Friday, May 16, 2008


by Bettina Bien Greaves

Most high school and college textbooks describe the nation’s economy as a huge agglomeration of goods and services, vast piles of food, clothing, coal mines, factories, computers, agricultural products, kitchen appliances, TVs, automobiles, computers, planes, and so on ad infinitum. But these physical things are not the market economy as such. They are what people produce while working and trading on the market economy.

Bruce Koerber explains that the market economy is not a physical thing; rather it is a process, a human institution. It is at the same time the consequence of human actions and a shaper of human actors, transforming them into cooperative social human beings. The economy is the outgrowth of the purposive actions and choices of men. As such, it is manmade, but it is not purposively planned. As men meet, cooperate and have dealings with one another, markets evolve, as do societies and civilizations.

Koerber shows how the market economy develops. It is a dynamic process. Market participants are ego-driven; they act on the basis of their subjective values. Their subjective values are expressed in prices. Prices furnish knowledge about the wants and needs of other market participants. As traders turned from barter to using a medium of exchange, money, trading became easier. Moreover, money prices furnish market participants with information, knowledge, and the tools for calculation. Thus the market disseminates and coordinates the activities of market participants.

As Koerber explains, all men are driven by the human spirit to try to improve their situation. Individuals can best improve their respective situations when they are free to act. Therefore, the human spirit should be free. The right of individuals to private property must be protected so that individuals will save, accumulate capital and invest. If entrepreneurs are free to look for and to discover opportunities they tend to improve economic productivity. In the process, the free market economy develops economic principles and fosters law, order, justice and harmonious relations among all participants. Thus, the path to economic progress, peace, prosperity and a more advanced civilization is through the free market economy. On the other hand, when outside interventions interfere with the voluntary activities of individuals in the market economy, especially by wars and inflation, they violate property rights, disrupt the market’s harmonious operations, distort prices and production, cause the boom/bust business cycles, and hamper economic progress.

For those who appreciate visual presentations of economic relationships, Koerber’s book is sprinkled throughout with diagrams illustrating the influence on economic production of property rights, capital structure, prices, entrepreneurship, competition, profit and loss, etc.

Koerber’s book explains that the free market economy is guided by voluntary actions. It is “in accord with the will of God.” It leads to greater social cooperation, peace, increased prosperity and a more advanced civilization. It awakens the human spirit to its full potentiality. Koerber calls it the “divine economy.”

Bettina Bien Greaves *
Hickory, North Carolina
February 2008

* Formerly with the Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, NY; attended Ludwig von Mises’ NYU graduate seminar in economic theory (1951-1969); compiled a 2-volume annotated bibliography of Mises’ works, published by FEE in 1993 and 1995; and now editing the new editions of Mises’ several works being published by Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, IN. The latest volume in their series is Human Action (2007).

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