Friday, October 03, 2008

An Unrealistic Utopia

In Chapter 3 of his book Liberalism In the Classical Tradition, Ludwig von Mises writes, “The starting point of liberal thought is the recognition of the value and importance of human cooperation, and the whole policy and program of liberalism is designed to serve the purpose of maintaining the existing state of mutual cooperation among the members of the human race and of extending it still further. The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction.” This statement paints an utopist picture of the world—all people getting along peacefully. Von Mises maintains that if this were the case, the means of production would freely move from areas less favorable suited for production to those that are more favorable suited. This goes beyond specialization and comparative advantage. This free movement of the means of production would allow humanity to be more productive than ever.

While Von Mises makes a valid point that if the means of production were employed in the environment best suited for production humanity would be more productive, this is highly unrealistic. To envision that all of humanity will be able to lay aside their differences and engage in capitalism together is to create an impracticable and out of reach utopia. Von Mises paints a nice picture of a highly productive and peaceful society, which could even be viewed as the solution to poverty, but it is virtually impossible to obtain. People are not just going to suddenly decide to forget all conflict and cooperate. Even if this did occur and the world reached its productive capacity based on the division of labor and free movement of the means of production, this might have unintended consequences. How much more production can the earth sustain? This becomes an especially prevalent issue in today’s society, with all the concerns about global warming a climate change. If increased production impacts the environment (in the form of global warming/climate change, or other ways), government would then have to intervene to establish policies to protect the environment. This intervention would interrupt the liberal, capitalist society. Because this liberal, capitalist picture of society is littered with questions and “what-ifs”, the question must be asked “is it actually attainable?” Likely, it is not, and is instead an unrealistic utopia.

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