June 3, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (IV): Confusion or Calumny?

Austro-libertarians proudly document how capitalists were heavily involved in the creation of the modern state (in both its welfare and warfare dimensions, we might add) and continue to be in its maintenance, from which they profit. But Mr. Ferrara does not wish to leave his readers with an impression of significant factual agreement between himself and his Austro-libertarian adversaries. His words prepared to admit poison that common ground, insinuating that they “concede” it, reluctantly, as it were, against ideological self-interest. (See yesterday’s post.) Nor will he allow this “admission” to stand unaccompanied by further casting of aspersions on Austro-libertarian motives:
. . . they do so with a very convenient inconsistency that allows them to condemn any kind of government intervention in favor of employees or consumers because it would interfere with the processes of the “unhampered market,” when they have already conceded that the market is not “unhampered” in the first place precisely because of massive government interventions in favor of big business among other factors. (12-13; emphasis in original.—A.F.)
As we argued in a previous post, the “unhampered market” was an object in the theoretical space of Ludwig von Mises (and that of many other economists, Misesian and non-Misesian). Theoretical constructs or “models” enable one to analyze otherwise humanly unmanageable complexities, whether generated by, say, subatomic particle collision or, radically differently, interpersonal property exchange. Models are not intended to account for historical contingencies or to help assign historical praise or blame any more than they are to account for why a particular physical, chemical, or biological event occurs.
Now, it is hard to tell whether Mr. Ferrara’s repeated confusion on this point, on which most of his case against Austro-libertarianism rests, is due to his intellectual inability to grasp this point, which would be morally innocent; or due to his refusal to do so, which is not so innocent. Our commitment to norms of charitable construction inclines us to the former alternative.
Working against that, however, is his suggestion that a “very convenient inconsistency” warps Austro-libertarian discourse. By what warrant does Mr. Ferrara impute disreputable motive to them? Intellectual confusion could account for his seeing a non-existent “inconsistency” in another’s thought, but he gives the game away when he describes as “very convenient.”
The theoretical model of the unhampered market illuminates the actual transactions of indubitably real persons with their flesh-and-blood divergences from that model. At least that is what Austro-libertarians claim for it, nothing more, nothing less. They have never conducted their researches in an ivory tower: the author of Human Action was, after all, a Gestapo target.
Human persons, even in their fallen state, can be intellectually converted to a standpoint informed by a true economic model; having grasped the certain consequences of disregarding that model, they may, by a further moral conversion, freely decide to attempt to realize that model as far as is humanly possible this side of the New Heavens and New Earth. The undeniable reality of human persons is the ontological ground of intelligent, reasonable, and responsible reference to free markets.
To Be Continued