offering in their place specific policy prescriptions in the constantly changing currents of political life. He was [li] not obliged to speak as a representative of a coalition of interests, as he had at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, sometimes having to temper his arguments in the name of winning the endorsement of the Chamber members so he could advance what he considered “sound policy.”
That “liberation,” as Mises called it, had already begun for him when he moved to Geneva in the autumn of 1934. He was free to address himself to wider and more fundamental issues that he had certainly dealt with in many of his writings in the earlier years, but which he had not had the time or the intellectual autonomy to write about without distraction. The majority of his writings, especially after his arrival in America, tend to be written against the backdrop and in the context of fundamentals and first principles. Even his writings touching on various policy problems of the day, such as inflation or price controls, always focus the discussion on general principles or broad historical examples and lessons to be learned from the human experiences of the past.
By contrast, in most of the essays in the present volume, what is offered is Mises having to apply these general principles and historical lessons to questions concerning what is to be done now, in the practical circumstances of the time. They represent, in many instances, examples of “applied” Austrian economics by the person who, besides Friedrich Hayek, is usually considered the twentieth-century exemplification of “the Austrian approach.”
A monetary order is disintegrating. How do you disentangle one monetary regime into several? A country is faced with a monetary collapse due to hyperinflation. How do you prepare for the transition to a substitute currency? Two monetary systems may be combined into one. What are the specific policy and institutional prerequisites for the change to a unified monetary system? Tax incidence and price controls are bringing about the breakup of a country into separate regions. What economic policies would reintegrate them? Layers of bureaucracy and divided political authority burden a society with excessive government expenses and regulations. How do you streamline the administrative structures to reduce both? State-run enterprises are run along costly and bureaucratically inefficient lines. What would have to be done to make them profitable, efficient, and flexible to economic circumstances, and what methods will not work in bringing this about? An economic crisis results in currency devaluation and the imposition of foreign-exchange control. Do you reverse the devaluation, and if so in what time frame should it be introduced? What are the consequences of the exchange-control system, and what are the prerequisites for a full restoration of stability in the foreign-exchange market?
These were the questions, besides others, that Mises was called upon [lii] to discuss and solve in terms of policy prescriptions in those years in Vienna between the two world wars.
We saw that Mises, in clear frustration in the months after he arrived in America, lamented that in Austria he had started out hoping to be a reformer but instead ended up being a historian of decline. But precisely because of this, these essays offer us a clearer understanding of precisely why it was that in the countries of Europe between 1918 and 1938, inflation, interventionism, socialism, and economic nationalism led to stagnation, social disruption, a Great Depression, and finally to a new world war.
In spite of his pessimism, Mises was not a fatalist. He said more than once in his writings that trends can change, that they had changed in the past and could change again in the future. With this in mind, after coming to the United States he devoted a sizable amount of time to working out the political and economic policies and reforms that could bring about a rebirth of freedom and prosperity in Europe after the Second World War.
Likewise, from the perspective of these first days of the twenty-first century, Mises’s writings from his earlier period offer important instructions for the present and the future. Within each of these articles and essays criticizing the direction of economic and social policy are also ideas and prescriptions for free-market oriented alternatives in the areas of monetary and fiscal policy, government regulation and planning, and the social institutional order, ideas which would move a society along the path that leads to freedom and prosperity. I would suggest that is precisely how Mises would want the modern reader to view these writings. He stated this very clearly in the preface he prepared for the 1932 second edition of Socialism:
I know only too well how hopeless it seems to convince impassioned supporters of the Socialist Idea by logical demonstration that their views are preposterous and absurd. I know too well that they do not want to hear, to see, and above all to think, and they are open to no argument. But new generations grow up with clear eyes and open minds. And they will approach things from a disinterested, unprejudiced standpoint, they will weigh and examine, will think and act with forethought. It is for them that this book is written.
These articles and essays, originally penned for audiences more than sixty and seventy years ago in the context of the policy controversies of those times, were, therefore, also written for us. They are warning signs and guideposts left behind by one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century to assist us in thinking about and designing better policies for our own times.
[1.] For expositions of Mises’s ideas on the rationality of human action, the theory of social order, and the market economy and alternative economic systems, see Richard M. Ebeling, “A Rational Economist in an Irrational Age: Ludwig von Mises,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., The Age of Economists: From Adam Smith to Milton Friedman (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hills-dale College Press, 1999), pp. 69–120; Richard M. Ebeling, “Planning for Freedom: Ludwig von Mises as Political Economist and Policy Analyst,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Competition or Compulsion? The Market Economy versus the New Social Engineering (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 2001), pp. 1–85; and Israel M. Kirzner, Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Economics (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2001).
[2.] Ludwig von Mises, The Theory of Money and Credit (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 3rd. revised ed., [1924; 1953] 1980). For an exposition of the Austrian theory of money and the business cycle in the context of the Great Depression and in contrast to the Keynesian approach, see Richard M. Ebeling, “The Austrian Economists and the Keynesian Revolution: The Great Depression and the Economics of the Short-Run,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Human Action: A 50-Year Tribute (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 2000), pp. 15–110. For a comparison of Mises’s theory of money and the business cycle with that of the Swedish economists during this period, see Richard M. Ebeling, “Money, Economic fluctuations, Expectations and Period Analysis: The Austrian and Swedish Economists in the Interwar Period,” in Willem Keizer, Bert Tieben, and Rudy van Zip, eds., Austrian Economics in Debate(London/New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 42–74.
