Saifedean Ammous | The Bitcoin Standard Podcast #134. Praxeology in One Lesson w/ Conza
Link to the YouTube (the timestamps are based on this): https://youtu.be/zLywmyyAo7I
Saifedean Ammous: Hello! Welcome to another episode of the Bitcoin Standard Podcast. Our seminar guest today is Conza. Conza is the co-founder of the Liberty Australia Institute and the chairman of the Libertarian party of Australia. He has been blogging on Austro-Libertarian thought for many years. His YouTube channel hosts videos on the Austrian School of Economics that have been viewed more than two and a half million times and, perhaps most impressive of all, he is the Twitter champion of posting screenshots of Austrian books to settle any argument and any dispute. It is one of my nightmares that one day I will say something on Twitter and Conza will come up with a big screenshot from an Austrian text that proves me wrong. So far I’ve skipped that fate, but Conza I want you to know: if that ever happens, be relentless — don’t worry about me just because I had you on my podcast. It doesn’t mean you owe me to not point it out, so please keep the screenshots coming! So thank you so much for joining us.
Conza [3:04]: Thank you Saife, it’s great to be here.
Saifedean Ammous: So let’s begin by telling us a little bit about your own background, how you got into Austrian economics, and what brought you into Bitcoin and all these things?
Conza [3:12]: They are amazing things. My journey really kind of starts where I had an existential crisis: I just finished school, I was about to embark upon uni, went to the UK, did a gap year — kind of a teacher without a degree — I was the token Australian living in Northamptonshire. Had a bit of free time and it was the question of: What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What am I passionate about? And partly it was asking those big questions. And the existential crisis I mentioned was: What is the truth? And then: What do I want to contribute to the world? What value can I bring? I had a big thought process — I reached out to a few people. I wanted to think about what could I do and I wrote to a few people — Noam Chomsky was one of those. I’ve asked: Well what do old school thinkers think? So I read Aristotle’s Ethics, Plato’s Republic, and Machiavelli, getting an understanding, trying to understand what they thought the truth was. And then I thought, Oh what do the current modern thinkers think? And that was Noam Chomsky, and I wrote to him, got a response — I was prospecting things like, Do I want to do law? Or be an entrepreneur? 18–19 years old — big ideas. But it was around the Ron Paul era, so I was looking at a Noam Chomsky video and someone had posted Ron Paul: America’s Last Hope on this YouTube video and that was kind of the start of the rabbit hole of: Who’s Ron Paul? Texas Congressman, speaking truth to power in 2008, 2007. That was several days of investigating — this guy must sell out, surely? He doesn’t. This guy’s too good to be true — oh no he really is. And that really was the clincher: it wasn’t so much what he was saying — it was where he was saying it. He was at a Republican stage in the debates going, You’re all warmongers, essentially, and it was that Truth to Power piece that really sold me. I thought, Oh the free market stuff — that’s a bit radical! I always kind of thought myself as an independent. I intuitively didn’t like politicians. I’m not “Left” or “Right,” I was kind of stuck in a status box, in that 2D mentality, and I didn’t understand economics. And it was through going parroting Ron Paul’s conclusions, the Constitution I thought about for many months, and then someone on one of the Ron Paul forums said a good argument — an Austrian argument — about something that I was inadvertently wrong on and I was like, Okay why does Ron think what he thinks? He was a hero of sorts, and it was specifically the Austrian school of economics and going down that rabbit hole over at the Mises Institute devouring everything instead of studying uni. I was up to 3AM reading Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, and everyone else. So that’s my journey from the Austrian lens. And then from a Bitcoin perspective, there’s the Mises community forums which I was very engaged with that no longer exist but there are archives at mises.community if you want to look at all those amazing content. David Veksler is still maintaining that and I’ve kind of helped push him a few times to keep it up — amazing conversations there. 2011, I first heard about Bitcoin. I was very skeptical: I was essentially under the mindset of it’s kind of fiat or it’s obviously not by decree or legal tender laws, but my objections were kind of similar to Peter Schiff in the sense of — not that I thought it had intrinsic value, but I didn’t think it had an objective use value, which we can unpack where we could talk about commodities and then having an objective or other alternate use. And it was that for several years. Eventually Konrad Graf, who’s a mentor of sorts, convinced me I was wrong that it doesn’t violate the Mises Regression Theorem — it’s actually the best elaborated example we have of that in action. And so around that period I was very much theoretically on board but still practically speaking that was my gap. And I think that’s actually a gap with a lot of Austrians who might get the theory, but the practical side of things is a barrier — there’s a blocker. With some Libertarians it’s like, Okay I get it but…or they don’t necessarily get it but they can be shown it. Similarly with the arguments we have like, Oh we should de-statize the taxi cartel — we can make the theory and the argument, but most people are like, Oh that’s crazy! But then say Uber comes along — the practical example — they can see it and it’s immediately there and it’s a lot easier to convince people. So that was my Bitcoin rabbit hole, early days being skeptical, coming around from Konrad Graf — and I actually had him speak at the Mises Seminars I co-founded in 2011. We had Hoppe come out in Sydney, Walter Block in Sydney the next year, and then we had Jeffrey Tucker in 2013. And so 2013 had Konrad speak about Bitcoin. I think it might have been the first time Bitcoin was being spoken about at a conference — maybe not so much by the cypherpunks — definitely in Australia. But yeah he’s got some canonical work that still stands the test of time. And I got my first bit of Bitcoin was gifted by Jeffrey Tucker helping me set it up when he came out as well, that $5 becoming $800 or so at peak. It’s a good little thing where people see that: if you’re gifting it to someone and then — as number has previously been going up and will continue to long-term — it’s a good convincing piece too. Yeah that’s probably my Bitcoin short summary of how I’ve come to where I am today.
Saifedean Ammous: I must say I’m absolutely astonished by your command of Austrian economics and your ability to pull up texts relevant to any discussion. I think it’s just astonishing: every time somebody is on Twitter saying anything about Austrian economics that’s not 100% correct, Conza comes in like Superman or Batman — somebody made the call and Conza steps in and has his giant screenshots of doom, quoting Rothbard and Mises and Hoppe and sets them straight. And people never really respond because it’s just so comprehensive like, Nope, you’re wrong — there is no such thing as a right to free speech, there’s a right to free property, and here’s three screenshots of death from Rothbard on why that is. And you can’t argue with it!
Conza [10:19]: I often get some pushback where it’s — I mean, never appeal to authority: I can talk about where I think Rothbard’s wrong and Mises is wrong, but often people never give them the benefit of the doubt. And what I’ve historically done is there’s a lot of things that are potentially objectionable but they’ve written about it elsewhere and elaborated on it and most people then don’t go to that degree to look, or they write it off. But no I definitely stand on the shoulders of giants, and over the last 14 years or so since 2007 here in Australia I’ve kind of missed being in the US for the Ron Paul Revolution. And the Mises community would be on the Internet — you can engage with these ideas. There’s a whole lot more. They’re a little bit sparse here, so I was natively more interested in engaging these communities and I became very efficient and would devour the content. Whilst I had started that process, it was saving the best snapshots — so condensing 1,500 pages of Human Action or Man, Economy, and State. Every time I’m arguing on the Internet I’m becoming very efficient and I’ve seen this objection 100+ times — okay I’m sick of responding! I’m just going to save that on my blog and very easily I can — if it’s a topic — I can within seconds essentially just grab it and pop it in. So my mind’s become geared that way now so it’s potentially challenging when discussing things as we go through. It will immediately go, Oh yep I’ve got a reference here and that’s exactly what it is — I won’t potentially be able to remember it all, so I’ll be doing some paraphrasing, and that’s often my thing as well where I have a higher standard for online discussions where people can stop to think — there’s no time pressure. With just talking with someone in general you kind of have to paraphrase and make it a proper conversation. So I stand on the shoulder of giants: come at me with mistakes. It’s all about picking up — I’m a big fan of accuracy: I think the worst thing that could be done to a movement is to be not skillfully attacked, but ineptly defended. That’s a big emphasis of mine. Certain hot takes get put out there that I don’t think is strategically good or actually accurate and can create problems long-term — that’s why I have this passion that comes to correct folk. But I welcome that myself — it’s the only way I can improve. I think two things for me: it’s being intellectually honest and open to reason. And then if you have that in mind — like, no one starts at the position where I’m at or you’re at — I was wrong at certain points in time and I want that to be pointed out if I am so I can continue to grow and evolve. But yeah that’s where I’m at now.
Saifedean Ammous: You’ve written a lot about praxeology — it’s a great tool or method of the Austrian school. What would you say is praxeology? And make the case for our listeners why they should pay attention to it? Why is it important?
Conza [13:42]: What is praxeology? It’s a science that studies the logic of human action. And now I can unpack that and I will in a moment, but just straight off the bat: Why is it important? Why is praxeology important? It’s the only true new science since ancient times — everything else has some kind of precedent in the ancient world, but this is a totally new field of knowledge. And people don’t know what to make of it or how to mentally categorize it, and I don’t think it can be over-emphasized enough what a radical development it is to say there is definite knowledge about humanity that is not part of ethics — ethical or “ought” sciences — and is not really contingent or conventional in nature. How to put praxeology in the grand scheme of knowledge? So —
Saifedean Ammous: It’s not physical, it’s not biological — you’re not looking at the biology of the person, you’re not looking at the ethics — and yet you’re making conclusions about what humans do, right?
