Today is the birthday of Ludwig Von Mises, an influential economist of the Austrian school and author of Human Action. He was born September 29, 1881 and would have been 130 years now if he were still alive. You can read more about him here.
He was given an honorary doctorate at Grove City College. His work has influenced a diverse group of individuals, including Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Max Eastman, Murray Rothboard, Israel Kirzner, Sylvester J. Petro, and Ayn Rand.
Mises had a broad and impressive knowledge of politics, economics and philosophy married with a keen insight about what was transpiring in practical terms. He was a man ahead of his time, scorned for things that we now see to be fact. Murray Rothbard observed that “Mises’s warnings of financial collapse and depression were remembered after 1929, although they were generally scorned at the time.” Murray Rothbard once said, “In his critique of logical positivism, Mises saw that a philosophy that treated people as if they were stones and atoms, whose behavior could be predicted and determined according to quantitative laws, was particularly likely to lead to the viewpoint of social engineers, who deal with people as if they were inanimate physical object”
Ralph Raico said of him “For over sixty years he was at war with the spirit of the age, and with every one of the advancing, victorious, or merely modish political schools, left and right….Decade after decade he fought militarism, protectionism, inflationism, every variety of socialism, and every policy of the interventionist state, and through most of that time he stood alone, or close to it…But the lack of recognition seems to have influenced or deflected Mises not in the least.”
Mises discovered the Austrian school of economics through Carl Menger and went on to be one of its leading proponents. I, for one, have found his writings to be very readable, helpful, and simply make a lot of common sense especially when compared with the prevailing misinformation and illogical hogwash that is so commonly labeled “economics”. He also was really good at intellectually demolishing the prevailing pretensions and falsehoods of politics and economics in a very understandable way.
Mises was extremely limited in his teaching post in the University of Vienna, but he ended up lecturing many people, including Friedrich A. Hayek. In the early 1930′s, when people were denying that Nazism could happen in Austria, Mises foresaw what would transpire. In 1940, when the Nazis took over France, Mises and his wife fled to the United States. Mises, lecturing at NYU even up to the age of 87, became the oldest active professor in the U.S. NYU didn’t pay him, but he was paid through a separate fund, the Volker Fund.
In regard to Ludwig’s marriage with Margrit, Rothbard said that “Margit and Ludwig von Mises were a magnificent team”. Margrit once said that “In the first years of our relationship, Lu[dwig] was almost an enigma to me. I never had seen such modesty in a man before. He knew his value, but he never boasted. … I think it was the extreme honesty in Lu[dwig]‘s feelings that attracted me so strongly to him. These feelings were so overpowering that he, who wrote thousands of pages about economics and money, could not find the words to talk about himself, and explain his feeling.”
Here are a few memorable quotes from Von Mises
- “Depression is the aftermath of credit expansion.” (Planning for Freedom)
- “Many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities.”
- “Capitalism and socialism are two distinct patterns of social organization. Private control of the means of production and public control are contradictory notions and not merely contrary notions. There is no such thing as a mixed economy, a system that would stand midway between capitalism and socialism.” (The Anti Capitalistic Mentality)
- “It is vain to fight totalitarianism by adopting totalitarian methods.” (Omnipotent Government)
- “The criterion of truth is that it works even if nobody is prepared to acknowledge it.” (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science)
- “As a rule, capitalism is blamed for the undesired effects of a policy directed at its elimination” (Interventionism: An Economic Analysis)
- “The usual terminology of political language is stupid. What is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’? Why should Hitler be ‘right’ and Stalin, his temporary friend, be ‘left’? Who is ‘reactionary’ and who is ‘progressive’? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended. Nothing should find acceptance just because it is new, radical, and fashionable. ‘Orthodoxy’ is not an evil if the doctrine on which the ‘orthodox’ stand is sound. Who is anti-labor, those who want to lower labor to the Russian level, or those who want for labor the capitalistic standard of the United States? Who is ‘nationalist,’ those who want to bring their nation under the heel of the Nazis, or those who want to preserve its independence?” (Interventionism, An Economic Analysis)
- ” It is not because we have distilleries that people drink whiskey; it is because people like to drink whiskey that we have distilleries. One may deplore this. But it is not up to the entrepreneurs to improve mankind morally. And they are not to be blamed if those whose duty this is have failed to do so.” (Interventionism: An Economic Analysis)
- “If one rejects laissez faire on account of mans fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.” (Planning for Freedom)
- “A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police. ” (Liberalism)
- “Governments which are eager to keep up the outward appearance of freedom even when curtailing freedom disguise their direct interference with consumption under the cloak of interference with business. The aim of American prohibition was to prevent the individual residents of the country from drinking alcoholic beverages. But the law hypocritically did not make drinking as such illegal…It merely prohibited the manufacture, the sale and the transportation of intoxicating liquors, the business transactions which precede the act of drinking. The idea was that people indulge in the vice of drinking only because unscrupulous businessmen prevail upon them. It was, however, manifest that the objective of prohibition was to encroach upon the individuals’ freedom to spend their dollars and to enjoy their lives according to their own fashion.” (Human Actions)
- “But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favor of the prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.” (Human Action)
- “The worship of the state is the worship of force. There is no more dangerous menace to civilization than a government of incompetent, corrupt, or vile men. The worst evils which mankind ever had to endure were inflicted by governments.”
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