All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1981

Unemployment


The worker looks upon unemployment as an evil. He would like to avoid it provided the sacrifice is not too grievous. He chooses between employment and unemployment in the same way in which he proceeds in all other actions and choices: he weighs the pros and cons. If he chooses unemployment this unemployment is a market phenomenon whose nature is not different from other market phenomena as they appear in a changing market economy. We may call this kind of unemployment market-generated or catallactic unemployment.

Catallactic unemployment must not be confused with institutional unemployment. Institutional unemployment is not the outcome of the decisions of individual job-seekers. It is the effect of interference with the market phenomena intent upon enforcing by coercion and compulsion wage rates higher than .those the unhampered market would have determined.

Real wage rates can rise only to the extent that, other things being equal, capital becomes more plentiful. If the government or the unions succeed in enforcing wage rates which are higher than those the unhampered market would have determined, the supply of labor exceeds the demand for labor. Institutional unemployment emerges.

Firmly committed to the principles of interventionism, governments try to check this undesired result of their interference by resorting to those measures which are nowadays called full-employment policy: unemployment doles, arbitration of labor disputes, public works by means of lavish public spending, inflation and credit expansion. All these remedies are worse than the evil they are designed to remove.

Assistance granted to the unemployed does not dispose of unemployment. It makes it easier for the unemployed to remain idle. The nearer the allowance comes to the height at which the unhampered market would have fixed the wage rate, the less incentive it offers to the beneficiary to look for a new job. It is a means of making unemployment last rather than of making it disappear. The disastrous financial implications of unemployment benefits are manifest.

On the unhampered market there is always for each type of labor a rate at which all those eager to work can get a job. The final wage rate is that rate at which all job-seekers get jobs and all employers [get] as many workers as they want to hire. Its height is determined by the marginal productivity of each type of work.

Unemployment in the unhampered market is always voluntary.


  • Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) taught in Vienna and New York and served as a close adviser to the Foundation for Economic Education. He is considered the leading theorist of the Austrian School of the 20th century.