Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ronald Kitching: Ludwig von Mises - The Economist of the 20th Century


Without any doubt whatsoever, the greatest economist and social scientist of the 20th Century was Ludwig von Mises. But until recently relatively little was known about his life story. All is revealed in Jorg Guido Hülsmann's great 1,143 page book titled “MISES - The Last Knight of Liberalism”. The book describes not only the life of Mises but also the history of the times in which Mises lived. And, the many associates and enemies of Mises.

Ten years of research went into this great volume produced by Professor Hülsmann, a dedicated scholar and admirer of Mises’s works. The book starts at the beginning with the birth of Mises, and his early schooling. But I was amazed at the rigour of the classical education that only the brightest of young scholars could cope with in those times.

In Europe they have a system where the young scholar starts what we would term high school at about 11 years of age and it runs on into what we would call a university degree. But compared with the education scholars in this country are subjected too, the European Classical model was and remains extremely rigourous, and indeed, only for the most intelligent and dedicated.

Mises entered the Akademischen Gymnasium just before he turned eleven years of age. It was the most thoroughly secularised school in Vienna. It was therefore the favourite place of education for the sons of the Liberal bourgeoisie, and in particular, of Vienna’s better Jewish families.

There he read Caesar, Livy, Ovid, Sallust Jugurtha, Cicero, Virgil and Tacitus in Latin. In Greek he studied Xenophon. Homer, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Plato and Sophocles.

Their first year programme consisted of religion, Latin, German, geography, mathematics natural history, and calligraphy. Mises, one of the best of thirty three students in his class eventually ran sixth in his final year. He particularly excelled in history and law.

On top of all of that he learned all of the European languages independently.

Any student who failed in a single subject, had to repeat the entire year. A reader of Hülsmann's book too, quickly realises the enthusiasm of the students to learn. In times of relaxation they would meet in cafes and discuss the new and major discoveries of their curriculum. Mises took the most demanding of courses and majored in Law.

Always seeking the truth, all of this honed the young highly intelligent mind to become a superbly discriminating one.

Economic conflicts were at the forefront of social dissension in Austria-Hungary during Mises’s early years, and were debated each day in the press, in new books, in cafes, and in the streets.

It is interesting to observe that the father of one of Mises’s friends, Felix Somary, told him: “The empire is quite different from the rest of the world. Imagine the Emperor and his Government gone for even one year, and the nationalists would tear each other to pieces.

”The Government is the fence that separates the zoo of wild animals from the outside world and nowhere else are there so many and such dangerous political beasts as we have.”

Young lads such as Felix [and Mises], learned early on to appreciate the benefits of the monarchial order in Austria, understanding that:

The Monarchy was not some historical relic, but the sole possible institutional framework for holding eight nationalities together on Europe’s most dangerous frontier. I thought an interesting observation.

Mises has stated that,“reading the book by Carl Menger titled, ‘Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics’, made me into an economist.”

Studying under Eugen Bohm Bawerk, the successor of Menger, Mises excelled in Economics.

His book titled “ The Theory of Money and Credit” was published in 1912. That book made Mises the most respected man in Europe on sound money, and it remains one of the best books on money to this day.

The 1914 -18 war saw Mises in the Austrian army where he served on the Russian, Italian and Western fronts as an artillery officer. He received six military decorations as a result of his outstanding service.

His “Nation State and Economy” was published in 1919. His renowned essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” in 1920 and his great book “Socialism” in 1922. He achieved all of this while engaged in his full time job as Director of The Austrian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He served in this occupation from 1909 until 1938, except for his war service.

It is my intention to try and enthuse readers to not only study J. G. Hülsmann's great book on Mises, but to hopefully convince interested readers to start reading some of his works commencing with some of his smaller books which I’ll mention in future essays.

An excellent first acquaintance with Ludwig von Mises is with his essays titled Profit and Loss and Liberty and Property. These are, like all of his works are available on line and as hard copies from http://www.mises.org.

Ronald Kitching author of “Understanding Personal and Economic Liberty” is a keen student of the Austrian Classical Liberal philosophy having joined the International Mont Pelerin Society in 1978 on the invitation of founder Friedrich Hayek.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I would also be interested to read the theories of other great economic thinkers.

Muriel Newman said...

Reply to Anonymous from Ronald Kitching:

In 60 years of his productive life Mises built a great cathedral of economic and social knowledge based on the sciences of logic and reason. This was revealed in the 1,143 page book written by Jorg Guido Hülsmann and titled: MISES - THE LAST KNIGHT OF LIBERALISM.

You can peruse it online yourself at: http://mises.org/books/lastknight.pdf
The beautiful hard cover copy is also available at: www.mises.org

Jorg Guido Hülsmann is one of the few greatest living Austrian scholars today.

All of von Mises writings are on line at: http://mises.org/literature.aspx?action=author&Id=280

www.mises.org has about 500 authors and about 5,000 books availabe on line and as hard copies at the lowest possible prices.