Ludwig von Mises: His Mind Matters More Than Ever


All attempts to coerce the living will of human beings into the service of something they do not want must fail.

Forty years ago today, Ludwig von Mises died. And yet, much like Obi-Wan, his ideas are more powerful than ever in the face of empire. 

Mises was a genius. And acknowledgement of his genius only grows with time. He was able to understand how systems are wrecked, in part or in whole, by varying degrees of State intervention. He was able to use imagination and insight to show how self-ordering systems could be unleashed from human action—at least in a world of good rules, free prices, and decentralized coordination. And Mises gave us a full-fledged articulation of the Austrian paradigm, including a theory of methodological individualism rooted firmly in human action.

Mises taught us that aggregates are fantasies and collectives like "society" are made up of flesh and blood units with different desires seeking diverse ends. We learned from him, perhaps more than any other, that economics is a branch of these prime insights and that the discipline should never abandon the acting individual as the foundation, lest it become a tool of technocrats willing to use statistical snapshots in the name of shortcut thinking and ideological socialism.

Unfortunately, on this front, we are still very much at war.

Along with sweeping, intricate theoretical understanding, he also had common-sense lessons that millions could use today. Consider this simple observation:

Used to the conditions of a capitalistic environment, the average American takes it for granted that every year business makes something new and better accessible to him. Looking backward upon the years of his own life, he realizes that many implements that were totally unknown in the days of his youth and many others which at that time could be enjoyed only by a small minority are now standard equipment of almost every household. He is fully confident that this trend will prevail also in the future. He simply calls it the American way of life and does not give serious thought to the question of what made this continuous improvement in the supply of material goods possible.

Of course, what made that continuous improvement possible is the seeking, striving, innovation and entrepreneurship among people whose disposition is to improve their own lot by improving the lot of others.

Mises also thoroughly took apart and destroyed any arguments for Marxism. He showed that socialism is not just morally dubious, but that it is simply not practicable. If marginalism undid the objectivist labor theories of value, the socialist calculation problem was a stake in the heart of all central planning.

As we suggest above, Mises undid interventionism, too. And yet economics has been cut from the theoretical foundations of human action by statisticians, modelers, and macroeconomic soothsayers. These charlatans have been able to hide in the ivory towers until they're summoned to give aid and comfort to the political class. (There are cronies to feed, economies to "fix," and social engineering plans to be executed. And in that sense, Mises has not yet ascended to his proper place in the pantheon of great economic thinkers. 

But his day is due. It's only been 40 years. Let's hope, for all people, it won't require 40 more.

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July/August 2014

The United States' corporate tax burden is the highest in the world, but innovators will always find a way to duck away from Uncle Sam's reach. Doug Bandow explains how those with the means are renouncing their citizenship in increasing numbers, while J. Dayne Girard describes the innovative use of freeports to shield wealth from the myriad taxes and duties imposed on it as it moves around the world. Of course the politicians brand all of these people unpatriotic, hoping you won't think too hard about the difference between the usual crony-capitalist suspects and the global creative elite that have done so much to improve our lives. In a special tech section, Joseph Diedrich, Thomas Bogle, and Matthew McCaffrey look at various ways these innovators add value to our lives--even in ways they probably never expected.
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