Conza [14:49]: Exactly. And so man’s freedom to choose is restricted in a three-fold way. And Mises kind of lays it out: first, as you mentioned, is the physical laws — we have to understand those to adjust our conduct if we want to live, second is then the individual’s innate characteristics, with environmental factors that come into play as well — so we obviously know they influence choices of ends and that as well of means, and then you have the third category which is praxeology — which covers the regularity of phenomena with regard to the interconnectedness of means and ends — and so obviously yes not physiological and not physical — but that category is the elucidation of that, an informal examination of it, that third class of laws. Universal, timeless, regardless of a place apply — that’s the subject matter of praxeology. And coming back to why is it important? It can sound potentially boring, but believe me: that body of economic knowledge which is praxeology — which Mises referred to as one branch, and elaborates that it’s the most developed branch — but it’s essentially the structure of human civilization. It’s that vital! All the intellectual, moral, technical achievements build off of this rich treasure of of knowledge. And you can deny the laws of economics, but you can’t defy them. It essentially furnishes laws in the form of: If X and Y remains unchanged, then Z will result. And it’s an incredibly powerful tool. It doesn’t grasp — we’ll go through what it is not as well a little later — the other side of the coin: what it is and what it isn’t. But essentially: an incredible mental tool helping to grasp reality and understand reality specifically relating to human action, which is vital to civilization. So it’s the science that studies the logic of human action — science, scientia, Latin for correct knowledge. It’s older and wiser than the positive/pragmatist attempt to monopolize the term. Rothbard’s got a great article The Mantle of Science and you often have the positivists, the empiricists, that are actually unscientific in their approach where they try and apply the same methodology they apply to the physical sciences, the natural sciences, to human action or the social sciences as well — completely invalid! So yeah, [praxeology] is absolutely a science: it’s all about trying to determine correct knowledge. And you have logic as well. So the way to think about praxeology consists of really two elements — the fundamental axioms: one being human action, and then the propositions successfully deduced from those, with different corollaries as you refine it, different postulates. But neither of those axioms can be deduced or tested or verified by appealing to history — that observation, once it is referenced, it can be recognized as universally true. So it’s like an introspective analysis, and it’s still scientific regardless of that, though — all the propositions are tested according to the universally accepted laws of logic: it doesn’t matter if it’s a short chain or it’s at the very end of a long chain if they’re all building on a proper axiom. A human action axiom that individuals act, use, pursue valued ends with scarce means. And that is in fact an axiom, and we can probably unpack what an axiom is: essentially it’s an unchallengeable and self-evident truth where the critic who attempts to refute it actually proves it to be true in the process of doing that — part of that refutation. So it’s a human axiom whether you go to Aristotelian kind of philosophical bent or neo-Kantian, which we can talk about — a priori over a posteriori — prior to experience or post-experience. Essentially, Mises has given us the proper framework to view human action — it’s an incredible tool. I’ll stop there but there’s a lot more we can unpack in terms of the methodologies that it approaches: methodological dualism, individualism, singularism, and the kind of topics praxology covers. But yeah to answer your question, Why is it important? It’s vitally important to human civilization! One good analogy is if you’re an engineer and someone’s building a bridge and they know, they’re aware that there’s this field of engineering that exists, and if you don’t, you have next to no confidence — you can actually see, physically, the bridge is going to break down or it’s going to be a disaster. So they’ve got skin in the game. But with economics, the challenge is that they feel like they understand it or they don’t know that there’s this whole field of knowledge that they need to learn. So it’s like: if I don’t know calculus, I’m not going around saying calculus is wrong or it’s invalid — I’m aware that there’s this field of knowledge that exists and I have to learn it! I have to take action, study, think to understand it. Frustratingly, with the environment we’re in at the moment, economics is a field in which praxeology is the proper approach for. They’ve got an opinion on these matters but they don’t understand there’s this whole field of knowledge that specifically answers their questions or provides the right framework to look at and the lens to view it. So in democracy, I get a vote — like anything in social sciences, it’s not understanding that it’s by learning about it and by really grasping the reality of: If X and Y remains unchanged, then Z will result. Things like the minimum wage: it becomes clear that, Oh your good feelings of I want people to be paid more money and so I support this state intervention — you’re not going to be able to achieve the ends you want by the means you’re proposing. And really, praxeology — it’s all about providing these hidden laws. And by understanding those, you can really get a better handle on the consequences of various human actions — definitely at a policy level, and in other areas as well. So that’s probably the snapshot of what it is.
Saifedean Ammous [22:05]: In my forthcoming book Principles of Economics, the textbook which you’re reviewing at this point — I don’t know if you’ve gotten to this or if it’s a coincidence, but — that’s the exact example that I use to illustrate the distinction between praxeological reasoning and mainstream economics reasoning, which most people are familiar with. And I think minimum wage is a great example, because from the Keynesian statist neoclassical economics perspective, there’s a bunch of equations and a bunch of numbers and a bunch of aggregates that we look at, and these aggregates say, Well if the minimum wage is this much and the unemployment rate is that much and the GDP is this and the inflation rate is that and aggregate demand is this or that, and industrial output is declining or whatever else, then we put all of these into this giant model — and of course there’s thousands of different ways of doing models over the last century, all of which are basically broken, but — we plug in those aggregates, and then we can figure out what would be the best thing to do for the minimum wage in order to get a better society in whatever metric we’re looking at: more GDP or higher wages or fewer poor people or fewer unemployed people, fewer homeless people. Whatever the metric that we’re concerned with, we can, through an endless variety of ways, formulate an aggregate model that combines the characteristics that we measure in aggregate, finds a relationship between them, and then — since we’re government-paid so there’s no risk of being wrong, there’s no consequence to being wrong — we just go ahead and assume that that’s a scientific relationship, and then we plug it in and we get the number that says, Well the minimum wage needs to be $10, whatever. So then we go and we live in a world in which the minimum wage is $10, and we expect that the physical world in which we live is going to abide by the rules of the model — that some economists whipped up in some university or a central bank or whatever — wherein: if minimum wage goes up this much, then unemployment and inflation and the GDP and aggregate expenditure, industrial output need to react in these precise ways, up 7%, down 2%. And lo and behold: reality doesn’t do that — it’s not a chemical experiment with metals and chemicals and gases that you’re doing in a lab in a controlled setting where you can predict: if I apply this much pressure on this container, then the temperature is going to decline to that much. And you can do it a thousand times in a thousand different labs all over the world and you’ll get the same exact result every single time — that’s not the case with these mathematical models that are in mainstream economics. And so of course we don’t have any kind of mainstream economists who’s come up with a model that has proven to be an accurate representation of things in the real world. And every time they implement something this, it ends up backfiring, and then when it does backfire, there’s this kind of pearl-clutching article in the mainstream press — well academics don’t do any introspection, so there’s never any kind of, Oh well, maybe we messed up? No! If things go bad, it’s because the world didn’t listen to us hard enough! But journalists might write an article about how this thing didn’t work, and of course there are all kinds of reasons you can blame it on other than the fact that the plan itself doesn’t work. That’s the way most people understand economics: if you’ve gone to university, this is how you study macroeconomics. But the praxeology way is that what shapes the world around us are not these aggregates that you put into an equation — what shapes the world around us are human beings. And so when you’re going and saying, The minimum wage needs to go from $7 to $10, what you’re doing is you’re not making the aggregates of the world change — or you’re not gonna make the world have less unemployed or poor people because the world’s going to abide by what your model says — people are going to act based on the law that you put there, and their actions are going to bring about the changes that we see in the world. So: How does a minimum wage law affect people’s actions? That’s the key thing! How do people act? Well the way that it acts, practically speaking — there’s all these wonderful things in your complicated model where this is supposed to go up and that’s supposed to go down in an incredible Rube Goldberg machine, but in reality: all that you’ve done is you’ve told people, If you pay somebody less than $10 you go to jail — that’s it! That’s the relevant bit of information for human action. So what’s the result of that? Nobody’s going to hire anybody for less than $10 — that’s it. That’s how humans act upon it. Now there is a possibility that maybe if you’re getting paid $7, maybe somebody will give you a raise to $10 — you could say that. A macroeconomist response is saying, No! They’re just going to fire everybody, the business will shut down, so they’ll just raise the wages. And again: that’s an aggregate way of looking at things — it’s not the praxeological way because the praxiological way is, Yeah maybe it will raise the wages but the entrepreneur doesn’t sit on a well of endless money where the wage that they give to their worker is just a number that they pick out because it’s what allows them to feel good about themselves. They don’t just pick a random number — they assign the wage that they are willing to pay for the person based on the economics of it, based on the economic calculation that they perform. Of course that’s a central point in economics and in Austrian economics: economic calculations. So when you look at it that way, then how are people going to act in terms of their economic calculation? They’re going to fire people that have a marginal productivity less than $10. And if their business is going to go out of business in that situation and they have no choice but to hire people for more than $10, they’re going to react by raising prices. And of course this then goes back to bite the people who got a minimum wage hike, because the prices of things start going up, so a lot of people end up unemployed, and the people who did get their raise end up getting a raise that causes prices to go up and then can have enormous economic consequences later on. So yeah that was my example.
Conza [28:03]: You hit on that really well. And then I love from a minimum wage perspective the trite response of, Why not $100 an hour? Why not $1,000 an hour minimum wage? As a way to try to get the person to think like, What’s the principle that is established by that? Do they think that just everyone will then be paid that amount? Or obviously it’s like forced unemployment: it’s illegal to hire anyone that is under a certain amount. The challenge is because it’s the seen and the unseen — I think it comes back to that, where people can see the person who’s now getting paid the $15 that’s been raised from $10 or whatever it is and, Oh great! But then they don’t see the person who’s been fired or the job that has been not created or not being utilized in that loss of productivity there. And it comes back to that difference where for praxeology it’s counterfactuals: it’s being utilized, but regardless of whatever the minimum wage is set at, everything else being equal or if more than otherwise, what would be the case in other situations is that obviously the forced unemployment, depending on the level which you talked about, doesn’t help matters — it’s only making worse. Yeah it’s a good example. It’s a tough one with people intuitively as there’s an emotional element to it where, You favor the businessman! You’re evil capitalists! And I think being able to take that rhetorical piece where, No I actually care more about those who are in not great circumstances, have low skills, are trying to upskill, apprenticeships, people who are not going to be hired, the most unfortunate in society — you’re making them unemployed and not allowing them social mobility.
Saifedean Ammous [30:08]: Worse! You’re making them unemployable! That’s the real catastrophe. I think minimum wage law is really implicated in the fact that there’s just a very large number of people that are [now] unemployable. And again if you think about it from the perspective of human action: if you get to the age of 25 and you’ve never developed a work ethic, you’re gonna have a very hard time in the rest of your life. You need to be developing these things at a young age. And at a young age, when you don’t have a work ethic, when you don’t have skills, when you’re not very productive, in that kind of world, you’re not going to get paid a lot — why would anybody want to get you into business and pay you a high salary that’s much higher than your productivity? They won’t! But for most people, they take their first job even if it pays very little. And the reason is: on your first job, you learn. It’s true for bartenders, it’s true for doctors, it’s true for engineers, it’s true for lawyers. My brother is a doctor — when he finished medical school, in his first year he was working as an intern or as a resident. It is a job, but it’s almost like the last year of medical school, because some of the doctors will be getting paid, per hour — compared to how much work they do — they’d be getting paid per hour less than what the janitor in that hospital makes. And yet these doctors are competing to get these jobs because obviously what you learn from the job is much more valuable than what they pay you on, and then the next year you’ll be much more handsomely rewarded for it. So you knock that out — you basically kick away the ladder after you’ve climbed that — you create this entire class of people that are not productive enough to be hired and therefore will never gain the productivity that will make them productive enough to be hired at the [unreasonably high] minimum wage. And of course the other aspect as you mentioned is the rich businessman versus the poor worker dichotomy. People look at it and yeah it seems unfair, but the reality of the matter is that the only reason that that businessman is rich is because — at every point in running that business — they perform economic calculation. At every point, they do the right thing. The reason that a boat is floating is precisely because it plugs every hole as soon as it appears. No matter how big the boat is, you can’t have a tiny little hole in it. A hole will eventually sink the whole thing. The big boat will sink from a very small hole. And so the way that a businessman runs the business is that they have to only hire factors of production — whether it’s capital or labor — if they increase the revenue for the business by more than their wage. And so asking the rich person to go and just run their business in a way that is unprofitable because they’re rich is an admission of not understanding how economics works. Because: the reason you become rich is that you run your business profitably. And of course that rich person — if they had to pay a high salary for somebody in order to get them to work — they will pay it. They’re not out there looking to exploit people — they’ll pay people what they can if they can make money out of it. And so when they have to hire somebody for a high salary, it’s not some conspiracy that they choose to, say, pay the graphic designer more than they paid the janitor. They’re just always constantly looking to optimize it. And again, the perspective of human action is very powerful in understanding that.
