Thomas Fleming’s criticism of Ludwig von Mises and his student, Friedrich von Hayek (“Abuse Your Illusions,” Perspective, January), overlooks or misinterprets major contributions of both.  In Socialism (1922), Mises was the first economist to show the unworkability of socialist systems.  He based his analysis on the impossibility of establishing a price structure for the various means of production and thus the absence of a mechanism for allocating resources in a reasonably efficient manner.  In other words, he demonstrated the essential character of information—information that no central planner can possibly accumulate because most of it is subjective and fleeting.  This brings up his other important contribution: the subjective nature of value.  The value of something (material, of course) is what someone is willing to pay for it, not, for example, the quantity of labor that went into it. 

Hayek carried the analysis of information dependence further and then began the application of “self-ordering” to any economic system.  Self-ordering or “spontaneous organization” was first proposed during the Scottish Enlightenment (e.g., Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”) but had been forgotten.  Hayek’s revival of the concept was an important contribution, although he regrettably failed to pursue it.  Hence, putting down Hayek with respect to this concept, as Fleming seems to have done, is completely unjustified.

The resuscitation of the economic ideas of Mises and Hayek is laying to rest the whole Keynesian enterprise.  Older economists and a few younger ones with political agendas still push Keynes’ ideas, but an increasing number of younger ones are abandoning them for Mises and Hayek.  Admittedly (but not surprisingly), the approach of Mises and Hayek is incomplete, as are the approaches of even the very wisest economists.  This lack should not obscure their very significant contributions.

        —Robert C. Whitten
Cupertino, CA

I enjoyed Thomas Fleming’s analysis of the shortcomings of economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek in developing a corresponding theory of morality and human values.  Although Hayek often criticized modern materialists and socialists, he lent solid support to much of their ideology and method.  He attributed his education in the methodology of science to Bertrand Russell, the chief spokesman for logical positivism.

Like Karl Marx, Hayek writes that Christianity is a curious jumble of myths that allowed mankind to assimilate the values of capitalism and facilitated the development of free markets and industrial society.  In Science and Socialism, Hayek remarks, “We do not owe our morals to our intelligence: we owe them to the fact that some groups uncomprehendingly accepted certain rules of conduct—the rules of private property, of honesty, and of the family—that enabled the groups to prosper, multiply, and gradually replace others . . . But the fact that our morals are not the result of man’s supreme intelligence explains why we all so much dislike them.”

Hayek also wrote that Christianity, having served its appointed task, is an historical relic.  “There can,” he writes, “be no doubt that moral and religious beliefs can destroy a civilization and that when such doctrines prevail not only the most cherished beliefs but also the most revered moral leaders may become a grave danger . . . we can protect ourselves only by subjecting our dearest desires to ruthless rational dissection.”

Hayek was very suspicious of the power of nation-states, their tendency to make war, and their ability to disrupt the magical perfection and scientific efficiency of the invisible hand.  This explains why, in The Road to Serfdom, Hayek calls for a world superstate similar to the one promoted by the Fabian society and the World Federalists.  Anticipating the appearance of today’s Blue Helmets—the United Nation’s world police force—by almost half a century, Hayek, in 1944, outlined his “true system of law which guarantees both that the certain rules are invariably enforced and that the authority to enforce those [rules] cannot use it for any other purpose, for its task of enforcing the common law the supernational authority must be very powerful.”  It might have been best if Hayek had limited himself to elaborating on the intricacies of the free market.

        —David J. Peterson
Chicago, IL

Dr. Fleming Replies:

I neither overlooked nor misinterpreted the contributions of Mises and Hayek to economic theory.  Since I was writing an article about political theory and social ethics, I cannot imagine why anyone would expect any interpretation of economic theory.  The absurdity of Marxist political and economic theory was noted in Marx’s lifetime and after his death by many sane people (e.g., W.H. Mallock).

Bad economic systems crumble under the weight of their own contradictions of human nature, and although poverty is a great misfortune, it is not the inefficiencies of Marxism that are so terrible but the inhuman coercion practiced by communist countries against the basic tendencies and institutions of human life: marriage, the family, competition, loyalty, patriotism, ambition, etc.  Communists replaced the traditional view of human nature—rooted in nature, revelation, and history—with a materialist theory that deprives human beings of their freedom and dignity.  Unfortunately, Mises is no less a materialist than Marx and no less a moral relativist than any of the other self-appointed gurus who have promised to liberate us from our traditions and superstitions.

I have no quarrel with atheists and moral relativists proclaiming their blind allegiance to Ludwig von Mises; indeed, I admire more than a few of them.  What I do object to is the palpable fraud that one can be a Christian Misesian or a “Catholic libertarian.”  Yes, Mises and Hayek did yeoman service in pointing out the absurdity of economic planning, and if I ever need someone to tell me to ask the federal government to surrender some of its power, I’ll be sure to call on the Misesians.  For the rest of life, Mises is of no use.  Render under Mises the things that are Mises . . .