Monday, September 3, 2018

The End of Socialism and Mises's Statue

Oskar Lange (1904-1965)

By Murray Rothbard

In his supposedly definitive article of 1936 vindicating economic calculation under socialism, Oskar Lange delivered a once-famous gibe at Ludwig von Mises. Lange began his essay by ironically hailing Mises's services to socialism: "Socialists have certainly good reason to be grateful to Professor Mises, the great advocatus diaboli of their cause. For it was his powerful challenge that forced the socialists to recognize the importance of an adequate system of economic accounting … the merit of having caused the socialists to approach this problem systematically belongs entirely to Professor Mises." Lange then went on to taunt Mises:

Both as an expression of recognition for the great service rendered by him and as a memento of the prime importance of sound economic accounting, a statue of Professor Mises ought to occupy an honorable place in the great hall of the Ministry of Socialization or of the Central Planning Board of the socialist state.

Lange went on to say that "I am afraid that Professor Mises would scarcely enjoy what seemed the only adequate way to repay the debt of recognition incurred by the socialists … " For one thing, Lange concluded, to complete Mises's discomfiture

a socialist teacher might invite his students in a class on dialectical materialism to go and look at the statue, in order to exemplify the Hegelian List der Vernuft [cunning of Reason] which made even the staunchest of bourgeois economists unwittingly serve the proletarian cause.
Curiously enough, Lange, during his years as socialist planner in Poland, never got around to erecting the statue to Mises at the Ministry of Socialization in Warsaw. Perhaps socialist planning was not successful enough to accord Mises that honor — or perhaps there were not enough resources to build the statue. In any case, the opportunity has been lost. The countries of Eastern Europe now stand in the rubble wrought by what used to be called in the 1930s "the great socialist experiment." Emerging gloriously out of the rubble of the collapse of socialism are a myriad of Misesian economists, to whom socialism is little more than a grisly joke. Even as early as the 1960s it was a common quip among economists that, at international economic conferences, "the Western economists talk about the glories of planning while the Eastern economists talk about the virtues of the free market." Now Misesian economists are springing out of the ruins of socialism in Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia (especially Croatia and Slovenia) and the Soviet Union. Neither socialist planning nor Marxism-Leninism hold any charms for the economists of the once-socialist nations.

In all of these countries, the giant statues of Lenin are being unceremoniously toppled from the public squares. Whether or not the coming free societies of Eastern Europe choose to replace them with statues of Ludwig von Mises, as the prophet of their liberation, one thing seems certain: there will be no statues erected to Oskar Lange in Cracow or Warsaw. It is hard to see how even the cunning of Reason and the Hegelian dialectic can make Lange out to be a prophet or an important contributor to the laissez-faire Polish economy of the future. Perhaps the closet approach was a bitter quip pervading Eastern Europe during the revolutionary year of 1989: "Communism can be defined as the longest route from capitalism to capitalism.

The above originally appeared online at Mises.org.