In Bureaucracy, Mises makes a curious point.
For under government interference with business the unity of government policies has long since disintegrated into badly coordinated parts. Gone are the days when it was still possible to speak of a government’s policy.
Today in most countries each department follows its own course, working against the endeavors of the other departments.
The department of labor aims at higher wage rates and at lower living costs. But the same administration’s department of agriculture aims at higher food prices, and the department of commerce tries to raise domestic commodity prices by tariffs.
One department fights against monopoly, but other departments are eager to bring about — by tariffs, patents, and other means — the conditions required for the building of monopolistic restraint.
And each department refers to the expert opinion of those specialized in their respective fields. (85)
There are a multitude of conflicting directives issued by an alphabet soup of semi-autonomous bureaus. Mises argues that the hidden reason for this is that the unified science of economics has been shattered into numerous sub-fields.
Economics deals with the operation of the whole system of social cooperation, with the interplay of all its determinants, and with the interdependence of the various branches of production. It cannot be broken up into separate fields open to treatment by specialists who neglect the rest.
It is simply nonsensical to study money or labor or foreign trade with the same kind of specialization which historians apply when dividing human history into various compartments. … you cannot deal with wage rates without dealing at the same time with commodity prices, interest rates, and profits.
Every change occurring in one of the economic elements affects all other elements. One will never discover what a definite policy or change brings about if one limits his investigation to a special segment of the whole system. (83)
Even though people may still care about the common good, this disastrous corruption of economics has taken away people’s prudence and rationality. They no longer have a means toward securing that common good. If economics is a guide to long-term prosperity for all people, then its fragmentation has resulted in every person’s seeking immediate gratification for himself only, resulting in a kind of war of all against all.
The dismal science, people think, can no longer offer any direction to the government on policy. I point out in my book that “democracy can be construed in two ways. First, as a squabble between factions each defending its own particular interests. Second, as a squabble between ideologies understood as means to the general interest, such as the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” (Introduction, 1) The second aspect of democracy, according to Mises, has all but disappeared. No tool is left to the people to help them judge ideologies. As a result, the first aspect has intensified dramatically. Everyone wants to use the government to benefit himself personally. This is one reason for big government.
Again, Mises writes:
The nineteenth-century success of free trade ideas was effected by the theories of classical economics. The prestige of these ideas was so great that those whose selfish class interests they hurt could not hinder their endorsements by public opinion and their realization by legislative measures. It is ideas that make history, and not history that makes ideas. (Human Action, 83)
But now that economics has been discredited as a legitimate science in the eyes of the vast majority, people have become suspicious of “ideas.”
The conservative movement in the US illustrates this well. Good ideas as suggested by sound economic reasoning have disappeared. The only ideas remaining are arbitrary nonsense from the left. The right hates the left for constantly proposing bad ideas. But the right itself has no ideas of it own, other than perhaps bullying and repression. One can easily despair by watching the party of no ideas battle the party of bad ideas. But that’s the society we live in. We must pull ourselves together and thrust ourselves into intellectual combat.