Economic Prosperity Is A Prerequisite For All Other Kinds Of Prosperity

Recently, while reading Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition, written by Ludwig von Mises in the year 1927, I noted a striking passage, right in the beginning on page 4:

All that social policy can do is to remove the outer causes of pain and suffering; it can further a system that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and houses the homeless. Happiness and contentment do not depend on food, clothing, and shelter, but, above all, on what a man cherishes within himself. It is not from a disdain of spiritual goods that liberalism concerns itself exclusively with man’s material well-being, but from a conviction that what is highest and deepest in man cannot be touched by any outward regulation. It seeks to produce only outer well-being because it knows that inner, spiritual riches cannot come to man from without, but only from within his own heart. It does not aim at creating anything but the outward preconditions for the development of the inner life. And there can be no doubt that the relatively prosperous individual of the twentieth century can more readily satisfy his spiritual needs than, say, the individual of the tenth century, who was given no respite from anxiety over the problem of eking out barely enough for survival or from the dangers that threatened him from his enemies.

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Reading this passage felt like a lesson in the very basics of psychology. This is not surprising: Mises, in addition to his contributions to the field of economics, is well remembered as someone who had a lot to say about matters across a wide a variety of related social sciences.

As Jeff Deist has commented recently, given the sort of prevailing “stay in your lane” attitude many have today, who knows if Human Action would even be published in the year 2021, given how many areas the book covers.

Regardless, Mises in the passage above delivered quite a prescient insight: that basic survival, along with the attainment of some level of material wealth and comfort, are necessary preconditions for an individual human being to achieve satisfaction in psychological and spiritual areas as well. 

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Brian Carus is a Financial Technology professional currently focused on solution and product development within Wealth and Investment Management. He is a 2021 level II candidate in the CFA Institute ...

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