The Long FAQ on Liberalism
A Critique of the Austrian School of Economics:


Reviewing the political culture of the Austrian school is important for two reasons. First, it shows what kind of world the Austrians were trying to create when they devised their methodology. Second, it shows what kind of political opinions are engendered by applying their methodology to various issues. There is probably a chicken-and-egg effect here, as political views inform theory, and theory informs political views. At any rate, it useful to know the intended consequences of Austrian policies.

Austrian professor David Prychitko describes the political culture of his movement best: Prychitko would appear to be one of the more reasonable members of the Austrian School. But for the most part, the Austrian School has been remarkably hostile towards women, minorities, workers and the environment. Rockwell, the president of the Mises Institute, writes: One presumes the "extraordinary losses" evoked in the above quote refer to corporate profits. Regardless, it's worth noting that in the hundred years before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the environment grew increasingly polluted. In the two decades since, it has grown cleaner. Rockwell's claim is simply unhistorical.

Some of the Rockwell's attacks on liberal constituencies are equally mindless: The worst? Affirmative action doesn't even exist in the private sector -- only in the public sector, or for public contractors. It is curious that Rockwell would single out a racial issue as the prime example of government meddling in the labor market, especially since private labor markets are infinitely more affected by the minimum wage, overtime pay, worker's compensation or OSHA safety regulations. But perhaps Rockwell isn't even referring to affirmative action when he mentions "civil rights legislation" -- perhaps he is alluding to the Civil Rights Act and other legislation that ended Jim Crow laws.

Rockwell also defended the Los Angeles Police Department after its brutal beating of Rodney King was caught on videotape. His public comments drew mixed reactions from the libertarian community; the editor of Liberty heatedly criticized him, but other noted libertarians, like Murray Rothbard, publicly defended him. (4)

The foundational Austrian works, when they wander away from economics and start commenting on social issues, are filled with much unintentional humor. Mises' views on sex and gender equality were neanderthalic even for his time. Before the advent of capitalism, Mises believed, men and women lived by the law of the jungle. Primitive man was greedy and horny, and took defenseless primitive woman "like an object without any will of its own." (5) Only the rise of capitalism brought monogamy into this world, because the "capitalist way of thinking and calculation" gave rise to ordered relationships. (6) As late as 1925 he saw no need for giving women the right to vote, since motherhood is the "highest state of female happiness." (7) He also saw no need to give women equal rights, since "a woman… is simply the lover and mother who serves the sexual drive." (8)

Mises' views of race are similarly enlightened: Mises also had high praise for British colonialism, which he felt benefited all its subjugated peoples, and, indeed, the entire world.

As for workers and everyday people, Mises had nothing but contempt for them. He wrote: And who are the thinkers? Entrepreneurs, of course.

Another important Austrian is Murray Rothbard, whose writings advocating liberty and peace often masked a hostility and prejudice towards the less fortunate. He believed that society is filled with "ineducable masses" who, through public school, are "being dragooned into an institution for which they have little interest or aptitude." (11) Rothbard is a little vague on what these ineducable masses might be suitable for: perhaps cheap and exploitable labor? And all the more exploitable, lacking the education needed to understand and combat their plight.

Rothbard does not attribute the problems of blacks or other minorities to racism and prejudice, but to "those very parasitic values of idleness and irresponsibility" found in those communities. (12)

Rothbard's philosophies are especially harsh against children, stemming from a formulaic application of property rights dogma to the whole subject. His arguments favoring abortion are ones that most pro-choice advocates would reject out of hand. Rothbard viewed the fetus as an invader of the mother's property: Once the child is born, it cannot be killed or maimed, but otherwise it is the absolute property of its parents. They can do whatever they please with it, even sell it on a "flourishing free child market." (14) Nor does age bring any additional rights to the child, as long as it lives with its parents. In fact, parents have no obligation or responsibility to the child in any way; they are entirely within their rights to let it starve to death. Rothbard further argues that no authority should force them to feed, clothe, shelter or care for the child in any way, for to do so would be a violation of the parents' rights.

On several issues, Austrians (like libertarians in general) do favor leftist policies. For example, they generally oppose censorship, war, and drug prohibition. Indeed, libertarians pride themselves with being "socially liberal but economically conservative." Unfortunately, the social views often get short shrift. The Cato Institute, for example, learned long ago to highlight its economic beliefs while ignoring any parallel social philosophies. Likewise, Austrian politics flow from their economic beliefs: that the forces of competition should be completely unleashed, and whatever the losers get is what they deserve. Rothbard candidly admits that "the 'rightist' libertarian is not opposed to inequality." (15). He also admits: How Austrians propose to sell such a dour vision to the nation is a good question. Perhaps they are counting on the "ineducable masses" to accept a hopelessly one-sided deal. To defeat the Austrian School's proposal, all liberals need to do is publicize the Hobbesian nature of it as much as possible.

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1. David Prychitko, "What is Austrian Economics,"

2. Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. (president and founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute), "Why Austrian Economics Matters,"

3. Ibid.

4. Ulrike Heider, Anarchism: Left, Right and Green (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1994), p. 150.

5. Ludwig von Mises, The Market Economy, trans. Danny Lewis, (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1932), p. 68.

6. Ibid., p. 72.

7. Ibid., p. 78.

8. Ibid., p. 80.

9. Ibid., p. 297

10. Ibid., p. 472

11. Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1978), p. 122.

12. Ibid., p. 154.

13. Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Humanities Press, 1978), p. 108.

14. Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1982), p. 102.

15. Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1978), p. 47.

16. Ibid., p. 234.