[3.] Ludwig von Mises, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,”  in F. A. Hayek, ed., Collectivist Economic Planning (London: Routledge & Sons, 1935), pp. 87–130; reprinted in Israel M. Kirzner, ed., Classics in Austrian Economics: A Sampling in the History of a Tradition, Vol. 3: “The Age of Mises and Hayek” (London: William Pickering, 1994), pp. 3–30.
[4.] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund,  1981). For an exposition of Mises’s critique of socialist planning in the context of the critics of socialism who preceded him, see Richard M. Ebeling, “Economic Calculation under Socialism: Ludwig von Mises and His Predecessors,” in Jeffrey M. Herbener, ed., The Meaning of Ludwig von Mises (Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer Academic Press, 1993), pp. 56–101.
[5.] Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism: The Classical Tradition (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education,  1996).
[6.] Ludwig von Mises, Critique of Interventionism (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education,  1996). For an exposition of some aspects of the Austrian ideas on interventionism, see Richard M. Ebeling, “The Free Market and the Interventionist State,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Between Power and Liberty: Economics and the Law (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1998), pp. 9–46.
[7.] F. Kapelush, “‘Anti-Marxism’: Professor Mises as a Theorist of Fascism,” Bolshevik, No. 15 (August 15, 1925), pp. 82–87. This article has been translated from the Russian and is included as an appendix to the present volume.
[8.] Ludwig von Mises, “Anti-Marxism,”  Critique of Interventionism, pp. 71–95.
[9.] See Richard M. Ebeling, “William E. Rappard: An International Man in an Age of Nationalism,”Ideas on Liberty (January 2000), pp. 33–41.
[10.] See Joachim C. Fest, Hitler (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), pp. 549–50; Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), pp. 84–85; and Getta Sereny,The German Trauma: Experiences and Reflections, 1938–2000 (London: Penguin Press, 2000), pp. 6–8. (Getta Sereny, who was a teenager in Vienna at the time of the German occupation, is the stepdaughter of Ludwig von Mises.)
[11.] See Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Vol. I: The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939* (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), pp. 242–44. For a more detailed account of the events in Austria following the Nazi annexation of the country, see Dieter Wagner and Gerhard Tomkowitz, Anschluss: The Week Hitler Seized Power (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971); and Walter B. Maass, Country Without a Nation: Austria under Nazi Rule, 1938–1945 (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing Co., 1979).
[12.] See also Ludwig von Mises, “Bemerkungen über die ideologischen Wurzeln der Währungskatastrophe von 1923” [Remarks on the Ideological Roots of the Monetary Catastrophe of 1923] in Freunduesgabe zum 12. Oktober 1959 für Albert Hahn [Friendly Presentations on the Occasion of Albert Hahn’s Seventieth Birthday] (Frankfurt am Main: Fritz Knapp, 1959), pp. 54–58. Here Mises remarked that he kept notes of his conversations with members of the Verein für Sozialpolitik [Association for Social Policy] on various theoretical and methodological questions, adding “I kept these notes in my apartment in Vienna, which I had maintained after my move to Geneva in 1934. These and other documents disappeared after the Nazis plundered my apartment” (p. 55).
[13.] That Mises believed that his papers had been destroyed by the Nazis or in the war was told to me in conversation with his widow, Margit, in 1979.
[14.] A companion volume will be published by Liberty Fund that contains material from this collection that relates to Mises’s writings before and during the first World War, his family background, his service in the Austrian army during the first World War, his teaching at the University of Vienna, his private seminar, and his correspondence.
[15.] Ludwig von Mises, Notes and Recollections (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press,  1978), p. 115.
[16.] Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 4th rev. ed., 1996).
[17.] See Alexander Hortlehner, “Ludwig von Mises und die Österreichische Handelskammerorganisation” [Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce],Wirtschaftspolitische Blätter, No. 4 (1981), pp. 141–42.
[18.] The February 1925 issue of Friedensrecht, Ein Nachrichtenblatt über die Durchführung des Friedenvertrages Enthaltend die Verlautbarungen des Österreichischen Abrechnungsamtes [The Laws for Peace, A Newsletter for the Execution of the Peace Treaty, Containing Announcements of the Austrian Office for the Settlement of Accounts], pp. 9–10, reported
the separation of Professor Dr. Mises from the board of directors of the Office of Accounts [for the settlement of prewar debts]. Due to his responsibilities as a deputy director in the offices of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, Crafts, and Industry, he has had to resign from his activities in the Office of Accounts. As an economic theorist, Professor Mises has made a name for himself in the German-speaking scientific world far beyond the boundaries of Austria. His wide knowledge and his accurate, clear way of thinking are combined with an extraordinary, practical understanding and a detailed knowledge of the economic life in Vienna and Austria. Given Austria’s present economic and financial difficulties, that the arranging of the debentures for the settlement of prewar debts has been facilitated under such comparatively favorable conditions we owe to his farseeing and able handiwork. With foresight into the requirements necessary for success, he sketched out the rules for the committee overseeing the settlement of the debentures. And it was his proposals for the issuance of the debentures that were adopted by the consortium of nations. It was just as important and beneficial for the work of the Office of Accounts that Mises applied, in a strictly objective way, his knowledge of the economic situation in the selection of the Office’s personnel. Already as a staff member of the Chamber of Commerce, he had won the confidence of wide circles in the business world, and he has kept that confidence in his work with the Office of Accounts.
