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Truth in a Totalitarian State

Truth in a Totalitarian State

An Essay on The End of Truth from F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.”

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.” ― Adolf Hitler

The author is a self-declared right-wing anarchist and enthusiast of the Austrian School of economics. You can follow him on Twitter @chillywillers. That’s all we’ve got on him; The rest is a mystery.


Totalitarian states are necessarily anti-truth. The argument’s strength pertains to the operations leading towards the institution of the totalitarian state as such, as opposed to particular leaders at particular times and places. At first glance, it may appear that the success of the social plan requires nothing more than broad agreement on goals. However, due to the nature of central planning, a broad agreement must also exist regarding the evidence used to justify the measures employed. Such consensus can only be maintained by the control of information, suppression of dissent, invasion of non-political areas of life, and ultimately the destruction of truth and reason. 

Maintaining the social plan’s acceptance is achieved by coercing or convincing the people to believe in its goals. The latter is essential to the long-run success of a planned economy and relies on effective propaganda. Propaganda exists in every society, but it is categorically different in a totalitarian state because of the absence of competing ideas. In a free society, propagandists have no assurance their assertions will take hold, but the propaganda monopolist does not share this difficulty. In a free society, it may be the case that from time to time, leaders of industry dominate the attention of the people, academia, or religious institutions; however, differences between and within these competing outlets ensure that their influence captures a majority for only a short time. Conversely, under totalitarianism, these institutions are increasingly beholden to the state. 

A second distinction is that totalitarian propaganda destroys morality and truth. This distinction becomes apparent when we consider that totalitarian propaganda must extend beyond questions of value to questions of fact. Justifying the importance of the social plan is achieved by demonstrating the connections between means and ends. The social program requires imposing a universal moral code that does not exist in a free society. The planner may not be aware of this necessity, or may be unable to plan the universal moral code because his decisions aim to resolve conflicts as they arise spontaneously. The planner is tasked with making decisions without the assistance of a definite moral code and finding some way to justify them to the people. The planner must announce some theories which are likely to appeal to the greater part of the people. 

The necessity of suppressing dissent derives from the nature of the social plan. Since most of the social project details are never explicitly stated, acceptance of the social plan increasingly becomes equivalent to the approval of every act of the planner. It follows that the schools, media, etc., must abandon truth and be directed to support the “facts” that justify the planner’s social plan. In a totalitarian state, control must necessarily extend into non-political areas of life. This is an outgrowth of how the social project gains acceptance in the economic sphere. We have seen the merit of an activity is to be judged by the extent to which it accords with prevailing theories. And at the root of all these theories is the idea that collective effort toward goals is superior to individualism’s chaos.

At this point, truth is no longer something to be discovered. Instead, it is imposed from above and subject to change to accommodate the inevitable evolution of the social plan. Arguably, in any case, what the masses regard as truth is at all times informed by several destructive ideologies such as commercialism, so there is no harm in guiding them in a more high-minded direction. While it is true that larger segments of people are prone to accept prevailing ideologies uncritically, it is quite different from saying we should reduce the number of doctrines to one. This misunderstands reason’s growth, which occurs through the interaction of individuals with diverse knowledge and values. A contradiction arises because while planning begins with rationality as its highest ideal, it can only succeed by erecting boundaries around thought and thus set in motion the decline of reason.

CW


The War on Reason

The War on Reason

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design.” – Friedrich August von Hayek

Jon McDonald is an energy economist in Texas focusing on the international trade of natural gas and natural gas derivatives. He has a master’s degree in energy economics from Rice University. Follow him on Twitter @jonnymack1010.


It is true that history gave us some philosophers who believed, through the power and process of human reason, they could predict the future of mankind as if it were as simple as watching the hands on a clock or the sun rise and fall. They claimed they were granted this power by a higher authority. Through their own arrogance they sought to produce absolute eternal truth. These utopian philosophers prepared schemes for paradise on earth but neglected the fact that what they believed to be eternal truth was just their own hubristic creation. The belief in this divinely awarded position led them to promptly establish absolute moral codes binding on all men. To free themselves from criticism, they raised themselves above fallibility and incorporated the intolerance and violent oppression of those who would dare disagree with their philosophy. Only these philosophers knew what was best for mankind so they sought dictatorship for themselves or for those who would put their ideas into practice. Only their ideas could end suffering. 

