Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rothbard on the Nature of Libertarianism

 Murray Rothbard during a speech in Chicago in 1979:
The fact is that libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ten Great Economic Myths

By Murray N. Rothbard

Our country is beset by a large number of economic myths that distort public thinking on important problems and lead us to accept unsound and dangerous government policies. Here are ten of the most dangerous of these myths and an analysis of what is wrong with them.

Myth #1

Deficits are the cause of inflation; deficits have nothing to do with inflation.

In recent decades we always have had federal deficits. The invariable response of the party out of power, whichever it may be, is to denounce those deficits as being the cause of our chronic inflation. And the invariable response of whatever party is in power has been to claim that deficits have nothing to do with inflation. Both opposing statements are myths.

Deficits mean that the federal government is spending more than it is taking in taxes. Those deficits can be financed in two ways. If they are financed by selling Treasury bonds to the public, then the deficits are not inflationary. No new money is created; people and institutions simply draw down their bank deposits to pay for the bonds, and the Treasury spends that money. Money has simply been transferred from the public to the Treasury, and then the money is spent on other members of the public.

On the other hand, the deficit may be financed by selling bonds to the banking system. If that occurs, the banks create new money by creating new bank deposits and using them to buy the bonds. The new money, in the form of bank deposits, is then spent by the Treasury, and thereby enters permanently into the spending stream of the economy, raising prices and causing inflation. By a complex process, the Federal Reserve enables the banks to create the new money by generating bank reserves of one-tenth that amount. Thus, if banks are to buy $100 billion of new bonds to finance the deficit, the Fed buys approximately $10 billion of old treasury bonds. This purchase increases bank reserves by $10 billion, allowing the banks to pyramid the creation of new bank deposits or money by ten times that amount. In short, the government and the banking system it controls in effect "print" new money to pay for the federal deficit.

Thus, deficits are inflationary to the extent that they are financed by the banking system; they are not inflationary to the extent they are underwritten by the public.

Some policymakers point to the 1982–83 period, when deficits were accelerating and inflation was abating, as a statistical "proof" that deficits and inflation have no relation to each other. This is no proof at all. General price changes are determined by two factors: the supply of, and the demand for, money. During 1982–83 the Fed created new money at a very high rate, approximately at 15 percent per annum. Much of this went to finance the expanding deficit. But on the other hand, the severe depression of those two years increased the demand for money (i.e. lowered the desire to spend money on goods), in response to the severe business losses. This temporarily compensating increase in the demand for money does not make deficits any the less inflationary. In fact, as recovery proceeds, spending will pick up and the demand for money will fall, and the spending of the new money will accelerate inflation.

Myth #2

Deficits do not have a crowding-out effect on private investment.

In recent years there has been an understandable worry over the low rate of saving and investment in the United States. One worry is that the enormous federal deficits will divert savings to unproductive government spending and thereby crowd out productive investment, generating ever, greater long-run problems in advancing or even maintaining the living standards of the public.

Some policymakers have once again attempted to rebut this charge by statistics. In 1982–83, they declare, deficits were high and increasing, while interest rates fell, thereby indicating that deficits have no crowding,out effect.

This argument once again shows the fallacy of trying to refute logic with statistics. Interest rates fell because of the drop of business borrowing in a recession. "Real" interest rates (interest rates minus the inflation rate) stayed unprecedentedly high, however — partly because most of us expect renewed heavy inflation, partly because of the crowding,out effect. In any case, statistics cannot refute logic; and logic tells us that if savings go into government bonds, there will necessarily be less savings available for productive investment than there would have been, and interest rates will be higher than they would have been without the deficits. If deficits are financed by the public, then this diversion of savings into government projects is direct and palpable. If the deficits are financed by bank inflation, then the diversion is indirect, the crowding-out now taking place by the new money "printed" by the government competing for resources with old money saved by the public.

Milton Friedman tries to rebut the crowding-out effect of deficits by claiming that all government spending, not just deficits, equally crowds out private savings and investment. It is true that money siphoned off by taxes could also have gone into private savings and investment. But deficits have a far greater crowding,out effect than overall spending, since deficits financed by the public obviously tap savings and savings alone, whereas taxes reduce the public's consumption as well as savings.

Thus, deficits, whichever way you look at them, cause. grave economic problems. If they are financed by the banking system, they are inflationary. But even if they are financed by the public, they will still cause severe crowding-out effects, diverting much-needed savings from productive private investment to wasteful government projects. And, furthermore, the greater the deficits the greater the permanent income tax burden on the American people to pay for the mounting interest payments, a problem aggravated by the high interest rates brought about by inflationary deficits.

Myth #3

Tax increases are a cure for deficits.

Those people who are properly worried about the deficit unfortunately offer an unacceptable solution: increasing taxes. Curing deficits by raising taxes is equivalent to curing someone's bronchitis by shooting him. The "cure" is far worse than the disease.

For one reason, as many critics have pointed out, raising taxes simply gives the government more money, and so the politicians and bureaucrats are likely to react by raising expenditures still further. Parkinson said it all in his famous "Law": "Expenditures rise to meet income:' If the government is willing to have, say, a 20 percent deficit, it will handle high revenues by raising spending still more to maintain the same proportion of deficit.

But even apart from this shrewd judgment in political psychology, why should anyone believe that a tax is better than a higher price? It is true that inflation is a form of taxation, in which the government and other early receivers of new money are able to expropriate the members of the public whose income rises later in the process of inflation. But, at least with inflation, people are still reaping some of the benefits of exchange. If bread rises to $10 a loaf, this is unfortunate, but at least you can still eat the bread. But if taxes go up, your money is expropriated for the benefit of politicians and bureaucrats, and you are left with no service or benefit. The only result is that the producers' money is confiscated for the benefit of a bureaucracy that adds insult to injury by using part of that confiscated money to push the public around.

No, the only sound cure for deficits is a simple but virtually unmentioned one: cut the federal budget. How and where? Anywhere and everywhere.

Myth #4

Every time the Fed tightens the money supply, interest rates rise (or fall); every time the Fed expands the money supply, interest rates rise (or fall).

The financial press now knows enough economics to watch weekly money supply figures like hawks; but they inevitably interpret these figures in a chaotic fashion. If the money supply rises, this is interpreted as lowering interest rates and inflationary; it is also interpreted, often in the very same article, as raising interest rates. And vice versa. If the Fed tightens the growth of money, it is interpreted as both raising interest rates and lowering them. Sometimes it seems that all Fed actions, no matter how contradictory, must result in raising interest rates. Clearly something is very wrong here.