[19.] Mises, Notes and Recollections, pp. 76 & 91.
[22.] The following summary of the course of Austrian political and economic history between 1918 and 1938 is taken mostly from the following works: J. van Walre de Bordes, The Austrian Crown: Its Depreciation and Stabilization (London: P. S. King and Son, 1924); Otto Bauer, The Austrian Revolution (New York: Bert Franklin,  1970); W. T. Lay-ton and Charles Rist, The Economic Situation in Austria: Report Presented to the Council of the League of Nations (Geneva: League of Nations, 1925); The financial Reconstruction of Austria: General Survey and Principal Documents(Geneva: League of Nations, 1926); Carlile A. Macartney, The Social Revolution in Austria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926); Leo Pasvolsky, Economic Nationalism of the Danubian States(New York: Macmillan Co., 1928); John V. Van Sickle, Direct Taxation in Austria (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931); Malcolm Bullock, Austria, 1918–1919: A Study in Failure (London: Macmillan Co., 1939); David F. Strong, Austria (October 1918–March 1919): Transition from Empire to Republic (New York: Octagon Books,  1974); Antonin Basch, The Danubian Basin and the German Economic Sphere (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943); Mary MacDonald, The Republic of Austria, 1918–1934: A Study in the Failure of Democratic Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946); Friedrich Hertz, The Economic Problem of the Danubian States: A Study in Economic Nationalism (London: Victor Gollancz, 1947); K. W. Rothschild, Austria’s Economic Development Between the Two Wars (London: Frederick Muller, 1947); Charles A. Gulick, Austria: From Habsburg to Hitler, 2 Vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948); Klemens von Klemperer, Ignaz Seipel: Christian Statesman in a Time of Crisis (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972); Eduard Marz, Austrian Banking and financial Policy: Credit-Anstalt at a Turning Point, 1913–1923 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984); David Clay Large, Between Two fires: Europe’s Path in the 1930s (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990); Helmut Gruber, Red Vienna: Experiment in Working Class Culture, 1919–1934 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Gordon Brook-Shepherd, The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1996).
[23.] See Edmond Taylor, The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order, 1905–1922 (New York: Doubleday, 1963), pp. 69–96 & 337–56.
[24.] See Joseph Redlich, Austrian War Government (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1929).
[25.] On the nationalist currents in Austria-Hungary, see Oscar Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929).
[26.] On the introductions of separate currencies within the successor states of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, see John Parke Young, European Currency and finance, Vol. II (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1925), on Austria, pp. 9–25; Czechoslovakia, pp. 55–77; and Hungary, pp. 103–24.
[27.] Eduard Marz, Austrian Banking and financial Policy: Creditanstalt at a Turning Point, 1913–1923, pp. 290–317. On the effects of rent controls in Vienna in the 1920s, see F.A. Hayek, “The Repercussions of Rent Restrictions,”  in Rent Control, A Popular Paradox (Vancouver: Fraser Institute, 1975), pp. 67–83.
[28.] Budget deficits in nominal terms grew from 2.7 billion crowns in 1919 to 137.7 billion crowns in 1922. The deficits averaged between 40 and 67 percent, as a fraction of total federal government expenditure in Austria during this period of time. See Kurt W. Rothschild, Austria’s Economic Development Between the Two Wars, p. 24.
[29.] In 1925, at a meeting of the Verein für Sozialpolitik [Society for Social Policy], Mises told the following story: “Three years ago a colleague from the German Reich, who is here in this hall today, visited Vienna and participated in a discussion with some Viennese economists. Everyone was in complete agreement concerning the destructiveness of inflationist policy. Later, as we went home through the still of the night, we heard in the Herrengasse [a main street in the center of Vienna] the heavy drone of the Austro-Hungarian Bank’s printing presses that were running incessantly, day and night, to produce new bank notes. Throughout the land, a large number of industrial enterprises were idle; others were working part-time; only the printing presses stamping out notes were operating at full speed. Let us hope that industry in Germany and Austria will once more regain its prewar volume and that the war- and inflation-related industries, devoted specifically to the printing of notes, will give way to more useful activities.” See Bettina Bien Greaves and Robert W. McGee, eds., Mises: An Annotated Bibliography (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1993), p. 35.
[30.] J. van Walre de Bordes, The Austrian Crown: Its Depreciation and Stabilization, pp. 48–50, 83, 115–39.
[31.] See Lord Parmoor, et al., The Famine in Europe: The Facts and Suggested Remedies (London: Swarthmore Press, 1920), especially the contributions about the situation in Austria by Friedrich Hertz, “What the Famine Means in Austria,” pp. 17–26; Dr. Ellenbogen, “The Plight of German Austria,” pp. 39–48; and Friedrich von Wieser, “The fight Against the Famine in Austria,” pp. 49–56
[32.] See Mises, Socialism, p. 414: “Capital consumption can be detected statistically and can be conceived intellectually, but it is not obvious to everyone. To see the weakness of a policy which raises the consumption of the masses at the cost of existing capital wealth, and thus sacrifices the future to the present, and to recognize the nature of this policy, requires deeper insight than that vouchsafed to statesmen and politicians or to the masses who have put them in power. As long as the walls of the factory building stand, and the trains continue to run, it is supposed that all is well with the world. The increased difficulties of maintaining the higher standard of living are ascribed to various causes, but never to the fact that a policy of capital consumption is being followed.” On the theory of capital consumption, see F. A. Hayek, “Capital Consumption,”  in Money, Capital, and fluctuations: Early Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 136–58.
