The Freeman: Social Cooperation

Ludwig von Mises considered another title for his probably greatest work - the book Human Action -: Social cooperation. Considering that why Mises also considered the latter name, we can come to interesting conclusions and find out why libertarians find it so difficult to convince their surroundings. Translation of an article by Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman magazine and author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families.


More than one speaker this year advanced Austrian economics seminars mentioned that Ludwig von Mises was also thinking of another title for the book we know today as "Human behavior„. And what name did he mean by that? "Social cooperation".

It wasn't the first time I'd heard of it, but now it made me think: would free marketers understand the world around them differently if Mises opted for the latter name? If we define the question so narrowly, the answer is probably not.

But let's try it more generally: would free market advocates be accepted differently if their main theme was "social cooperation," instead of the (harsh) individualism, autonomy, independence, and other synonyms we like to use?


If we're looking at why Mises thought about the other name, we don't have to look for any complexities. I haven't tried to calculate it, but I'd guess that "social cooperation" (or "human cooperation") is the second most used phrase in the book. The first is probably the "division of labor", which is just another term for "social cooperation".

Human action is about nothing if it is not about social cooperation.

The first area that Mises deals with right after the introductory treatise on the nature of human action in itself is… cooperation. He writes:

"The company is acting in concert, cooperating. … It replaces the isolated life of individuals (which we can at least imagine) with cooperation. Society is the division of labor and the union of labor. In his ability to be an acting creature, man becomes a social creature. "

The need for peace

Thanks to cooperation and division of labor, we can all live a better life. Naturally, there is a great emphasis on the need for peace and quiet. The absence of peace means the collapse of vital cooperation. This follows Mises's pacifist classical-liberal tradition, which is also represented by Richard Cobden, John Bright, Frédéric Bastiat, Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. In "Liberalism," Mises wrote:

“However, the liberal critique of war theory is fundamentally different from the critique of philanthropists; it is based on the fact that it is not war but peace that is the father of all things. What only establishes the progress of humanity and what distinguishes it from animals is social cooperation. Only work builds wealth and thus lays the external foundations for one's inner well-being. War only destroys, it can never build. War, murder, demolition and destruction are what we have in common with wild forest animals, building work is our human specialty. The liberal does not despise war as a philanthropist, who does not rule out that it could have useful consequences, but because, according to liberalism, war has only harmful consequences. "

Given Mises' orientation, it should not surprise us how much emphasis he placed on the "Ricardian Law of Association." This is usually known as "law of comparative advantage"Who tells us that two parties can benefit from the shift, even though one party is more productive in everything that both parties want.

The key is the cost of the opportunity sacrificed. A lawyer who charges $ 500 an hour and is also the fastest scribe in the world prefers to hire someone to write. Why? Because every hour a lawyer sacrifices for writing, he can't devote himself to a lawyer, which costs him just $ 500 minus the salary he would pay a scribe. The scribe does not have such opportunity costs, so both the lawyer and the scribe will get the cooperation. And the same goes for groups (countries). People discover the benefits they get by specializing in what they comparatively do most effectively (or least inefficiently) and exchange it with others.

As a result, a larger amount of goods will be produced compared to the state without division work and social cooperation.

Wider application

This law is then an important part of the argument for free international trade, because it responds to the objection that a country can produce everything most efficiently, thus pushing other countries out of the world economy. However, Mises understood that the law of comparative advantage is only the application of a broader "association law". As he wrote in Human Action:

"The law of association allows us to understand the tendencies that have brought about an increasing intensification of people's cooperation. Imagine the incentive for people not to simply consider themselves rivals in the struggle to obtain the limited livelihoods provided by nature. We realize what has forced them, and still is forcing them to come together to work together. Every step forward on the way to a more developed way of dividing work serves the interests of all involved. To understand why man does not remain a loner who, like animals, would look for food and shelter only for himself and, at most, for his spouse and independent offspring, we do not have to rely on the miraculous intervention of the deity or the empty hypostasis of innate compulsion to associate. We are not even forced to assume that isolated individuals or primitive hordes one day undertook a treaty to form social bonds. The factor that has led primitive society and daily work to their increasing intensification is human activity, which is encouraged by penetrating the essence of higher labor productivity achieved in the division of labor. "

This seemingly simple idea leads to not exactly intuitive conclusions. As a result of expanding cooperation, human beings compete in production, not consumption (unlike other animals). In my favorite sentence from Human Action, Mises put it this way:

"Because my kind wants to buy shoes just like me, it's not harder for me to get shoes, but easier."