The problem here is that, as in the case of price levels, there are several causal factors operating on interest rates and in different directions. If the Fed expands the money supply, it does so by generating more bank reserves and thereby expanding the supply of bank credit and bank deposits. The expansion of credit necessarily means an increased supply in the credit market and hence a lowering of the price of credit, or the rate of interest. On the other : hand, if the Fed restricts the supply of credit and the growth of the money supply, this means that the supply in the credit market declines, and this should mean a rise in interest rates.

And this is precisely what happens in the first decade or two of chronic inflation. Fed expansion lowers interest rates; Fed tightening raises them. But after this period, the public and the market begin to catch on to what is happening. They begin to realize that inflation is chronic because of the systemic expansion of the money supply. When they realize this fact of life, they will also realize that inflation wipes out the creditor for the benefit of the debtor. Thus, if someone grants a loan at 5% for one year, and there is 7% inflation for that year, the creditor loses, not gains. He loses 2%, since he gets paid back in dollars that are now worth 7% less in purchasing power. Correspondingly, the debtor gains by inflation. As creditors begin to catch on, they place an inflation premium on the interest rate, and debtors will be willing to pay. Hence, in the long-run anything which fuels the expectations of inflation will raise inflation premiums on interest rates; and anything which dampens those expectations will lower those premiums. Therefore, a Fed tightening will now tend to dampen inflationary expectations and lower interest rates; a Fed expansion will whip up those expectations again and raise them. There are two, opposite causal chains at work. And so Fed expansion or contraction can either raise or lower interest rates, depending on which causal chain is stronger.

Which will be stronger? There is no way to know for sure. In the early decades of inflation, there is no inflation premium; in the later decades, such as we are now in, there is. The relative strength and reaction times depend on the subjective expectations of the public, and these cannot be forecast with certainty. And this is one reason why economic forecasts can never be made with certainty.

Myth #5

Economists, using charts or high speed computer models, can accurately forecast the future.

The problem of forecasting interest rates illustrates the pitfalls of forecasting in general. People are contrary cusses whose behavior, thank goodness, cannot be forecast precisely in advance. Their values, ideas, expectations, and knowledge change all the time, and change in an unpredictable manner. What economist, for example, could have forecast (or did forecast) the Cabbage Patch Kid craze of the Christmas season of 1983? Every economic quantity, every price, purchase, or income figure is the embodiment of thousands, even millions, of unpredictable choices by individuals.

Many studies, formal and informal, have been made of the record of forecasting by economists, and it has been consistently abysmal. Forecasters often complain that they can do well enough as long as current trends continue; what they have difficulty in doing is catching changes in trend. But of course there is no trick in extrapolating current trends into the near future. You don't need sophisticated computer models for that; you can do it better and far more cheaply by using a ruler. The real trick is precisely to forecast when and how trends will change, and forecasters have been notoriously bad at that. No economist forecast the depth of the 1981–82 depression, and none predicted the strength of the 1983 boom.

The next time you are swayed by the jargon or seeming expertise of the economic forecaster, ask yourself this question: If he can really predict the future so well, why is he wasting his time putting out newsletters or doing consulting when he himself could be making trillions of dollars in the stock and commodity markets?

Myth #6

There is a tradeoff between unemployment and inflation.

Every time someone calls for the government to abandon its inflationary policies, Establishment economists and politicians warn that the result can only be severe unemployment. We are trapped, therefore, into playing off inflation against high unemployment, and become persuaded that we must therefore accept some of both.

This doctrine is the fallback position for Keynesians. Originally, the Keynesians promised us that by manipulating and fine-tuning deficits and government spending, they could and would bring us permanent prosperity and full employment without inflation. Then, when inflation became chronic and ever-greater, they changed their tune to warn of the alleged tradeoff, so as to weaken any possible pressure upon the government to stop its inflationary creation of new money.

The tradeoff doctrine is based on the alleged "Phillips curve," a curve invented many years ago by the British economist A. W. Phillips. Phillips correlated wage rate increases with unemployment, and claimed that the two move inversely: the higher the increases in wage rates, the lower the unemployment. On its face, this is a peculiar doctrine, since it flies in the face of logical, commonsense theory. Theory tells us that the higher the wage rates, the greater the unemployment, and vice versa. If everyone went to their employer tomorrow and insisted on double or triple the wage rate, many of us would be promptly out of a job. Yet this bizarre finding was accepted as gospel by the Keynesian economic establishment.

By now, it should be clear that this statistical finding violates the facts as well as logical theory. For during the 1950s, inflation was only about one to two percent per year, and unemployment hovered around three or four percent, whereas nowadays unemployment ranges between eight and 11 percent, and inflation between five and 13 percent. In the last two or three decades, in short, both inflation and unemployment have increased sharply and severely. If anything, we have had a reverse Phillips curve. There has been anything but an inflation-unemployment tradeoff.

But ideologues seldom give way to the facts, even as they continually claim to "test" their theories by facts. To save the concept, they have simply concluded that the Phillips curve still remains as an inflation-unemployment tradeoff, except that the curve has unaccountably "shifted" to a new set of alleged tradeoffs. On this sort of mind-set, of course, no one could ever refute any theory.

In fact, inflation now, even if it reduces unemployment in the short-run by inducing prices to spurt ahead of wage rates (thereby reducing real wage rates), will only create more unemployment in the long run. Eventually, wage rates catch up with inflation, and inflation brings recession and unemployment inevitably in its wake. After more than two decades of inflation, we are all now living in that "long run."

Myth #7

Deflation — falling prices — is unthinkable, and would cause a catastrophic depression.

The public memory is short. We forget that, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century until the beginning of World War II, prices generally went down, year after year. That's because continually increasing productivity and output of goods generated by free markets caused prices to fall. There was no depression, however, because costs fell along with selling prices. Usually, wage rates remained constant while the cost of living fell, so that "real" wages, or everyone's standard of living, rose steadily.

Virtually the only time when prices rose over those two centuries were periods of war (War of 1812, Civil War, World War I), when the warring governments inflated the money supply so heavily to pay for the war as to more than offset continuing gains in productivity.

We can see how free market capitalism, unburdened by governmental or central bank inflation, works if we look at what has happened in the last few years to the prices of computers. A computer used to have to be enormous, costing millions of dollars. Now, in a remarkable surge of productivity brought about by the microchip revolution, computers are falling in price even as I write. Computer firms are successful despite the falling prices because their costs have been falling, and productivity rising. In fact, these falling costs and prices have enabled them to tap a mass market characteristic of the dynamic growth of free market capitalism. "Deflation" has brought no disaster to this industry.

The same is true of other high-growth industries, such as electronic calculators, plastics, TV sets, and VCRs. Deflation, far from bringing catastrophe, is the hallmark of sound and dynamic economic growth.