[33.]Bericht über die Ursachen der Wirtschaftsschwierigkeiten Österreichs [A Report on the Causes of the Economic Difficulties in Austria] (Vienna: 1931): For a summary of some of the report’s conclusions and related data on capital consumption and the shortage of capital in Austria during this time, see Friedrich Hertz, The Economic Problem of the Danubian States, pp. 145–68; Nicholas Kaldor, “The Economic Situation in Austria,” Harvard Business Review (October 1932), pp. 23–34; and Fritz Machlup, “The Consumption of Capital in Austria,” The Review of Economic Statistics (January 15, 1935), pp. 13–19, especially p. 13, n. 2: “Professor Ludwig v. Mises was the first, as far as I know, to point to the phenomenon of consumption of capital. As a member of a committee appointed by the Austrian government…he also emphasized comprehensive factual information.” The process of capital consumption due to economic miscalculation under inflation was explained by Mises immediately after the war in his work Nation, State and Economy: Contributions to the Politics and History of Our Time(New York: New York University Press,  1983), pp. 161–63; and also in his The Theory of Money and Credit, pp. 234–37.
[34.] For accounts of Austria’s experience with foreign-exchange controls between 1931 and 1934, see Howard S. Ellis, Exchange Control in Central Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1941), pp. 27–73; and Oskar Morgenstern, “The Removal of Exchange Control: The Example of Austria,” International Conciliation, No. 333 (October 1937), pp. 678–89.
[35.] For a summary of the economic events in Austria in 1931 and 1932, see Vera Micheles Dean, “Austria: A Nation Paralyzed,” Current History (December 1932), pp. 303–7.
[36.] In March 1931, the German and Austrian governments signed a protocol for the establishment of an Austro-German customs union. Under opposition from the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Czechoslovakia, the customs union was prevented from operating after the World Court at the Hague found it to be inconsistent with the international agreements that Austria had signed in 1922. See Mary Margaret Ball, Postwar German-Austrian Relations: The Anschluss Movement, 1918–1936 (London: Oxford University Press, 1937), pp. 100–185.
[37.] See Mises, Notes and Recollections, p. 66: “Toward the end of the war, I published a short essay on the quantity theory in the journal of the Association of Banks and Bankers, a publication not addressed to the public. The censor did not approve my treatment of the inflation problem. My tame academic essay was rejected. I had to revise it before it could be published. The next issue immediately carried critical responses, one of which, as far as I can remember, came from bank director Rosenbaum.”
[38.] When he looked back at this period immediately after the first World War in his 1940 Notes and Recollections, Mises wrote on the issue of Austrian unification with Germany: “The situation [of Austria’s apparently paralyzed political and economic situation after the first World War] sometimes made me vacillate in my position on the annexation program. I was not blind regarding the danger to Austrian culture in a union with the German Reich. But there were moments in which I asked myself whether the annexation was not a lesser evil than the continuation of a policy that inescapably had to lead to catastrophe” (p. 87). Yet in certain passages of his essays written in 1919, it is clear that at the time Mises was persuaded that unification with Germany was a “political and moral necessity.”
[39.] For Mises’s detailed analysis of the hyperinflation in Germany and the methods to end it, see Ludwig von Mises, “Stabilization of the Monetary Unit—From the Viewpoint of Theory,”  in Percy L. Greaves, ed., On the Manipulation of Money and Credit (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Free Market Books, 1978), pp. 1–49; and Mises, “The Great German Inflation,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Money, Method and the Market Process: Essays by Ludwig von Mises (Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer Academic Press, 1990), pp. 96–103.
[40.] Mises also presented an analysis of the causes and duration of the Great Depression and the policies needed to overcome the economic crisis in his monograph, “The Causes of the Economic Crisis: An Address,”  in Percy L. Greaves, ed., On the Manipulation of Money and Credit, pp. 173–203.
[41.] Mises, Notes and Recollections, p. 137: “For me it was a liberation to be removed from the political tasks I could not have escaped in Vienna, and from the daily routine in the Chamber. Finally, I could devote myself completely and almost exclusively to scientific
[42.] Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1949), p. iii. This first edition of Human Action was handsomely reprinted in 1998 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn, Alabama, with an introduction by Jeffrey M. Herbener, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Joseph T. Salerno that tells the history of how the volume came to be published in the United States. In Geneva, between 1934 and 1940, Mises had written the German-language forerunner to Human Action, entitled Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handelns und Wirtschaftens (Munich: Philosophia Verlag,  1980).
[43.] Mises later was to call this cult of the irrational the twentieth-century “revolt against reason.” SeeHuman Action, pp. 72–91; and Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War (Spring Mills, Pa.: Libertarian Press,  1985), pp. 112–16.
[44.] See also Mises’s “The Disintegration of the International Division of Labor,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Money, Method and the Market Process, pp. 113–36.
[45.] Mises developed the idea of an Eastern European Democratic Union after he came to the United States. See “An Eastern Democratic Union: A Proposal for the Establishment of a Durable Peace in Eastern Europe,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises, Vol. 3: The Political Economy of International Reform and Reconstruction (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), pp. 169–201.