History gave us Georg Hegel and Auguste Comte. Hegel from Germany and Comte of French descent. Hegel knew everything in the universe that could be known. His doctrine held that to fully know anything required the knowledge of everything. He said the “truth” was revealed to him by Geist, or “The Absolute Spirit”. Though a brilliant thinker, nobody could interpret his work. Some took it as a reason for the autocratic dictatorship of the Prussian Church while others interpreted it as the reason for atheism and revolution. Comte said he could predict the future and he thought this entitled him to the position of supreme lawmaker. Comte worked to establish a new religion to replace Christianity and picked out a woman to supplant Mary. Comte was insane.1

The war on reason was borne out this line of thinking. It was not the result of careful self-examination, modesty, caution, or humility on behalf of the utopian philosophers nor was it caused by the failures of the natural sciences. The economic freedom which emerged as a by-product of the political freedom obtained in the late 17th and 18th centuries gave rise to the freedom to maximize knowledge towards the application of human needs. The result was the marvelous growth of science which ultimately changed the face of the world. It would be pointless to attack the technological improvements of the human race over the course of history as they speak an undeniable language of great progress and human ingenuity. Those who would wage the war on reason took aim at another target – Economics.2

The war took shape out of the conditions which existed in the 19th century. The classical economists – Say, Smith, Ricardo, and Bastiat among others – had laid socialism in its grave. They were yet to find the solutions to the classical system as drawn by Jevons and Menger, but they had done enough to expose the delusions of the socialist utopians. The communists were finished. There was only one way left open that could resurrect the collectivists ideas. They could attack reason and replace it with magical intuition.

History would choose Karl Marx to propose this solution.

Based on the omniscience granted to Hegel by Geist and the mysticism of Comte, Karl Marx gave himself the ability to predict the future for all of humanity. Karl, being the supreme knower of all things, was better informed than Hegel and Comte on the plans of Geist. In Marx’s vision of the future, the final outcome of humanity’s evolution must be the establishment of the socialist utopia. Socialism will inevitably arrive as time progresses as if it were natural law, he declared. Since every stage of human history improves upon the previous, the ultimate result of mankind’s evolution will be socialism and it will be perfect. Socialism is the highest form of civilization that man could ever achieve. Time is all that is necessary to bring about our socialist destiny and time will arrange everything for the best. There is no reason to listen to the advice of mere mortals. 

Marx still had one more hurdle in his path. The critique of the economists stood in his way, but he had a solution in mind. Human reason, he claimed, was insufficient to find truth. Universal logic and truth do not exist. Marx, replacing Hegel and Comte as the chief exhorter of “truth”, asserted that the different classes of society formulate logic in fundamentally different ways simply because the different classes have different incomes. Proletarian logic is different than bourgeois logic, he claimed. The bourgeois mind cannot produce anything other than an apology for their capitalistic exploitation of the proletariat. Therefore, bourgeois logic is irrelevant, and the proletariat class will soon abolish all classes to convert the earth into a socialist heaven. Marx stated that whatever the mind produces is ideology which can only demonstrate the selfish interests of the theorists own social class. To Marx, universal truth and reason were not available to the human mind. Yet, according to the supposedly higher mind of Marx it was universally true that socialism was mankind’s destiny.

Fittingly, some members of the bourgeois were granted the ability to logic like the proletariat. By the work of some unspecified miracle, Marx was endowed with this special ability. Karl Marx, the son of a wealthy lawyer and married to a Prussian noble, was a member of bourgeoisie awarded the knowledge of the logic of all class’s past, present and future. His collaborator Frederick Engels, a wealthy textile manufacturer, was also granted this special privilege – an obvious coincidence. That Marx and Engels both attained a wealthy status by what they called “capitalistic exploitation” by other members of society was irrelevant. They had the approval to determine absolute truth by Geist and were therefore exempt from their own theory. 

In the Marxian universe, everything revolves around the income of someone else as if it were the gravity that holds that world together. The Marxist doctrine is a false prophecy that attempts to teach the world how to properly covet, envy and despise the position of another. Marx asserted that the logical structure of the mind is dependent on class, or, essentially, income and status. Thus, the Marxists reject the economic concept of scarcity as outlined by Lionel Robbins. They reject it not only because the socialist order cannot account for this reality in its operation, but because Robbins rose from the humble life as the son of a farmer to the ranks of a prestigious professor at the London School of Economics. To a Marxist, an economic theory developed by a member of the bourgeois is spurious. The Aryans reject the theories from economists like Ricardo, Rothbard and Mises because they were Jewish. The logic of a racist differs only from Marxian logic in that it ascribes to each race a different logical structure of the mind and holds that all members of certain races, regardless of class, are endowed with this logical composition. 

