Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Blogosphere?

In this blog post, one Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute claims that Ludwig von Mises's case against "free love" is "implicitly" a case against birth control. Because Mises was enough of a traditionalist to be against things like multiple partners at once with no need for commitment, open marriage, and so on (things that were part of the "free love" package), he must, simply must, have had the exact same position on birth control as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Mike that the vast majority of Americans are:
1) Not advocates of "free love"; and
2) Not opposed to the use of birth control.

Nor does Mike seem to have heard of this new tool called Google, with which one can actually find out what Mises thought about birth control, rather than just giving it your best guess. If he had tried this Google thingie, he might have discovered that Mises was a birth control enthusiast:

"It is not the practice of birth control that is new, but merely the fact that it is more frequently resorted to. Especially new is the fact that the practice is no longer limited to the upper strata of the population, but is common to the whole population. For it is one of the most important social effects of capitalism that it deproletarianizes all strata of society. It raises the standard of living of the masses of the manual workers to such a height that they too turn into 'bourgeois' and think and act like well-to-do burghers. Eager to preserve their standard of living for themselves and for their children, they embark upon birth control. With the spread and progress of capitalism, birth control becomes a universal practice. The transition to capitalism is thus accompanied by two phenomena: a decline both in fertility rates and in mortality rates. The average duration of life is prolonged." -- Human Action

My point here is not to defend any particular view of birth control or free love. No, it is to note, once again, how the desire to bash one's political opponents tends to throw even minimal standards of truth-seeking right out the window. It would have taken Mike about two or three minutes to find out what Mises really thought about birth control... but why bother, when he thought he had a juicy quote with which he could order libertarians to "man up"? And Brad DeLong, without bothering to check this himself, enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon.

Brad, why oh why can't we have a better blogosphere?


  1. Touché...

    i would plead that I have (i) never found it worth my while to plow through "Human Action" and (ii) the number of people who are for both female sexual subordination and birth control is... rather small.

    So may I have a denunciation of Mitch McConnell for attempting to reproletarianize America?

  2. That should read: "I would plead, unconvincingly, that..."

  3. We are all guilty of this, at times, I think. At least you "manned up"!

    In any case, recall that Mises quite explicitly called for full political and legal equality for women. What he was against was what he saw as utopian attempts to eliminate what he saw as natural sexual differences. We might disagree with him while recognizing that he would have advocated women's right to vote, own property, and be in every other way the full legal equals of men.

    As far as Mitch McConnell goes, I'll have to investigate what he is up to. I frankly am not even aware of anything he has said on the subject at the moment.

  4. Brad, as someone who has found it worth his while to plow through "Human Action," I would urge you not to give up so easily. As I point out in the comment threads to Mike's post, things are a little more complicated than Gene suggests here. http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/von-mises-makes-the-libertarian-case-against-free-love-and-implicitly-against-birth-control/#comment-22455

  5. The most interesting thing about this from my perspective is the different conceptions of just what Catholic Health Care West is doing when it provides benefits to its employees.

    From my (and Obama's) perspective, Catholic Health Care West is acting as the agent of its employees--enabling them as a group to get a better price on what they want to buy by enabling them to present themselves as a credible pool.

    From McConnell's perspective, Catholic Health Care West is acting as a philanthropist--as its employees' benefactor. What is being paid to the insurance company is not a piece of workers' earned compensation, but rather Catholic Health Care West's money as it acts as its employees' benefactor.

    This strikes me as an interesting--and profoundly unlibertarian--take on the employer-employee relationship: a game of "let's play 'master and servant'!"

    1. The idea that the employer is "acting as the agent of its employees" turns employer-employee law on its head. I don't remember ERISA principles well enough to consider whether this theory is accepted there.

      However, even if we reverse roles, the agent always has the power to condition its employment as an agent on agreement that the agent need not participate in conduct it considers immoral. If the principal wishes to pursue ends, or employ means, which are lawful but repugnant to the agent, the principal can fire the agent or hire a second agent to finish the job.

      Things can get messy if these issues come as a surprise in the middle of an assignment, but I dont think anyone is accusing Catholics of sneaking around their position on contraceptives.

  6. Anonymous6:38 PM

    "We are all guilty of this, at times, I think. At least you 'manned up'!"



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