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Who is Ludwig von Mises?

Ludwig von Mises was born in 1881 in the city of Lemberg, Austria-Hungary.

He went to the University of Vienna at 19, and obtained his doctorate at 27.

While at the university, he studied the economics of the Austrian school. The works of Carl Menger combined with seminars given by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk provided the background for Mises' work.

He realised that money is not some strange concept that has to be treated separately from commodities; it is a commodity (in fact, in a free-market, money is simply that commodity which is considered most exchangeable). This idea ran counter to the thinking of the classical school (and earlier Austrians), and Mises laid out his analysis in The Theory of Money and Credit, which he published in 1912.

He showed that while the old quantity theory of money (briefly, that the price level will rise in accordance with the abundance of money) provided some insight, it was more important to consider that it all depends on who gets the new money first. The initial recipients of the government's 'spending' will receive a bonus relative to those who get the money after it has passed through several hands. This seriously distorts the economy, messing up the allocation of capital. He also examined the effect of inflation on interest rates, and the resulting boom-bust cycle that has become so familiar.

In 1922, Mises published Socialism, a devastating critique of collectivist economics. With the Russian revolution in so recent memory, this work was much needed as a defense against communism. Of course, he was almost totally ignored.

Mises sought to tackle not just purely economic issues, but also those aspects of twentieth century philosophy that were impacting on economic thinking. He wrote on the subject of 'Praxeology', or 'Human Action'. He recognised that, far from being mechanistic robots or automatons, human beings are individuals seeking their own goals and ends, and acting to achieve those goals. This results in the idea that mathematics is not an appropriate tool to 'model' economic systems, and it also makes little sense to use empirical methods to create such models. What's needed is an a priori logical analysis of the essence of human action, an understanding of those aspects of economics that are necessarily true, not dependent on accidental environmental or historical factors.

Mises was exiled from Germany by the Nazis (National Socialists), and published Nationalökonomie in Geneva, in 1940. He emigrated to the USA with his wife, and nine years later, he published the expanded version of that book in English, calling it Human Action.

With economics becoming dominated by socialist and Keynesian ideas, Mises found it difficult to find a job. He managed to get visiting professorship at New York University's Graduate School of Business. He was never a regular member of the faculty there, and his salary was paid by business people and foundations.

Mises continued as a staunch advocate of freedom and sound (Austrian) economics, and served as the inspiration and mentor for a new generation who led the rekindling of interest in capitalism. Sadly, he never saw this resurgence himself. Ludwig von Mises died in New York City in 1973.


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