Now, it is irrelevant for economics to critique the concepts of class and race as prescribed by the Marxists. It is not the purpose of economics to ask a Marxist when and how the logical structure of the mind changes when a member of the proletariat succeeds in joining the ranks of the bourgeois. It is not necessary to ask a racist to explain the logic of people who are not of a single race.

Economics has more important arguments to put forward. 

The belief that simply discussing the background of an author will suffice in the attempt to illuminate the fallacies of a theory is entirely asinine. What is necessary is to construct a system of logic to counter the contested theory to show why the theory contains invalid logic. Neither the Aryans nor the Marxists have ever been able to design such a system. Nor have they been able to demonstrate precisely in what logic the proletarian logic differs from that of the bourgeoisie or the logic of the Aryans from the non-Aryans. If such a system of counter-logic cannot be constructed, a Marxist or an Aryan would have to consistently maintain that certain ideas are false because the author is not a member of the proper class, nation, or race. However, consistency is not their strength. The Marxists and the Aryans will approve any thinker whose doctrines fit their own ideology. Anybody else is their enemy guilty of treason.

In a free market system where individuals with the natural right to choose the pursuits to which they will direct their labor, either for necessity or desire and unobstructed by the arbitrary powers of another, every change in the market setting will affect the short-run interests of several different groups of people. This dynamic makes it easy to expose every single change in the existing conditions as a change which benefitted the “selfish interests of greedy people.” Many authors today fall victim to this low-hanging fruit and Marx did not discover this procedure. It was known long before his time. It never occurred to the supporters of such dogma that where there are selfish interests in favor of certain changes there must always be selfish interests against such changes. It is completely unsatisfactory to explain any event as an affair that favored a special class. The question that is necessary to answer is why the rest of the populace whose pursuits were injured by such an action failed in challenging the efforts of those who were favored by it.3

Every firm in every sector of a free and competitive economy is interested in a higher quantity of sales for its products or services. In the long run, however, there exists a prevailing tendency towards the equalization of profits in the various sectors of production through the process of competition. If the demand for the products or services of a certain branch of industry increases, prices will rise until sufficient productive capacity can be built to meet the rise in demand. The rise in price signals a shortage and an arbitrage opportunity to a profit maximizing agent. Investors rush into the sector attempting to capture a return on capital. In consequence, more capital flows into the sector increasing the productive capacities of competing firms. The dynamics of new entrants and higher production results in lower prices and the competition of new enterprises brings the height of net returns down to a more equal level.

Those at the helm of the already high profitable firms have little interest in the preservation of free competition. They are, however, opposed to new entrants expropriating their profits and would rather keep competition at a minimum to ensure higher prices. On the other hand, they are in favor of government measures which prevent new business from challenging their position in the market. Those who fight for free enterprise and free competition do not defend the interests of the rich. They want the opportunity left open to the unknown entrepreneurs and innovators of tomorrow whose ingenuity will make the life of coming generations more agreeable. They want the way left open to further economic improvements. They are the watchtowers of human progress.


*Special attention was given to the work of Ludwig von Mises in the writing of this essay. The majority of what is written here can be found in Human Action – ‘Economics and the Revolt Against Reason’. My hope was to bring this work back into discussion in a condensed version.

[1] Ludwig von Mises, “Human Action”, 1949. Hereafter abbreviated LVM.

[2] LVM

[3] LVM


The Rise of the Medical Dictatorship

The Rise of the Medical Dictatorship

Jordan Taylor Swaim is a social service worker, podcaster and producer out of Calgary, Alberta, where he resides with his wife Janelle, and son TJ. Check out his podcast, The Peaceful Way, and learn the concepts, ideas, and strategies behind making a more peaceful and nonviolent world.

This article was originally published on Medium.com. Read the original article.

