The Power Elite vs. the People

In the 20th century, the advocates of free-market economics almost invariably pin the blame for government intervention solely on erroneous ideas — that is, on incorrect ideas about which policies will advance the public weal. To most of these writers, any such concept as “ruling class” sounds impossibly Marxist. In short, what they are really saying is that there are no irreconcilable conflicts of class or group interest in human history, that everyone’s interests are always compatible, and that therefore any political clashes can only stem from misapprehensions of this common interest.

In “The Clash of Group Interests,” Ludwig von Mises, the outstanding champion of the free market in this century, avoids the naïve trap embraced by so many of his colleagues. Instead, Mises sets forth a highly sophisticated and libertarian theory of classes and of class conflict by distinguishing sharply between the free market and government intervention.

It is true that on the free market there are no clashes of class or group interest; all participants benefit from the market and therefore all their interests are in harmony.

But the matter changes drastically, Mises points out, when we move to the intervention of government. For that very intervention necessarily creates conflict between those classes of people who are benefited or privileged by the State and those who are burdened by it. These conflicting classes created by State intervention Mises calls castes. As Mises states,

Thus there prevails a solidarity of interests among all caste members and a conflict of interests among the various castes. Each privileged caste aims at the attainment of new privileges and at the preservation of old ones. Each underprivileged caste aims at the…

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