Freeman

ARTICLE

Economists and Politicians

MARCH 01, 1956 by LUDWIG VON MISES

Filed Under : Ludwig von Mises

There are no ivory towers to house economists. Whether he likes it or not, the economist is always dragged into the turmoil of the arena in which nations, parties and pressure groups are battling. Nothing absorbs the minds of our contemporaries more intensely than the pros and cons of economic doctrines. Economic issues engross the attention of modern writers and artists more than any other problem. Philosophers and theologians deal today more often with economic themes than with those topics which were once considered as the proper field of philosophical and theological studies. What divides mankind into two hostile camps, whose violent clash may destroy civilization, is antagonistic ideas with regard to the economic interpretation of human life and action.

Politicians proclaim their utter contempt for what they label as “mere theory.” They pretend that their own approach to economic problems is purely practical and free from any dogmatic prepossessions. They fail to realize that their policies are determined by definite assumptions about causal relations, i.e., that they are based on definite theories. Acting man, in choosing certain means for the attainment of ends aimed at, is necessarily always guided by “mere theory”; there is no practice without an underlying doctrine. In denying this truth, the politician tries in vain to withdraw from the criticism of the economists the faulty, self-contradictory and a hundred times refuted misapprehensions directing his conduct of affairs.

The social function of economic science consists precisely in developing sound economic theories and in exploding the fallacies of vicious reasoning. In the pursuit of this task the economist incurs the deadly enmity of all mountebanks and charlatans whose shortcuts to an earthly paradise he debunks. The less these quacks are able to advance plausible objections to an economist’s argument, the more furiously do they insult him.

Plain Talk, September 1949

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March 1956

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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