Conza [33:30]: And then probably the other side of it as well is what a good economist does! Most of the standard economics profession are bad economists, where Bastiat talks about what makes a good economist is someone who looks at the whole picture. It’s the seen and the unseen — it’s not just one specific side or looking at what has resulted, but what could have resulted. The minimum wage piece, there is surprisingly a real good BBC clip that talks about what raised the minimum wage there, and it was a gentleman who is talking about his son who has a disability. And his son was working in a cafeteria, he’s getting an immense amount of value, and they show him serving customers and there’s an acknowledgment he’s a bit slower and is paid a little less, but it’s not the money that’s actually the value proposition for him — it’s the engagement, it’s him getting a sense of worth — all that. And so the father was lamenting the people who were actually pushing for the minimum wage increase because the business wouldn’t be able to afford him working anymore. So he was going to lose his job, and that was a major part of his life where he was engaging with customers and you can really see him thriving or really having a good time and it’s heartbreaking seeing this kind of clip. It’s not just the cold calculation of economics — it’s understanding human action. And again: there’s no moral high ground for any minimum wage defenders. If anyone supports a minimum wage, you’re a humanitarian with a guillotine, and there’s no good to come from that support. So the power of economics is: you can understand the consequences of your actions and the policy that’s been put in place, and I think that’s why there’s a slight — it’s called the dismal science, but I think it’s only a dismal science if you’re not learning from the Austrian school perspective. It’s akin to applied logic: if you’ve got a Keynesian neoclassical monetarist — essentially a positivist approach — yeah it’s dismal. But it’s an amazingly vibrant and helpful tool to understand the world! That’s potentially why it gets few recommendations down the track, but things are very much mind-blowing in terms of just epistemology. So epistemology being: trying to determine what is the validity of knowledge — praxeology is actually the foundation of that. Hoppe in Economic Science: The Austrian Method really goes into it well. I couldn’t recommend that more! Not as an introductory thing but after you’ve read some introductory texts: Principals of Economics, Economics in One Lesson, a few others, then graduating to that. Then yeah — I think you almost have to read that to be able to call yourself an Austrian or a praxeologist, just to really cement how vital it is and the foundation of that for understanding economics. And that’s just all one branch that we’ll get to in a moment. There are other branches — not often understood — but we can talk about that in a bit. So on the piece that you were touching on: one tool of praxeology is methodological dualism. What’s that? It’s an epistemological position that’s necessary based on our current levels of knowledge and understanding. You have to use a different methodology for the natural sciences and social sciences — or the physical sciences. And there’s also methodological individualism. So, obviously praxeology deals with the actions of individual men and women — that’s another tool. And then there’s methodological singularism, which doesn’t get as much play as individualism, but it’s that it’s value-free. So praxeology — it’s Is-based. It’s not Ought, it’s not It should be the case, We want it to be this — it’s very much looking at reality and what is the situation. And the content isn’t relevant — it’s the logical structure of human action. So whether you should drink wine or water? That’s a thymological, to use a Mises phrase — the reason Why? is a thymological question. It’s a psychological question.
Saifedean Ammous [37:55]: What exactly do you mean by thymological?
Conza [37:59]: It’s psychological, so: why someone chooses to drink water or wine — it’s something that’s irrelevant to economics and irrelevant to praxeology. Why does this person have beer or water? That’s the distinction in Theory and History: Mises goes into it really well where you’ve got Theory which is praxeology’s realm and looking at the scientific approach, so it’s all Is-based. And then there’s different fields within human action that aren’t universal laws: they don’t apply regardless of time and place and location. Thymology is Mises’s catch-all for the psychological types of questions: why a man acts in particular certain circumstances? But praxeology: All right, I hear this term — what can we talk about? What can it cover off? And there’s a litany of topics that fall under its umbrella. So obviously: ends, means, time, value, costs, profit and loss, preference — being time preferenced or not, types of uncertainty/certainty, causality, marginal utility, prediction, production, returns, exchange, capital, rationality, goods, probability, interest rates, labor, calculation, price in competition, money markets, wages, taxes, credit, business cycles, inflation, deflation, and understanding. So look: it’s almost like if you have any kind of opinion on anything that relates to human action, praxeology can be incredibly helpful, or at least to understand — talking about epistemology — how praxeology is the foundation of that. It has adjusted what that task of epistemology is: determining the validity of knowledge. What knowledge is a priori? What knowledge is prior to experience? What is theory? And using introspection and basing that on axioms and deducing — using the axiomatic deductive method. Humans act, and from that simple proposition you get 1,500 pages of Man, Economy, and State elaborating on that, and similar with Human Action. So there’s a ton of topics that get covered. And again, part of my passion for praxeology is really elaborating or highlighting to people that there is this field of knowledge, because often they don’t know it exists! That’s what drives me a fair bit with pushing that. And just the sheer fact that they know it exists — that they’re then like, Okay well maybe my opinion on the minimum wage is nonsensical. It’s like building a bridge — I know there’s engineering and I need to learn that topic to build a valid bridge. Similarly, when we’re operating in the sphere of human action here, I need to understand praxeology — economics, which is the celebrated branch — to actually contribute or have a proper understanding, a valid approach to the things.
Saifedean Ammous [41:25]: I think really all of praxeology comes from the axiom that humans act. For non-Austrians it seems almost like Austrians are just cheating: they make all of this analysis and then they come up with a result that the government shouldn’t do this, the government shouldn’t spend money, the government shouldn’t tax, the government shouldn’t place regulations that restrict peoples’ freedoms, and so on. And it just all seems so predictable, and it all seems a preset agenda, which is why they think of it as an ideology: These people are just ideological free market fundamentalists who want rich people to make more money at the expense of poor people, and that’s why they always want to stop our genius plans of helping the poor people by making it illegal to hire them or locking them up at home and telling them to breathe through dirty cloth because that’s what makes them healthy! So Austrians are generally always skeptical of this — and now it occurs to me: perhaps the biggest vindication of praxeology might just be the global hysteria over the last two years over the pandemic stuff, because it’s actually quite startling how it really was an excellent test of intelligence, integrity, but also economic methodology. Because it’s truly astonishing: only the Austrians — and specifically the proper Misesian Austrians — who were the ones who were, in March 2020, speaking out about this. People like me, Tom Woods, Jeff Deist, Ryan McMaken, Jeffrey Tucker, Konrad Graf — a lot of those people! It’s astonishing that they all arrived at the same conclusion, when everybody else was freaking out and wetting their pants and concluded that 1 out of 7 is gonna die because some data from China — which is known for its reliable data — is telling us that we’re all going to die. And so which one of the seven people you love the most in the world is going to be the one that’s gonna be taken? That was the kind of hysteria! And of course when people are scared they become stupid — fear is the most effective way of making you stupid. And so it was quite startling. The people who think from the Human Action perspective think: no matter how dangerous this thing is, telling people they can’t leave home and that they should do this and they shouldn’t do that and if they don’t do this they go to jail or whatever if they leave their house, or they must wear this thing or take that medical intervention or whatever — this can’t work out well because you’re forcing people at gunpoint to do things that they otherwise would not want to do! And that’s the heart of it: it’s not an ideology — it’s not that we’re just anti-government for the sake of being anti-government. We’re not just radical 17-year-olds who just want to sound edgy. The real issue is that when you impose something against a human’s will, you are not going to improve on the actions they would have taken if they had followed their own will. And so for me, the entirety of the idea of Human Action — praxeology — comes back to the fact that humans have a will. And that is not something they teach you in school! They don’t talk about your will because your will is not important and your will makes the class — the industrial production of education — it makes it difficult to carry on if you are told that your will is important and that you should listen to yourself and that you should carry out the things that you will and that you should not be excited about people who want to subvert your will according to theirs. Because: no matter how special they think they are — if their ideas are good — they should be able to convince you willingly to adopt their ideas. And they need to threaten you with violence in order to do something! You may not be the smartest person in the world. You may not be doing the thing that other people would do in your position. But you’re doing the thing that is right for you, and if you make a mistake you have a very strong incentive to learn about it. So peoples’ wills — they’re always being driven by their will and they act in a way that they know is better for them. They might be wrong, but overall when you force them to act against their will you’re going to definitely be wrong! You can’t help somebody by threatening them with violence.
Conza [45:52]: Absolutely. And I think hitting on why the Austrians, maybe they crossover with the Austrian school being prescient in those times and then it rolls over to the Libertarian side of things or rights-based arguments: historically — Walter Block, love him but — throughout the Austrian School it’s set up, in terms of relating to praxeology, you’ve got the Austrian School which is value-free, it’s Is-based, and then you’ve got Libertarianism where it’s Ought-based and it’s normative and within the sphere of ethics. I’ve come to the realization, and I think the better framing — and this is following a lot of Konrad Graf’s work — is: the reason why there’s an underlying connection and a lot of crossover is that, in terms of economics, a lot of it presupposes property rights. Trade, money, and whatnot: you need an understanding of property rights not to do economics, but it’s presupposed. And thanks to Konrad Graf — he’s got an excellent article/monograph called Action-Based Jurisprudence and it really repositions the understanding of Austrian economics, value-free, Is-based, and, Wait no hang on Libertarianism — not normative, not Ought-based — technically even in Rothbard’s terms, if you want to use the old language, it’s a meta-normative. It’s not what you should do, it’s what you have a right to do — he talks about that. And so really when you look at Rothbard, Hoppe, even though they’re using the word ethics, it’s definitional — it’s more: This is what theft is. Looking at it bigger picture, you’ve got praxeology which is using a tree metaphor: you’ve got the root of praxeology, which is derived using the analysis of actions of an isolated individual — the concept of action and its first implications, and then you’ve got the trunk which comprises the analysis of classes of commutative acts, so: embroidering/claiming and consenting accounts for the concept of the first appropriation, possibility of consensual transfer of property right, property titles. And those concepts are prior to the branching into economic theory. And then legal theory is another branch as well. And what helps elaborate on that is you’ve got Hoppe’s a priori of communication and argumentation — also, argumentation ethics. If you want to look at the philosophy: it’s not a consequentialist approach to rights, it’s not a deontological, although it can be sometimes construed that way — it’s a praxeological approach to legal theory. Thank you, you’ve shown the image there. It’s a good example.
