Ludwig von Mises

In view of the current financial crisis it may be interesting to revisit the work of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) . His first major work in 1912 was on money and credit. A sleeping giant of the 20th century, for many decades he was the spine of the Austrian school of economics and social thought but he has yet to become a household name, even among economists and classical liberals where he should be best known and appreciated.

Jorg Hulsmann has written what will surely be the definitive biography of von Mises for some time to come. Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism at 1100 pages is physically easier to put down than to pick up but with a large font and generous margins it is not such a huge word count, the writing is fluent and the content is engrossing. The entire book is on line at the Mises Institute site.
At Amazon

One of the triggers for the biographical project was the discovery of the papers that the Nazis stole in 1938. Within hours of the invasion of Austria, local agents in Vienna raided the apartment where Mises kept a library of books and papers while he worked in Geneva. He visited Vienna regularly but he was out of town when the Nazis called or he would have ended up in smoke. The Red army found the boxes of papers in a trainload of Nazi booty at the end of the war and the whole lot was catalogued and filed in a Moscow archive.

Unless some crisis intervenes I will aim to do a series of short posts to summarise the book, part by part.

I Young Ludwig
II The Ausrian School
III Officer, Gentleman and Scholar
IV Mises in his Prime
V Mises in Geneva
VI Mises in Amerca

Historical Background

In 1881 the Austro-Hungarian empire encompassed Austria, Hungary, Slovakia,the Czech Republic, as well as parts of present-day Poland, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro. Previously Austria, under the Hapsurgs, was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire until defeat at the hands of the French and germans at Austerlitz (1806) precipiteated a long period of decline. After World War I the empire was completlye dismembered in the name of national self-determinism, and so the Balkans were Balkanised, laying the foundations for further conflagrations up to the present day. The granduer of the empire at its height can be guaged from the number and size of the public buildings, monuments and museums in Vienna.

Writers, scholars, administrators and entrepreneurs (and revolutionaries) moved backwards and forwards between the major centres of the empire, building a rich multicultural tradition of culture and learning. Multilingual in a way that is scarcely comprhensible to Anglo-Saxons, with at least ten languages in the empire, they fed on the thoughts of Russians, Poles and Germans with the same facility that they absorbed ideas from England and France, though their accents betrayed them when they fled to safety in the west during the 1930s. Some of the most important threads of modern thought passed through Vienna, not necessarily through the university but also by way of the famous private seminars convened by the likes of Freud, Schoenberg, Mises (Ludwig and Robert), Schlick (the Vienna Circle), and Karl Menger.

Ludwig Mises (1881 – 1973) lived from a decade after Carl Menger published
the book that launched the Austrian school of economics, to the year before
the conference at South Royalton that signalled the revival of the school
in the US. He was born of Jewish parents in Galica, an outer province in the
Austro-Hungarian empire, now located in the Ukraine. The family moved to the
ancestral home in Vienna where he took a doctorate in law (with some
economics). His father was an engineer in the governent department that ran the railways and his brother Richard was a physicist and mathematician with a high profile in probability theory.

Actually you don’t need to know a real lot about young Ludwig except that he was a great swot, like all his Jewish classmates and he attended one of the elite high schools that catered for the children of the ambitious middle classes who were not born to wealth or high status but intended to get there by cleverness and hard work.

To be continued.

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Tom N.
Tom N.
15 years ago

Anonymous or not, I think there is a valid and important point in Savanarola’s post. If Rafe is going to clutter Troppo with lectoids on the Austrians or other niche topics, then Troppo’s attractiveness to many current visitors will, I suspect, decline. That, in turn, has implications for others who post on Troppo, as well as those of us who visit and sometimes comment.

It is not simply a matter of: “well, if you’re not interested, don’t read it”. When consuming blogs, there are transactions costs of filtering out uninteresting material – and people when surfing tend, I suspect, to be less tolerant of off-theme material than when, for example, sitting down with a glass of port and a potentially good book at the end of the day.