Expanding cooperation also necessarily means that we can exchange with strangers over long distances, which it is another incentive for peace.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on cooperation is not exactly what "non-libertarians" want to "know" about the economy of the free market and the philosophy of freedom. They tend to associate these ideas with "harsh individualism" rather than "social cooperation." I have no doubt that the main cause of this condition is that of ours more knowledgeable opponents want the public to have a misconception about what constitutes a truly liberal worldview. When the president Bill Clinton He (hypocritically) said in his 1996 State of the Union report that "the era of the great government is over," he was not afraid to continue: "But we cannot go back to an era where everyone cared for themselves." But human beings have always been social / political animals. There has never been an era in which men and women only took care of themselves individually. The only thing that changed was the form of association: either voluntary or violent.

Error in us

Of course, libertarians and free market advocates emphasize the importance of the division of labor. However we are partly responsible for public misinterpretation. Too often, our rhetoric suggests atomism, albeit unintentionally. I understand the importance of terms such as 'individualism', 'independence' and 'independence', but we should realize that it is these terms that we can inadvertently ridicule. Let us not make anyone think that the ideal of the libertarian is Ted Kaczynski, just without sending bombs by mail.

We are all facing an uncertain future. However, social cooperation undoubtedly makes it easier for usthan if we wanted to do without her. That is why individuals formed "fraternal" organizations. In addition to friends, these groups provided what the welfare state weakly and through coercion provides today: islands of relative security in a sea of ​​insecurity.

If people support the welfare state, don't be fooled. This is because they themselves do not see a better voluntary alternative. And that is exactly what libertarians offer.

Perhaps we libertarians would better persuade others if we emphasized that freedom brings innovative ways of working, from which everyone benefits and that if it is government dominant entity in our lives, social cooperation, on the other hand, is in danger.

You can read the original article in English at The Freeman online.


  1. You described it nicely, Mr. Kubec.
    I dare not speculate how deep you are willing to sink for a little Karma.
    The fact that your reporting cost me my own profile should be a warning to everyone.

  2. Just so that in a few years there is no need to look for a new word, until the term libertarian will hide where what ;-).

    Moreover, I see the term libertarian as anarcho-capitalists, while liberals are minarchists. Putting it together doesn't seem very happy to me…

  3. for play3r:
    "Wouldn't it be a good idea to translate 'libertarians' as liberals?"
    - A few years ago, I signed the debate as a "liberal". When I found out over time who was hiding everything under the term LIBERAL, I exchanged for LIBERTARIAN. So,… ..

  4. The term liberal is so inflated in the Czech Republic, as well as in the EU and the USA, that it is entirely appropriate to make a clear distinction.
    In the United States, the liberal is really just another socialist in a row. In Europe (at least that's how I look at it), a liberal is a person who wants to release something, but often at odds with freedom. Let the liberal movement for registered partnership be an example.

  5. Wouldn't it be a good idea to translate "libertarians" as liberals? It is already possible to come across the idea that a liberal is just some other socialist, and this does not help much.

  6. @ v6ak
    I think this is true everywhere, because gold, for example, is just one of many ways to satisfy a human desire. I.e. not only gold, but also something else can fulfill this desire.

  7. "Because my kind wants to buy shoes just like me, it's not harder for me to get shoes, but easier."
    Tom can't be said for anything in general, but it's still a good point to think about. This applies where the offer can be adapted (shoes and many others), but not where it cannot (gold and * some * other limited reserves - even here mining is a bit mixed with that).

    Otherwise, in principle, consent.

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