Myth #8

The best tax is a "flat" income tax, proportionate to income across the board, with no exemptions or deductions.

It is usually added by flat-tax proponents, that eliminating such exemptions would enable the federal government to cut the current tax rate substantially.

But this view assumes, for one thing, that present deductions from the income tax are immoral subsidies or "loopholes" that should be closed for the benefit of all. A deduction or exemption is only a "loophole" if you assume that the government owns 100 percent of everyone's income and that allowing some of that income to remain untaxed constitutes an irritating "loophole." Allowing someone to keep some of his own income is neither a loophole nor a subsidy. Lowering the overall tax by abolishing deductions for medical care, for interest payments, or for uninsured losses, is simply lowering the taxes of one set of people (those that have little interest to pay, or medical expenses, or uninsured losses) at the expense of raising them for those who have incurred such expenses.

There is furthermore neither any guarantee nor even likelihood that, once the exemptions and deductions are safely out of the way, the government would keep its tax rate at the lower level. Looking at the record of governments, past and present, there is every reason to assume that more of our money would be taken by the government as it raised the tax rate back up (at least) to the old level, with a consequently greater overall drain from the producers to the bureaucracy.

It is supposed that the tax system should be roughly that of pricing or incomes on the market. But market pricing is not. proportional to incomes. It would be a peculiar world, for example, if Rockefeller were forced to pay $1,000 for a loaf of bread — that is, a payment proportionate to his income relative to the average man. That would mean a world in which equality of incomes was enforced in a particularly bizarre and inefficient manner. If a tax were levied like a market price, it would be equal to every "customer," not proportionate to each customer's income.

Myth #9

An income tax cut helps everyone because not only the taxpayer but also the government will benefit, since tax revenues will rise when the rate is cut.

This is the so-called "Laffer curve; set forth by California economist Arthur Laffer. It was advanced as a means of allowing politicians to square the circle; to come out for tax cuts, keeping spending at the current level, and balance the budget all at the same time. In that way, the public would enjoy their tax cuts, be happy at the balanced budget, and still receive the same level of subsidies from the government.

It is true that if tax rates are 99 percent, and they are cut to 95 percent, tax revenue will go up. But there is no reason to assume such simple connections at any other time. In fact, this relationship works much better for a local excise tax than for a national income tax. A few years ago, the government of the District of Columbia decided to procure some revenue by sharply raising the District's gasoline tax. But, then, drivers could simply nip over the border to Virginia or Maryland and fill up at a much cheaper price. D.C. gasoline tax revenues fell, and much to their chagrin and confusion, they had to repeal the tax.

But this is not likely to happen with the income tax. People are not going to stop working or leave the country because of a relatively small tax hike, or do the reverse because of a tax cut.

There are some problems with the Laffer curve. The amount of time it is supposed to take for the Laffer effect to work is never specified. But still more important: Laffer assumes that what all of us want is to maximize tax revenue to the government. If — a big if — we are really at the upper half of the Laffer Curve, we should then all want to set tax rates at that "optimum" point. But why? Why should it be the objective of every one of us to maximize government revenue? To push to the maximum, in short, the share of private product that gets siphoned off to the activities of government? I should think we would be more interested in minimizing government revenue by pushing tax rates far, far below whatever the Laffer Optimum might happen to be.

Myth #10

Imports from countries where labor is cheap cause unemployment in the United States.

One of the many problems with this doctrine is that it ignores the question: why are wages low in a foreign country and high in the United States? It starts with these wage rates as ultimate givens, and doesn't pursue the question why they are what they are. Basically, they are high in the United States because labor productivity is high — because workers here are aided by large amounts of technologically advanced capital equipment. Wage rates are low in many foreign countries because capital equipment is small and technologically primitive. Unaided by much capital, worker productivity is far lower than in the U.S. Wage rates in every country are determined by the productivity of the workers in that country. Hence, high wages in the United States are not a standing threat to American prosperity; they are the result of that prosperity.

But what of certain industries in the U.S. that complain loudly and chronically about the "unfair" competition of products from low-wage countries? Here, we must realize that wages in each country are interconnected from one industry and occupation and region to another. All workers compete with each other, and if wages in industry A are far lower than in other industries, workers — spearheaded by young workers starting their careers — would leave or refuse to enter industry A and move to other firms or industries where the wage rate is higher.

Wages in the complaining industries, then, are high because they have been bid high by all industries in the United States. If the steel or textile industries in the United States find it difficult to compete with their counterparts abroad, it is not because foreign firms are paying low wages, but because other American industries have bid up American wage rates to such a high level that steel and textile cannot afford to pay. In short, what's really happening is that steel, textile, and other such firms are using labor inefficiently as compared to other American industries. Tariffs or import quotas to keep inefficient firms or industries in operation hurt everyone, in every country, who is not in that industry. They injure all American consumers by keeping up prices, keeping down quality and competition, and distorting production. A tariff or an import quota is equivalent to chopping up a railroad or destroying an airline — for its point is to make international transportation artificially expensive.

Tariffs and import quotas also injure other, efficient American industries by tying up resources that would otherwise move to more efficient uses. And, in the long run, the tariffs and quotas, like any sort of monopoly privilege conferred by government, are no bonanza even for the firms being protected and subsidized. For, as we have seen in the cases of railroads and airlines, industries enjoying government monopoly (whether through tariffs or regulation) eventually become so inefficient that they lose money anyway, and can only call for more and more bailouts, for even more of a privileged shelter from free competition.

(Originally published at Free Market Special Issue 1984 via

Monday, February 20, 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Milo to Deliver Keynote at CPAC

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has announced that Milo Yiannopoulos will deliver a keynote speech at this year's conference.

Other speakers will include Vice President Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, John Bolton, Nigel Farage, and Ted Cruz.

