Every government, Mises pointed out, depends for its survival on approval by public opinion. In the long run, there are no unpopular governments. The way to change policy is for the people to pressure the state to do so.
Ideas, on this view, rule the world. If the masses are in thrall to bad ideas, nothing can prevent disaster. But if they understand economics and so on, then we can have “good government.”
There are definite flies in the ointment with this, however. For one, does anyone really expect an average bus driver to be familiar with economic theories and choose the correct doctrine? Already this is hopeless.
But there is a more fundamental objection to this. Mises himself argues:
For ambitious kings and generalissimos the very existence of a sphere of the individuals’ lives not subject to regimentation is a challenge. Princes, governors, and generals are never spontaneously liberal. They become liberal only when forced to by the citizens.
We are postulating a roundabout system. First, we have individuals acting in the market. The people then “collectively” create the state which perpetually slouches toward totalitarianism. To check this, the people, imbued with economic truth, drag the state back toward respecting individual freedom. Now isn’t that singularly pointless? Why must there be a state in the first place? Why can’t there just be the market?
There is of course the problem of crime and punishment. But let’s put it aside for the moment.
Consider the monetary regression theorem. Money, such as gold coins, arose on the market from a barter system as in the distant past a certain commodity became increasingly more marketable in exchanges and eventually grew to became a universal medium of exchange. Money was not imposed upon society by the government for the “greater good.” Why then must an economic system as a whole, whether indeed capitalism or socialism, be imposed on society by the state? Why can’t it evolve “naturally,” by human action not human design?
Why must there be any grand ideological vision with the help of which people “rationally” construct society?
On the “ideology-drives-policy” view, the government’s power is absolute, and individuals have no inherent natural rights. They passively accept government “policies.” They are perfect slaves to power. If the government decides there shall be socialism, then they’ll have socialism; if capitalism, then capitalism; and so on. If the government decides to kill them all, then they’ll all die, and that’s all there is to it. The state, and only the state, decides all such things. The “kings and generalissimos” are limited only by the amorphous ideology, not by any conceptions of human rights.
In the 20th century the main problem was capitalism vs. socialism. But this problem would simply not exist without the state, since there would be no organization that could implement socialism. Again, if there is no Federal Reserve, there is no one who could decide to “go off gold” or to “lower interest rates” or anything like that. We would not have to beg the government to give us “sound money,” including by the circuitous route of changing public opinion; we’d automatically and all at once have it.
All the state is, is simply a tool of socialists and interventionists (to conduct their endless experiments on society). Why not deny this tool to these devils 100%?
Our bus driver will on this understanding have no need to be an economist. All he has to do is accept the proposition “the state is an evil and always does much more harm than good, and I don’t want it.” Freedom then will be not a “public policy” but complete absence of it.