[46.] For an overview of the ideas and historical significance of the Austrian School of economics, see Ludwig von Mises, “The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics,”  reprinted in Bettina Bien Greaves, ed., Austrian Economics: An Anthology (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996), pp. 53–76; Ludwig M. Lachmann, “The Significance of the Austrian School of Economics in the History of Ideas,”  in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Austrian Economics: A Reader, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 18 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1991), pp. 17–39; and Richard M. Ebeling, “The Significance of Austrian Economics in 20th Century Economic Thought,” in Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Austrian Economics: Perspectives on the Past and Prospects for the Future, Champions of Freedom Series, Vol. 17 (Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1991), pp. 1–40.
[47.] Ludwig von Mises, Epistemological Problems of Economics (New York: New York University Press,  1981).
[48.] Boris Brutzkus, Die Lehren des Marxismus im Lichte der russischen Revolution [Marxian Theories in the Light of the Russian Revolution] (Berlin: Hermann Sack, 1928). This work is included as the first part of Brutzkus’s volume, Economic Planning in Soviet Russia (London: George Routledge, 1935), pp. 1–94. It has been reprinted in Peter J. Boettke, ed., Socialism and the Market, Vol. III: The Socialist Calculation Debate Revisited (London/ New York: Routledge, 2000).
[49.] Mises later further developed this theme of management under private enterprise in the market economy and state management of public enterprises in the interventionist economy and under socialism in his book, Bureaucracy (Spring Mills, Pa.: Libertarian Press,  1983).
[50.] The same year Kapelush’s article appeared, Bolshevik carried another article touching on Mises’s criticisms of socialism. See Nikolai Bukharin, “Concerning the New Economic Policy and Our Tasks,”Bolshevik, No. 8–9/10 (April 30–June 1, 1925); reprinted in Peter
J. Boettke, ed., Socialism and the Market: The Socialist Calculation Debate Revisited, Vol. I: The Natural Economy (London/New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 588–613). Bukharin wrote:
Although bourgeois critics of the policy of the proletarian dictatorship in Russia have offered mainly nonsense and foolishness some of their comments were not so stupid and contained a relative truth. One of the most learned critics of communism, the Austrian Professor Mises, presented the following propositions in a book on socialism written in 1921–22. In agreement with Marxist socialists he declared that one must brush aside all sentimental nonsense and accept the fact that the best economic system is the one that develops productive forces most successfully. But the so-called “destructive” socialism of communism leads to the collapse of productive forces rather than their development. The collapse occurs mainly because the communists forgot the enormous role of private individualistic incentives and private initiative. True, capitalism suffers from certain defects. But capitalist competition leads to growth of productive forces and drives capitalist development forward. As a result of the growth in society’s productive forces, the lot of the proletariat improves as well. So long as the communists attempted to arrange production by commands, with a stick, their policy would lead, and already was leading, to an inevitable collapse. There is no doubt that the system of War Communism, viewed in terms of its economic essence, somewhat resembled this caricature of socialism whose destruction was predicted by all the learned economists of the bourgeoisie. Thus, when we began to reject this system and shift to a rational economic policy, bourgeois ideologists began to cry: Now you are retreating from communist ideas, they are surrendering their positions, they have lost the game, and are returning to time-honored capitalism. That is how they summarized the question. But in fact they were the ones who lost, not we… .When we crossed over to the NEP [New Economic Policy] we began to overcome in practice the above-mentioned bourgeois case against socialism. Why? Because the meaning of the NEP lies in the fact that by using the economic initiative of the peasants, of the small producers, and even of the bourgeoisie, and by allowing private accumulation, we also placed these people objectively in the service of socialist state industry and of the economy as a whole….We control the main commanding heights [heavy industry, banking, and foreign trade] we organize what is essential: then our state economy, by different means, sometimes even by competing with the remnants of private capital through market relationships, gradually increases its economic might and, in diverse ways, draws the backward economic units into its own organization, doing so, as a rule, through the market” (pp. 593–94) [emphasis in the original].
Bukharin avoided Mises’s main argument on the question of rational economic calculation and made Mises appear to have focused attention only on the issue of “incentives” under a socialist regime, while at the same time making a roundabout concession of the most important point by saying that the regime in Russia had now shifted to “market relationships,” in comparison to the earlier phase of War Communism during which private property, money, and competition had been officially abolished.
[51.] Ludwig von Mises, “Trends Can Change”  and “The Political Chances for Genuine Liberalism,”  in Planning for Freedom (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1980), pp. 173–84.
[52.] That is precisely the theme and purpose of the essays that he wrote in the early 1940s. See Richard M. Ebeling, ed., Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises, Vol. 3: The Political Economy of International Reform and Reconstruction.
The BoC and RBA have cut official rates in response to falling inflation and slower growth
The RBA has more room to manoeuvre in cutting rates, Australian Bonds will outperform
The price of Crude Oil has dominated the headlines for the past few months as Saudi Arabia continued pumping as the price fell in response to increased US supply. However, anaemic growth in Europe and a continued slowdown in China has taken its toll on two of the largest commodity exporting countries. This has prompted both the Bank of Canada (BoC) and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to cut interest rates by 25 bp each – Canada to 0.75% and Australia to 2.25% – even as CAD and AUD declined against the US$.
In this letter I will look at Iron Ore, Natural Gas and Coal, before going on to examine other factors which may have prompted central bank action. I will go on to assess the prospects for asset markets over the coming year.
The price of Iron Ore continues to make fresh lows, driven by weakness in demand from China and Japan and the EU.
