By Gabriel Zanotti
In her extraordinary historical tale of the United States, Diana Uribe tells, in chapter 11, how the various inventions that gave a face to the industrial United States, from the 19th century onwards, and then to the world, were produced in things that later became universal and were used, of course, by the deepest serial haters of the United States.
Not only does she tell us that in America these things were invented, transformed, and developed with amazing speed, but many of these artifacts were already known in antiquity. But the immigrants who come to what was the land of freedom, from all over the world, reinvent them. Thus, the sewing machine, apparently already known in the Alexandria of the famous library, but the Scottish Vatts recreates it. The eyelet was already known in France for a long time, but the French who go to the USA give it a thousand uses and create the canning, the dehydrated milk, the coffee machine, the can opener.
Cereals have been part of the Quaker diet for a long time, but Don Kellogg has transformed them into a global food industry. The Polish reintroduce croissants and a Dutchman creates the famous donuts with the hole in the middle. German immigrants from Hamburg cook the lesser quality meat in a way that was later called hamburger. A man named Adams commercializes a famous chicozapote used by the Mayans and Aztecs calling it gum; he even invents a little machine to sell it better.
Belgian immigrants produce a very thin potato and market it as potato chips. Mr. Gillette realizes that he can do mass production of market razor blades. A Jewish immigrant named Singer adds a pedal to the sewing machine and also sells it in installments. A Mr. Scott massively sells a very hygienic paper that was previously exclusive to European nobles. Another Mr. Ottis reinvents the elevator already used by Louis XIV, and with the production and commercialization of concrete, which the Egyptians seem to already know, skyscrapers arise. Between the massive hygiene, the elevators, and the concrete the cities are transformed into giant skyscrapers. And to the train with the steam engine, a gentleman called Pullman adds a car to sleep the great distances of the United States, unknown in Europe. And so it goes.
But why? Why all this? Let’s see, let’s go over the recipe: take a lot of immigrants, a little technique and… Boom! We have that the U.S. has transformed the world, even the world that hates it.
No. Absolutely not. A central element is missing, forgotten by all, especially by Marx, who assumed that the material conditions of production determine history, and there my colleagues, the philosophers, went above all to repeat it. Because the philosophers believe that Marx was a great philosopher, while L. von Mises would be a typical ignorant capitalist economist, and that therefore not even two lines are worth reading about him… And so the thousands of lines dedicated by Mises to refute historical materialism are lost, where everyone lives in confusion.
No, it is not the steam engine, nor the technique, nor the brilliance of such and such immigrants that created capitalism and its development, but freedom. The steam engine does not create freedom: freedom creates the steam engine.
Because all the immigrants who came to the U.S. encountered institutional free market conditions. Zero inflation, almost no taxes, zero regulations, zero codes, rules and inspectors, just respect for the life and property of others. Nothing more, nothing less, and then yes, intelligence plus freedom develop entrepreneurial alertness, entrepreneurial capacity, both in Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Germans, French, Italians, Scots, Vulcans, Venusians, Bayorians, Klingos and terrestrials: all under the same legal conditions, all without social security, all to live in freedom, all to produce and trade under the same political pact. Not a political pact that was an economic policy, but a Declaration of Independence that affirmed, oh daring, that all human beings are created equal by God and with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So yes, railroad, telegraph, light bulb, gum, hamburgers, elevators, razors and everything you can think of and buy without bothering the other and without the state subsidizing you and without the state watching you in such a way that none of that can appear.
And yes, many of those things and little things were known to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Babylonians and so on, but none of those societies knew political freedom. Empires, kings, conquests, domains, murders, cruelties, wars, massacres, people oppressed by the beasts of the moment. There was no peace or future to create anything. Even so there was enough left, because eros, perhaps, resists against tanatos, but there was no development, no long term production, no massive consumption, no legal security, nothing that legally prevented dreams from being killed by beasts.
This is how Mises explains it in point 2 of chapter 7 of Theory and History:
«What Marx says is entirely different. In his doctrine the tools and machines are the ultimate thing, a material thing, viz., the material productive forces. Everything else is the necessary superstructure of this material basis. This fundamental thesis is open to three irrefutable objections. First, a technological invention is not something material. It is the product of a mental process, of reasoning and conceiving new ideas. The tools and machines may be called material, but the operation of the mind which created them is certainly spiritual. Marxian materialism does not trace back “superstructural” and “ideological” phenomena to «material» roots. It explains these phenomena as caused by an essentially mental process, viz., invention. It assigns to this mental process, which it falsely labels an original, nature-given, material fact, the exclusive power to beget all other social and intellectual phenomena. But it does not attempt to explain how inventions come to pass. Second, mere invention and designing of technologically new implements are not sufficient to produce them. What is required, in addition to technological knowledge and planning, is capital previously accumulated out of saving. Every step forward on the road toward technological improvement presupposes the requisite capital. The nations today called underdeveloped know what is needed to improve their backward apparatus of production. Plans for the construction of all the machines they want to acquire are ready or could be completed in a very short time. Only lack of capital holds them up. But saving and capital accumulation presuppose a social structure in which it is possible to save and to invest. The production relations are thus not the product of the material productive forces but, on the contrary, the indispensable condition of their coming into existence. Marx, of course, cannot help admitting that capital accumulation is “one of the most indispensable conditions for the evolution of industrial production.” Part of his most voluminous treatise, Das Kapital, provides a history—wholly distorted—of capital accumulation. But as soon as he comes to his doctrine of materialism, he forgets all he said about this subject. Then the tools and machines are created by spontaneous generation, as it were. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the utilization of machines presupposes social cooperation under the division of labor. No machine can be constructed and put into use under conditions in which there is no division of labor at all or only a rudimentary stage of it. Division of labor means social cooperation, social bonds between men and society. How then is it possible to explain the existence of society by tracing it back to the material productive forces which themselves can only appear in the frame of a previously existing social nexus? Marx could not comprehend this problem. He accused Proudhon, who had described the use of machines as a consequence of the division of labor, of ignorance of history. It is a distortion of fact, he shouted, to start with the division of labor and to deal with machines only later. For the machines are “a productive force,” not a “social production relation,” not an “economic category.” Here we are faced with a stubborn dogmatism that does not shrink from any absurdity».
How impressive the freedom. What a fascinating dream that Argentina, a closed desert of enormous extension, would become an open and unregulated land for millions of immigrants who would bring their creativity and entrepreneurship: each one of them would be a solution, not a problem. But no. Under the words of solidarity and social justice, full of regulations, subsidies, taxes, inflation, mafia unions and public debt, we keep millions of human beings expelled who die crowded into their own lands of slavery.
Freedom, people, creates the world. And governments destroy it.
Gabriel Zanotti is a professor and graduate in philosophy from the Universidad del Norte Santo Tomás de Aquino and a doctor of philosophy from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He is the academic director of the Acton Institute Argentina. @gabrielmises.