It seems to me that Mises was very clear that there was no such thing as a “third” system of economics. There was only capitalism and socialism. But he also talked a lot about a “hampered market economy”. Is this not considered a “third system” as an “in-between” for socialism and capitalism because he thought it was unstable and eventually had to go one way or the other, or was there some other reason?
The redditor then quotes Mises:
Private ownership of the means of production (market economy or capitalism) and public ownership of the means of production (socialism or communism or “planning”) can be neatly distinguished. Each of these two systems of society’s economic organization is open to a precise and unambiguous description and definition. They can never be confounded with one another; they cannot be mixed or combined; no gradual transition leads from one of them to the other; they are mutually incompatible. With regard to the same factors of production there can only exist private control or public control.
– Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
As a public service, Smiling Dave will explain.
Human Action is an advanced textbook, analyzing and explaining how an economy works, setting out the different types of economies, defining what has to be defined. His point here is that when studying an economy that uses division of labor, there are two categories, with every possible economic system falling into exactly one or the other, but not both.
What are the two big divisions? Simple. Either there is one guy calling the shots and telling everyone what to do, or there isn’t. If there isn’t one guy calling the shots, the only other possibility is that everyone is dependent on the decisions of everyone else.
For example, if there a Stalin or a Mao setting up Five Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward, they can do as they please. Nobody can make them sell copper at $5 a pound, but they can tell everyone what price to sell their wares at, and what wares they should make. There is one boss, free of everyone, and everyone else are but his slaves and robots.
That’s one system, what Mises defines as Socialism. And indeed, it was the standard definition in his time. [Who knows how they define it now. Ask your local Socialist].
Then there’s another system, where one guy does not call all the shots. So by definition, there is at least one industry that can do as it pleases. The very existence of these guys ties the hands of Mao and Stalin. They can no longer tell everyone the Next Great Leap Forward is to install copper pipes in every home, because the copper industry might not be making enough pipes, and are unwilling to do so. Or they may charge very high prices for their pipes, making it prohibitively expensive to install in every home.
Notice how if Stalin owned the copper industry as well, he would have no problem. He would command all his minions to enter the copper industry, and to sell cheap. Problem solved. His plans do not depend on anyone elses decisions, because nobody else has anything to decide.
[In fact, the only limitation Stalin faces is a physical one. If there just does not exist enough copper, he can’t install it everywhere he wants. Mises proved that a command economy, one guy running the shots, must very quickly deplete itself of all resources, but we digress. Do a search here for Calculation Problem, if you are interested in pursuing this].
So this other kind of economy, where there are at least two people with independent control of parts of the economy, he defined as market economy. The point is that all Socialist Economies [=one guy in charge] are the same, and can be analyzed and studied as a group. What can be proven by Austrian Economics of one is true of all of them.
Market Economies, too, are all the same. Whether there is total freedom, as in a 100% free market, or partial freedom, with the govt seizing some of the industries or resources, the laws governing all these markets are the same. Because, like a game of chess, no player can make a move without considering what the other players are doing. This decisive fact is the starting point for understanding all markets that are not Socialist.
DA: All very fine, Smiling Thaddeus Dave, but you can’t explain away reality. There are plenty of instances in the real world of the govt nationalizing some firm or industry, but not all firms and industries. That’s a mixed economy. Mises is wrong.
SD: Of course that reality is true, and no one is denying it. But let me ask you this. Are the economic laws that govern a free market the same as those that govern a socialist economy?
DA: Of course not. That’s something all economists agree to. Marxists say socialist economies are far better, that the economic laws operating on a socialist economy lead to happiness for all, as opposed to the economic laws of a free market, that leads to misery for all but a handful. Austrians say the opposite is true, more or less. But one thing they both agree on is that the laws of the two economies are far far different, by the very nature of the two economies.
SD: So far so good. What about the economic laws governing a mixed economy?
DA: I guess, since a mixed economy is somewhere between the two, the laws governing it will be a grab bag, some the same as a free market, some the same as a socialist economy. Or maybe all the laws will be at work, of both economies, but in a diluted form. Or maybe there is a third set of completely different economic laws that apply to those mixed economies.
SD: There you go. It is precisely to disagree with all you said just now that Mises wrote there is no such thing as a mixed economy.
DA: So he was not talking about whether there are countries where the govt took over an industry or two, but whether the theoretical economic laws operating on those countries are the same as the laws operating in a totally free market, or not.
SD: Yup. What some economists call a “mixed economy”, where the govt owns some things, but not everything, Mises is dismissing as an unnecessary theoretical distinction. There are no new laws unique to these economies. The laws governing a totally free market govern these economies, too. There is no difference if the govt owns Ford Motors, or Henry Ford does, as far as the economy as a whole is concerned. [Of course, it makes a great deal of difference for Ford Motor Company, which is guaranteed to go bankrupt very quickly, but that’s another story].
DA: That’s a very theoretical question, Dave. Why didn’t he decide to talk about something any Tom, Dick and Harry can offer an opinion on? I mean, it would be so much easier for me to argue if he was talking about a fact, not about an abstract theoretical question.
SD: Sorry, Devil, Human Action is not a history book. It is an advanced economics text, written for an audience with a certain degree of economic knowledge.
DA: So to prove him wrong, I’m going to have to prove there is a third set of laws for these “mixed economies”? Well, I can’t do that, but at least I can demand he provide a proof that he is right.
SD: Indeed you can. And it’s in his book.
Smiling Dave: No, Devil, my work here is done.
DA: Pretty please.
SD: Oh, all right! Here’s Mises in Planning for Freedom:
If within a society based on private ownership of the means of production some of these means are owned and operated by the government or by municipalities, this still does not make for a mixed system which would combine socialism and private ownership.
As long as only certain individual enterprises are publicly controlled, the characteristics of the market economy determining economic activity remain essentially unimpaired.
The publicly owned enterprises, too, as buyers of raw materials, semi-finished goods, and labor and as sellers of goods and services must fit into the mechanism of the market economy. They are subject to the law of the market; they have to strive after profits or, at least, to avoid losses.
DA: But that’s exactly what you’ve been saying, Dave.