Ludwig von Mises’ last book is an examination of social sciences as they are and as they should be. Mises characteristically spends time excoriating historians who pretend to be economists. His main effort, however, is on the proper delineation between psychology, economics, thymology, and, of course, history.
For those who have read Human Action, the distinction between historical science and economic science is well known. When a so-called economist models the price of onions in Venice in the 1850s, he is not furthering economic knowledge, but simply using mathematics to relate what happened in the past. That this work provides no economic insight and has no predictive power is a central theme of Theory and History.
Furthermore, Mises attacks supposed economic theories that are actually theories of history, and bad ones at that. He embarrasses Marxism for its foundational beliefs that technology determines the social state of affairs and that history is on an inevitable trend towards a final state of socialism. With his typical dry humor, Mises tears apart collectivist ideologies, though some may seem obscure to a modern reader.
In his excellent book, The Problem of Political Authority, Michael Huemer takes a methodical and relentless approach to analyzing whether government is justified in doing things that ordinary people are not. People should not steal, but what about taxes? People should not brutalize potheads, but what about those who become federal prisoners for recreational drug use?
Concluding that government has no such authority, Huemer recommends a system where such authority is unnecessary. He explores the alternative of anarcho-capitalism and shows that even though anarcho-capitalism is not perfect, it is superior in every way to statism. Huemer makes the point that it is important not to compare some ideal anarchy with obviously flawed states, such as the USSR, but to compare the best realistic government with a realistic system of anarchy. (p185)
For those already on friendly terms with anarcho-capitalism, this book is still a worthwhile read if only for its lucid deconstruction of social contract theory. It knocks down each variation of the social contract, which is sure to be useful when talking to the kind of people who heard something about a social contract and assumed the debate was over. Continue reading →