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Ludwig von Mises and the anti-capitalist mentality

By Luis Enrique Pérez




One of the most original books I have read is the work of the Austrian economic philosopher Ludwig von Mises. It is called “The Anticapitalist Mentality.” In that book, Mises states that the capitalist economy made it possible to increase the population and increased the average quality of life to an unprecedented degree.

But, there are people who hate capitalism, presumably because, Mises claims, before the industrial capitalist revolution human beings were happy and prosperous, and after this revolution, they were unhappy and miserable.

Mises states that the anti-capitalist mentality arises mainly for two psychological reasons.

The first reason is frustrated ambition. He who tends to overvalue his merits and whose ambition for success is frustrated may believe that the cause of this frustration is, not his own ineptitude, but capitalism. For example, the writer who believes himself to be an extraordinary literary genius, but fails as if he were the worst writer humanity has ever known, may attribute his failure to a capitalist society that is incapable of recognizing the literary genius that he himself claims to have.

The second reason is resentment. He who believes that others have undeservedly the success that he should have may become resentful and accuse capitalism of not recognizing his merits. For example, the manager who believes he is an administrative genius, deserving of a coveted corporate promotion, may resent that promotion being awarded to a manager he believes is a miserable management apprentice; and he can attribute to capitalism the reason why he has been the victim of the contempt for the fabulous managerial talent that he attributes to himself.

Frustrated ambition and resentment tend to arise in a society in which success is the work of one's own merit, and not, for example, belonging to a privileged social caste, or the possession of an arrogant noble title.

Precisely in capitalist society the difference between what a human being is and does, and what he believes he is and can do, is manifested. For example, a human being may believe that he is a being endowed with fantastic attributes, and that he may be the author of admirable business feats; but in capitalist society he has to demonstrate that he has those attributes, and that he can be the executor of such feats. If you don't prove it, your belief is a fiction. Not showing it can be humiliating; and one resource to mitigate this humiliation, linked to frustration and resentment, is to blame capitalism, precisely because it does not recognize its attributes and its ability to execute entrepreneurial feats.

Mises claims that the anti-capitalist mentality also arises for non-psychological reasons.

A first reason is to believe that human beings are not happy just because they possess the goods produced by capitalist society. Capitalism, however, only aims to provide material goods, which may or may not contribute to happiness, according to each individual's own individuality and, consequently, according to their purposes, evaluations and choices; which belongs to the world of subjectivity. It is up to each one, then, to seek their happiness; and to provide it, the goods provided by capitalism can be useful.

A second reason is to regret that not everyone can enjoy the goods that capitalist society produces. Capitalism, however, makes it possible for everyone to enjoy the goods it produces in the future. Initially, for example, only some humans owned a cell phone; But now there tends to be a growing number who do, and in some poor countries, like Guatemala, almost everyone owns a cell phone.

A third reason is that capitalism distracts from the pursuit of spiritual goals. However, if a goal of human beings is to improve their material state of life, capitalism contributes to achieving that goal; and once achieved, the human being can pursue or not pursue a spiritual purpose. We can also affirm that capitalism provides means to achieve spiritual ends; but it is alien to such purposes, which can be as many as there are human beings in the world.

A fourth reason is that capitalism is unjust because in Nature there is abundance, and by natural and divine laws no one should appropriate what, by right, is the property of everyone. However, human beings create wealth that is erroneously attributed to Nature. Nature is not intrinsically rich. The human being converts it into wealth; and capitalism has proven to be the most effective means of achieving that conversion. It could never be unfair to convert into wealth what is not wealth.

Post scriptum . Perhaps he whose ambition is frustrated or who resents the success of others, has the hope that the great personal merits he believes he has, not recognized by capitalist society, will be recognized and even glorified in a socialist kingdom. It is explainable, then, that the anti-capitalist mentality engenders an excited socialist mentality.



Luis Enrique Pérez is an Honorary Doctor from the Olga and Manuel Ayau Cordón University. He has been a professor of philosophy in the bachelor's and master's degrees at the Francisco Marroquín University, and a professor of philosophy in the bachelor's degree at the Rafael Landívar University. He has authored at least 3,000 articles. He is co-founder and member of the Pro-Reforma civil association.

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