The uncomfortable truth about authoritarian regimes is that they come into power primarily through the expressed permission, or general apathy, of the population which they rule. It is always after the fact, after the ethnocides, secret police, show trials, and rigged elections that the public realizes the monster it has participated in creating. The pretence under which the citizens accept the dictator is primarily an irrational fear of some sort of perceived existential threat, coupled with scapegoating of a smaller segment of the population, or even a single individual. In Pol Pot’s Cambodia for example, influenced by a monolithic Buddhist culture, peasants often had a very blase attitude towards human death and suffering, attributing torture, starvation, and displacement to bad Karma from a previous life, making it taboo to even intervene. In the early years of the cultural revolution, Mao Zhedong was able to galvanize poor farmers to publicly torture, execute, and even cannibalize slightly less-poor farmers for the sin of being wealthier than themselves, under the auspices of being “capitalists” and “robbing them of their wealth”. Power lusting tyrants love nothing more than to feast on people’s fears, while portraying themselves as messianic figures ordained for “such a time as this”. The tyrant himself, however, can hardly be held entirely responsible, without the explicit support of the masses, police departments, military, academia, and even mass media. Without these, a dictator is simply a boat without a rudder. It is the dark marriage with the passions of the common man and his ruler which makes totalitarianism unconscionably vicious.

In the age of COVID-19, these dynamics are no less relevant. As governments around the world reel over the best response to the latest global pandemic, there has been a disturbing trend of trampling on rights, eliminating personal choice, invading privacy and blithely dismissing constitutional protections in the name of hypothetical and momentary safety. When and how our freedoms might be restored is a complete afterthought, there are no targets, thresholds, or circumstances, short of entirely eradicating the virus (a literal impossibility), in which our “benevolent” overlords might afford us a refund of our liberties. The utterly depressing aspect of the situation we find ourselves in, is that in the majority of cases, these governments enjoy massive levels of public and institutional support. Be it Jacinda Arderns historic re-election in New Zealand for her downright fascistic response to the novel coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo receiving an Emmy award for all but a total shut down of the state of New York, or the World Health Organizations gushing over China’s inhumane and deadly measures it imposed on it’s own citizenry. In Canada, approval ratings have sky rocketed for premiers who behave in the most draconian of manners, while a more hands off approach like that of Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenney, get punished in the polls. It is clear that it is not only the government’s themselves, though they deserve plenty of blame, but the population at large. Your neighbours are encouraged to call the police on nonviolent people for the cardinal sin of having a gathering in their own home, perhaps you will be stopped by a moral busy body while shopping if you are not wearing mask, or it could be throngs of fanatical zealots belonging to the lockdown religion who will bully and harass you on social media for any perceived impropriety which violates their puritanical dogmas. In the ushering in of our new dystopian future, the government hardly has to lift a finger, its people are more than willing to do its dirty work.

“Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy” — Plato

What distinguishes the current species of authoritarianism from previous iterations is that it operates under the auspices of public health, as the enemy is not a racial or social class, but rather a virus. Its thought leaders are not radical activists or military generals, it is doctors and scientists. In this materialist era, slogans like “believe the science” are brandied about with reckless abandon, giving any unelected public health official a blank check to thrust their top down, command and control style economic fantasies upon the rest of us without our consent. And now, almost anyone can utter the words “I am following the science” as if it were a magical totem used to ward off any and all skepticism of a particular policy proposal in response to the pandemic. Prior to the entrance of COVID-19 onto the global stage, politicians would often give homage to “the scientists” in reference to all sorts of topics. Be it the environment, pharmaceuticals, or conservation, we have seen a disturbing trend to more heavily rely on “experts” to drive public policy with almost no reference to a cost benefit analysis of said policies, or any type of examination of the unintended consequences or ethical implications. Thanks to the coronavirus, we have now reached a tipping point where the populace is more or less begging for a technocracy to be instituted with complete and unrestrained power.

The dismal part of all of this, is that science, its institutions and its academics, have become so politicized and tribal within the cultural zeitgeist that it more resembles a fundamentalist cult than a beautiful process of inquiry, experimentation, and observation. Science is not a “thing”, it is a process. It is not a noun, it is a verb. It is what we do when we explore the world around us, follow our curiosities, innovate, and turn imaginary futures into concrete realities. The scientific method has given us the cure to so many ails, improved our productivity one thousand fold, and given even the poorest among us the ability to live as royalty of a bygone age. But somewhere along the way, science, or more accurately “pop-science”, became not an honest intellectual pursuit, but rather, a political bludgeon to cast out heretics and naysayers. Rather than having every past conclusion be open to scrutiny and falsifiability, political scientism has become a holy writ in which even the slightest deviation from the “consensus” orthodoxy is punishable by public shaming and banishment from polite society. Public health officials have been christened as oracles, and only they have the ability to correctly read interpret the scientific literature. We, the ignorant peasants, must passively accept their edicts as gospel, without question.

