I’ve revised my schedule and put together a list of reading assignments for my “Capitalism and Socialism” course that I will teach through the Mises Academy. It’s pretty much all stuff that’s available for $0 online. Here are some more specific details on each of our five meetings and the reason we’re doing it.
I’m teaching this class for a couple of reasons. First, we need to make sure we know exactly what we’re talking about. Too often, people throw around words loosely and sloppily. They might define “capitalism” as “anything bad” and “socialism” as “anything good” or vice versa.
Most importantly, people tend to identify the desirability of particular policies with the stated goals of those policies rather than the ultimate effects those policies will produce. If prices are too high, we impose price ceilings. If prices are too low, we impose price floors. If economic growth is lackluster and we don’t like the distribution of income, we can socialize the means of production and put economic decisions in the hands of experts. In short, we substitute coercion for persuasion, or we use violence to make obligatory that which would otherwise be voluntary.
The purpose of this course will be to explore the effects of such schemes both theoretically and empirically. We will do this over the course of five weekly meetings and through a number of reading, video, and audio assignments. The main texts for the course are Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, Friedrich Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order, Ludwig von Mises’s Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, and Marx and Engels’s “Communist Manifesto.” Every week, you will get a couple of basic readings or videos that will guide the lecture and a handful of suggestions for advanced study for more advanced students or students who want to explore the themes we discuss in greater detail. Almost everything I will use for the course is already online for a price of $0.
As I’ve mentioned, we will meet five times on Thursday evenings from 7-8:30 PM Eastern. In our first meeting, we will consider “Capitalism, Socialism, and the Mixed Economy.” We will frame the debate, define our terms, and set the stage for what follows. In the second meeting, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,” we will evaluate the theoretical critique of socialism that originates in Mises’s article of that title. Our third meeting will consider “Capitalism and Socialism in Practice.” We will look at how different capitalist and socialist systems have worked in the past.
In spite of protestations to the contrary, it’s pretty clear that capitalism has outperformed socialism on the margins we consider narrowly “economic.” Critics of free-market capitalism today argue that perhaps it has allowed us to gain the world but at the cost of our souls and at the cost of a degraded and dirtied natural environment. Our fourth meeting will consider “The Cultural and Environmental Critique of Capitalism” and will find these critiques wanting.
We will finish by considering “The Persistence and Popularity of Interventionism.” In our last meeting, we will ask why interventionism—and, to a lesser degree, socialism—remain popular. We will consider different explanations for why this is the case and then turn the criticism back on ourselves to see how we know capitalism “works” and socialism “doesn’t.”
We get started on March 31. I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope you will join us.