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Part Two: The Value of Money > Chapter 14. The Monetary Policy of Etatism

1. The Monetary Theory of Etatism

Etatism, as a theory, is the doctrine of the omnipotence of the Estate, and, as a policy, the attempt to regulate all mundane affairs by authoritative commandment and prohibition. The ideal society of etatism is a particular sort of socialistic community; it is usual in discussions involving this ideal society to speak of state socialism, or, in some connections, of Christian socialism. Superficially regarded, the etatistic ideal society does not differ very greatly from the outward form assumed by the capitalistic organization of society. Etatism by no means aims at the formal transformation of all ownership of the means of production into state ownership by a complete overthrow of the established legal system. Only the biggest industrial, mining, and transport enterprises are to be nationalized; in agriculture, and in medium- and small-scale industry, private property is nominally to continue. Nevertheless, all enterprises are to become state undertakings in fact. Owners are to be left the title and dignity of ownership, it is true, and to be given a right to the receipt of a "reasonable" income, "in accordance with their position"; but, in fact, every business is to be changed into a government office and every livelihood into an official profession. There is no room at all for independent enterprise under any variety of state socialism. Prices are to be regulated authoritatively; authority is to fix what is to be produced, and how, and in what quantities. There is to be no speculation, no "excessive" profit, no loss. There is to be no innovation unless it be decreed by authority. The official is to direct and supervise everything.1

It is one of the peculiarities of etatism that it is unable to conceive of human beings living together in society otherwise than in accordance with its own particular socialistic ideal. The superficial similarity that exists between the socialist state that is its ideal and pattern and the social order based upon private property in the means of production causes it to overlook the fundamental differences that separate the two. Everything that contradicts the assumption that the two kinds of social order are similar is regarded by the etatist as a transient anomaly and a culpable transgression of authoritative decrees, as evidence that the state has let slip the reins of government and only needs to take them more firmly in hand for everything to be beautifully in order again. That the social life of human beings is subject to definite limitations; that it is governed by a set of laws that are comparable with those of Nature; these are notions that are unknown to the etatist. For the etatist, everything is a question of Macht—power, force, might. And his conception of Macht is crudely materialistic.

Every word of etatistic thought is contradicted by the doctrines of sociology and economics; this is why etatists endeavor to prove that these sciences do not exist. In their opinion, social affairs are shaped by the state. To the law, all things are possible; and there is no sphere in which state intervention is not omnipotent.

For a long time the modern etatists shrank from an explicit application of their principles to the theory of money. It is true that some, Adolf Wagner and Lexis in particular, expressed views on the domestic and foreign value of money and on the influence of the balance of payments on the condition of the exchanges that contained all the elements of an etatistic theory of money; but always with great caution and reserve. The first to attempt an explicit application of etatistic principles in the sphere of monetary doctrine, was Knapp.

The policy of etatism had its heyday during the period of the world war, which itself was the inevitable consequence of the dominance of etatistic ideology. In the "war economy" the postulates of etatism were realized.2 The war economy and the transition economy showed what etatism is worth and what the policy of etatism is able to achieve.

An examination of etatistic monetary doctrine and monetary policy has a significance that is not limited to the history of ideas. For in spite of all its ill success, etatism is still the ruling doctrine, at least on the continent of Europe. It is, at any rate, the doctrine of the rulers; its ideas prevail in monetary policy. However convinced we may be that it is scientifically valueless, it will not do for us nowadays to ignore it.3

  • 1. On this, see my book, Die Gemeinwirtschaft, 2d ed., (Jena, 1922), pp. 211 ff.
  • 2. See my book, Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft (Vienna, 1919), pp. 108 ff.
  • 3. Cassel rightly says: "A perfectly clear understanding of the monetary problem, brought about by the world war, can never be attained until officialdom's interpretation of affairs has been disproved point by point, and full light thrown on all the delusions with which the authorities attempted as long as possible to obsess the public mind" (Cassel, Money and Foreign Exchange After 1914 [London, 1922], pp. 7 ff.). See Gregory's criticism of the most important etatistic arguments in his Foreign Exchange Before, During and After the War (London, 1921), esp. pp. 65 ff.