Saifedean Ammous: Yeah I’ve just shown the image and if you’re listening without video you can see it in the show notes. Go on.
Conza [49:09]: So that’s the easiest way to look at it in terms of the internal structure — you’ve obviously got complex issues that can relate to both: you have an economic side of things to it, and you can look at it through a legal lens as well, and then both of those combined. And then you’ve obviously got at the top, thymology, or the why, and the history side of things. So that should be the most advanced way to look at how praxeology sits in the grand scheme of things, and also why there’s seemingly so much crossover. Although you have the Austrian school value-free approach where it’s all just Is-based, technically the legal theory side of things is just Is-based as well. It praxeologically delimits the sphere of what is justifiable — it gets very nuanced and you honestly need to go down into that depth. But yeah it’s an amazing journal article written in 2011. I think it’s still the most advanced building standing on the shoulders of giants from Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, and then Kinsella. I very much appreciate his accuracy on a lot of things — this is the creme de la creme at this point.
Saifedean Ammous [50:29]: I should add: I’m a big fan of Konrad. He was enormously influential in my understanding of economics and my understanding of Bitcoin, in particular, as well. He was one of the earliest people who wrote about Bitcoin. He wrote a couple of articles on it that were extremely extremely influential. At that time, very few people were talking about Bitcoin at all and he was analyzing it from an Austrian perspective in an extremely sophisticated and advanced way. And I think I was extremely lucky because I chanced across it very early. A lot of Austrians had this idea that, Oh yeah this clearly can’t work because it violates the Mises Regression Theorem — I just never had that hang up because I first heard about it from Konrad! He’s a brilliant man. I should get him on the show. I should talk to him about coming on. He’s incredible in his analytical capabilities.
Conza [51:22]: What I value so much is a ridiculous level of value-free approach. He takes that to the nth degree of really understanding things first, so he can first understand and then be understood. He has this approach where it’s no hang-ups and no baggage when looking at something new and trying to understand it. I also have him to thank for an evolutionary health approach. I’ve been carnivore for many years — he pointed me in the right direction there. Part of it is we’re talking about getting someone from a nocoiner to a coiner, eventually hopefully to a wholecoiner: for me it was that I trusted him completely in one area with Action-Based Jurisprudence — the things I’d been thinking about for quite some time. I then came across his work, I was like, Okay I don’t need to write anything! This is exactly it — nailed. And then, Okay well Bitcoin — given my understanding, thinking there’s a few issues but — No! Him clearing them up and then obviously indicating why I was wrong. But I had that trust and I was just like, You’re on point in this area — okay I can trust you or at least it opens the door a bit, foot in the door, to then understand and look at that. And it’s interesting seeing the Bitcoin maximalist community — these different areas, rabbit holes people have gone down. Initially they’d be like, Oh that’s crazy! A carnivore? But then, No — you go down and you validate it yourself. It’s being intellectually honest. But you’ve got an amazing community: we’re all improving. There’s the old school Leonard Read, founder of Foundation for Economic Education, and he has this great talk about one improved unit. And it’s not necessarily about trying to change others — it’s focusing on yourself by growing, whatever level you’re at. He has this dark room and he’s got a little light, and he’s like: It doesn’t matter how bright you start or where you go — it’s that growth that is the attraction. And by improving yourself you can then attract others. Others are like — as a convincing piece — it’s like, Well he’s got his life sorted out, he’s happy, he’s successful. So what is he doing? What does he think? And that is more of the appeal to family and friends and others in the draw card, as opposed to trying to push or change minds. And so I see a lot of that within the community, which I think is fantastic, and it’s such a joy to be around Bitcoiners.
Saifedean Ammous [54:00]: It’s pretty remarkable how — particularly the carnivore issue — it just comes along with us. It seems like it’s a program you have to go through: Bitcoin and carnivore and Libertarianism and all those things. And again — it looks ridiculous for people who don’t understand any of those things because they can’t really see what is common between them. Like, Why would you go and read these weird Austrian people that are not even taught at Harvard? They don’t teach them in Harvard — why would you go read them? And similarly: Why would you go try this crazy crazy way of eating where you don’t eat all the amazing supermarket candy and the sludge that is there for you to eat that is highly addictive? Why would you want to deprive yourself of that when it’s FDA-approved? It’s been tested on humans and they know that it’s safe and it’s good for you! And all right, maybe you can cut down a little bit if you’re eating too much, but why would you want to live this weird life where you’re depriving yourself and your children of all these extremely addictive poisons? And there’s all this scientific literature out there that explains why you should eat a balanced diet that balances between nutrition and poison and makes you sick — that’s just insane for them that people would doubt that. And yet, if you’ve decided to study economics on your own and you’ve decided that, No I’m gonna go with what makes sense rather than what authority says, then you’re going to end up being an Austrian — there’s no escaping it. And similarly with nutrition: if you just keep reading PubMed, you can spend all of your life on PubMed coming up with conclusions like a glass of wine protects you from diabetes or whatever and eat some chocolate so that you don’t get cancer and coffee protects you from this and that and make sure you drink broccoli smoothies — there’s an endless amount of things that you’ll find in PubMed that are “good” for you. If you don’t try it yourself, if you don’t experiment on your own, and if you can’t manage to think for yourself, then no matter how much you read from PubMed you’re going to go back to the people — essentially, the fiat system — that shapes the way that this science is formulated. And the only way to break out of it is to think for yourself, and it’s just true across the board. And the common fact between all of those things is that you think for yourself: if you think for yourself, if you go and try to make sense of the world of economics on your own, you’re going to see that Keynes’s books are just an impediment — they’re the obstacle you need to get over in order to understand the world, whereas the Austrians help you understand the world. The amazing thing is — Okay, yes Mises isn’t the smoothest writer to read. He was writing in German 100 years ago. I read this very perceptive sentence about him once — I don’t remember who said it, but: Even when he was writing in English, he was writing in German. His mind is German. And so his English is not very easy for non-German speakers to grasp — so it isn’t that easy. But the thing about reading the Austrians is: you read an Austrian economist and he explains to you how the world works. You read a Keynesian economist in the modern university — you read their paper — the only thing that you could achieve after many many hours of trying to understand what they’re doing with their math and all of the modeling and all the extremely sophisticated mathematical techniques that they employ, the only thing that you will achieve after reading and understanding the paper is that you’ve understood the paper. And this was one of my favorite parts of being in graduate school, where I would go in and ask the professor, or at a seminar somebody would present the paper and I’d always say, All right so you’re right: X, G, Y — this constant that you made up goes up. All right, cool. Good for you — so how’s this useful? And there’s always this joke among economists that, Well yeah it’s useful because it “informs” policy, but they all know that it’s useful because it just gets me published and that gets me to keep my job. It’s make-work, essentially: if you’re trying to understand the world, all that you’re doing by reading it is just looking at a video of somebody jumping through hoops in order to get a prize, and the prize is tenure and the hoops are getting these papers published, but it’s not going to help you understand the world — it’s not going to help you make sense of how the world works. If there is any kind of relevance to the real world, it’s always to promote an inflationary agenda. At the end of the day, all of the research in economics — particularly monetary economics — almost all of it, something like 90% of it is financed by the central bank, by the Federal Reserve in the US. There’s a paper by Larry White on this which I always like to bring up because it’s great: you find the funding is almost always associated with the Federal Reserve. So there’s no way the Federal Reserve is going to finance somebody that comes up with an anti-inflationary conclusion. Even if you’re anti-inflationary, you can be anti-inflationary within the context of inflationary monetary policy — the kind of Milton Friedman anti-inflation: you can have your inflations and we’ll bail out the banks if there is ever any problem, but we don’t want to have very fast inflation. This is the most conservative position you can have. But you’re never allowed to ask, Why should we even have a central bank? And I remember asking this when I first got the Austrian pill: I’d ask this to all kinds of prominent professors at Colombia and elsewhere that I’d meet at conferences and I’d be like, Why should the money supply increase? It was a Borat moment in those interviews. When I was doing my interviews for my job — I did the American Economic Association meetings, it was in San Francisco in 2009 — I was there to interview various universities for my job. Coincidentally enough, it was exactly on the day that Bitcoin started running: January 3rd, 2009. I remember that day — I didn’t know about Bitcoin, obviously — but when I heard about the date of Bitcoin, I remembered, Where was I that day? Oh yeah, I was going after prominent economist John Taylor and various other people and would be like, Yeah well John Taylor, you’ve got this amazing formula for how much the interest rate should be so the increase of the money supply goes up — well why can’t the money supply just stay constant? Why do we even need to increase the money supply in the first place? And it was just this Borat moment where they all would look aside —
Conza [1:00:26]: It’s crazy how much blinkers — and partly, obviously if they’re paid propagandists in a sense, often they would reject that. But when the hand that is feeding you is the central bank, or a lot of funding comes from the money printer there, you’d obviously lean that way — specifically with talking about inflation. Rothbard’s got an example where the Fed — it’s the classic case of the robbers running down the road yelling, Stop thief! But he’s the actual thief. You constantly see that with the central banks around the world: anything and everything is inflationary. Whether it’s the war in Ukraine — whatever it is. I’m not harping on the actual definition, which is: an increase in the money supply and who can control it, because if you ask that question then it’s, Who controls the money supply? Well it’s the state, and then that’s the culprit via central banks. But even just at the moment the word inflation in a general usage has lost its actual scientific meaning that Mises uses. Inflation is defined wrongly as an increase in prices. And so even some well-intentioned folk refer to prices going up and down. They’ll say, Oh the price of these goods went up because of inflation. As an example of using inflation as an impact on the cost of living: the price could have gone down. So for instance technology — the price of a TV is down 50%. Without inflation though, that could have gone down 60%, but inflation’s at 10%. So if that’s not being factored in, it’s still not comprehensive, it’s not scientific, it’s not looking at the counterfactual of what could have been as well. So it’s almost like they run interference: if they can make that term not understood and obfuscate it as much as possible, they’ve done their job as cover. Because when you really point out who is understanding inflation and it stops being about, Oh the evil greedy businessman is raising his prices, it’s: No, well there’s more pieces of paper chasing the same amount of goods in society — there’s not actually more goods — that’s the real culprit. Economic knowledge is really the key thing there. And with Bitcoin, it provides this foundation [to combat] the anti-intellectual intellectuals, as Hoppe calls them, but speaking of it just in terms of revolution — obviously you’ve got the state, you’ve got the central banks — they’re paying off the economists, the universities, grants just as a general industry. They’re all about obfuscation. It’s a barrier of mental thickets to people: I don’t want to learn economics because that’s dismal, that’s math, that’s not gonna add any value to my world, or understanding of things — it’s too hard. When really in reality, it’s the opposite: when you learn the Austrians and talk about praxeology, the verbal logic couldn’t be more clearer. The writers: Mises for the general mindset, but Rothbard if you’re looking for — talking of clarity — just next-level simplicity. Bitcoin is the counter to that world: it provides the intellectual foundation outside the system. If the state controls money and can affect everything — if you can go outside that, which Bitcoin allows, yourself, others earning Bitcoin, that growth there — it provides that platform for FU money where you’re uncensorable, unrestrictable. Many individuals can gain from promoting that, and it becomes this awesome cycle, and it allows for the real change to happen. So I know we’re still kind of early days, but it’s great to see the continual growth. It really is going to be such a game-changing piece — it already has been. The use cases are extensive but even just Number Go Up in the long-term as a savings vehicle just being able to do that. In the current environment we’re in it’s almost like the collapse has to happen — Mises talks about the Jacobites, French Revolution — bad ideas kind of have to come to a head. They’re often militarist with inflation: collapse of the currencies is almost foregone, and what we should be doing is we understand that, we’ve got the escape hatch, we’ve got Bitcoin the lifeboat, but it’s also building these communities of like-minded individuals. I strongly recommend getting around to any local meetups where you can start to build this community. And just here specifically in Melbourne we’ve got a [Bitcoin meat] — similar to Beef Initiative — here you can use sats on cattle and, from directly engaging with a farmer, cutting out any kind of third-party state interventions. And then there’s other areas we’re expanding as well — people are talking about a Bitcoin pub. So that’s be my extra push is: if you haven’t already — like, yeah my initial objections were, Maybe ASIO’s there, maybe ATO, the FBI for different things but — having opsec or operational security in my mind, but the benefits I think outweigh the negatives in terms of privacy stuff. So there’s a lot of cool like-minded people out there, and get across to them — that would be my message.
