In 1944, Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises made a passionate defense of free enterprise to a group of business leaders at the California Club in Los Angeles. Seven decades later, the same venue hosted an event for the economics institute named for Mises, where scholars and supporters discussed what the beloved thinker would say about what’s happening in the West today.
From mass immigration to social democracy’s ever-growing need for government expansion, Mises Institute President Jeff Deist remarked that Mises certainly would feel cautiously optimistic about the future.
But to the man who wrote that “no one can escape the influence of a prevailing ideology,” the current push for socialism and aggressive aversion to Western culture both in academia and the political class would be a cause for concern.
Even a concession from interventionists that the market plays an important role in society may not be encouraging enough for the Austrian economist.
By 1933, when Mises published “Epistemological Problems of Economics,” the Western world had already been long plagued by hostility to the free market, with socialism serving as the economic philosophy ruling both the Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
It was precisely this revolt against economics that fueled much of what Mises called an age of destructive wars and social disintegration.
Unfortunately, today’s lack of basic understanding of economic laws, along with ruling elites who despise freedom, would be all too familiar to Mises.
Today, he would learn that universities — what he called “nurseries of socialism” in his day — have a much greater power over students.
Socialists organize in sociology departments, shaping the “woke” masses in academia into the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanderses of tomorrow. But that’s not the only place where they shape young minds.
In elementary schools, public libraries and high schools across America, their power to dictate political antagonism toward economics has only grown, giving rise to contempt for concepts and institutions deemed archaic.
Family unity, religion and culture all became targets. And the government officially sanctions this defiance, as more and more academics move from the “nurseries of socialism” into advocacy positions and public policy.
As a growing number of young people see socialism favorably in the West today, Mises would be particularly troubled to think that the failures that system produced — the hundreds of millions killed and starved to death — are completely ignored.
One hundred years after writing what Mr. Deist called the definitive case against socialism, Mises today would shake his head at the growing trend of collectivism. Worse yet, he would have worried about liberty, because of how mass migration is completely reshaping Western culture.
Governments all across the West intervene in their economies. Mises understood that when that’s the case, people manage to secure economic gains for them and their peers by using their influence with the state.
When people of different backgrounds, nations and cultures live under the same government, there’s a conflict for power that translates into social conflict.
Because liberty depends on a series of factors — including culture, ideology and political inclinations — Mises knew that immigrants coming from countries where economic freedom was lacking would end up influencing politics in their new country.
If a massive number of these immigrants arrive and little time is given them to assimilate to the beliefs of their new nations, they have the power to completely shift the political dynamics of their destination countries, bringing the very troubled policies from their origin states to their new home.
With America as well as many countries in Europe welcoming a growing number of immigrants, the policy changes can be seen taking shape right before our eyes.
In the United States, states like California are no longer recognizable. But as the growing support for socialism continues to shape both state and federal policy, the conflict between political groups and different demographics becomes ever more extreme. And as we see political debate turn into threats, the pushback grows much stronger, pitting neighbor against neighbor in a literal fight for survival.
Mises’ response to today’s problems would have been as simple as it was when he watched, in horror, Europe being engulfed by Nazism. We require free trade between willing nations, not free immigration.
In order to go back to an orderly society, Mises encouraged nations to put the focus back on “private property, self-determination, and laissez-faire,” as Mr. Deist told the crowd at the California Club.
To maintain this status at home, Mises urged a foreign policy of peace, explaining how non-interventionist governments do not provoke tensions and start wars, making mass immigration less likely to occur in the first place.
• Alice Salles is a freelance journalist in California.