Ludwig von Mises on the nature of planning and interventionism

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March 1, 2012 by galudwig

I haven’t posted an interesting quote in a long time, so here is one from the incomparable Ludwig von Mises, on the subject of what interventionism actually means, regardless of its stated objectives. It is taken from Planned Chaos, a small and highly recommended book, freely downloadable from

What the interventionist aims at is the substitution of police pressure for the choice of the consumers. All this talk: the state should do this or that, ultimately means: the police should force consumers to behave otherwise than they would behave spontaneously.

This is something that is almost always forgotten by people who claim that “we” should do this or that. In a statement such as “we should protect employees from being exploited, therefore we have to institute a minimum wage”, the “we” doesn’t actually mean “you and I”. What is really meant by a statement such as that is “the government should use their police power to prohibit spontaneously arising wage contracts below a certain, arbitrarily chosen rate”.

More from the same book:

The planner is a potential dictator who wants to deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute preeminence of his own plan.

One would think that arguments such as these would sound archaic and be entirely obsolete by now. Yet there are all too many people, pundits and professional intellectuals today who still posit “planning” and “order” against “unstable/arbitrary/unplanned markets” and “chaos”. The implication of Mises’ argument is twofold: the market is not an unruly chaos, but is the result of individuals all planning for themselves, and a planner or social engineer seeks to recreate society in his or her own vision, without regard to what those who will be forced to comply with this vision want. The clear dictatorial tendency of planners is something which in my opinion is not talked about nearly enough.

On a sidenote, many misesians/rothbardians dismiss many of Hayek’s ideas on social evolution because he seems to condone certain state monopolizations. But I for one find Hayek’s writings on spontaneous order to be invaluable in understanding why and how planning on the count of individuals is orderly, and also think it is in no way irreconcilable with the misesian or rothbardian viewpoint, on the contrary. In Planned Chaos, Mises seems to be making, in passing, a very similar argument as Hayek does in The Fatal Conceit (and, to a lesser degree, in The Constitution of Liberty)..

Again, I strongly recommend reading Planned Chaos. It’s short, powerful and, like so many of Mises’ writing, surprisingly applicable to contemporary society.


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