Saifedean Ammous [1:06:25]: Another important point — to go back to the inflation point — is that Keynesian, animist view of the world. It’s all animal spirits and it’s really like voodoo: one day people wake up and the stock market has crashed. And why did the stock market crash? Because animal spirits crashed it. People one day, they woke up and they were just not in the mood for working and spending — sorry not working, nobody cares about working in the Keynesian view, Keynes never had a job in his life, never worked and never understood what work means, and he squandered his fortune, lost it all gambling, he was a complete loser in every sense of the word, a complete idiot — he never quite understood the value of production or saving or any of these concepts which are pretty central to economics and which is what makes the idea that we venerate this idiot completely laughable. From this idiotic perspective that most people today have of economics as this mysterious thing where one day animal spirits collapse and then the market collapses and then we need to find a way to fix it, and the only way to fix it is — guess what? Print money and hand it to John Maynard Keynes’s bankster buddies — that’s just always the answer. In that kind of perspective, I mean you can arrive at any conclusion you want once — as Voltaire said, If somebody makes you believe absurdities then you can commit atrocities. And so when you believe that animal spirits are the reason that poor people are now out on the streets and unemployed and destitute, then yeah sure it makes sense: let’s just print money, devalue everybody’s wealth, hand it over to bankers, and that will fix it. Well yeah if you start off being an idiot thinking that it’s all animal spirits then I could drive you to any idiotic conclusion — and that’s why people cheer on for their robbery! That’s why people cheer on their theft. That’s why people watch central banks destroying their livelihood, destroying their future, and they cheer it on. Oh wow! The central bank is giving us free money! Isn’t that great? They gave us free money! Isn’t it great? It’s like a teacher and he’s handing you gold stars that don’t cost him anything. But if you have the human action perspective on it, if you don’t believe in idiotic voodoo superstitious bullshit like animal spirits, if you actually think that yeah it’s human beings, then inflation doesn’t just happen and recessions don’t just happen — somebody, somewhere does something and that’s what causes the inflation to happen. So somebody, somewhere has a money printer and they click Print and then more pieces of paper are circulating and then the price [of the money] goes down. These pieces of paper didn’t just materialize because animal spirits went up or down — somebody clicked a button. It could be physical money, as was the case in most of the 20th century — meaning printing paper money that causes the hyperinflation, it could be credit money — which is the case increasingly in the more advanced economies in the 20th century, that it’s through the creation of credit. But this notion that inflation just happens or it’s just the result of supply chain stuff or foreign bad people doing bad things unlike our good leaders — it’s another thing that benefit from the fact that people don’t understand praxeology! If you understood praxeology, you’d realize that all of this stuff that you’ve gone through over the last two years, it was not because of a virus that just destroyed the world — it was because of the central planners that took over the world, powered by an inflationary money printer that makes them completely indomitable: so they can shut down your business, they can shut down the whole world for months and years, and they’re still doing lockdowns in different places. And if you don’t have the praxeological way of thinking, if you don’t think of the world in terms of human action, then honestly it’s a lot like primitives tribes that used to attach all kinds of spiritual and supernatural powers to physical objects — they’d worship a totem or they’d worship a little piece of wood or a tree or something, and they’d believe that if you jumped in a certain way around this tree then it would give you certain things. And it’s the same kind of superstitious nonsense where you imagine causal chains of action that don’t exist, and you want the world to abide by them. But once you realize, No it’s all human beings — it’s human beings all the way down: everything that you see around you is done by human beings, human beings that are acting. The only reason you even see any value in anything that can be economics, the reason we have such a thing as an economy, it’s because human beings give value to things. We don’t just come into a world where things are valuable and we just learn to accept their value as it is — we value things at every stage.
Conza [1:11:07]: Yeah I think part of the power of praxeology is — coming back to your point about the lockdowns — the value-free approach in that sense, which is by focusing on private property rights. And it’s the solution that the lockdowns and people’s concerns — that really never got much play even [inaudible 1:11:26] to me which is the most fundamental answer. So obviously you can argue pro-masks, we need masks for public health blah blah blah, or if you’re anti-masks — the solution is private property! So instead of a state edict putting one rule across all of society — if you focus on private property rights allowing individual businesses, organizations to decide what rules are on their property, then you have this rich mosaic of choice for customers. So like, Okay I’m 80-years-old and I’m health-conscious and I don’t know anything so I’ll be ultra-cautious, I’ll go to the cinema that’s ultra-masks and temp checks and whatever, are vaxxed-only. And then you’ve got, Well okay then I’m young and I’m aware it’s not as dangerous as it appears, I will then go to a pub that has no restrictions and doesn’t care. Everyone wins in that sense by focusing on private property rights. And then also, if businesses are making bad decisions — I’ve got a friend who was has a medical background but for Netflix in Australia: his business was about providing good advice in the peak of the period because they didn’t want a case to shut down production and all that. And by competing, you have those services: instead of just having to follow the state guidelines, the public health officer he doesn’t have any skin in the game — if his advice is terrible then no other business is going to want to follow his approach. And so actually the market can provide what works. We know there’s some unintended consequences as well: maybe at supermarkets here one supermarket was masks-only, and then another supermarket is no masks, don’t care — maybe the people who are sick and are wearing a mask, they feel more like, Well I don’t want to give it to someone. But instead of staying indoors because masks “work”, I’m going to go out to the shopping center that has masks because I don’t want to get anyone else sick. But lo and behold it turns out the masks don’t work and more people get sick at the place that requires masks. So it’s like, Who knows what would transpire? But at least we have that mechanism, people with skin in the game, individuals, entrepreneurs trying to make the right outcome. And it’s across the lines that a private property rights-based approach is a solution to these issues — similarly like climate change. Rothbard’s got a canonical work on air pollution and private property rights, and it really just lays out the a priori: the private property rights, the private law, the kind of praxological approach which is the legitimate framework and then okay empirically you can argue, What do you have a right to do? Is there actual pollution? Is there actual damage? Have you got strict liability? Have you got causation and you’re going to make that case? Have you got the burden of proof? It’s like, If you want to make the case that there’s climate change: sue someone specifically, overcome those burdens that you need to do as a plaintiff, make the case to that court. But it’s also not a precedent setting thing: it’s not an appeal to the state or special interests getting involved — it’s in a court, ideally a private law court, that understands the proper framework and then it’s an actual rock-solid answer. With the praxological approach it’s a priori — it’s grounded in human action but also a priori of argumentation and communication — so Hoppe’s argumentation ethics — both of those kind of entwined, there’s an answer. When you’re contrasting that with the empirical discussions of, Is McDonald’s better than Hungry Jacks? Or, Who has more — the natural sciences around what happens here? It requires testing: you have a hypothesis, you test it, it’s always open. The science is never settled in that sense — it’s always open to adjustments. And I find relying on the rights-based arguments is a lot more effective, because a guy relying on any empirical stuff — even if we say, Fossil fuels are good — there are arguments that I think can help sway things, but there’s a never-ending nature of, Oh here’s my study that says this is X amount of methane or whatever is good or bad. They’ll just show another one! To shut the conversation down, it’s: Well do you agree with these principles? What do you have a right to do? And if they do, then it’s, Okay great — there’s no concern. They’re not initiating violence against anyone. They’re not supporting state intervention — they support the same framework. And in reality, you can — through action — people can get to what’s real. That’s kind of a highlight I think that often gets not focused on as it probably should.
