Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973)
One of the most notable economists and social philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Mises, in the course of a long and highly productive life, developed an integrated, deductive science of economics based on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act purposively to achieve desired goals. Even though his economic analysis itself was “value-free”—in the sense of being irrelevant to values held by economists, Mises concluded that the only viable economic policy for the human race was a policy of unrestricted laissez-faire, of free markets and the unhampered exercise of the right of private property, with government strictly limited to the defense of person and property within its territorial area.
For Mises was able to demonstrate (a) that the expansion of free markets, the division of labor, and private capital investment is the only possible path to the prosperity and flourishing of the human race; (b) that socialism would be disastrous for a modern economy because the absence of private ownership of land and capital goods prevents any sort of rational pricing, or estimate of costs, and (c) that government intervention, in addition to hampering and crippling the market, would prove counter-productive and cumulative, leading inevitably to socialism unless the entire tissue of interventions was repealed.
Holding these views, and hewing to truth indomitably in the face of a century increasingly devoted to statism and collectivism, Mises became famous for his “intransigence” in insisting on a non-inflationary gold standard and on laissez-faire.
Effectively barred from any paid university post in Austria and later in the United States, Mises pursued his course gallantly. As the chief economic adviser to the Austrian government in the 1920s, Mises was single-handedly able to slow down Austrian inflation; and he developed his own “private seminar” which attracted the outstanding young economists, social scientists, and philosophers throughout Europe. As the founder of the “neo-Austrian School” of economics, Mises’s business cycle theory, which blamed inflation and depressions on inflationary bank credit encouraged by Central Banks, was adopted by most younger economists in England in the early 1930s as the best explanation of the Great Depression.
Having fled the Nazis to the United States, Mises did some of his most important work here. In over two decades of teaching, he inspired an emerging Austrian School in the United States. The year after Mises died in 1973, his most distinguished follower, F.A. Hayek, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in elaborating Mises’s business cycle theory during the later 1920s and 1930s.
Mises was born on Sept 29, 1881, in the city of Lemberg (now Lvov) in Galicia, where his father, a Viennese construction engineer working for the Austrian railroads, was then stationed. Both Mises’s father and mother came from prominent Viennese families; his mother’s uncle, Dr Joachim Landau, served as deputy from the Liberal Party in the Austrian Parliament.
Entering the University of Vienna at the turn of the century as a leftist interventionist, the young Mises discovered Principles of Economics by Carl Menger, the founding work of the Austrian School of economics, and was quickly converted to the Austrian emphasis on individual action rather than unrealistic mechanistic equations as the unit of economics analysis, and to the importance of a free-market economy.
Mises became a prominent post-doctoral student in the famous University of Vienna seminar of the great Austrian economist Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk (among whose many accomplishments was the devastating refutation of the Marxian labor theory of value).
During this period, in his first great work, The Theory of Money and Credit (1912) Mises performed what had been deemed an impossible task: to integrate the theory of money into the general theory of marginal utility and price (what would now be called integrating “macroeconomics” into “microeconomics.”) Since Bohm-Bawerk and his other Austrian colleagues did not accept Mises’s integration and remained without a monetary theory, he was therefore obliged to strike out on his own and found a “neo-Austrian” school.
In his mone
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