One may argue that the repressions we live under are temporary and only because of extraordinary circumstances, I beg to differ. There is almost no instance in history wherein a government or bureaucracy completely surrendered its powers after a crisis abated, barring the old regime being disposed. The US military, for example, still occupies Germany and Japan despite those countries posing no threat whatever. Canada introduced the income tax to pay for World War One and promised to abolish it after the war. Nations around the world have continued to outlaw the development of nuclear energy out of a Cold War hangover, despite its ability to realistically address carbon emissions. This is not necessarily because of any malicious intent (though there is certainly enough of that to go around) but rather powerful bureaucratic inertia that is naturally associated with very large institutions.

Detractors may believe I am over exaggerating, and they may be right. To this point there have been no firing squads on political dissidents, no liquidations of entire people groups, or any sort of weaponized hunger. But as for me, I prefer to observe the lessons of history, and not allow it to get to that point.

Jordan S.

Social Isolation Is Damaging an Entire Generation of Kids

Social Isolation Is Damaging an Entire Generation of Kids

By keeping healthy children under quarantine, we are cruelly depriving them of the in-person free play and social interaction that are critical to their development and emotional well-being.

Kerry McDonald

Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. You can sign up for her weekly newsletter on parenting and education here.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

I read an advice article at Slate recently where a mom of a nearly five-year-old daughter wrote in to express concern that her child hasn’t seen any friends in five months, since COVID-19 lockdowns began. She said:

Because of COVID, my husband and I have decided to skip [pre-K] altogether and teach her everything she needs to know before kindergarten ourselves. This doesn’t worry me academically, but I am concerned about her development and the loss of the social interaction she was going to experience.

The advice columnist responded that the mom shouldn’t worry about her child’s social isolation, saying:

She is part of a whole generation of quarantined 5-year-olds. It’ll take her a while to catch up once she reenters society, sure—but it’s going to take everyone a while.

This resignation to ongoing government lockdowns, endless social distancing, mandatory mask orders, and travel restrictions—even as the virus wanes in the US—is damaging to our social and economic health, and may be particularly problematic for children who are separated from their peers.

While some evidence suggests that young people are faring well outside of forced schooling, with less school-induced stress and anxiety, the same research indicates that children and teens are missing their friends dearly. Social isolation seems to be taking a toll. With most large, urban school districts planning remote-learning only this fall, the isolation is likely to continue for many children—unless parents step in to alleviate this loneliness.

An article in The Wall Street Journal exposed the impact of pandemic-related social isolation on children and adolescents: “‘Of all age groups, this virus is probably more socially devastating to teens than any other group. They are bored and they are lonely,’ says Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.”

Another recent Journal article reinforced these unintended consequences of the lockdowns and social distancing on adolescents, and particularly girls: “Adolescent girls already were experiencing record-high levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression before the pandemic, according to Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist and author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls ‘All of the things that a year ago were increasing girls’ depression have been exacerbated by the pandemic,’ [said] Dr. Pipher.”

Regardless of whether or not you think schools should reopen for in-person learning this fall, the reality is that kids need to be around other kids to play, socialize, and learn.

They don’t need this play, socializing, and learning to happen in schools.

In fact, they may find much more authentic, satisfying social play and learning outside of a conventional classroom. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, has written extensively on the importance of unstructured childhood social play for children’s health and well-being. In a June interview with NPR, Gray said:

Play is crucial to children’s development. And much of my research shows that over the last few decades, our children have been very play deprived. They spend so much time in school, so much time that homework after school, so much time in adult-directed activities which are not fully play — play is activity that children develop themselves — that children take control of themselves and their children learn to be independent and solve their own problems.

(To learn more about this, see Gray’s book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.)

If they were play-deprived prior to the pandemic, then many children may be more play-deprived now, as they have been cut-off from peers for nearly six months. Gray has documented the correlation between the decline in play and the rise in childhood and adolescent mental health disorders. This is something that is deeply concerning now as children, and especially adolescents, are even more distanced from their peers.

While technology has been a lifesaver for all of us during the pandemic, it has also consumed a much larger portion of children’s lives. A new report released this month by the Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that 63 percent of teens are using social media more than they did pre-pandemic, and more than half of their parents indicate that social media use is having a negative impact on their kids.

Perhaps more startling, the survey found that 68 percent of parents say that social media is interfering with their teen’s ability to have normal social interactions. Concerns about social media use and its impact on teen mental and social health were widespread before the pandemic, but it could be particularly troubling now as social media use soars while many teens remain separated from their friends.