Saifedean Ammous [1:16:46]: I think the COVID story was again another perfect example of this. I mean regardless of what you think of the masks or the highly lucrative products that I don’t like to mention by name because I don’t want to get canceled or whatever kind of intervention — whatever it is, the correct answer is private property. It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s right or wrong — you should want to use it. Being able to differentiate between whether you want to do something or not and whether other people are allowed to do that thing or not is, for me, is both what makes somebody a Libertarian, but also an adult! Like, really — this is what being an adult is: if you’re able to get over the fact that you don’t like baseball and that’s fine and that’s fine for other people to go out and play baseball even if you don’t like it — you’re an adult. If you’re going out saying, I don’t like baseball, therefore we need to stop people from being playing baseball, you are a child. It doesn’t matter what baseball is — we could replace it with anything else. If you want to throw people in jail because they drink or smoke things that you don’t like, you’re a child — you’re not an adult. This is what it really ultimately comes down to. And so in the case of all of the restrictions around COVID, it was very obvious from the beginning that, Well all right, let people decide — you stay home. And for me — I mean everybody laughed at me at the beginning — but I knew, because obviously this isn’t the World Health Organization’s first rodeo, I had followed these people before and I know that anytime somebody sneezes anywhere in the world they’re eager to declare a global pandemic because that’s what their institution is there for. If you set up an organization to fight global pandemics, they’re gonna try and find global pandemics, because without global pandemics the institution doesn’t have a raison d’être — it doesn’t have a reason to exist. So again, the human action — people who work in organizations that fight pandemics want to see pandemics everywhere — when you’re a hammer everything is a nail. And so the World Health Organization has done this many times before with SARS and pig flu and whatever — all these things. And they always exaggerated it, so I knew this was always going to be exaggerated, but it didn’t matter: whatever it is, I was very happy for people to carry out whatever restrictions they wanted as long as they stayed away from me. My personal strategy was: from day one I’m going to continue to take care of my health in a way that got me called neurotic by all the same very bad unhealthy people who were telling me that I should lock myself up and breathe through dirty cloth and take untested therapeutics in order to protect myself. Well my strategy was, I’m just going to do what I always do to stay healthy, which is: I eat meat, I don’t eat junk, and I get a lot of sunshine, and I work out. And here we are two years later and it turns out that that has been more effective than all the stupid criminal bullshit that all the public health criminals have foisted upon the world. Really, ultimately: you look at the rates of hospitalizations and serious complications and deaths and you see what is driving them — it’s really metabolic health. If you are not healthy, then the virus is a serious problem. If you are healthy, the virus is a bad flu. And I got it twice and I recovered from it very quickly as it turns out. But yeah eating steaks and getting sunshine turned out to be much more effective than all the stupid criminal garbage that your government told you to do. And the reason — the important point I think — is again why praxeology is just such an inconvenient thing for people in power, why freedom and economic freedom is such an inconvenient thing, because well after a while it became clear the evidence was mounting that these things weren’t working. I mean it was just so startling: you have to actively seek to be a moron to not notice all the mountains of evidence that were amassing. So you have Sweden, you had Belarus, you had several countries that didn’t do any of the stupid voodoo that the World Health Organization told the world to do — all of the Bill Gates science — they didn’t do any of that stuff. Now, they promoted this insane bullshit based on the premise that if we don’t do it we’re going to have mass death, we’re going to have bodies in the streets, we’re going to have hospitals piling up. If you have a shred of intellectual honesty and if you’re anything more than just a hysteric who watches TV and gets programmed to go out and shout at people what the TV tells them — if you have a shred of intellectual honesty, you’d want to study places like Belarus and Sweden in the most excruciating detail to see what would have happened if we didn’t do this. And yet: zero intellectual curiosity among the people who had this because, again, life — if you don’t understand the praxeological way of thinking about how humans act, then it’s all just about decrees from authority and it’s all just about Trust The Science and listen to the right person: here’s my study which shows that masks work, and here’s my study that shows that masks don’t work — it doesn’t matter! I mean well it does matter — you should read those things to make your own decision and you should feel free to advocate those decisions to others. Yeah tell others, I think masks are great! You should wear them! — but once you cross the line into using force against others, that’s where it becomes a problem. And in particular with the therapeutics, I think a big part of the push for the mandates of all these therapeutics was the fact that, had they let people have the freedom — it was becoming very obvious that these things weren’t as effective as advertised, and so you had to eliminate the control group. This is why they needed the mandates, because if you had a control group then you could study the two and you could compare infection rates and you could find that this thing is not really making a difference. That’s pretty damning!
Conza [1:22:42]: Yeah definitely. I like to focus on health and it’s essentially — all over — socialized medicine. And looking at, again, the private property rights-based approach it’s like, Okay look this is a pandemic — even if you wanted to accept that — well then I think health is so vital that the last thing you want is the state being in control of it. And Hoppe has got an epic 4-step solution to healthcare using economic knowledge and the praxological approach of rights-based, it’s: 1) Eliminating all licensing requirements for medical schools, hospitals, pharmacies, medical doctors, and health care providers, like personnel. So increasing supply is a key thing there: instantly prices generally would fall, you get more variety of options, better consumer choice. 2) Removing and eliminating all government restrictions on production and sale of pharmaceutical stuff — a lot of FDA involvement as well, and just appealing to these CDC-FDA mollosks of authority really not through efficacy or being really valid at all. 3) Deregulating the health insurance industry. Insurance in a free society has a much bigger part to play where it can properly align incentives not just talking about security but also for health where, if your standards can develop where it’s like, What is the actual proper approach? You don’t need the state dictating, This is the one way — Masks work, and initially it was masks don’t work and then vice versa. World Health Organization has been on both sides of the recommendations consistently. Early days it was, No they don’t, and then theye flip it on a script and they do. Well if you’re allowed, again, this rich mosaic of choice, two years of our lives — or at least a year of unknowns — we’d have a lot better understanding a lot quicker and potentially a lot lives would have been saved a lot earlier. And just the sheer fact of, as you said with metabolic health being a key thing — it’s like fasting and the benefits of autophagy and stuff like, Fasting doesn’t have a marketing department. There’s no special interest groups. With health and meat, I think that the butchers really should understand this carnivore community and push that a bit more. I’m surprised they’re not! We almost need to join forces: Bitcoin, meat, farmers. With what’s happening in the Netherlands in the farming world, with where things are heading with the World Economic Forum where you control the food supply, making it harder for farmers and then you can funnel people more into cities to be more easily controlled. I think there’s value in, again, establishing those relationships outside of current systems — paying sats to get some meat is a pretty good way to go about things. 4) Eliminating all subsidies. Not just the insurance piece but what you subsidize, you get more of. And if you’re subsidizing sick and unhealthy people, then you get more of it. And either unintended or intended consequences: a lot of hospitals and others, doctors being paid considerable amounts per jab or whatever — they’ve got an incentive aligned to look the other way if things are not necessarily going as they should be or as effective as they are being proclaimed as because there’s money going into their pocket as well. So it’s a corrupting influence there — not just talking about regulatory capture. But yeah even on their own terms: if we want to accept, Oh this is vitally important and it’s not just the flu — sure, but hey these are the actual solutions! Taking your fear — people watching mindless news just pumping at them — I think half the benefit is getting people to try and turn that stuff off. As a bigger thing, people need to understand — and I think what your book The Bitcoin Standard does so well — is: people need to know that there’s a problem and understand what that is before they can get a solution or even think about a solution. So, often we go around like, This is the solution — Bitcoin solves all of these things — it fixes these things. But often we need to highlight like, This is the actual problem it solves, and a lot of people do that really well. But the same goes with Libertarianism: state is the monopoly of ultimate decision-making over a given territory, with the ability to tax — a lot of issues in society really stems from that. And it’s half a good fun game of, Hey what’s its current problem? — whatever it is — trying to chase back having to think about, Well what state interventions have caused that? What have contributed to that? Even just inflation. So Guido Hülsmann has a good article about how that impacts culture — and you’ve talked about it really well in relation to time preference — and it’s, again, just another element of how the power of praxeology and understanding it, you see things in a different light and it’s really 20/20 vision as opposed to the blurred glasses of mental thickets of the state getting in the way. It’s almost better not knowing economics in terms of positivist empiricist crap — you’re better off coming to it with a clean slate, and then learning the Austrian School is going to get you up to speed a lot quicker than if you’ve got all these mental thickets of the Keynesian, different models. It’s far harder to undo.
Saifedean Ammous [1:28:47]: I should add — on the issue of Austrian economics and obviously the points you mentioned I agree with entirely on healthcare reform — one other point where praxeology helps you is during the pandemic of the last couple of years, I didn’t just recover very quickly because of steaks and sunshine. I did also take a couple of treatment drugs that are frowned upon very very very heavily by everybody who watches TV. Man these drugs are — I’m not going to say the name because let’s not get canceled but they have the acronyms HCQ and IVM. I’ve taken both. I’ve witnessed enormous improvement after taking them immediately, and millions of people around the world report the same thing. But for people who trust an authority, for people who can’t think, then you have all these experts and authorities getting on TV and telling you, Don’t take this! Even though it’s generally harmless — even though it’s very well studied and we’ve had it for decades and we know that there aren’t real complications, It’s very very very very very important that you not take it even if you’re going to die, even if you’re close to dying, it’s very important that you not take this! And the lengths to which they went to stop people from taking these drugs — which are very very well vetted — I mean people take the first one, HCQ, they take it as a preventative for malaria. So it’s not like you’re getting on chemotherapy or anything. It’s not you’re doing enormous damage to your body if you take it — the implications of it are very well understood. But for the average person, you just hear people in authority saying this: Don’t take it! And then you just don’t take it. You can’t think anymore in terms of human action. Well why are these people saying it? If you think in terms of human action, it’ll become very obvious: these drugs are old drugs — they’ve been around for decades and they don’t have patents, so there’s no way to make money off of them. If you gave everybody in the world HCQ, it’s incredibly cheap — there’s no patent on it, anybody can manufacture it. The formula is out in the open, anybody can make more of it, so there’s no money to be made. But there are of course patented solutions to the problem — alleged solutions, we should say — and these are highly profitable! You can see why health authorities would have the incentive to go with what pays better. So it may sound like it is just absurd that they would prioritize their wealth and millions of dollars over the lives of strangers — it may sound absurd to you but might not be so absurd to many many people. We have countless examples of people who would be willing to sacrifice the lives of others for their financial profit. Unfortunately that’s just another part of human action that we need to accept and deal with. As it is: rather than complain and bitch and moan and demand changes. But I want to ask you: what do you think in terms of the issue of economics as value-free? Is economics value-free in your mind?
Conza [1:31:40]: Absolutely. Wertfrei is what Mises used which value-free — not value-laden. It’s Is-based, is probably the easiest way to simplify it. It’s all about a scientific approach: What is the case? Again: if X and Y remains unchanged then Z will result is the formula that’s used in its application as a praxological law or format. So: absolutely value-free, and that’s the power of it. It’s obviously starting at human action, that axiom — self-evident — deducing, adding different postulates in, and then refining that given the procedure of praxeology. And it’s akin to applied logic, so it’s that a priori framework, but it’s a mental tool to help grasp reality — it’s not the total factual reality itself. But without it, you’re kind of swinging in the breeze a bit. For example, Mises has a good analogy of, Who would be more scientific? He’s talking about New York Central Station and there’s people moving back and forth. If you were taking an empirical approach, a positivist approach, which would be giving a number to every individual and seeing how the patterns emerge and trying to get some calculations and create a formula around —
Saifedean Ammous: Maybe get data on the color of their shirt and then see the trends in the movement of the shirts. I mean, that’s science, right?
Conza [1:33:13]: Exactly right. Look, we need a grant, some money to go investigate this and test this out! So who would be more scientific — that approach? Or the praxeological approach where understanding individual action — humans are using scarce means to obtain certain ends. Oh he’s going to work or catching the train or he’s meeting his girlfriend. You get a lot better understanding and it would be more scientific than the other alternate approach.
