Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles

Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles (2 vols., 1962) by Murray Rothbard is a light bulb of a book that keeps the reader clicking with insights. I am jealous of anyone who reads this book for the first time because it is a remarkable adventure that cannot quite be duplicated afterward. I picked up Man, Economy, and State after reading an article by Murray entitled “Do You Hate the State?” that haunted me. When I opened Man, Economy, and State, I was still an advocate of limited government; when I closed it, I was an individualist anarchist.

The book had a similar affect on a generation of libertarians. My experience was a microcosm that repeated itself within thousands and thousands of others, each reacting in his or her own unique fashion. Collectively, the resulting ‘Rothbardians’ became a powerful force in creating the golden age of Austrian economics that emerged in the 1970s, and continues through to this day.

The impact and importance of the Austrian icon Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973) should never be marginalized. His magnum opus, Human Action, was a remarkable accomplishment. Mises located the dynamics of the free market within human nature itself. He coined the term “praxeology” to describe the logic of human conduct, which is based on the “action axiom; that is, everyone acts to improve their own satisfaction. Economics, as a discipline, is a subcategory of praxeology. People co-operate with each other, specialize and exchange goods, formed societies from pure self-interest. Thus, the free market is the vehicle of human endeavor and the foundation of civilization itself.

As remarkable as it, however, Human Action is also a dense and dry read that is particularly difficult for anyone without an economic background. (This may be partly due to the German-to-English translation.) The job of popularizing Mises fell to his student and admirer Murray Rothbard. Fortunately, this was a job he was born to do. With a down-to-earth Brooklyn touch, Murray combined reconstructed Misesian theory with a vigorous refutation of its intellectual opponents, such as John Maynard Keynes. Readers are taken at a dead trot through the key economic issues that still define our society: monetary theory, antitrust, labor, the lie that is government statistics, taxation, public goods, and the welfare scam in its various manifestations.

Henry Hazlitt called Man, Economy, and State, “the most important general treatise on economic principles since Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action in 1949.” Mises himself wrote, “Rothbard’s work…[is] an epochal contribution to the general science of human action, praxeology, and its practically most important and up-to-now best elaborated part, economics. Henceforth all essential studies in these branches of knowledge will have to take full account of the theories and criticisms expounded by Dr. Rothbard.”

I recommend the 2004 edition that issued from the Ludwig von Mises Institute under the new title Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market: Government and Economy. This edition includes the final eight chapters that were removed from the 1962 edition, apparently for political reasons. The chapters carry on the book’s earlier logic by providing an overview of the devastation caused by state intervention, especially by taxation. They also offer a tantalizing but sketchy vision of a stateless society.
The ‘deleted’ chapters were later published as the book Power and Market (1970). In a worthy homage, the 2004 edition of Man, Economy, and State reunites the original material as Murray intended his greatest work to be published. The book is like listening to a masterful symphony that is complete at last.