The conference will be held from February 22-25 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, MD

Friday, February 17, 2017

Breaking Out of the Walrasian Box: The Cases of Schumpeter and Hansen

By Murray N. Rothbard

 Since World War II, mainstream neoclassical economics has followed the general equilibrium paradigm of Swiss economist Leon Walras (1834-1910).1 Economic analysis now consists of the exegesis and elaboration of the Walrasian concept of general equilibrium, in which the economy pursues an endless and unchanging round of activity—what the Walrasian Joseph Schumpeter aptly referred to as “the circular flow.” Since the equilibrium economy is by definition a changeless and unending round of robotic behavior, everyone on the market has perfect knowledge of the present and the future, and the pervasive uncertainty of the real world drops totally out of the picture. Since there is no more uncertainty, profits and losses disappear, and every business firm finds that its selling price exactly equals its cost of production.
     It is surely no accident that the rise to dominance of Walrasian economics has coincided with the virtual mathematization of the social sciences. Mathematics enjoys the prestige of being truly “scientific,” but it is difficult to mathematize the messy and fuzzy uncertainties and inevitable errors of real world entrepreneurship and human actions. Once one expunges such actions and uncertainties, however, it is easy to employ algebra and the tangencies of geometry in analyzing this unrealistic but readily mathematical equilibrium state.
     Most mainstream economic theorists are content to spend their time elaborating on the general equilibrium state, and simply to assume that this state is an accurate presentation of real world activity. But some economists have not been content with contemplating general equilibrium; they have been eager to apply this theory to the real world of dynamic change. For change clearly exists, and for some Walrasians it has not sufficed to simply translate general equilibrium analysis to the real world and to let the chips fall where they may.
     As someone who has proclaimed that Leon Walras was the greatest economist who ever lived, Joseph A. Schumpeter (1883-1950) faced this very problem. As a Walrasian, Schumpeter believed that general equilibrium is an overriding reality; and yet, since change, entrepreneurship, profits, and losses clearly exist in the real world, Schumpeter set himself the problem of integrating a theoretical explanation of such change into the Walrasian system. It was a formidable problem indeed, since Schumpeter, unlike the Austrians, could not dismiss general equilibrium as a long-run tendency that is never reached in the real world. For Schumpeter, general equilibrium had to be the overriding reality: the realistic starting point as well as the end point of his attempt to explain economic change.2
     To set forth a theory of economic change from a Walrasian perspective, Schumpeter had to begin with the economy in a real state of general equilibrium. He then had to explain change, but that change always had to return to a state of equilibrium, for without such a return, Walrasian equilibrium would only be real at one single point of past time and would not be a recurring reality. But Walrasian equilibrium is a world of unending statis; specifically, it depicts the consequences of a fixed and unchanging set of individual tastes, techniques, and resources in the economy. Schumpeter began, then, with the economy in a Walrasian box; the only way for any change to occur is through a change in one or more of these static givens.
      Furthermore, Schumpeter created even more problems for himself. In the Walrasian model, profits and losses were zero, but a rate of interest continued to be earned by capitalists, in accordance with the alleged marginal productivity of capital. An interest charge became incorporated into costs. But Schumpeter was too much of a student of Böhm-Bawerk to accept a crude productivity explanation of interest. The Austrian approach was to explain interest by a social rate of time preference, of the market’s preference for present goods over future goods. But Schumpeter rejected the concept of time-preference as well, and so he concluded that in a state of general equilibrium, the rate of interest as well as profits and losses are all zero.
      Schumpeter acknowledged that time-preference, and hence interest, exist on consumption loans, but he was interested in the production structure. Here he stressed, as against the crude productivity theory of interest, the Austrian concept of imputation, in which the values of products are imputed back to productive factors, leaving, in equilibrium, no net return. Also, in the Austrian manner, Schumpeter showed that capital goods can be broken down ultimately into the two original factors of production, land and labor.3 But what Schumpeter overlooked, or rather rejected, is the crucial Böhm-Bawerkian concept of time and time-preference in the process of production. Capital goods are not only embodied land and labor; they are embodied land, labor, and time, while interest becomes a payment for “time.” In a productive loan, the creditor of course exchanges a “present good” (money that can be used now) for a “future good” (money that will only be available in the future). And the primordial fact of time-preference dictates that every one will prefer to have wants satisfied now than at some point in the future, so that a present good will always be worth more than the present prospect of the equivalent future good. Hence, at any given time, future goods are discounted on the market by the social rate of time-preference.
     It is clear how this process works in a loan, in an exchange between creditor and debtor. But Böhm-Bawerk’s analysis of time-preference and interest went far deeper, and far beyond the loan market for he showed that time-preference and hence interest return exist apart from or even in the absence of any lending at all. For the capitalist who purchases or hires land and labor factors and employs them in production is buying these factors with money (present good) in the expectation that they will yield a future return of output, of either capital goods or consumer goods. In short, these original factors, land and labor, are future goods to the capitalist. Or, put another way, land and labor produce goods that will only be sold and hence yield a monetary return at some point in the future; yet they are paid wages or rents by the capitalist now, in the present.
      Therefore, in the Böhm-Bawerkian or Austrian insight, factors of production, hence workers or landowners, do not earn, as in neoclassical analysis, their marginal value product in equilibrium. They earn their marginal value product discounted by the rate of time-preference or rate of interest. And the capitalist, for his service of supplying factors with present goods and waiting for future returns, is paid the discount.4 Hence, time-preference and interest income exist in the state of equilibrium, and not simply as a charge on loans but as a return earned by every investing capitalist.
Schumpeter can deny time-preference because he can somehow deny the role of time in production altogether. For Schumpeter, production apparently takes no time in equilibrium, because production and consumption are “synchronized.”5 Time is erased from the picture, even to the extent of assuming away accumulated stocks of capital goods, and therefore of any age structure of distribution of such goods.6 Since production is magically “synchronized,” there is then no necessity for land and labor to receive any advances from capitalists. As Schumpeter writes:
There is no necessity [for workers or landowners] to apply for any “advances” of present consumption goods. . . . The individual need not look beyond the current period. . . . The mechanism of the economic process sees to it that he also provides for the future at the same time. . . . Hence every question of the accumulation of such stocks [of consumer goods to pay laborers] disappears.
     From this bizarre set of assumptions, “it follows”, notes Schumpeter, “that everywhere, even in a trading economy, produced means of production are nothing but transitory items. Nowhere do we find a stock of them fulfilling any functions.” In denying, further, that there is any “accumulated stock of consumer goods” ready to pay laborers and landowners, Schumpeter is also denying the patent fact that wages and rents are always paid out of the accumulated savings of capitalists, savings which could have been spent on consumer goods but which laborers and landowners will instead spend with their current incomes.