Saifedean Ammous [1:33:45]: Ultimately a key point which we didn’t mention is the idea that data is moot without theory. Data cannot say anything without theory. So there’s no amount of numerical analysis of people getting into Grand Central Station that will make you understand what’s going on there in terms of numbers, unless you really understand what is actually going on. There’s no alternative to it, and it breaks the minds of Keynesians that understanding is not something that you can fit into a model very easily, but you have to understand: this is a train, those people go to work, that’s why it gets really crowded in the morning, because everybody’s going to work, that’s why it gets really crowded in the evening when everybody’s not going to work, that’s why it doesn’t get crowded on holidays because nobody’s going on to work. If you don’t understand this, no amount of numerical analysis of traffic in Grand Central will allow you to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow in Grand Central. If you understand that there’s weekdays and weekends, there’s holidays, there’s work, there’s this, there’s that, if you understand the trends, if you understand how the weather impacts things, then you can understand the phenomena that’s going on. And ultimately it is shaped by humans acting. But in our e-mails beforehand you had said that you wanted to argue against the idea that economics is value-free and Libertarianism is about Ought. You said: And the whole characterization that Austrian economics is value-free and that Libertarianism is about Oughts is incorrect.
Conza [1:35:10]: Right sorry. I say a clarification there: Austrian economics value-free? Absolutely. More it was the point that the characterization that Libertarianism is Ought-based or ethics-based, where I think it’s also value-free! So using Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s a priori of argumentation and communication, the roots and tree are praxeology and then you’ve got different branches: you’ve got economics — so everything Mises has provided the framework for, and Rothbard and Hoppe and everyone else, and then also a different branch of the same tree or the same trunk is then Libertarianism proper, action-based jurisprudence, to use Konrad’s phrase which is essentially exactly the same as everything that Mises, Rothbard — I’m just re-characterizing it as opposed to there’s nothing different or wrong with either/or. I think it just helps for clarity’s sake that they’re both value-free, they both take the praxological approach, and that’s why there’s that crossover fairly easily between Austrians and then mostly Libertarians. Whilst it’s value-free, you can understand rent control is bad, the consequences of that, and then from a rights-based thing whether that’s justifiable or not, what’s left is then ethics, which is the Ought-based stuff. Should I or should I not? Your own personal preferences, whatever it is. You’ve got the framework of economics and legal theory — or Libertarianism — that provide the Is-based element to it, so that can help inform your decision on whether you should respect the NAP, the non-aggression principle or not in that instance. And with Konrad or Hoppe, the only justifiable conclusion is that the NAP, the non-aggression principle, is the only one that is justifiable on its own. So starting from the concept of self-ownership: no one has a better claim to your life than you do, your body, and then that can extrapolate to original appropriation, first appropriation principle, you’ve got a better claim to your body, and then through prototyping that to the external world and resources. And so it builds from that, but no — absolutely value-free. I don’t want to argue against it! It’s not — definitely it’s the other side. With Walter Block, to characterize him isn’t very easy to do and so all my years going along with that, it was often for handling certain objections and characterizations. I found that Konrad’s approach is probably the most cleaned up or accurate, and yeah I’m a big sucker for accuracy. That Action-Based Jurisprudence article I highly recommend anyone reading that, probably not as an intro piece. In terms of Libertarianism, Bastiat’s The Law, some of Ron’s books — For a New Liberty, Ethics of Liberty, Hans’s stuff as well. But after going through a fair bit of that then if you’ve been around for a while I couldn’t recommend that journal article enough.
Saifedean Ammous: So give us your brief summary of argumentation ethics. You mentioned it briefly but what is it?
Conza [1:38:23]: Argumentation ethics. I’m trying to stay away from the ethics word, the a priori of argumentation and communication, but yes essentially it’s very intertwined with the human action axiom. Hoppe goes into it in Economic Science: The Austrian Method where you’re talking about what comes first. So understanding human action but then you have to argue to make the case, but that argument is also an action so there’s an element of they’re both existing when we’re communicating at the same time — they’re both fundamental. But the easiest way to think about argumentation ethics is: you don’t care — if someone’s acting a criminal — they’re showing aggression so you’ve got to handle them the way you handling an animal, someone who can’t be reasoned with. They’re not rational, like a gorilla or a lion. It’s a technical problem. But in terms of justifying — it’s all about justification, so you have to propose in the course of argument and what’s presupposed by that? Well obviously self-ownership for yourself and the person you’re engaging with. You’re essentially recognizing they’ve got a better claim to their body than you do. And then from that, if there’s a conflict — so someone like a socialist trying to justify their aggression — in the process of that, to try and justify it they have to argue. And what is presupposed by that? This concept of self-ownership and non-aggression and private property rights. So that’s probably the easiest summary is where you’re going about your day, you have to handle technical considerations like if someone’s not to be reasoned with but if they actually want to try and justify it during the course of peaceful communication — they say, I think violence is justified — and the performative contradiction there invalidates their claim, essentially. It detonates the process of using it. It becomes clear it’s not true given what’s being presupposed. So it provides a powerful praxeological approach different from the traditional rights-based stuff — natural law. I’m a big fan of those, and Hoppe makes the point: It’s different from that tradition but it’s in the same vein. Rothbard obviously admitted he was wrong after 30 years of thinking that you couldn’t justify Libertarianism in terms of from a value-laden, value-free approach, and so in an article he basically elaborates that yeah Hoppe is correct and made this advancement that several thousand years in terms of philosophy have not been able to solve this, and he’s provided this hardcore axiomatic rights-based approach that’s value-free but also nails the rights-based piece to it as well.
Saifedean Ammous [1:41:28]: I find argumentation ethics to be an extremely powerful argument. I love how it gets everybody’s knickers in a twist. Everybody gets really upset about it: This is so silly! You can’t just prove things by saying that you’re arguing and that the mere fact of you arguing things proves my point! You can’t do that — that’s cheating! That’s ridiculous! That’s so childish! And I just love it. I love how angry it makes them, because it’s very true: if you engage in argumentation with me, that presupposes such a giant complex succession of steps of civilization that need to be there in order for you and I to sit together and talk to each other like civilized human beings instead of just being chimps swinging our feces at each other — a lot needs to happen! I need to respect you as a human being and I need to respect your sovereignty over your property and your body. If I’m trying to argue with you, that means I respect that you have a mind of your own — you have an opinion — and I’m trying to change it. And I’m trying to get you to act in a different way. I’m trying to get you to behave in a different way. So the mere fact of arguing with you about anything is an acknowledgment that you are a human being with sovereignty — with that right. Which is why — I mean a lot of people are probably going to get upset with this but — frankly if you’re a statist, you’re not really a human being.
Conza [1:42:58]: It’s the way he characterizes it as well, it’s some objections around — well they don’t understand the argument, is often the case — and the objection is, Oh well taxation exists or there’s the gulag’s existence. It’s like, No it’s an impossibility proof: it’s impossible to justify those things — referencing empirical evidence or history doesn’t actually help. You fall into contradiction trying to justify — it’s purely intellectual in nature, like logical or mathematical or praxeological proofs. And often folks don’t grok the real understanding of it.
Saifedean Ammous [1:43:44]: The point that I’m making — obviously I was being a little hyperbolic there, well maybe not but — it’s: what makes us humans and what distinguishes us from animals is the ability to reason, is the ability to respect one another, is the ability to understand property, and the ability to cooperate with one another. We can cooperate, we can build things, we can reason, we can talk. So in order to do that, that all rests on a foundational of: I have to respect your property rights. And the people who don’t understand that don’t understand how this is the reason that they have anything! So a lot of violent and statist “people” will tell you, Oh no no no! Violence is legitimate and in certain cases it’s okay for me to violate others, to have the right to initiate aggression because I have reasons for it. And yet they don’t quite understand that the only reason that you’re not in a jungle running away from predators and fighting with other members of your species day and night is because we put this animalistic idea of Aggression Is Okay behind us enough for us to put together a bunch of capital so that it becomes productive to build human capital to build all these institutions like language, culture — all of these things happen after we stop swinging our feces at each other. We need to respect each other’s sovereignty over our own bodies in order for anything to happen. And so when you say, No no no — I want to live in the 21st century, I want to have wonderful computers, I want to have all these amazing technologies, but I also think that it’s okay to violate others — you’re just being an idiot. What you’re saying is: I want to have cooperation of millions of people to build my laptop based on the idea that they all respect each other’s property right — because that’s the only way that we can build laptops. Slavery has never built a laptop and slaves will never build something like a laptop. The only reason we can get something like laptops is because millions of people from all over the world cooperate — from the engineers to the workers to the miners to mine the substances — all of these people have property rights. All of these people get out of bed in the morning to work to make your laptop because they’re getting paid to it and so they’re doing it voluntarily. So everything that you know — all the books that you’ve ever read, all the machines that you’ve ever used — everything is a product of civilization, which is a product of us respecting each other. So you’re not being a genius when you come up and say, Oh well actually I think I can violate other people’s property because I am smart and I went to a stupid-ass university that taught me that in certain circumstances, people in government should do evil things to others and it’s okay — you’re not being smart when you’re coming up with this. You’ve just rediscovered animals slinging their feces at each other. You’ve just discovered being chimps in the jungle — that’s it. If we extend this, we go back to being chimps in the jungle. If we respect each other’s property, we can have nice things. And so I love Hoppe’s argument because really this is the only way that you can actually engage with people who are arguing for violence: You’re arguing for the initiation of violence? You are correct! You just should not be in human society — you should be out there living the consequences of initiating violence. Live in a society where everybody accepts that it’s okay to initiate violence against other people, or at least everybody accepts that it’s okay for me to decide when it is okay to initiate violence. And this is the thing the statist idiots don’t get: they think it’s sustainable if we just pick a bunch of people and we give them the right to violate everybody else’s property and ask them nicely to please not use this for the forces of evil and only use it for the forces of good — that that’s somehow sustainable. That we could have a society where everybody needs to respect everybody’s property right except a small group of people who get to legitimately initiate violence — this is completely absurd because it’s completely unsustainable. Because: why should you get to be the one who decides who gets to initiate violence and not me? And if it’s going to be you, well no I want it to be me! So it’s just the recipe for more conflict. The only way that we can try and avoid conflict is by accepting property rights.