The continued quarantining of healthy children and adolescents is misguided and deprives them of the childhood play and in-person social interaction that are critical to their growth and development. FEE’s Jon Miltimore wrote a great article recently saying this very thing, and providing international data on the low risks of COVID-19 on children. The health risks to children of the virus may be small, but the risks to children’s mental and emotional health from forced separation from peers is not. Miltimore writes:

The best scientific evidence we have shows that children have the least to fear from COVID-19. As the CDC points out, the common flu is far more dangerous for children than the coronavirus. A society that deprives children of the basic freedom to gather to play, learn, explore, and socialize does them a grave injustice, one that will result in far more harm than good. Fortunately, we have ample evidence and real-life examples that show the costs of quarantining healthy children far outweigh the benefits.

The OECD recently issued a report detailing the global harm the pandemic response is inflicting on children’s social and economic health and well-being, especially poor children. Its recommendation to combat these detrimental effects is to add more government interventions and mandates, particularly in social services, healthcare, and education.

But adding more layers of government involvement to fix the problems created by government lockdown policies puts expensive Band-Aids on injuries that could be alleviated by loosening the lockdowns.

So what can parents do? While they may not be able to lift government orders, parents can lift some of their self-imposed social distancing practices to help their children and teens avoid continued isolation and the damaging consequences that can arise from being disconnected from their peers.

Take the steps to connect your children with other children for play dates and social interactions, and encourage older children and teens to reach out to their friends to organize in-person get-togethers.

If schools aren’t open for in-person learning, consider creating a “pandemic pod” this fall for consistent group play and learning, and encourage teens to gather for small, in-person study groups and co-learning. Push back against the creeping government control of family life, and question the politicians and pundits who keep telling you, and especially your kids, to stay home.

Did Jesus Despise Money?

Did Jesus Despise Money?

Jesus never turned up his nose at the concept of a medium of exchange, or honestly earning it in productive commerce.

Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. Reed is President Emeritus and Humphreys Family Senior Fellow at FEE, having served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). His website is www.lawrencewreed.com.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

“Jesus Christ regarded money as ‘filthy lucre’ and the root of all evil!” pronounced a student at one of my campus lectures a few months ago. That’s not an uncommon view but it’s also manifestly erroneous—completely and utterly false.

The student was responding to my lecture titled “Was Jesus a Socialist?”, based on a short essay I wrote in 2015.

I greatly expanded that essay into a book by the same title, and it’s available for pre-order now from FEE, Barnes & Noble, ISI Books and Amazon.

The book examines a larger question of which money-related issues are a small part. Daniel Hannan of Great Britain wrote a terrific foreword. Editor/publisher Steve Forbes calls it “a learned and well-argued masterpiece.” Historian Burton Folsom says, “Thanks to this book, progressives will never again be able to claim with any credibility that Jesus would stoop to be a socialist.”

I hope you’ll order a copy for yourself and one for your pastor or priest or other interested party because, on this important topic, there’s nothing on the market as convincing and comprehensive. (Thanks to readers for indulging my advertising).

Money in Jesus’s day and what he said about it are interesting subjects, worthy of attention regardless of one’s faith, denomination or lack of either. Let’s take a look.

Jesus himself never used the phrase, “filthy lucre.” It appears only four times in the entire Bible. In each case, it’s employed by someone else and always in reference to theft or dishonesty, as in “loot” or “ill-gotten gain.”

Theft and dishonesty are targeted for unqualified condemnation throughout both Old and New Testaments, and from numerous prophets and sages. For example: “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely,” advised John the Baptist when questioned by a group of soldiers (in Luke 3:14). In Proverbs 11:1, we are told that “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord but a just weight is his delight.”

Jesus never suggested, even remotely, that money per se was an evil. He praised the earning of it through productive work and investment, as in the famous Parable of the Talents. He advised careful stewardship of it in business, as in Luke 14:28-30. He encouraged the private, voluntary giving of it to worthy purposes and charities, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He praised those who supported ministries, missions and the temple by their tithes and offerings, as in the story of the widow’s mites in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.

On many occasions, he urged people to help each other—including by way of donating money—to meet legitimate needs and improve conditions. You and I have done the same, perhaps on a daily basis at work or at home. Encouraging someone to help a person is one thing but compelling someone to give to help someone is quite another. Jesus called for personal, individual and free will-based generosity, not coercive, state-run redistribution programs.