     How can Schumpeter come to this conclusion? One reason is that when workers and landowners exchange their services for present money, he denies that these involve “advances” of consumer goods, because “It is simply a matter of exchange, and not of credit transactions. The element of time plays no part.” What Schumpeter overlooks here is the profound Böhm-Bawerkian insight that the time market is not merely the credit market. For when workers and landowners earn money now for products that will only reap a return to capitalists in the future, they are receiving advances on production paid for out of capitalist saving, advances for which they in effect pay the capitalists a discount in the form of an interest return.7
     In most conceptions of final equilibrium, net savings are zero, but interest is high enough to induce gross saving by capitalists to just replace capital equipment. But in Schumpeter’s equilibrium, interest is zero, and this means that gross saving is zero as well. There appear to be neither an incentive for capitalists to maintain their capital equipment in Schumpeterian equilibrium nor the means for them to do so. The Schumpeterian equilibrium is therefore internally inconsistent and cannot be maintained.8
     Lionel Robbins puts the case in his usual pellucid prose:
If there were no yield to the use of capital . . . there would be no reason to refrain from consuming it. If produced means of production are not productive of a net product, why devote resources to maintaining them when these resources might be devoted to providing present enjoyment? One would not have one’s cake rather than eat it, if there were no gain to be derived from having it. It is, in short, an interest rate, which, other things being given, keeps the stationary state—the rate at which it does not pay to turn income into capital or capital into income. If interest were to disappear the stationary state would cease to be stationary. Schumpeter can argue that no accumulation will be made once stationary equilibrium has been attained. But he is not entitled to argue that there will be no decumulation unless he admits the existence of interest.9 (emphasis added)
     To return to Schumpeter’s main problem, if the economy begins in a Walrasian general equilibrium modified by a zero rate of interest, how can any economic change, and specifically how can economic development, take place? In the Austrian-Böhm-Bawerkian view, economic development takes place through greater investment in more roundabout processes of production, and that investment is the result of greater net savings brought about by a general fall in rates of time-preference. Upon such a fall, people are more willing to abstain from consumption and to save a greater proportion of their incomes, and thereby invest in more capital and longer processes of production. In the Walrasian schema, change can only occur through alterations in tastes, techniques, or resources. A change in time-preference would qualify as a very important aspect of a change in consumer “tastes” or values.
     But for Schumpeter, there is no time-preference, and no savings in equilibrium. Consumer tastes are therefore irrelevant to increasing investment, and besides there are no savings or interest income out of which such investment can take place. A change in tastes or time-preferences cannot be an engine for economic change, and neither can investment in change emerge out of savings, profit, or interest.
     As for consumer values or tastes apart from time-preference, Schumpeter was convinced that consumers were passive creatures and he could not envision them as active agents for economic change.10 And even if consumer tastes change actively, how can a mere shift of demand from one product to another bring about economic development?
     Resources for Schumpeter are in no better shape as engines of economic development than are tastes. In the first place, the supplies of land and labor never change very rapidly over time, and furthermore they cannot account for the necessary investment that spurs and embodies economic growth.
      With tastes and resources disposed of, there is only one logically possible instrument of change or development left in Schumpeter’s equilibrium system: technique. “Innovation” (a change in embodied technical knowledge or production functions) is for Schumpeter the only logically possible avenue of economic development. To admire Schumpeter, as many economists have done, for his alleged realistic insight into economic history in seeing technological innovation as the source of development and the business cycle, is to miss the point entirely. For this conclusion is not an empirical insight on Schumpeter’s part; it is logically the only way that he can escape from the Walrasian (or neoWalrasian) box of his own making; it is the only way for any economic change to take place in his system.
     But if innovation is the only way out of the Schumpeterian box, how is this innovation to be financed? For there are no savings, no profits, and no interest returns in Schumpeterian equilibrium. Schumpeter is stuck: for there is no way within his own system for innovation to be financed, and therefore for the economy to get out of his own particularly restrictive variant of the Walrasian box. Hence, Schumpeter has to invent a deus ex machina, an exogenous variable from outside his system that will lift the economy out of the box and serve as the only possible engine of economic change. And that deus ex machina is inflationary bank credit. Banks must be postulated that expand the money supply through fractional reserve credit, and furthermore, that lend that new money exclusively to innovators—to new entrepreneurs who are willing and able to invest in new techniques, new processes, new industries. But they cannot do so because, by definition, there are no savings available for them to invest or borrow.
     Hence, the conclusion that innovation is the instrument of economic change and development, and that the innovations are financed by inflationary bank credit, is not a perceptive empirical generalization discovered by Joseph Schumpeter. It is not an empirical generalization at all; indeed it has no genuine referent to reality. Suggestive though his conclusion may seem, it is solely the logical result of Schumpeter’s fallacious assumptions and his closed system, and the only logical way of breaking out of his Walrasian box.
     One sees, too, why for Schumpeter the entrepreneur is always a disturber of the peace, a disruptive force away from equilibrium, whereas in the Austrian tradition of von Mises and Kirzner, the entrepreneur harmoniously adjusts the economy in the direction of equilibrium. For in the Austrian view the entrepreneur is the main bearer of uncertainty in the real world, and successful entrepreneurs reap profits by bringing resources, costs, and prices further in the direction of equilibrium. But Schumpeter starts, not in the real world, but in the never-never land of general equilibrium which he insists is the fundamental reality. But in the equilibrium world of stasis and certainty there are no entrepreneurs and no profit. The only role for entrepreneurship, by logical deduction, is to innovate, to disrupt a preexisting equilibrium. The entrepreneur cannot adjust, because everything has already been adjusted. In a world of certainty, there is no room for the entrepreneur; only inflationary bank credit and innovation enable him to exist. His only prescribed role, therefore, is to be disruptive and innovative.
     The entrepreneur, then, pays interest to the banks, interest for Schumpeter being a strictly monetary phenomenon. But where does the entrepreneurinnovator get the money to pay interest? Out of profits, profits that he will reap when the fruits of his innovation reach the market, and the new processes or products reap revenue from the consumers. Profits, therefore, are only the consequence of successful innovation, and interest is only a payment to inflationary banks out of profit.
     Inflationary bank credit means, of course, a rise in prices, and also a redirection of resources toward the investment in innovation. Prices rise, followed by increases in the prices of factors, such as wages and land rents. Schumpeter has managed, though not very convincingly, to break out of the Walrasian box. But he has not finished his problem. For it is not enough for him to break out of his box; he must also get back in. As a dedicated Walrasian, he must return the economy to another general equilibrium state, for after all, by definition a real equilibrium is a state to which variables tend to return once they are replaced. How does the return take place?
