Apropos Austrian Aphorisms

the T(hesaurus)-Rex of blogs chomping on malapropos market malapropisms

February 2008 - Posts

 Within my study of technical communication I rarely encounter economic and philosophic ideas. But every once in a while some come along, especially because the current topic in my lone rhetoric class is laissez faire capitalism. So here are a few I encountered today.


  1. Copyright laws, or intellectual property laws in general, are necessary for people to profit from their labor.
    In my print production processes class a discussion on copyright laws and legal protection with regard to the use of typefaces and fonts was raised. There were druthers raised not so much about the validity of such laws but actual enforcement (as I raised the question asking how prevalent court cases involving type fonts were). The conversation dwindled off with a shrug-of-the-shoulders comment from one woman after sort of questioning the need for type front copyrights, saying, "I guess I'd want to be compensated if I created a type face."

    This is an issue I've encountered often recently in my debates against intellectual property: People are afraid creators, inventors, et cetera. won't be given their just payment for their work if there aren't laws to enforce the protection of their created works. My first response to this concern would be related to something I read out of The Quotable Mises last night; and Mises states, "The buyers do not pay for the toil and trouble the worker took nor for the length of time he spent in working. They pay for the products." Precisely: When people exchange money for a good they are not paying the wages of the worker who produced their purchased good; they are exchanging money, quite a matter of fact, for the good. The wage of the worker — that is, the money exchanged for the worker's service — occurs similarly. When a worker is paid, his employer exchanges money for a good just as the consumer exchanges money for a product. It just so happens that in the employer's case he is exchanging money for the service of the worker. And the worker? He is exchanging his labor — manifested in the products he produces for the consumer — for payment, money: a wage.

    No compulsion of law enforces this transaction. Nay, it is the perceived mutual benefit of all parties involved that brings about the worker, the creator, the inventor's payment. If someone creates a type font he will be compensated because a) he was paid to create a novel type front or b) he already created a novel type font and someone values the permission of the type front's creator over a certain sum of payment — i.e., licensing of the type font. Cooperation, not compulsion, brings about compensation; intellectual property laws are a form of compulsion.
  2. The amount of wealth one accrues is proportional to the amount of work one undertakes.
    This theme recurs everyday in my rhetoric class over our current subject of capitalism. We are reading selected works by men such as Horatio Alger, Andrew Carnegie, William H. Councill: all of whom profess their undying admiration for man's mortal toil to accumulate as much wealth as possible. Thus, by their mere inclusion, and exclusion of any other competing idea as the de facto view of what capitalism involves, the argument presented to my class equates capitalism with excessive wealth for excessive toil — that any shortcoming or poverty of life is owed to each man's fault and inability to work greatly. These are more lifestyle pontifications by these men and not economic treatises. The fundamental fact that capitalism is an economic system, whereby the means of production are privately owned and goods are massively produced, is conveniently ignored. Instead the focus is on the view that capitalism involves cutthroat competition where any man can act as he wishes and profits how he likes, even at the expense of others. The respect for private property rights is, as well, conveniently ignored.

    That this economic fact of capitalism is overlooked might have been enough for me to shake my head at, if only the other economic idea — that a man's wealth is proportional to his toil — weren't so prevalent. This myopic view smacks me of a biased capitalist view, which is that the fundamentals of laissez faire economics are derived from Adam Smith; namely, the value theory of labor, which is to say that the value of a product is contained in how much labor produced it, and, as I stated above, to believe this is to err. The topic of any other school of laissez faire economics never enters the picture. My class is left to believe that it is equated with the labor theory of value, which is in error. This glaring truism should smack it down forthright; that is, many men have profitted greatly with little effort at all simply by understanding the wants of consumers and satisfying a market demand. A laborer will accumulate wealth insofar as he is able to satisfy the masses, which is to say a laborer's value is as great as the subjective valuation of the many for what he offers them.
  3. The absence of government assumes the benevolence of man.
    I've also encountered this recently in debates over the unnecessary evil that is government.This belief briefly revealed itself in my rhetoric class today as well. A short discussion ensued over an editor's footnote in our book as to the definition of socialism and anarchism as understood in the 19th century (as the period of capitalism studied is of the same time). My professor's definition of anarchism was simply socialism without government and people would simply get along, and the class was left to believe a) that this is, still, the only definition of anarchism (with no regard for anarcho-capitalism, which she probably has no knowledge of), and b) that humans are all good and, left to themselves, will treat each other fairly. As a scoff from the back of the room revealed, this notion is absurd: Men are not all benevolent and will do harm to others. And this leaves out any idea that a social system existing without government is capable of handling the problem of bad men infringing upon good men. Again, by the basis of exclusion, uninformed students are left to assume certain untenable "truths."
  4. Employers "rob" their employees by paying them a low wage.
    This belief briefly presented itself when I prompted my professor to elaborate on an editor's footnote that described Cornelius Vanderbilt as a railroad baron. I asked her what was meant by "railroad baron," as the footnote simply made a claim about this man without backing it up with any biography or history of the man. My professor proceeded to tell me how this was a negative term and was used to characterize people who "robbed" their employees; that is, the employers paid their employees an unjustified low wage. What a justified wage is she did not explain, nor did she explain why these employees would accept "being robbed," if they were. Again, exclusion is the rule by which "truth" is formed.
And so it is: Disinformation, misinformation, and absence of information are still alive and well in universities, and the lack of critical thinking, even in a rhetoric class that is supposedly designed to facilitate critical, argumentative thinking, persists and passes for "education." But so long as we are schooled, isn't that OK?