Rothbard’s Button Doesn’t Exist, but It Needs to Be Invented
And acting as tyranny’s bulldog is the state’s handmaiden and echo chamber, the legacy media.
Are future generations destined to live in an Orwellian nightmare?
Relying on the constitution and electing “good people” into office will not remove the source of our problems, which is: the government we inherited, the only organization that claims the legal right to fund itself coercively through taxes and bank counterfeiting. We’re attempting to live by a double standard—what’s legal for the state is criminal for you, and never forget, the state has more guns than you.
The only permanent solution is to get rid of the state altogether—end the “political means” of acquiring wealth, as Franz Oppenheimer wrote in his book The State (an organization that Albert Jay Nock characterized as a “professional criminal class” in his classic book Our Enemy, the State). But what’s the chance of that happening? Is it forever doomed to the realm of fantasy? In Murray Rothbard’s words:
The [State] abolitionist is a “button pusher” who would blister his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately, if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take a bit of the loaf if necessary—while always preferring the whole loaf if he can achieve it.
Ludwig Erhard, Button Pusher
Born in Furth, a part of the German empire, in 1897, Ludwig Wilhelm Erhard volunteered for the military in 1916 and was severely wounded by an Allied artillery shell in 1918. Ironically, Adolf Hitler was also lying in a military hospital at the same time, recovering from an Allied gas attack. Seven operations left Erhard’s left arm permanently shorter than his right arm. After the war he studied economics at the University of Frankfurt and received his doctorate in 1925, with Franz Oppenheimer serving as his dissertation advisor.
With the rest of Germany, he suffered under hyperinflation following the war, then under Hitler’s ascent to power in the 1930s. During World War II he quietly promoted ideas about the postwar economic recovery following Hitler’s defeat, advocating a return to (mostly) free markets.
By the war’s end in 1945, Germany was a disaster. Its major cities had been destroyed, millions had been killed, the currency was a mockery, and food was scarce. US, British, and Soviet leaders had met at Yalta earlier in the year ostensibly to avoid the punitive reparations of the Treaty of Versailles that Hitler and his Nazis exploited to gain power. Later, at the Potsdam Conference, the four Allied victors divided the pre-1938 territory of Germany into four zones, which eventually left Britain and the US administering the western zones, and the Soviets in charge of the east, which included all of Berlin, itself divided into four zones.
The challenge facing the Western military occupiers was how to revive the economy. During 1946 and 1947, the Nazi program of high monetary inflation along with wage and price controls continued, creating a surging black market and a nearly worthless currency, the reichsmark. By keeping price inflation suppressed, production remained dismal, and Germans turned to barter to get food and other goods. They worked only long enough during the week to get ration cards that they used to buy what little was available, spending the rest of their time gardening and conducting black market deals.
Meanwhile, German-speaking refugees were pouring into the production-strangled economy from Poland. Conditions grew progressively worse such that by the middle of 1948 the economy had all but collapsed and starvation threatened much of the population.
At this point, Erhard reached for his “button.” As the appointed economic czar (i.e., director of the bizonal economic administration) he had boldly announced a plan to replace the worthless reichsmark with a new currency, the deutsche mark, along with a 90 percent reduction of the money supply. Regarding price controls, Erhard needed permission from British and American authorities to change them. He didn’t change them; he removed them altogether. He inaugurated his plan on Sunday, June 20, 1948, when his military overseers were out of office.
On Saturday, June 19, retail shops were empty. On Monday, June 21, they were full again. French economist Jacques Rueff described the “miracle”:
The black market suddenly disappeared. Shop windows were full of goods; factory chimneys were smoking; and the streets swarmed with lorries. Everywhere the noise of new buildings going up replaced the deathly silence of the ruins. If the state of recovery was a surprise, its swiftness was even more so.
On the eve of currency reform, the Germans were aimlessly wandering about their towns in search of a few additional items of food. A day later they thought of nothing but producing them. One day apathy was mirrored in their faces while on the next a whole nation looked hopefully into the future.
Was it really a miracle? Erhard knew better:
[It was] anything but a miracle. It is the result of the honest efforts of a whole people who, in keeping with the principles of liberty, were given the opportunity of using personal initiative and human energy. If this German example has any value beyond the frontiers of the country it can only be that of proving to the world at large the blessings of both personal and economic freedom. (emphasis mine)
It’s customary to cite handouts under the Marshall Plan as saving Germany and other European nations damaged during the war. Even the Central Intelligence Agency got a piece of the action. But as Erhard noted, “Imports of raw materials under the Marshall Plan did not start until the end of 1948.” And by year’s end the German economy was already rising from the dead thanks to economic freedom and the competition it induced.
Could the “Miracle” Happen Here?
For post–World War II Germans it was sink or swim under Erhard’s reforms. Most of them chose to swim. They also had a well-established work ethic going for them. Erhard’s reforms made work pay off.
It’s crucial to remember what Erhard didn’t do. He did not invent a new bureaucracy or set of rules. He was not George W. Bush imposing an army of Department of Homeland Security bureaucrats on the American people to save them from another false flag. He was not Ben Bernanke going wild with the printing press as a response to a crisis caused from previous bouts of money printing. He was not Joe Biden bragging about an Inflation Reduction Act that inflates state aggrandizement. Nor was he today’s German government slitting its energy throat by shutting down its nuclear reactors.
Postwar Germans were not hampered for want of a bigger state. They were hampered because of the state. Erhard was that rare individual with political power who used it to free his countrymen.
Consider: If a man steals his neighbor’s car, it is theft. If his neighbor reclaims his car, it is not theft, though without knowledge of the original theft it might look that way. The reclaiming of the car is rightful restitution.
A leader who removes state restrictions on freedom is acting to remove a wrong and thereby establish restitution. It is not an act of tyranny or theft or enslavement. Removing a wrong, such as abolishing the income tax or the federal reserve, does not impose restrictions on anyone. It frees people from theft. To argue that it hurts those dependent on the Fed and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) lacks merit. They were beneficiaries of state plunder and lack a moral basis in their arguments. An empire powered by plunder eventually collapses.
Among today’s leaders, only Ron Paul has publicly called for abolishing the Fed and the IRS.
I suggest we need political leaders who will essentially put themselves out of a job. We need political leaders who understand the necessity of freedom in human affairs and the damage the state does in restricting it. We need our own version of Ludwig Erhardt. Rothbard’s button does not exist, but it needs to be invented.