Iron Ore is Australia’s largest export market, significantly eclipsing Coal, Gold and Natural Gas. It is the second largest producer in the world behind China. 2013 production was estimated at 530 Mt. Canada, with 40 Mt is ranked ninth by production but is the fourth largest exporter. Needless to say, Iron Ore production is of significant importance to both countries, although for Canada Crude Oil comes first followed by vehicle and vehicle parts, then Gold, Gas – including Propane – and Coal. It is also worth noting that the two largest Steel exporters are China and Japan – both major Iron Ore importers. The health of these economies is vital to the fortunes of the Iron Ore industry.
Natural Gas is a more difficult product to transport and therefore the price differential between different regions is quite pronounced. Japan pays the highest price of all the major economies – exacerbated by its reduction of nuclear generating capacity – closely followed by Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. The US – Henry Hub – and AECO – Alberta – prices are broadly similar, whilst Europe and Japan pay a significant premium:-
Wholesale prices can obviously vary significantly from year to year, but the top two regions are Asia Pacific followed by Europe – both with average prices over $11.00. OPE* remains the primary pricing mechanism in Asia Pacific and still a key mechanism in Europe.
*Oil Price Escalation – in this type of contract, the price is linked, usually through a base price and an escalation clause, to competing fuels, typically crude oil, gas oil and/or fuel oil. In some cases coal prices can be used as can electricity prices.
Canada has significant Gas reserves and is actively developing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) capacity. 13 plant proposals are underway but exports are still negligible. It also produces significant quantities of Propane which commands a premium over Natural Gas as this chart shows: –
Though Australia was the third largest LNG capacity holder in 2013, it will be the predominant source of new liquefaction over the next five years, eclipsing Qatari capacity by 2017. With Pluto LNG online in 2012, seven Australian projects are now under construction with a total nameplate capacity of 61.8 MTPA (53% of global under construction capacity).
Australia is the fourth largest Coal producer globally. According to the World Coal Association, it produced 459 Mt in 2013. Canada did not feature in the top 10. However when measured in terms of Coking Coal – used for steel production – Australia ranked second, behind China, at 158 Mt whilst Canada ranked sixth at 34 Mt.
The price of Australian Coal has been falling since January 2011 and is heading back towards the lows last seen in 2009, driven primarily by the weakness in demand for Coking Coal from China.
Coal accounted for almost 13 per cent of Australia’s total goods and services exports in 2012-13 down from 15 per cent in 2011-12. This made coal the nation’s second largest export earner after iron ore. Over the last five years, coal has accounted, on average, for more than 15 per cent of Australia’s total exports – with export earnings either on par or greater than Australia’s total agricultural exports.
Australia’s metallurgical coal export volumes are estimated at 154 million tonnes in 2012-13, up 8.5 per cent from 2011-12. However, owing to lower prices the value of exports decreased by almost 27 per cent to be $22.4 billion in 2012-13.
Whilst the scale of the Coal industry in Canada is not so vast, this is how the Coal Association of Canada describes Canadian Coal production:-
Canada produced 60 million close to 67 million tonnes (Mt) of coal in 2012. 31 million tonnes was metallurgical (steel-making) coal and 36 million tonnes (Mt) was thermal coal. The majority of coal produced in Canada was produced in Alberta and B.C.
Alberta produced 28.3 Mt of coal in 2012
British Columbia produced 28.8 Mt (most was metallurgical coal) – 43% of all production
To meet its rapid infrastructure growth and consumer demand for things such as vehicles and home appliances, Asia has turned to Canada for its high-quality steel-making coal. As Canada’s largest coal trading partner, coal exports to Asia accounted for 73% of total exports in 2010.
Global steel production is dependent on coal and more and more the world is turning to Canada for its supply of quality steel-making coal.
The production of steel -making coal increased by 5.5% from 29.5 Mt in 2011 to 31.1 Mt in 2012.
Almost all of Canada’s steel-making coal produced was exported.
Approximately 36 million tonnes of thermal coal was produced in 2012.
The vast majority of Canadian thermal coal produced is used domestically.
Until the autumn of 2014 the CAD was performing strongly despite weakness in several of its main export markets as the chart below of the Canadian Effective Exchange Rate (CERI) shows:-
Source: Business in Canada, BoC
Since September the CERI index has declined from around 112 to below 100.
For Australia the weakening of their trade weighted index has been less extreme due to less reliance on the US. There is a sector of the RBA website devoted the management of the exchange rate, this is a chart showing the Trade Weighted Index and the AUDUSD rate superimposed (RHS):-
Source: RBA, Reuters
Taking a closer look at the monthly charts for USDCAD:-
Source: Trading Economics
Source: Trading Economics
These charts show the delayed reaction both currencies have had to the decline in the price of their key export commodities – they may fall further.
Central Bank Policy
The chart below shows the evolution of BoC and RBA policy since 2008. Australian rates are on the left hand scale (LHS), Canadian on the right:-
Source: Trading Economics
To understand the sudden change in currency valuation it is worth reviewing the central banks most recent remarks.
The BoC expect Oil to average around $60/barrel in 2015. Here are some of the other highlights of the latest BoC monetary policy report:-
The sharp drop in global crude oil prices will be negative for Canadian growth and underlying inflation.
Global economic growth is expected to pick up to 3 1/2 per cent over the next two years.
Growth in Canada is expected to slow to about 1 1/2 per cent and the output gap to widen in the first half of 2015.