     For the economy to return to equilibrium, profits and interest must be evanescent. And innovation of course must also come to an end. How can this take place? For one thing, innovations must be discontinuous; they must only appear in discrete clusters. For if innovation were continuous, the economy would never return to the equilibrium state. Given this assumption of discontinuous clusters, Schumpeter found a way: When the innovations are “completed” and the new processes or new products enter the market, they out-compete the old processes and products, thereby reaping the profits out of which interest is paid. But these profits are made at the expense of severe losses for the old, now inefficient, firms or industries, which are driven to the wall. After a while, the innovations are completed, and the inexorable imputation process destroys all profits and therefore all interest, while the sudden losses to the old firms are also ended. The economy returns to the unchanging circular flow, and stays there until another cluster of innovations appears, whereupon the cycle starts all over again.
     “Cycle” is here the operative term, for in working out the logical process of breakout and return, Schumpeter has at the same time seemingly developed a unique theory of the business cycle. Phase I, the breakout, looks very much like the typical boom phase of the business cycle: inflationary bank credit, rise in prices and wages, general euphoria, and redirection of resources to more investment. Then, the events succeeding the “completion” of the innovation look very much like the typical recession or depression: sudden severe losses for the old firms, retrenchment. And finally, the disappearance of both innovation and euphoria, and eventually of losses and disruption—in short, a return to a placid period which can be made to seem like the state of stationary equilibrium.
     But Schumpeter’s doctrine only seems like a challenging business cycle theory worthy of profound investigation. For it is not really a cycle theory at all. It is simply the only logical way that Schumpeter can break out and then return to the Walrasian box. As such, it is certainly an ingenious formulation, but it has no genuine connection with reality at all.
     Even within his own theory, indeed, there are grave flaws. In the Walrasian world of perfect certainty (an assumption which is not relaxed with the coming of the innovator), how is it that the old firms wait until the “completion” of the innovation to find suddenly that they are suffering severe losses? In a world of perfect knowledge and expectations, the old firms would know of their fate from the very beginning, and early take steps to adjust to it. In a world of perfect expectations, therefore, there would be no losses, and therefore no recession or depression phase. There would be no cycle as economists know it.
      Finally, Schumpeter’s constrained model can only work if innovations come in clusters, and the empirical evidence for such clusters is virtually nil.11 In the real world, innovations occur all the time. Therefore, there is no reason to postulate any return to an equilibrium, even if it had ever existed in the past.
     In conclusion, Schumpeter’s theory of development and of business cycles has impressed many economists with his suggestive and seemingly meaningful discussions of innovation, bank credit, and the entrepreneur. He has seemed to offer far more than static Walrasian equilibrium analysis and to provide an economic dynamic, a theoretical explanation of cycles and of economic growth. In fact, however, Schumpeter’s seemingly impressive system has no relation to the real world at all. He has not provided an economic dynamic; he has only found an ingenious but fallacious way of trying to break out of the static Walrasian box. His theory is a mere exercise in equilibrium logic leading nowhere.
     It is undoubtedly at least a partial realization of this unhappy fact that prompted Schumpeter to expand his business cycle theory from his open-cycle model of the Theory of Economic Development of 1912 to his three-cycle schema in his two-volume Business Cycles nearly three decades later.12 More specifically, Schumpeter saw that one of the problems in applying his model to reality was that if the length of the boom period is determined by the length of time required to “complete” the innovation and bring it to market, then how could his model apply to real life, where simultaneous innovations occur, each of which requires a different time for its completion? His later three-cycle theory is a desperate attempt to encompass such real-life problems. Specifically, Schumpeter has now postulated that the economy, instead of unitarily breaking out and returning to equilibrium, consists of three separate hermetically sealed, strictly periodic cycles—the “Kitchin”, the “Juglar,” and the “Kon-dratieff”—each with the same innovation-inflation-depression characteristics. This conjuring up of allegedly separate underlying cycles, each cut off from the other, but all adding to each other to yield the observable results of the real world, can only be considered a desperate lapse into mysticism in order to shore up his original model.
     In the first place, there are far more than three innovations going on at one time in the economy, and there is no reason to assume strict periodicity of each set of disparate changes. Indeed, there is no such clustering of innovations as would be required by the theory. Secondly, in the market economy, all prices and activities interact; there therefore can never be any hermetically sealed cycles. The multicycle scheme is an unnecessary and heedless multiplication of entities in flagrant violation of Occam’s Razor. In an attempt to save the theory, it asserts propositions that cannot be falsifiable, since another cycle can always be conjured up to explain away anomalies.13 In an attempt to salvage his original model, Schumpeter only succeeded in adding new and greater fallacies to the old.
     In the years before and during World War II, the most popular dynamic theory of economic change was the gloomy doctrine of “secular stagnation” (or “economic maturity”) advanced by Professor Alvin H. Hansen.14 The explanation of the Great Depression of the 1930s, for Hansen, was that the United States had become mired in permanent stagnation, from which it could not be lifted by free market capitalism. A year or two after the publication of Keynes’s General Theory, Hansen had leaped on the New Economics to become the leading American Keynesian; but secular stagnation, while giving Keynesianism a left-flavor, was unrelated to Keynesian theory. For Keynes, the key to prosperity or depression was private investment: flourishing private investment means prosperity; weak and fitful investment leads to depression. But Keynes was an agnostic on the investment question, whereas Hansen supplied his own gnosis. Private investment in the United States was doomed to permanent frailty, Hansen opined, because (1) the frontier was now closed; (2) population growth was declining rapidly; and (3) there would be hardly any further inventions, and what few there were would be of the capital-saving rather than labor-saving variety, so that total investment could not increase.
     George Terborgh, in his well-known reputation of the stagnation thesis, The Bogey of Economic Maturity, concentrated on a statistical critique.15 If the frontier had been “closed” since the turn of the century, why then had there been a boom for virtually three decades until the 1930s? Population growth too, had been declining for many decades. It was easy, also, to demolish the rather odd and audacious prediction that few or no further inventions, at least of the labor-saving variety, would ever more be discovered. Predictions of the cessation of invention, which have occurred from time to time through history, are easy targets for ridicule.
     But Terborgh never penetrated to the fundamentals of the Hansen thesis. In an age beset by the constant clamor of population doomsayers and zero-population-growth enthusiasts, it is difficult to conjure up an intellectual climate when it seemed to make sense to worry about the slowing of population growth. But why, indeed, should Hansen have considered population growth as ipso facto a positive factor for the spurring of investment? And why would a slowing down of such growth be an impetus to decay? Schumpeter, in his own critique of the Hansen thesis, sensibly pointed out that population growth could easily lead to a fall in real income per capita.16
     Ironically, however, Schumpeter did not recognize that Hansen, too, in his own way, was trying to break out of the Walrasian box. Hansen began implicitly (not explicitly like Schumpeter) with the circular flow and general equilibrium, and then considered the various possible factors that might change—or, more specifically, might increase. And these were the familiar Walrasian triad: land, labor, and technique. As Terborgh noted, Hansen had a static view of “investment opportunities.” He treated them as if they were a limited physical entity, like a sponge. They were a fixed amount, and when that maximum amount was reached, investment opportunities were “saturated” and disappeared. The implicit Hansen assumption is that these opportunities could be generated only by increases in land, labor, and improved techniques (which Hansen limited to inventions rather than Schumpeterian innovations). And so the closing of the frontier meant the drying up of “land-investment opportunities”, as one might call them, the slowing of population growth, the end of “labor-investment opportunities,” leading to a situation where innovation could not carry the remaining burden. And so Hansen’s curious view of the economic effects of diminishing population growth, as gloomily empirical as it might seem, was not really an empirical generalization at all. Indeed, it said nothing about dynamic change or about the real world at all. The allegedly favorable effect of high population growth was merely the logical spinning out of Hansen’s own unsuccessful variant of trying to escape from the Walrasian box.
