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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page v of the 1969 Arlington House edition of Ludwig von Mises’s 1944 Yale University Press book, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War (available free-of-charge on-line here):

At the bottom of all totalitarian doctrines lies the belief that the rulers are wiser and loftier than their subjects and that they therefore know better what benefits those ruled than they themselves.

DBx: Indeed. And it’s therefore reasonable to argue that the greater are the numbers of decisions removed from the hands of individuals choosing and acting in the private sphere, the more closely does society take on characteristics of totalitarianism.

The state of society in general, and of the economy in particular, is not a toggle. Society and the economy are never, in practice, fully free or completely totalitarian. Within the freest real-world societies there loom some ideas and policies that make that society less free than it would otherwise be. Within the most totalitarian real-world societies, individuals manage to find some spheres, however small, in which they are free to act against the wishes of state officials. And it’s a matter of judgment, not science, when a society’s suppression of freedom by the state has become so expansive and determined that that society has earned the awful title “totalitarian.”

But a society need not be totalitarian, or even close to being totalitarian, in order to be infected with interventions that move it along the spectrum from “free” toward “totalitarian.” No interventions motor such a move more than do efforts of state officials to ‘direct’ the economy by suppressing people’s voluntary commercial choices and replacing these with resource-allocation decisions made by political authorities.

Protective tariffs alone might be insufficient to render a society totalitarian. But the use of protective tariffs moves a society in a totalitarian direction. By using such tariffs, a relatively small number of state officials deny to millions of persons the right to peacefully spend their incomes as these persons see fit. Resources in that society come to be more under the control, not of their owners, but of the state. Even if (contrary to all reality) these state officials are all earthly saints, and even if (contrary to all reality) their protectionist schemes ‘work’ economically exactly as protectionists promise, this protectionism nevertheless is a totalitarian virus within a society that is perhaps otherwise healthy and free.

Whenever some pundit, professor, or politician clamors for protective tariffs or for export subsidies, that person clamors for use of totalitarian methods, even though he or she is not clamoring for totalitarianism and would be horrified to realize the totalitarian nature of the policy ‘tools’ he or she proposes. And when this pundit, professor, or politician expands his or her call from tariffs and subsidies into more comprehensive industrial policy, that person calls for society to move even further along the spectrum from free to totalitarian.

The fact that even rather comprehensive industrial policy in some particular place and time might be insufficiently repressive to convince some reasonable people to label that society “totalitarian” does not mean that that society is not more infected with the totalitarian virus than it would be without industrial policy. Do not forget that all persons who advocate industrial policy believe that individuals spending and investing their own incomes do not do so as well as would state officials.


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