An Austrian School economist, Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises devoted much of his life to writing and educating on the subject of classical liberalism. While several classical libertarians including John Locke and Jean-Baptiste Say preceded him, Mises’ revival of the ideology following the Second World War has cemented his place as one of libertarianism’s most revered figures.
Mises was born in Austria-Hungary in 1881. While studying at the University of Vienna he began to strongly favor the works of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School of economics himself. Mises went on to work in law, lecture on economics, and serve as a front officer in the Austro-Hungarian artillery and as an advisor to the War Department. It was during Mises’ government work that he hired Friedrich Hayek, who would continue on to become yet another foundational classical libertarian thinker.
During the late 1930s Mises very correctly supposed that Europe was a poor place for a Jew to live in, and so fled with his wife to New York City in 1940. Our universities were happy to receive him. Mises held the position of visiting professor at New York University from 1945 until four years before his death in 1973.
Mises published Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, his best known work, in 1949. In it he made a compelling case for laissez-faire capitalism based on praxeology – the theory that human behavior is purposeful and rationalized rather than merely reflexive. To briefly summarize so important a book would be to grossly mistreat it, but at its core Human Action doesn’t simply argue that the free market trounces any government system. Mises claims the free market is the very basis of civilization itself!
Mises proposed the economic calculation problem in 1920. With it he laid out his theory that the price system under capitalism inherently assigns the correct value to goods, whereas a socialist approach necessarily requires guesswork. In his 1922 book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis Mises further underscored his point that bureaucrats are never properly equipped to assign value to capital goods.
Mises had great influence as a teacher as well. His former employee Hayek joined Mises as a scholar in America, and those who attended his seminars in New York included Murray Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, and Hans Sennholz. Ayn Rand also expressed Mises’ influence on her own philosophy.
Mises’ critics have declared his understanding of human nature flawed, his attribution of anti-capitalist sentiments to envy ignorant, and his viewpoints inflexible to the extent of being harsh. But none deny the importance of Mises’ work, and today his inflexibility is often considered a sign of his absolute and unwavering sincerity in his economic theories.
Ludwig Von Mises Quotes on Socialism, Free Markets, and More
- “People frequently call socialism a religion. It is indeed the religion of self-deification.”
- “If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.”
- “He who is unfit to serve his fellow citizens wants to rule them.”
New Design: Merch Inspired by Ludwig von Mises
Ludwig von Mises had a rare talent. When too many social philosophers were championing rationalism over empiricism and vice versa, Mises employed both in full force. It’s how he devised an intricate theory of economics based on one guiding principle: people want things, and will do what they can to get them.
Once he had taken that credence to its logical conclusion, Mises became a staunch advocate for free-market capitalism and letting people use their lives, land and property however they see fit. To Mises, the government’s only legitimate purpose is to defend its citizens and their property. That is because he recognized socialism for one of its chief failings: government bureaucrats’ total inability – and nonexistent motivation – to estimate rational prices for goods.
Unless something drastically changes, we’ll one day regard Mises as the same sort of oracle Orwell was. For you see, many people want things they cannot deserve. And when they are extraordinarily evil, they’ll violate any individual right that obstructs their efforts to get them. As bureaucrats increasingly justify, legitimize and exercise creative new ways of siphoning wealth from the citizenry, they push the world ever nearer to the brink of a socialist sunset.
A Ukrainian immigrant born in the 19th century taught us the most fundamental truth of the market: every attempt to control it is an attempt to control people.