Ludwig von Mises on the “Barbarous Relic”

An article I read for yesterday’s Monetary Theory and Policy Class referenced a section of Ludwig von Mises’s magnus opus, Human Action. I had read the whole thing cover to cover in 1970-71, the year I took off to study economics on my own, but had read only small parts since.

But, as happens when I read one small part of Human Action, I start noticing other parts that are interesting. I liked Mises’s take on Keynes’s famous statement that gold is a “barbarous relic.” Here it is:

Men have chosen the precious metals gold and silver for the money service on account of their mineralogical, physical, and chemical features. The use of money in a market economy is a praxeologically necessary fact. [DRH note: if you wonder why, Google, Bing, or Brave “double coincidence of wants.”] That gold–and not something else–is used as money is merely a historical fact and as such cannot be conceived by catallactics. In monetary history too, as in all other branches of history, one must resort to historical understanding. If one takes pleasure in calling the gold standard a “barbarous relic,”* one cannot object to the application of the same term to every historically determined institution. Then the fact that the British speak English–and not Danish, German, or French–is a barbarous relic too, and every Briton who opposes the substitution of Esperanto for English is no less dogmatic and orthodox than those who do not wax rapturous about the plans for a managed currency.

*The footnote references “Lord Keynes in the speech delivered before the House of Lords, May 23, 1944.”


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Wednesday assorted links

1. Thomas Meaney on Singapore.  Good, interesting long read from LRB. 2. What is the ideological news slant of your Twitter account? (mine was 57% left-wing, 34% right-wing, not too many centrists, at least by their measures, maybe I prefer “the kooks”).  I don’t wish to embarrass anyone in particular, but some of the ideological […]

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Brookings’ Cliff Winston on Infrastructure

President Joe Biden is planning a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure and jobs package to spur transformative change to the economy. Unfortunately, the infrastructure component of his plan will fail to significantly improve the nation’s roads, bridges, and the like because it ignores the vast inefficiencies in current transportation policy that greatly reduce benefits from infrastructure spending.

Let me take you on the journey of a dollar of government spending intended to improve, for example, travel conditions on a highway. This dollar will have a long, perilous trip and encounter many dangers enroute that will divert it from its correct destination and take large, wasteful chunks out of it. By the time it reaches the wrong destination, it will fund much less than a dollar’s worth of highway improvements. The dangers it encounters include inefficient road pricing and investment policy, inflated input and project costs, misallocation of highway revenues, and the slow adoption of technological innovations.

This is from Clifford Winston, “How Federal Infrastructure Dollars Get Nickeled and Dimed,” Barron’s, March 24, 2021.

I highly recommend the whole piece. Actually, everything I’ve ever read by Cliff has been at least good and usually great.


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My Conversation with Sarah Parcak, space archaeologist and Egypt lover

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary: She joined Tyler to discuss what caused the Bronze Age Collapse, how well we understand the level of ancient technologies, what archaeologists may learn from the discovery of more than a hundred coffins at the site of Saqqara, how far the Vikings […]

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