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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9789/ought-can-and-calculation/

Ought, Can, and Calculation

April 14, 2009 by

We’re discussing Mises’s “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” in Classical & Marxian Political Economy today, and I’m planning to distribute Steve Horwitz’s excellent (and short) essay “Ought Presupposes Can.” Mises’s demonstration of the impossibility of economic calculation without private ownership of the means of production is an incredibly important contribution to social theory, and its implications for the feasibility of government intervention are considerable. Any social policy must be economically possible before it can be considered morally desirable; borrowing Steve’s title it has to be shown that there is a “can” before there can be an “ought.” The implication of Mises’s thesis is that many assumed interventionist “cans” are in fact “cannots.” Therefore, a number of interventionist “oughts” have to be eliminated from ethical debate. John Lennon was free to imagine all he wanted and people were free to join him, but in light of the Austrian analysis of a world with “no possessions” he and his cadre of dreamers were wasting their time.

Cross-posted at Division of Labour.

{ 16 comments }

Steve Horwitz April 14, 2009 at 10:36 am

Thanks for that link Art. A revised version of that piece, and one unlinked from the particular context of the original piece, will be coming out any day in the May issue of The Freeman.

David April 14, 2009 at 10:50 am

Basically you’ve refuted just about every argument I’ve ever heard for Social Justice via State intervention. Well done and thank you. I’ll reference this often I’m sure.

newson April 14, 2009 at 10:55 am

i understood this book better from reading afterwards hülsmann, salerno and hoppe on mises’ interpretation of the socialist problem, and why his take was correct and hayek, robbins and kirzner’s flawed.

http://mises.org/journals/rae/pdf/RAE10_1_2.pdf
http://mises.org/journals/rae/pdf/RAE6_2_5.pdf
http://mises.org/journals/rae/pdf/RAE9_1_13.pdf

DNA April 14, 2009 at 11:39 am

I fully agree with newson. I would also highly recommend Hulsmann’s introduction to Epistemological Problems of Economics (which I believe can be downloaded from this site), for a discussion of Mises’ value theory in relation to the calculation issue.

fundamentalist April 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Economics was first called the dismal science by Thomas Carlyle who argued for slavery. His opponents were anti-slavery economists like JS Mill. (see Wikipedia’s article “dismal science.”)

From a socialist perspective, it deserves the name because real economics destroys utopias and delusions and forces people to face the limitations of reality. For capitalists it deserves the title of the vital science, because it enriches the poor, frees the slave, and enobles the individual.

Wilhelm Raschke April 14, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Today however, “ought” supersedes “can”. It is a widely held belief (especially on the left) that reality is merely “a projection” of human conciseness; a manifestation of the will. This notion is the underlying premise of the saying “anything is possible”. Pigs could indeed sprout wings and flying if they really wanted to. Therefore because the limitations of reality pose no obstacle to the enlightened modern mind neither do logic or reason.

newson April 14, 2009 at 7:47 pm

to dna,
thanks for the pointer. i’ve not read either hülsmann’s introduction, nor the book proper.

Philemon April 14, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Ought implies can.

DNA April 14, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Here’s a link to the Mises book with the aforementioned introduction by Hulsmann:

http://mises.org/books/epistemological.pdf

Skye April 14, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Kant offered his “ought implies can” as an argument for free will. and interesting cross over, but nonetheless appealling

obviously, hard determinism counters with “can’t implies nought” or something, for if all action is physiologically caused, then the will is all ready determined, invalidating any ethics that presuppose counter factual alternatives.

although, i don’t believe kant asserted “ought necessitates can”

Nick E April 15, 2009 at 8:32 am

Nought implies can’t. By contrapositive.

Deefburger April 15, 2009 at 10:10 am

@ Wilhelm Raschke
“Today however, “ought” supersedes “can”. It is a widely held belief (especially on the left) that reality is merely “a projection” of human conciseness; a manifestation of the will. This notion is the underlying premise of the saying “anything is possible”. Pigs could indeed sprout wings and flying if they really wanted to. Therefore because the limitations of reality pose no obstacle to the enlightened modern mind neither do logic or reason.”