Why do so many people think that because Jesus endorsed charitable giving, he would also embrace a compulsory welfare state? There’s a world of difference between the two. If I recommend that you read a book, would you assume I would support the state forcing you to read it? When your mother told you to eat your broccoli, did you think she was endorsing a federal Department of Vegetables?

More than once, Jesus cautioned against letting one’s character succumb to the harmful temptations and excesses that often accompany money. Similarly, he favored eating but not gluttony, sleep but not sloth, fasting but not starving, drinking but not inebriation.

And Paul, Jesus’s most famous and prolific apostle of the 1st Century, warned against the love of money but not money itself. In fact, to argue that a medium of exchange is somehow inherently evil would be one of the dumbest things for anybody to claim. Any economist will tell you that money—especially honest money that isn’t adulterated by fiat, fraud or false weights—facilitates a level of trade and standards of living that neither a primitive barter system nor a state-run allocation scheme could ever hope to produce. Biblical censure of dishonest money issued by inflating governments is at least as old as Isaiah’s excoriation of the Israelites, “Thy silver has become dross, thy wine mixed with water.”

Paper money made its first appearance a thousand years after Jesus’s time. Money in his day consisted exclusively of metallic coin. Judea being a Roman province when Jesus lived, its money was officially that of the regime of imperial Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, who ruled from 30 BC to 14 AD and that of his successor Tiberius, in power from 14 AD to 37 AD They issued a gold aureus and a silver denarius in a bimetallic regime whereby 1 aureus was equal to 25 denarii. When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose image was on the denarius (Mark 12:15), the reply was “Caesar’s.” It was probably that of Augustus.

Jerusalem was a center of international commerce at the time, so citizens of the area likely saw coins from many places and composed of other metals as well, giving rise to a thriving business of money changing. Jesus famously drove some of those money changers from the main temple (and never from a bank or a market) because it was not an appropriate activity for such a holy place. Certainly there was no reason to tolerate any disruption of services or harassment of worshippers. Ancient coinage expert David Hendin tells us:

Money changers and animal merchants were ubiquitous around the temple, even in the outer Court of the Gentiles. The money changers and sellers of livestock were forced to operate outside of the temple. Indeed, archaeological excavations along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem have revealed a street and a row of small shops that likely housed money changers, sellers of small animals, and souvenir merchants.

Theirs was a good business, especially during the pilgrimage holidays. It’s easy to imagine how money changers and other merchants could become rowdy while competing for business (“Change here! Our commissions are lower!”). This competition must have reached a point of offensiveness when Jesus upended their tables…

Once, a man approached Jesus and asked him to use his power and influence to redistribute the wealth from an inheritance (Luke 12:13-15). The man claimed his brother received more than he should have, so Jesus should see to it that some of his brother’s money be taken away and given to him. Jesus’s response was to rebuke the man for his envy. “Who made me a judge or divider over you?” Jesus asked. Clearly, Jesus didn’t see money as a convenient instrument by which we can rob one to pay another to achieve wealth redistribution.

Frequently misunderstood is this important admonition from Matthew 6:24, repeated in Luke 16:13. Jesus said:

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Some readers interpret these words as a blanket repudiation of money. If the choice is starkly defined as God or money, one or the other and no in-between, then of course a believer should opt for the former. But note the context: Jesus was not talking here about a consumer in a physical marketplace. You wouldn’t get very far if you said to the clerk in a department store, “Instead of cash for that shirt, let me give you a sermon.” When Jesus made this statement, he was speaking to a group of Pharisees, who were notable for their love of money above everything.

The key words are “serve” and “masters.” Jesus was referring to a reverential relationship. What do you worship? Which “master” do you listen to when their directives contradict one another? In other words, prioritize properly. Money has its place in economic life but should never be one’s most important focus. Don’t allow it or its associated temptations to rule you.

Bottom line: Whatever your faith may be (or even if you presently possess none), don’t make claims about Jesus and money that can’t be supported by his words and historical context. He never turned up his nose at the concept of a medium of exchange, or honestly earning it in productive commerce. He never suggested there was some magical limit to the material wealth a person should earn through peaceful trade. He did, however, advise against allowing money to run your life and rule your relationships.