     And so Hansen’s curious view of the economic effects of diminishing population growth, as gloomily empirical as it might seem, was not really an empirical generalization at all. Indeed, it said nothing about dynamic change or about the real world at all. The allegedly favorable effect of high population growth was merely the logical spinning out of Hansen’s own unsuccessful variant of trying to escape from the Walrasian box.
The author learned the basic insights of this article many years ago from lectures of Professor Arthur F. Burns at Columbia University.
  • 1.Before World War II, the dominant paradigm, at least in Anglo-American economics, was the neo-Ricardian partial equilibrium theory of Alfred Marshall. In that era, Walras and his followers, the earliest being the Italian Vilfredo Pareto, were referred to as “the Lausanne school.” With the Walrasian conquest of the mainstream, what was once a mere school has now been transformed into “microeconomics.”
  • 2.In maintaining that Schumpeter was more influenced by the Austrians than by Walras, Mohammed Khan overlooks the fact that Schumpeter’s first book, and the only one still untranslated into English, Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt der Theoretischen Nationalekonomie (The Essence and Principal Contents of Economic Theory) (Leipzig, 1908), written while he was still a student of Böhm-Bawerk, was an aggressively Walrasian work. Not only is Das Wesen a nonmathematical apologia for the mathematical method, but it is also a study in Walrasian general equilibrium that depicts economic events as the result of mechanistic quantitative interactions of physical entities, rather than as consequences of purposeful human action—the Austrian approach. Thus, Fritz Machlup writes that Schumpeter’s emphasis on the character of economics as a quantitative science, as an equilibrium system whose elements are “quantities of goods,” led him to regard it as unnecessary, and, hence, as methodologically mistaken for economics to deal with “economic conduct” and with “the motives of human conduct” (Fritz Machlup, “Schumpeter’s Economic Methodology,” Review of Economics and Statistics 33 (May 1951: 146-47). Cf. Mohammed Shabbir Khan, Schumpeter’s Theory of Capitalist Development (Aligarh, India: Muslim University of India, 1957). On Das Wesen, see Erich Schneider, Joseph Schumpeter: Life and Work of a Great Social Scientist (Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Bureau of Business Research, 1975), pp. 5-8. On Schumpeter as Walrasian, also see Schneider, “Schumpeter’s Early German Work, 1906-17,” Review of Economics and Statistics (May 1951): 1-4; and Arthur W. Marget, “The Monetary Aspects of the Schumpeterian System,” ibid. p. 112ff. On Schumpeter as not being an “Austrian,” also see “Haberler on Schumpeter,” in Henry W. Spiegel, ed., The Development of Economic Thought (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1952), pp. 742-43.
  • 3.Thus, Schumpeter wrote that in the normal circular flow the whole value product must be imputed to the original productive factors, that is to the services of labor and land; hence the whole receipts from production must be divided between workers and landowners and there can be no permanent net income other than wages and rent. Competition on the one hand and imputation on the other must annihilate any surplus of receipts over outlays, any excess of the value of the product over the value of the services of labor and land embodied in it. The value of the original means of production must attach itself with the faithfulness of a shadow to the value of the product, and could not allow the slightest permanent gap between the two to exist. . . . To be sure, produced means of production have the capacity of serving in the production of goods. . . . And these goods also have a higher value than those which could be produced with the produced means of production. But this higher value must also lead to a higher value of the services of labor and land employed. No element of surplus value can remain permanently attached to these intermediate means of production (Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry Into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 160, 162).
  • 4.See the attack on this Austrian view from a Knightian neoclassical perspective in Earl Rolph, “The Discounted Marginal Productivity Doctrine,” in W. Fellner and B. Haley, eds., Readings in the Theory of Income Distribution (Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1946), pp 278-93. For a rebuttal, see Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State vol. I (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing Co., 1970), 431-33.
  • 5.On this alleged synchronization, see Khan, Schumpeter’s Theory, pp. 51, 53. The concept of synchronization of production is a most un-Austrian one that Schumpeter took from John Bates Clark, which in turn led to the famous battle in the 1930s between the Clark-Knight concept of capital and the Austrian views of Hayek, Machlup, and Boulding. See ibid., p. 6n. Also see F.A. Hayek, “The Mythology of Capital,” in Fellner and Haley, Readings, pp. 355-83.
  • 6.In Khan’s words, for Schumpeter “capital cannot have any age structure and perishes in the very process of its function of having command over the means of production” (Khan, Schumpeter’s Theory, p. 48). Schumpeter achieves this feat by sundering capital completely from its embodiment in capital goods, and limiting the concept to only a money fund used to purchase those goods. For Schumpeter, then, capital (like interest) becomes a purely monetary phenomenon, not rooted in real goods or real transactions. See Schumpeter, Economic Development, pp. 116-17.
  • 7.See Schumpeter, Economic Development, pp. 43-44.
  • 8.Clemence and Doody attempt to refute this charge, but do so by assuming a zero rate of time-preference. Capitalists would then be interested in maximizing their utility returns over time without regard for when they would be reaped. Hence, capital goods would be maintained indefinitely. But for those who believe that everyone has a positive rate of time-preference, and hence positively discounts future returns, a zero rate of return would quickly cause the depletion of capital and certainly the collapse of stationary equilibrium. Richard V. Clemence and Francis S. Doody, The Schumpeterian System (Cambridge, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1950), pp. 28-30.
  • 9.In the excellent critique of Schumpeter’s zero-interest equilibrium by Lionel Robbins, “On a Certain Ambiguity in the Conception of Stationary Equilibrium,” Economic Journal 40 (June 1930): pp. 211-14. Also see Gottfried Haberler, “Schumpeter’s Theory of Interest,” Review of Economics and Statistics (May 1951): 122ff.
  • 10.Thus, Schumpeter wrote: “It is not the large mass of consumers which induces production. On the contrary, the crowd is mastered and led by the key personalities in production” (italics are Schumpeter’s) in “Die neuere Wirtschaftstheorie in den Vereinigten Staaten” (“Recent Economic Theory in the United States”) Schmollers Jahrbuch (1910), cited in Schneider, Joseph A. Schumpeter, p. 13.
  • 11.See Simon S. Kuznets, “Schumpeter’s Business Cycles,” American Economic Review (June 1940).
  • 12.Joseph A. Schumpeter, Business Cycles: A Theoretical, Historical, and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process, 2 vols. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939).
  • 13.This does not mean that all propositions must be falsifiable; they can be selfevident or deduced from self-evident axioms. But no one can claim that the alleged Kitchin, Juglar, and Kondratieff cycles are in any sense self-evident.
  • 14.See Alvin H. Hansen, Fiscal Policy and Business Cycles (New York: W.W. Norton, 1941). For a clear summary statement of his position, see Hansen, “Economic Progress and Declining Population Growth,” in G. Haberler, ed., Readings in Business Cycle Theory (Philadelphia: Blakiston, 1944), pp. 366-84.
  • 15.George Terborgh, The Bogey of Economic Maturity (Chicago: Machinery and Allied Products Institute, 1945).
  • 16.Schumpeter, Business Cycles, p. 74.
The above originally appeared at