Conza [1:48:11]: I think the key thing there is: I like to think most people are soft Libertarians in the sense that in their daily lives they’re all about Live and Let Live, try and help each other out, respect each other’s rights generally speaking, hope for the flourishing of their friends and family, neighbors, and fellow man, striving for their own happiness and and own flourishing — that’s like the essence of civilization where we all benefit from living amongst each other, divisional labor, communication, learning, cooperation, transmission of accumulated knowledge, society, friendship, trade, discourse, intercourse. I think Libertarianism is the extension of civility of society to a more rigorous systematic principled level, informed by economics — that’s the key. So a lot of those people are self-righteous about violating rights — they do that, they support that because they think it’s a good end. Like, I support the minimum wage — that initiation of violence against businesses — because it’s going to help this person. But economics can pull the wool, pull the covers over and indicate, Well actually no it hurts — it doesn’t help. And so folks that would have this authoritarian self-righteous angle — by learning economics, it can help them orientate properly to supporting what the right means is, which is also the justifiable means or ends to that effect. And we haven’t mentioned the economic calculation just as a mental tool for one of the strongest arguments against socialism, and a good example we’ve just been talking about, where: imagine you’re a benevolent dictator and you own all the resources in society — people, labor, capital, woods, forest, whatever it is — and then how do you rationally allocate resources? So you’re the benevolent dictator — should that wood go to build a house or a fire? And without the concept of private property, without then prices, without a market, you can’t rationally allocate resources. And Mises’s argument in the 1920’s just killed the socialist argument in terms of: we can assume everyone’s on board with socialism, everyone’s a socialist, everyone’s a communist, everyone’s keen to follow — you still can’t beat that problem! How do you rationally allocate resources in society without pricing? So socialism’s done. And I think it’s a tragedy that — well not a tragedy but — a lot of conservatives, a lot of people who are more free market oriented don’t understand Austrian economics, don’t understand that argument. It’s one of the most powerful arguments that exists! It’s like, I accept everything you want to do — you can’t do it because of this reason. Where do they go from there? Then it’s a devolved socialism. It used to be that new age band and then Mises’s economic calculation argument blew that out of the water and then now it’s this post-modernism — or where we’re at at the moment. Another point to the power of praxeology.
Saifedean Ammous [1:51:49]: This is very astute! It’s one of the most regrettable things: the vast majority of socialists and anti-socialists think that the problem with socialism is merely an incentive problem: the reason the Soviet Union fell apart is that people weren’t incentivized to work because they knew that they couldn’t get rich — that’s the argument that most people think is the problem with socialism, which Mises shows is not the real economic problem. I mean this is a serious problem, obviously, but it’s not an insurmountable problem. Because there’s the motivation of, I want to work because I want to get rich. But there’s an even stronger motivation of, I want to work because I don’t want to go to the gulag. People hate going to the gulag more than they love getting rich. So definitely the Soviet Union solved the incentive problem! Pol Pot in Cambodia definitely did not have an issue with motivating his peons to get up in the morning and go to work because they knew that if they didn’t, the consequences would be terrible. And yet all of those places collapsed economically. And yet all of those places — even if you had staffed them with the most enthusiastic and most delusional socialists who are willing to accept anything you tell them, or will wake up and work all day for the sake of the cause — as you said, the issue is: how do you, as a human being, act to calculate the different uses of different goods? How do you allocate resources in a way that is most productive? And even if you solve the incentive problem, you’re not going to be able to solve that, because it’s an intractable calculation problem, and the only solution for it is property. The only solution for it is to allow people to — well not allow, you shouldn’t say allow because who the hell are you to allow people, you’re in no position to allow anybody, nobody’s in a position to allow others to own but — the only solution is that if people own things, they are able to make an economic calculation on those things, understand what is the best use of them, and then people can allocate resources in a way that is the most productive according to their eyes. That’s not something that can be solved with a central planner no matter what, because without private property, there’s just no way around this.
Conza [1:54:01]: Indeed. Just coming back to the human action axiom, Hoppe’s a priori of argumentation, or argumentation ethics: what’s that’s all grounded upon? Well just the attempt to disprove the action axiom would itself be an action aimed at a goal, requiring means, excluding other courses of action, incurring costs, and subjecting the actor to the possibility of achieving that or not — that is our goal. So: leading to a profit or loss. I’m paraphrasing Hoppe in Economic Science: The Austrian Method, but he goes on to say that the very possession of such knowledge then can never be disputed, and the validity of these concepts can never be falsified by any contingent experience, for disputing or falsifying anything it would have to be presupposed by their very existence. Because as a matter of fact, in a situation which these categories of action would cease to have a real existence could itself never be observed, for making an observation, too, is an action. So really that’s just how different praxeology is in terms of a new field of science. Over the last 200 years it’s been elaborated upon by Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, and many others in that tradition, and it just blows my mind. Say, someone reading the white paper by Satoshi and someone grokking that — I didn’t grok that! I read it and it went over my head, but I had the help of Konrad and others simplifying or really clearly elucidating the value proposition. The same goes then in another sphere which is praxeology: Hans Hermann Hoppe’s Economic Science: The Austrian Method was just as mind-blowing for me as well, contrasting understanding Bitcoin and understanding the power of praxeology. Yeah I couldn’t rave about that more, but if I want to try and summarize a what-if about praxeology, I’ll go through this little bit I’ve got here which I think helps capture its importance: What if there was a different type of knowledge available to humanity? Knowledge which cannot be regarded either as logic, mathematics, physics, or biology? Not psychology, technology, ethics, or history. And a type that was scientific and value-free, which describe the consequences of human action? What if it provided definitive knowledge that was not part of ethical Ought sciences? Was not merely contingent or conventional in nature, but it must be so? What if it furnished laws in the form of, If X and Y remains unchanged then Z results? What if we knew with absolute certainty what would happen if a specific policy was implemented before it was carried out? What if it did not require testing for us to know it would be absolutely true? What if this type of knowledge pertaining to people and societies was not in the modes of either actuality and possibility — is or isn’t, could be or could not be — but was always and as a necessity, properly characterized as must be? What if this type of knowledge was always with us? Not in the sense of being innate, but self-evident once proposed, and it’s discoverable by reason, reflection, and understanding? What if by attempting to deny its existence, you actually proved it to be true? What if it was disregarded by numerous human beings, civilization at our own peril and detriment of all? What if there was a series of thinkers who’ve already discovered and elaborated on this sphere of knowledge? What if they had deduced from self-evident axioms the knowledge directly relevant to solving most of society’s institutional problems? What if these solutions and gems of truth were often lost in a sea of mediocrity and intellectual dishonesty? What if the path forward towards freedom lies squarely with its acknowledgment and widespread understanding? What if those who deny the possibility of such a field of knowledge are no worse than the 17th century astronomers who refuse to look through the telescope that would have shown them Galileo was right and they were wrong? What if all this already exists? Imagine how much aggression, suffering, death and destruction could be avoided? Imagine the growth of justice, peace, prosperity, cooperation, conflict avoidance, and civilization as a result? What is this field of knowledge? The science of human action called praxeology. So yeah that’s a bit of a snapshot of the value I think it brings.
Saifedean Ammous [1:58:37]: I think that was extremely extremely powerful, very eloquent. Thank you very much for that. I believe it’s a great way of demonstrating the value proposition. I should tell you something — I’ll make a little bit of confession to end with: I taught economics for 10 years at university level, and I honestly think the success of my book and my courses online and the podcast largely goes down to the fact that I was communicating economic ideas for about 10 years to people and I just did this job with a lot of focus and with a lot of dedication to trying to figure out how to crack getting the idea across to somebody. And one thing that I had come across — I don’t know why this is the case, well I mean I have ideas about why but — I just noticed that generally when you tell people the term praxeology, their eyes glaze over. If you just don’t use the term praxeology and you just use the term Austrian economics, it’s just making your job much easier. Because there’s just something about the word — I don’t know because of the X in the middle, maybe — it just seems like you’re trying to get me into a cult or something or you’re trying to propose some weird pseudoscientific thing where it just tends to turn people off. And it’s very difficult to first of all explain to them why they should listen to what praxeology is and then explain to them why it is important? What the implications of it are? But I think you just did a terrific job — I’m going to make that couple-minute rant as my go-to intro into what praxeology is and why it is important. I think it’s a very powerful way of putting it and it’s a better way of putting it than anything I could have come up with, so thank you very much for that.
Conza [2:00:24]: No problem. I definitely understand — I’ve seen the eyes glazing over piece and you’re right: sometimes not even using the word can help things out. It does have a rich history: so obviously praxeology was Mises’s explicit and self-conscious elaboration of that procedure for discovering causal laws governing market phenomena. But yeah the early Austrian School and their followers, even some better classical economists use that research method without being fully aware of it. The praxeological method begins with self-evident reality of human action and it’s immediate implications, but Mises has given us that whole framework. And I know how the Austrian school got its label — the German historicists using it as denigrating or all you Austrians and they’re kind of stuck and it’s funny how the maximalists again by analogy Vitalik: You’re maxis! And then that’s stuck as a positive as well. And just using the term Austrian school has obviously taken up I think a large part in the Bitcoin world because of your work. It’s fascinating and it’s awesome seeing Bitcoiners going down that Austrian rabbit hole. Intuitively they’re across the practical side of things — they’re all across that. And they understand that the Austrian school is there and there’s this field of knowledge that they can gain a lot of helpful mental tools for to understand reality. And so you’ve helped drive that in a large part. It’s interesting seeing from the Austrian side those who have the theory and then know the Bitcoin pipeline as well — it’s like two sides of the same coin, people coming to it and getting to the same end result, which is being fully on board with freedom money. I’m looking forward to see how things continue to grow.
Saifedean Ammous: Absolutely. Do you have any final thoughts you’d to share with us?
Conza: I think it’s probably a good place to wrap things up. Certain things I can rant about maybe, but —
Saifedean Ammous: We’ll get you on again. definitely to rant.
Conza: Okay I’ll save my some rants for later. I very much appreciate it coming on and it’s been great chatting with you.
Saifedean Ammous: Cheers, likewise. Well where can people find you? Which parts of the Internet are you on?
Conza: So Twitter’s @conza. Real life nickname. That’s the handle on YouTube as well. A few million views but that’s mostly not for me talking or anything — it’s taking the best snapshot gems of resources over the last decade plus that I think have been valuable and so I’ve got them on a YouTube channel, and made a few edits over the years too. Otherwise mises.org.au if you’re interested in the Mises Seminar stuff — probably about 50 videos: Hoppe, Walter Block and Jeffrey Tucker coming out. Konrad Graf’s Bitcoin speeches, they live there. And then you also have libertarianparty.org.au as well in the launch phase. A bit different to the Libertarian party traditionally in the US. It’s good to see the Mises caucus getting up with radically proposing those ideas and trying to use — it’s unfortunate that often the politics is that every four years the election has come around and that’s their slight window of opportunity to get into people’s thinking about these bigger ideas, whether it’s ending the Fed, Bitcoin, the benefits of that, you’ve got this slight opportunity. Along similar lines with Ron Paul with education being the first and foremost value proposition: it’s spreading the message of liberty. We’ve got a similar mindset being radical and stuff as well with the Libertarian party I co-founded. There is a praxeological science group if anyone’s still on Facebook with maybe 4,000 members. It’s all about praxeology so that’s probably a good place for everyone to jive in if they’ve got any questions.
Saifedean Ammous: Excellent thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll definitely be having you on again for more praxeology.
Conza: Awesome. Thanks Saife.