One reason I come to Troppo is that I find a good majority of the posts to be interesting and stimulating, carefully argued, broadly centrist* and with direct relevance to economic and related policy matters of the day (or, at least, the current millenium).

At a minimum, I think Rafe should simply link to the forthcoming pieces on Mises that he has threatenned to put on Troppo proper, and be sparing in his future posts on other niche topics. Better still would be for hims to find a specialist blogsite on the history of economic thought etc where his stuff would be a better fit.

Tom N.

Ken Parish
15 years ago

I often find Rafe’s stuff on Austrian economics significantly less rivetting than reading the White Pages. However, no doubt some readers react to my posts in the same way. We all have our own private obsessions in one way or another. Rafe’s Mises post has only 3 paragraphs displayed on the Troppo front page, so I fail to see how there are significant “transaction costs” to publishing it. It really isn’t an imposition simply to scroll past it without reading. Moreover, it’s one of 20 separate posts published here over the last week so it’s not as if it’s crowding out other material.

Rafe is a venerable blogging pioneer, and almost a blogosphere institution. He certainly merits a forum for his ideas even if quite a few readers find his obsessions tiresome, and we’re happy to provide a forum here at Troppo. Moreover, Rafe’s style and approach are the eptitome of civility, he almost never descends to ad hominem abuse, and that’s a quality we prize highly here. Feel free to ignore his posts or disagree, but demands to ban Rafe are frankly unworthy IMO.

15 years ago

Having had the odd run-in with Rafe I can only agree with Ken. Yes he’s tendentious, yes he can go on a bit, but he’s a gent and a scholar.

FFS – Tom N just spent much longer composing his whinge than it would have taken to avoid a hundred Rafe posts.

15 years ago

I’ve just skimmed thru it, chapter 5 is interesting as it describes the meeting of Mises, Hazllitt and Hayek in the US during WW2 and concerns at the direction of US thinking against the backdrop of totalitarianism and holocaust;

I agree entirely with what you say about the horrible state of economic thinking here and in the U.S.A. That at the present time when one can at least have some hope for the immediate future the long run outlook should be so dark is really dreadful.

15 years ago

30Hayek to Mises, letter dated January 12, 1941; Grove City Archive:
Hayek files. He went on:
I am trying hard to show to people how this present trend leads inevitably to economic decay and fascism and I shall follow up my pamphlet with a more popular booklet (probably in one of the sixpenny series) on which I am now working, apart from the larger book, which is slowly progressing

15 years ago

I should have thought a site focused on the “centre” needs a bit from each wing to illustrate centerist positions by contradistinction and any centrist position must include a balance of either side anyway.

It is always disappointing when idealogical labels are used to filter participation in a discussion.

15 years ago

And thanks for the link Rafe, got to love a free book.

Tom N.
Tom N.
15 years ago

Rafe, of course I cannot rule out that if I read more of your posts on Mises and the Austrians, I might learn something useful. Equally, I cannot rule out that if I read another edition of Mills and Boon, I might learn something useful. However, I have limited time and intellectual resources to devote to the pursuit of knowledge, and that pursuit has opportunity costs, so one needs to be selective. So, no, I will not be reading any more of your posts on these matters.

You say that others might want to – and again one cannot rule that out – but the issue here is whether your cluttering Troppo with Austrian lectoids has reputational externalities that will harm other contributors, and will add to the search costs and annoyance factor for visitors such that there is a net drop off in interest. My judgment is that they will, and notwithstanding Ken’s natural noninterventionist leanings, I think its something that the collective contributors to Troppo should think seriously about, and act on, if Rafe himself will not desist from polluting this space.

Pedro – perhaps I used the wrong term when I said ‘centrist’; the real (sub)point is that, relative to many other blogs, on Troppo most commentators let facts influence their understandings of the world, rather than searching for facts to justify their understandings. If I wanted to get right wing or left wing spin on things, I would go elsewhere.