I think the problem word here is “merely”. The difficulty is in the source of the Will. In the free market, the will is “merely” the will of all the individuals combined, buyers and sellers. In the conscious reality model, the will is the will of all the conscious elements combined. Yes, pigs could sprout wings and fly if they wanted to, and they had the means to convince all of the other conscious entities that are realizing this reality that this is true and can be done. Not very likely, but possible. Second, the pigs must have the will and the idea of flight, in order to have the intent that is necessary to project their change of their reality to something that includes them having wings. Pigs are not that imaginative.

But manifesting “miraculous” change, such as sprouting wings is not really the best and most efficient use of conscious energy and will, even if it is possible. Consider that the number of conscious particles within a 150lb human, that is the number of fundamental particles, is approx 20×10^30 particles. The possibility of convincing them all to “sprout wings” has a probability of about 0. Jesus might have done it, but most can’t get the will power to “spout less gut” by simply not eating a doughnut!

The truth is, you really do create your reality, in cahoots with everything else around. You are a manifestation of the will of the conciseness that you are, and everything else around you.

This does not excuse you from having to act responsibly, or outside the common goal of lower entropy. The manifestation is shared, by default. It’s a collective illusion if you will. Your being is a subset of consciousness of the whole. All men are created equal…

All of reality is a “thought”, an “idea” of conscious existence, and as such is endowed with the same set of rules and abilities throughout. But just because the rules don’t rule out some possibilities, doesn’t mean they are practical to consider! Anything is possible, but only the lower-entropy possibilities are likely. Sprouting wings on a pig is better done by putting him on a plane.

The collective consciousness model does not support miracles as the norm. Sure, it does not exclude them either. Just as free-markets don’t exclude the possibility of group interaction, such as an Amish community within the larger capitalist free society. The freedom makes all things possible, but it is the realization of the potential to create that manifests the probability. Building a car by BUILDING a car is more probable than “thinking one up” and ZING it’s in the driveway!

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by confusing possibility with probability. Yes, flying pigs is possible. No, flying pigs is not probable. So from the standpoint of collective consciousness, logic and reason are not necessary, but they are not bad to have when you are a human being trying to fly. You can spend the next 30years trying to “think” wings on your back though meditation, clean living and prayer. OR you can build yourself an ultralight and be flying next week. Which choice uses less time and lower energy? Which one requires less conscious effort? Which one is probable?

By the way, pigs fly all the time, it’s how they get to Washington! And the Fed miraculously creates money out of thin air! Better than Chris Angel those guys!

Jay Greathouse April 15, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Which of Marx’s 3 phases will you compare?

The first, the one that started it all based upon his middle years and provides the theory for the “Old Left” seems the easiest target. However, this does not represent Marx’s conclusion, only the part of his work that is easiest to attack.

The second, the one based upon his earlier work and provides the theory for the “New Left” solves many of the issues revealed by critics focused upon his middle years.

The third, the one based upon previously unpublished work still very difficult to obtain or even read, from his later years in which he examines pre-capitalist peasant socialist societies and notes his faulty conclusions in his earlier work.

The latter appears congruent with raw materials economics and seems to not conflict with the work of von Mises.

If you choose either of the first two, it seems to me that at three logical fallacies are committed, since properly speaking only the third phase accurately represents his mature thought.

Perhaps in the name of academic honesty anyone who wishes to discuss Marx would be advised to go through the effort to read and understand the actual conclusions to which Marx arrived and not merely pick and choose the easy targets intermediate in his thought process.

newson April 15, 2009 at 7:12 pm

jay greathouse says:

“The third, the one based upon previously unpublished work still very difficult to obtain or even read, from his later years in which he examines pre-capitalist peasant socialist societies and notes his faulty conclusions in his earlier work.”

how credible is this? difficult to obtain in the world of internet? please provide evidence where mises’ socialist calculation debate falters.

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onos dennis November 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

send me calculation in economics at various standard

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