Canada’s economy is expected to gradually strengthen in the second half of this year, with real GDP growth averaging 2.1 per cent in 2015 and 2.4 per cent in 2016, with a return to full capacity around the end of 2016, a little later than was expected in October.
Total CPI inflation is projected to be temporarily below the inflation-control range during 2015 because of weaker energy prices, and to move back up to target the following year. Underlying inflation will ease in the near term but then return gradually to 2 per cent over the projection horizon.
On 21 January 2015, the Bank announced that it is lowering its target for the overnight rate by one-quarter of one percentage point to 3/4 per cent.
…Although there is considerable uncertainty around the outlook, the Bank is projecting real GDP growth will slow to about 1 1/2 per cent and the output gap to widen in the first half of 2015. The negative impact of lower oil prices will gradually be mitigated by a stronger U.S. economy, a weaker Canadian dollar, and the Bank’s monetary policy response. The Bank expects Canada’s economy to gradually strengthen in the second half of this year, with real GDP growth averaging 2.1 per cent in 2015 and 2.4 per cent in 2016.
…Australia’s MTP growth is expected to continue at around its pace of recent years in 2015 as a number of effects offset each other. Growth in China is expected to be a little lower in 2015, while growth in the US economy is expected to pick up further. The significant fall in oil prices, which has largely reflected an increase in global production, represents a sizeable positive supply shock for the global economy and is expected to provide a stimulus to growth for Australia’s MTPs. The fall in oil prices is also putting downward pressure on global prices of goods and services. Other commodity prices have also declined in the past three months, though by much less than oil prices. This includes iron ore and, to a lesser extent, base metals prices. Prices of Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are generally linked to the price of oil and are expected to fall in the period ahead. The Australian terms of trade are expected to be lower as a result of these price developments, notwithstanding the benefit from the lower price of oil, of which Australia is a net importer.
…Available data since the previous Statement suggest that the domestic economy continued to grow at a below-trend pace over the second half of 2014. Resource exports and dwelling investment have grown strongly. Consumption growth remains a bit below average. Growth of private non-mining business investment and public demand remain subdued, while mining investment has fallen further. Export volumes continued to grow strongly over the second half of 2014, driven by resource exports. Australian production of coal and iron ore is expected to remain at high levels, despite the large fall in prices over the past year. The production capacity for LNG is expected to rise over 2015. Service exports, including education and tourism, have increased a little over the past two years or so and are expected to rise further in response to the exchange rate depreciation.
…Household consumption growth has picked up since early 2013, but is still below average. Consumption is being supported by very low interest rates, rising wealth, the decision by households to reduce their saving ratio gradually and, more recently, the decline in petrol prices. These factors have been offset to an extent by weak growth in labour income, reflecting subdued conditions in the labour market. Consumption growth is still expected to be a little faster than income growth, which implies a further gradual decline in the household saving ratio.
…Prior to the February Board meeting, the cash rate had been at the same level since August 2013. Interest rates faced by households and firms had declined a little over this period. Very low interest rates have contributed to a pick-up in the growth of non-mining activity. The recent large fall in oil prices, if sustained, will also help to bolster domestic demand. However, over recent months there have been fewer indications of a near-term strengthening in growth than previous forecasts would have implied. Hence, growth overall is now forecast to remain at a below trend pace somewhat longer than had earlier been expected. Accordingly, the economy is expected to be operating with a degree of spare capacity for some time yet, and domestic cost pressures are likely to remain subdued and inflation well contained. In addition, while the exchange rate has depreciated, it remains above most estimates of its fundamental value, particularly given the significant falls in key commodity prices, and so is providing less assistance in delivering balanced growth in the economy than it could.
Given this assessment, and informed by a set of forecasts based on an unchanged cash rate, the Board judged at its February meeting that a further 25 basis point reduction in the cash rate was appropriate. This decision is expected to provide some additional support to demand, thus fostering sustainable growth and inflation outcomes consistent with the inflation target.
Neither central bank makes much reference to the domestic housing market. Western Canada has been buoyed by international demand from Asia. Elsewhere the overvaluation has been driven by the low interest rates environment. Overall prices are 3.1% higher than December 2014. Vancouver and Toronto are higher but other regions are slightly lower according to the January report from the Canadian Real Estate Association . The chart below shows the national average house price:-
Source: Canadian Real estate Association
The Australian market has moderated somewhat during the last 18 months, perhaps due to the actions of the RBA, raising rates from 3% to 4.75% in the aftermath of the Great Recession, however, the combination of lower RBA rates since Q4 2011, population growth and Chinese demand has propelled the market higher once more. Prices in Western Australia have moderated somewhat due to the fall in commodity prices but in Eastern Australia, the market is still making new highs. The chart below goes up to 2014 but prices have continued to rise, albeit moderately (less than 2% per quarter) since then:-
This chart from the IMF/OECD shows global Price to Income ratios, Canada and Australia are still at the expensive end of the global range:-
Source: IMF and OECD
The lowering of official rates by the BoC and RBA will not help to alleviate the overvaluation.
This chart shows the monthly evolution of 10 year Government Bond yields since 2008 in Australia (LHS) and Canada (RHS):-
Source: Trading Economics
Whilst the two markets have moved in a correlated manner Canadian yields have tended to be between 300 and 100 bp lower over the last seven years. The Australian yield curve is flatter than the Canadian curve but this is principally a function of higher base rates. Both central banks have cut rates in anticipation of lower inflation and slower growth. This is likely to support the bond market in each country but investors will benefit from the more favourable carry characteristics of the Canadian market.
