This masterwork by Ludwig von Mises is much more than a refutation of the economics of socialism (although on that front, nothing else compares). It is also a critique of the implicit religious doctrines behind Western socialist thinking; a cultural critique of socialist teaching on sex and marriage; an examination of the implications of radical human inequality; an attack on war, central planning, inflationism; and refutation of collectivist methodology.
In short, Mises set out to refute socialism, and instead yanked out the collectivist mentality from its very roots. For that reason, Socialism led dozens of famous intellectuals, including a young F.A. Hayek, into a crisis of faith and a realist/libertarian political orientation. All the collectivist literature combined cannot equal the intellectual achievement of this one volume.
This book relentlessly demonstrates that government intervention not only makes innovation impossible; it creates economic chaos that ends in demolishing civilization. Piecemeal socialism does this bit by bit. All-at-once socialism creates a bloody catastrophe.
Already in 1922, Mises was a famous Austrian academic economist. He was surrounded by socialists left and right. Socialism had been opposed before, but never on this level. Two years earlier, he had thrown down the gauntlet with the argument that if capital goods are not owned by private parties, they aren't traded, and market prices for them do not emerge. That means the end of cost accounting, without which producers are groping in the dark. They don't know how much in resources to acquire, how to use them economically, how much to pay workers, how much stuff to make, how to make trade-off decisions, or what to research and develop. Central planners certainly can't pull off this feat.
Note that Mises's argument is value free: It doesn't say that collectivism is good or bad. It doesn't rely on the old argument concerning incentives, an argument that is true enough, but seems to rely on certain postulates concerning the nature of man. Mises's core point concerns something more objective. In a world of scarcity, we need to allocate rationally. We need measures to assess the economic merit of our choices. We need standards by which our forecasts can be declared successful or unsuccessful. Socialism provides none of that.
Still, people might imagine that this book is old news. After all, Soviet communism is history, and so are all the socialist experiments of its satellite states. Actually, that changes none of the prescience or applicability of Mises's text. Mises's argument is about the superiority of markets over all forms of government planning. That means it has direct relevance to our current plight of an increasingly bureaucratized world in which rules and regulations govern and strangle many aspects of the material world.
And the relevance is not only implied; it is discussed in detail. Mises takes on environmentalism, healthcare mandates, welfare provision, public pensions, arts subsidies, public education, foreign trade and investment, war, race and sex relations, publicly funded science, antitrust policy, religion, labor cooperatives, taxation, inflation, patents, and so much more.
The book shocked and angered a generation — and set off two generations of ongoing debate. The book still stands as the great challenge to all forms of government control.
In a marvelous introduction, professor Peter Boettke of George Mason University explains the background of this work, its scope and meaning, and its applicability in our times. He is a world-class expert on the whole topic, having edited a 10-volume set that focuses on this book.
Mises's Socialism helps you see the world in a new way. A great book can do this. Mises was a creative genius, doing in the world of ideas what great entrepreneurs do in the world of commerce.