“What is wrong with our age is precisely the widespread ignorance
of the role which these policies of economic freedom played in the
technical evolution of the last two hundred years. People fell prey
to the fallacy that the improvement of the methods of production
was contemporaneous with the policy of laissez faire only by accident.
Deluded by Marxian myths, they consider modern industrialism
an outcome of the operation of mysterious “productive sources”
that do not depend in any way on ideological factors. Classical economics,
they believe, was not-a factor in the rise of capitalism, but
rather its product, its “ideological superstructure,” i.e., a doctrine
designed to defend the unfair claims of the capitalist exploiters. Hence
the abolition of capitalism and the substitution of socialist totalitarianism
for a market economy and free enterprise would not impair the
further progress of technology. It would, on the contrary, promote
technological improvement by removing the obstacles which the
selfish interests of the capitalists place in its way.
The characteristic feature of this age of destructive wars and social
disintegration is the revolt against economics. Thomas Carlyle branded
economics a “dismal science,” and Karl Marx stigmatized the economists
as “the sycophants of the bourgeoisie.” Quacks-praising their
patent medicines and short cuts to the earthly paradise-take pleasure
in scorning economics as “orthodox” and “reactionary.” Demagogues
pride themselves on what they call their victories over economics.
The “practical” man boasts of his contempt for economics and his
ignorance of the teachings of “armchair” economists. The economic
policies of the last decades have been the outcome of a mentality
that scoffs at any variety of sound economic theory and glorifies the
spurious doctrines of its detractors. What is called “orthodox” economics
is in most countries barred from the universities and is
virtually unknown to the leading statesmen, politicians, and writers.
The blame for the unsatisfactory state of economic affairs can certainly
not be placed upon a science which both rulers and masses
despise and ignore.
It must be emphasized that the destiny of modern civilization as
developed by the white peoples in the last two hundred years is inseparably
linked with the fate of economic science. This civilization
was able to spring into existence because the peoples were dominated
by ideas which were the application of the teachings of economics to
the problems of economic policy. It will and must perish if the
nations continue to pursue the course which they entered upon under
the spell of doctrines rejecting economic thinking.
It is true that economics is a theoretical science and as such abstains
from any judgment of value. It is not its task to tell people what ends
they should aim at. It is a science of the means to be applied for the
attainment of ends chosen, not, to be sure, a science of the choosing
of ends. Ultimate decisions, the valuations and the choosing of ends,
are beyond the scope of any science. Science never tells a man how
he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain
It seems to many people that this is very little indeed and that a
science limited to thc investigation of the is and unable to express
a judgment of value about the highest and ultimate ends is of no importance
for life and action. This too is a mistake. However, the exposure
of this mistake is not a task of thcse introductory remarks. It
is one of the ends of the treatise itself.
Human Action, pp. 9-10, Ludwig von Mises