To understand the differential performance of the Australian and Canadian stocks markets I have taken account of the strong performance of commodity markets prior to the Great Recession, in the chart below you will observe that both economies benefitted significantly from the rally in industrial commodities between 2003 and 2008. Both stock markets suffered severe corrections during the financial crisis but the Canadian market has steadily outperformed since 2010:-
Source Trading Economics
This outperformance may have been due to Canada’s proximity to, and reliance on, the US – 77% of Exports and 52% of Imports. The Australian economy, by contrast, is reliant on Asia for exports – China 27%, Japan 17% – however, I believe that the structurally lower interest rate regime in Canada is a more significant factor.
Conclusions and investment opportunities
With industrial commodity prices remaining under pressure neither Canada nor Australia is likely to exhibit strong growth. Inflation will be subdued, unemployment may rise. These are the factors which prompted both central banks to cut interest rates in the last month. However, both economies have been growing reasonable strongly when compared with countries such as those of the Eurozone. Canada GDP 2.59%, Australia GDP 2.7%.
The BoC has little room for manoeuvre with the base rate at 0.75% but the RBA is in a stronger position. For this reason I believe the AUD is likely to weaken against the CAD if world growth slows, but the negative carry implications of this trade are unattractive.
Canadian Real Estate is more vulnerable than Australia to any increase in interest rates – although this seems an unlikely scenario in the near-term – more importantly, in the longer term, Canadian demographics and slowly population growth should alleviate Real Estate demand pressure. In Australia these trends are working in the opposite direction. Neither Real Estate market is cheap but Australia remains better value.
The Australian All-Ordinaries should outperform the Canadian TSX as any weakness in the Australian economy can be more easily supported by RBA accommodation. The All-Ordinaries is also trading on a less demanding earnings multiple than the TSX.
The RBA’s greater room to ease monetary conditions should also support the Australian Government Bond market, added to which the Australian government debt to GDP ratio is an undemanding 28% whilst Canadian debt to GDP is at 89%. The Canadian curve may offer more carry but the RBA ability to ease policy rates is greater. My preferred investment is in Australian Government Bonds. Both Canadian and Australian 10 year yields have risen since the start of February. The last Australian bond retracement saw yields rise 46 bp to 3.75% in September 2014. Since the recent rate cut yields have risen 30 bp to a high of 2.67% earlier this week. Don’t wait too long for better levels.
Colin has worked in the financial and commodity markets since 1981. He started his career in physical commodities moving on to a futures and options brokerage in 1987. Here he focused on servicing bank proprietary traders, global macro and relative-value fixed income hedge funds together with managed futures advisors. He was also instrumental in the development of interest rate and credit default swaps businesses.
In December 2013 he launched a macroeconomic newsletter – In the Long Run – focussing on macroeconomics and financial markets.
He has recently became a director of AAIN - Asian Alternative Investments Network – a non-profit industry group with which he has been involved since its inception in 2007. | Contact us
24 February 15 | Tags: Commodities, Markets, monetary policy | Category: Economics | Leave a comment
As recently as 9th January I wrote an article suggesting that 2015 would turn out to be the year of the slump. The title ended with a question mark, but today we are closer to removing it in favour of a definite statement.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that key economic blocs are indeed heading for a slump, including but not limited to China, the Eurozone and Japan (allowing for the distortions of her aggressive money-printing). Between them they account for nearly 40% of global GDP. We know this because of the collapse in commodity prices, which is reflected in a global shift of preference in favour of the US dollar.
For the avoidance of doubt, money should be regarded as a good, and each currency as a different good. When this point is grasped, the context of the dollar’s rise against both commodities and other currencies becomes clear. Both commodities and currencies are priced in dollars, so markets are showing that banks, consumers and businesses have been changing their preferences in favour of increasing their dollar balances.
Modern macroeconomics fails to adequately explain the importance of these developments. A quick look at the index in Keynes’s General Theory makes no mention of changes in preference for money versus other goods. It lists and defines liquidity preference which is a different topic. Once you accept money is a good, supply and demand will always balance as predicated in Say’s Law, otherwise known as the Law of the Markets.
Something has spooked consumers in markets around the world into spending less on other goods and to increase their holdings of dollars. The explanation can only be that prices for all other goods have been too high relative to dollars, so they have had to fall. There can be no clearer signal that there is a slump in global economic activity.
The largest source of exported physical goods is China. Demand from other countries for China’s goods is declining, confirmed by the Baltic Dry Index* which is plumbing new lows. This slow-down in economic activity could easily burst the bubble of bank credit, which is in danger of collapsing under the massive burden of bad debts. December’s slow-down in new loan demand coupled with declining trade flows can only be temporarily resolved by China devaluing the renminbi, thereby lowering her export prices. The breathing space this gives China is only as long as it takes for her manufacturing costs to rise to reflect the devaluation. If it occurs, a renminbi devaluation would quickly put more downward pressure on prices for local manufacturers in her export markets.
Turning to China’s trade partners, we see the Eurozone’s economy ex-Germany beginning to contract which is panicking the ECB into money-printing in a desperate attempt to maintain too-high prices. Japan has been doing this for some time, and is labouring under a mountain of debt that makes even Greece look responsible.
The signals are clear: the world has already entered a downturn in economic activity. Therefore we can expect accelerated money-printing and the imposition of more negative interest rates in a forlorn attempt to avert economic reality.