15 Jun 2010

Salon Advances a Devastating Argument Against the Austrian School

All Posts 11 Comments

Bob Roddis sends this along, with the comment, “This is getting pathetic.”

Until they perfect cloning technology, I do not have the time to comment on this. I will have to stoop to the methods of my opponents and simply quote this, letting it speak for itself:

Liberals want to turn America into Europe! This recurrent theme of conservative propaganda is now being promoted by the new president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Arthur C. Brooks…

It is true that many American progressives idealize Europe to a fault. The late Robert Heilbroner said that his model society was “a slightly idealized Sweden.” Other liberals seem to take particular features of particular European countries — French rapid transit, German environmentalism and Swedish social insurance — in order to create a composite “Europe” that leaves out the aspects of European society that Americans are inclined to find unpleasant, like pushy French shopkeepers, trashy German tabloids and foul-smelling Swedish lutefisk.

But if anything, there are more Europhiles on the American right than on the American left. In every area of public policy — economics, foreign policy, even art and architecture — American conservatives worship European intellectuals, most of them long dead, when they are not calling for the U.S. to adopt the ways of particular European societies of yesteryear.

Let’s start with economics. Last time I checked, “laissez-faire” was French. In its application to economics, the phrase goes back to the late 17th century, when the French finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, asked a group of French businessmen how the government could help them and is supposed to have been told, “Laissez-nous faire” (“Leave us alone”). The “let-alone” theory was central to the 18th century economic school of the Physiocrats, led by Francois Quesnay and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot. Adam Smith popularized much of their thinking in “The Wealth of Nations,” which might as well have been written in French.

Then there is Jean-Baptiste Say, the author of Say’s Law, which claims that “supply produces its own demand.” Say is a hero of contemporary conservatives and libertarians, who routinely invoke Say’s Law to claim that Keynes was wrong to believe that there could be such a thing as insufficient aggregate demand. It seems a bit disingenuous for conservatives to attack liberals as Europhiles, when the right is always invoking the authority of Say’s 1803 Traite d’economie politique.

The American right also includes a number of economists and economic journalists who call themselves “Austrians” and specialize in denouncing other libertarians for not understanding true libertarianism. Imagine what the right would say about a school of American liberals who went around proudly calling themselves “Germans” or “Hungarians.” The so-called Austrian School of economics was founded by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. von Hayek. Imagine what the right would say about a school of American liberals who worshipped the Two Vons.

By the way, if you want to say, “The guy is just making a point about a silly conservative talking point,” then you need to read his essay. He’s not just saying, “We all revere Europeans,” he goes on to say that the liberals revere workable European ideas, whereas the so-called conservatives revere obsolete, unworkable European ideas.

11 Responses to “Salon Advances a Devastating Argument Against the Austrian School”

  1. Daniel Hewitt says:

    Michael Lind. I knew it before I clicked on the link. And yep, it’s him.

    Reading the sidebar articles on Salon, instead of sticking to Greenwald’s blog, can be hazardous to your intellectual well-being.

    A fitting quote from Billy Madison, that applies well to Lind:

    Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • Yancey Ward says:

      LOL!! Me,too. Was 100% sure after the very first paragraph.

  2. fundamentalist says:

    That is devastating! I think I’ll just stick my head in the oven and turn on the gas!

  3. Sean A says:

    Good to see they’ve got their history spot on. Ludwig von Mises and Hayek founded the Austrian school? I suppose Barak Obama invented Neo-conservatism and Bush invented progressivism (erm… or was it the other way around?) And didn’t the “founding fathers” come over spouting those damn Europeans’ ideas? True patriots turn to Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull for their philosophic and economic ideologies.
    Of course, we all know how thoroughly the European governments fully and thoroughly implemented the ideas of Mises, Hayek, et. al. So can we really distinguish between these ideas and those of the Labor parties which gripped European politics since Marx (or its predecessor, absolute monarchism and Feudalism)? In the words of saint Krugman: “gobbledygook”

  4. PirateRothbard says:

    This is really Lind’s style. He doesn’t usually address the merits of an argument, but attempts to look at the political origins and/or the political feasibility of a movement. I’m not totally shocked by this essay.

  5. Greg Ransom says:

    From the pen of that great waste of space, Michael Lind.

  6. Greg Ransom says:

    There’s a national left wing talk radio host with a southern accent who goes on and on about Goldman Sachs and those radical free market _neocons_.

    It’s always “neocons” and its always “Goldman Sachs”. It’s never J. P. Morgan or the libertarians.

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what this leftist is selling.

  7. Hans Palmstierna says:

    Give this guy a medal, for at least having the honesty to admit that arguments no longer need content, that logic is just one of those “fashionable debate styles” and that reality is in fact a highly debatable term. Next week, we delve into the art of predicting the next president by rolling ourselves in boiled sheep-intestines and gluing our eyes together with duct-tape.

  8. Matt J. says:

    I would’ve commented on Lind’s article but I couldn’t muster up enough morale to sign-up to Salon.com

  9. Matt J. says:

    “…then they fight you…”

  10. Andrea says:

    I like French fries and French toast. Does that mean I can’t be Libertarian? I never realized what a fool I had been.