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Steve Bannon Believes Winter Is Coming

"History is seasonal and winter is coming.”
No, that’s not a Game of Thrones quote. It’s the last line of a 2010 documentary called Generation Zero, written and directed by Steven K. Bannon. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Strauss and Howe claimed that history runs in cycles.

Bannon is President Donald Trump’s senior counselor and chief ideologist. So great is his sway over the “leader of the free world” that Time Magazine recently dubbed him “the second most powerful man in the world.” He allegedly wrote most of Trump’s scathing inaugural address. He recently secured a seat in the National Security Council. And many observers see his fingertips on much of the administration’s initial flurry of executive orders, including the controversial travel ban.
Given this power, understanding Bannon’s belief that “winter is coming” to America becomes urgent. His lurid documentary was entirely premised on a theory of history formulated by William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. Howe himself delivered the film’s ominous closing prediction.
The Vision
Strauss and Howe claimed that history runs in cycles, each lasting roughly 80 years. Each cycle, or saeculum, consist of four phases, or “turnings.” By “winter,” Howe and Bannon were referring to the hugely important “fourth turning,” a cataclysmic crisis that ends an era and ushers in the next.
According to Strauss and Howe, all of the last three fourth turnings in American history culminated in wars, each bigger than the last: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. In “Generation Zero,” Bannon argues that the country is due for another fourth turning, and that the 2008 financial crisis, bailouts, and ensuing Tea Party reaction represented the beginning of the next one.
According to David Kaiser, one of the historians featured in “Generation Zero,” Bannon believes the coming “winter” will continue the pattern of being even worse than the last. Kaiser recalled Bannon making the extrapolation during the production of the film:
“You have the American Revolution, you have the Civil War, you have World War II; they’re getting bigger and bigger. Clearly, he was anticipating that in this Fourth Turning there would be one at least as big.”
It’s reasonable to infer that “at least as big” as World War II implies World War III.
Bannon seems to elaborate on the shape of this global clash in remarks made in subsequent years. In 2014, Bannon told an audience of conservative Catholic activists that, “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” in which his audience would be compelled to fight for their beliefs against “this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”
“We’re In a War”
Bannon then detailed three “converging tendencies” leading to “this new barbarity.”
Bannon’s crusader rhetoric finds its mirror image in the ideology of ISIS.

The first consisted of two pernicious strands of capitalism that he regarded as antithetical to what he called “enlightened capitalism.” There was the crony capitalism that was his chief target in “Generation Zero.” He also condemned “libertarian capitalism” for commodifying human beings.
The second strand was “an immense secularization of the West” and especially the youth.
Then he raised the third strand, saying “we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.” He later added, “we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.”
Later in the Q&A period, Bannon said:
“If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places…”
In November 2015, over a year later, his position had not changed. Bannon said, “…we’re in a war. We’re clearly going into, I think, a major shooting war in the Middle East again.”
Bannon’s crusader rhetoric finds its mirror image in the ideology of ISIS, which explicitly seeks to eliminate what it calls the “grayzone” of religious and cultural co-existence and to polarize the world into two warring camps: the “Crusader Camp” and the “Camp of (extremist) Islam.” The jihadis, like Bannon, believe that a global, apocalyptic “clash of civilizations” is inevitable.They seek to hasten that crisis by using terror attacks to elicit brutal western responses (like persecuting immigrants and Trump’s recent child-slaughtering raid in Yemen) in order to alienate and radicalize formerly non-violent Muslims. ISIS reportedly celebrated Trump’s sweeping immigration, even dubbing it “the blessed ban,” because it “shows that there is a clash of civilizations, that Muslims are not welcome in America etc."
While he regards radical Islam as the most pressing conflict, it is not the only one. In March 2016, Bannon anticipated a war with China:
“We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years. There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face – and you understand how important face is – and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.”
Many anti-war libertarians hoped that the Trump administration would not only end the neocon-led era of Middle East interventionism but also thaw the new cold war with Russia. But in his 2014 remarks, Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, said that even Putin would eventually have to be dealt with and that any current detente was merely strategic, for the purpose of dealing with the more pressing Islamic threat:
“Because at the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that wants to expand. However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.”
Bannon seems to see conflict everywhere he looks: paranoid visions of expansionist incursions from all directions. This is symptomatic of what Ludwig von Mises called “warfare sociology.” According to Mises, such an ideology rejects the classical liberal notion of a natural harmony of interests based on the universal benefits of social cooperation and the division of labor. Instead, warfare sociology is rooted in an underlying philosophy according to which no party can gain except at the expense of another. In such a “zero sum” world, conflict among opposing interests is unavoidably endemic. In left-wing ideologies, this manifests as class warfare and identity politics. In right-wing ideologies, it manifests as culture warfare and the many manifestations of nationalism: protectionism (of which Bannon is an ardent advocate), wars, and geopolitical power plays. As Mises wrote:
“In principle class ideology is no different from national ideology. In fact there is no contrast between the interests of particular nations and races. It is national ideology which first creates the belief in special interests and turns nations into special groups which fight each other. Nationalist ideology divides society vertically; the socialist ideology divides society horizontally.”
Double-Timing History’s March
Historical determinists are rarely content to sit back and watch history unfurl.

All of this amounts to a bleak winter indeed. It might otherwise be dismissed as harmless crackpottery if it was not weaponized by Bannon’s sway over the man with the nuclear codes.
True believers in rigid theories of history tend toward fanatical, impervious dogmatism. Every major development is interpreted as a portent that confirms their theory: as another step in the inexorable march of history. And all evidence to the contrary is ignored or dismissed as insignificant counter-currents within the grand, unidirectional flow.
And historical determinists are rarely content to sit back and watch history unfurl. Like the Marxists, they often feel compelled to help along and hasten the inevitable. And prophecies of an inevitable war tend to be self-fulfilling when the prophet is in the position to start one. Steve Bannon, in bringing on the very winter he foresees, could be Cassandra and Agamemnon in one.
Dan Sanchez is Managing Editor of His writings are collected at
This article was originally published on Read the original article.