A Notable September Birthday

September 29, 2013 will be the one hundred and thirty-second birthday of history’s most important economist, Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises.  He was born in the city of Lemberg in Galicia, Austria-Hungary in 1881.  He attended the University of Vienna, where he studied under the founder of the Austrian School of economics, Carl Menger.  In 1906 he was awarded a doctorate from the University’s School of Law.  His subsequent accomplishments are beyond counting, so I’ll leave it to one of Mises’ most accomplished students– my teacher, Dr. George Reisman—to introduce him to you:

It was my great privilege to have known Mises personally over a period of twenty years.  I met him for the first time when I was sixteen years old.  Because he recognized the seriousness of my interest in economics, he invited me to attend his graduate seminar at New York University, which I did almost every week thereafter for the next seven years, stopping only when the start of my own teaching career made it no longer possible for me to continue in regular attendance.

His seminar, like his writings, was characterized by the highest level of scholarship and erudition, and al­ways by the most profound respect for ideas.  Mises was never concerned with the personal motivation or character of an author, but only with the question of whether the man’s ideas were true or false.  In the same way, his personal manner was at all times highly respectful, reserved, and a source of friendly encouragement.  He constantly strove to bring out the best in his students.  This, combined with his stress on the importance of knowing foreign languages, led in my own case to using some of my time in college to learn German and then to undertaking the translation of his Epistemological Problems of Economics—something that has always been one of my proudest accomplishments.

Today, Mises’s ideas at long last appear to be gaining in influence.  His teachings about the nature of socialism have been confirmed in the most spectacular way possible, namely, by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, and by the substantial conversion of mainland China, Russia, and the rest of the Soviet empire to capitalism.

Some of Mises’s ideas have been propounded by the Nobel prizewinners F.A. Hayek (himself a former student of Mises) [PhD. Univ. of Vienna] and Milton Friedman.  His ideas inspired the “miracle” of Germany’s economic recovery after World War II.  They have exerted a major influence on the writings of Henry Hazlitt [1894-1993], Murray Rothbard [1926-1995], and the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education, as well as such prominent former students as Hans Sennholz [1922-2007; PhD. NYU] and Israel Kirzner [b. 1930; PhD. NYU].  They live on with increasing power and influence in the daily work of The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which publishes books and journals and holds conferences, seminars, and classes on his ideas.

Mises’s works deserve to be required reading in every college and university curriculum—not just in departments of economics, but also in departments of philosophy, history, government, sociology, law, business, journalism, education, and the humanities.  He himself should be awarded an immediate posthumous Nobel Prize—indeed, more than one.  He deserves to receive every token of recognition and memorial that our society can bestow. For as much as anyone in history, he labored to preserve it.  If he is widely enough read, his labors may actually succeed in saving it.

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Dr. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise On Economics, which itself should be required reading.  He now holds the title Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pepperdine University.  The material quoted above is an excerpt from a speech Dr. Reisman presented to an audience of his peers and their students at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama on the occasion of Mises’ 125th birthday.  The entire text of that speech can be found on Dr. Reisman’s website http://georgereismansblog.blogspot.com/.  

Ludwig von Mises wrote more than twenty books.  The most important are The Theory of Money and Credit, 1912, and Human Action, 1949.  The most accessible to lay readers is Planned Chaos.  That book of only forty-three pages is available (at no cost) at http://mises.org/.  The book shows that rather than creating an orderly society, the attempt by governments to centrally plan and administer has precisely the opposite effect. By short-circuiting the price mechanism and forcing people into economic choices contrary to their own wishes, central planning destroys the capital base and creates economic randomness that eventually ends by killing prosperity.  To say that the book’s message is still timely would be a gross understatement.   mh

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