Econ 101: An Austrian Economist’s Dream

Econ 101: An Austrian Economist’s Dream

Human Beings Behave Purposefully

Arthur Foulkes

Arthur Foulkes writes for a daily newspaper in Indiana.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

On the first day in an economics class the instructor tells us that “resources are scarce,” but human “wants are unlimited”—hence the eternal “economic problem.” How do we know resources are scarce? We can observe this fact with our senses; we can see that nothing is available in unlimited quantities everywhere and at all times. And how do we know human wants are unlimited? Again, we can observe this fact; as an economics professor of mine once explained, even a billionaire would probably not refuse another million dollars. Thus human wants must be unlimited.

Next our instructors inform us that it is the goal of economics to help society determine how best to allocate its scarce resources to meet the most human wants in the most efficient way. Soon they escort us to the concepts of goods and services, supply and demand, production, utility, and so on. We are introduced to models of human behavior—based on the idea of “maximizing utility”and soon we are drawing “production possibility frontiers” and demand and supply curves, and writing sophisticated mathematical equations.

But what if economics courses started differently? What if on the first day of the course we were told that economics is about human action and “the regularity of phenomena with regard to the interconnectedness of means and ends.”1 In other words, economics is about the laws of human behavior, which is associated with pursuing goals.

You might say, “I’ll take the first definition!” Indeed, economics as the study of allocating tangible goods and services to tangible people with quantifiable “utility” functions seems, at first, much more . . . well . . . tangible. Pretty soon we can forget we are talking about actual human beings with unfathomable minds and values. We can begin to quantify everything and presto, our “economics” has become a kind of applied mathematics.2 Certainly the math we use can become very advanced and difficult, but at least we are dealing with quantifiable concepts and actual numbers.

But what does this approach tell us about economics itself? It fosters the notion that economists are training to become either social engineers whose jobs involve finding the “optimum” level of consumption, for instance, or fortune tellers calculating next year’s demand for apples or the future price of coffee.

Economics in the second sense, on the other hand, leads to the view of the economist as someone working to understand unalterable laws of human economic behavior, the knowledge of which helps us achieve our goals. This approach does not start with empirical observations about reality but rather with the incontestable proposition that human beings act purposefully. From there we deduce other incontestable truths about real human behavior.

This deductive approach is the defining characteristic of the Austrian school of economics. It is what separates it from the mainstream neoclassical school, the Keynesian school, monetarism, Marxism, and the others.3

The empirical approach associated with mainstream and other economic schools reflects the reigning positivist tradition in virtually every contemporary science. According to this philosophy, nothing is knowable if not observable and quantifiable. Lord Kelvin spoke for the entire tradition when he explained, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”4

But, of course, this very proposition, which claims to make a definite statement about reality and our ability to understand it, cannot itself be expressed in numbers. Therefore by Kelvin’s own standards his contention represents “meagre and unsatisfactory” knowledge at best. And this is the problem with the entire empiricist method.5

Action Axiom

The Austrian approach, by contrast, begins with the simple proposition that human beings behave purposefully. Yet Austrians do not attempt to “prove” this proposition by observation, experimental testing, intuition, or even “common sense”; rather, the proposition is established as incontestably true because it is self-contradictory to deny it. Any attempt to disprove it would itself be a purposeful action.6

How much better economics education would be if, on the first day of Economics 101, students were introduced to this axiom of purposeful action. Then, over the next several days and weeks they could be shown how it implies the economic categories of choice, ends, means, costs, profits, and loss, and further how economic laws are also derived from this starting point, including the law of marginal utility or the law of demand. This would not necessarily make studying economics less difficult than the present highly mathematical approach (because the conceptualization and logical rigor is highly demanding). But it would certainly bring it back in touch with real human behavior and dispel the popular notion that wise economists can reshape the world according to their sophisticated mathematical designs.


Notes

  1. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, 4th rev. ed. (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1996 [1949]), p. 885.
  2. This term, “applied mathematics” is often used to describe the methods of mainstream economics. The earliest such use I could find is from Lawrence White, “The Methodology of the Austrian School Economists,” rev. ed., Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003; www.mises.org/mofase/methfinb.pdf.
  3. Hans-Herman Hoppe, Economic Science and the Aus- trian Method (Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn Ala., 1995) pp. 7–9.
  4. Lord William Thomson Kelvin, “Electrical Units of Measurement” in Popular Lectures and Addresses, vol. 1 (New York, Macmillan, 1889), pp. 73–74.
  5. Mises, Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., 2002 [1962]), p. 5; Hoppe, pp. 33–34; 51–53.
  6. Hoppe, p. 61.