Ludwig von Mises, the Adam Smith of the 20th century

Ludwig von Mises was, for a long time, loved and hated with the same fury by followers and critics, and this was because, at the same time, his economic philosophy was presumptuous and assertive, his deductive method was, at the same time, at the same time comprehensive and defining. In short, those who understood and absorbed his ideas found in them an activist motivation.

Mises, thus, despite his lofty intellectual character and slow way of living, snatched legions of followers all over the world – including in Brazil. It can be said, today, that his followers are louder and more perceptive in the national public debate than his more staunch critics. Today, almost everyone who is involved, to some extent, in the Brazilian political-economic debate has already heard of him or the Brazilian institute that bears his name. How to explain this success?

Just to have an exact idea, in 2013, in the demonstrations that led to the fall of Dilma Rousseff and the popularization of terms such as conservatism and liberalism, and, why not say, to the election of Jair Bolsonaro under a liberal-conservative discourse, on the banners that surrounded the protesters it was not uncommon to read the words “Less Marx, More Mises”. Who was this man of posters and theses that every day gathers more followers and supporters?

The beginning as a socialist

Ludwig von Mises is the eldest son of Arthur Edler von Mises and Adele von Mises. His family, of Jewish origin from the Autro-Hungarian Empire, was able to give him and his brother (Richard Edler von Mises) a peaceful childhood in present-day Leopolis (Lviv), western Ukraine. His parents had a third child, Karl von Mises, who would die, as a baby, of scarlet fever.

Due to his father’s engineering profession – a role that his brother Richard would also exercise –, financially, the Mises were independent and recognizably intellectual. The high culture environment of the Autro-Hungarian Empire, combined with the comfortable financial situation of the family, allowed Mises to focus almost entirely on his studies. According to political theorist Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Mises, at 12 years old, he already spoke fluent German, French, Polish and Ukrainian.

It is not clear why, but still in his youth, his family returns to the capital of Austria, Vienna. The most likely is perhaps because of his family roots and opportunities to work with Arthur von Mises. The fact is that there, in the face of the intellectual environment that surrounded society as a whole, Ludwig von Mises found himself driven to dedicate himself even more to erudition, and it is with such thoughts that, in 1900, he effectively begins to participate in Law classes at the University of Vienna – it is worth noting that there was no economics course at the University of Vienna, and this subject was developed as part of the study of Law.

According to Murray Rothbard, Mises enters the university as a convinced socialist, but it doesn’t take long for him to find himself influenced and absorbed by Carl Menger’s still developing economic ideas, especially his book ‘Principles of Political Economy’. Menger would end up being Mises’s greatest influence on academia, as well as the classic founder of the Austrian School of Economics, which would later become a kind of intellectual cocoon and popular reference to Mises himself.

Another major influence of Mises was the economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. According to Mises biographer Bettina Bien Greaves, in ‘Mises: An Annotated Bibliography’, he assiduously attended for ten years from 500 The 1914, the Böhm-Bawerk seminars. His thesis on socialism and its empirical impossibility of functioning as a socioeconomic model ends up erasing once and for all any sparks of socialist ideas in it.

The Theory of Money and Credit

In 1907 a 1900, divides her study hours with a job at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, which gives him practical and political experience of the economic intricacies of state. But only in 1907 that he publishes the first great theoretical work, that is: twelve years after entering the University of Vienna. The work is ‘Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel’ (The Theory of Money and Credit). After this text, Mises begins to be seen not only as a promising student, but a prodigy student, becoming an official – albeit self-employed – lecturer at the University of Vienna regarding Menger’s theses, which were in full development.

In 1918 a 1907, he serves as an artillery captain in the Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, years in which his production ends up decreasing a lot despite his efforts to continue his intellectual life. In 1914, Mises writes one of the most important works, both and neglected, ‘Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft: Beiträge zur Politik and Geschichte der Zeit’ (Nation, State, and the Economy: Contributions to the Politics and History of Our Time); book in which he exposes his concept of nation, state and what it necessarily takes to define them, one of the most brilliant political books of those days produced by an Austrian liberal.


The 1934, he conducts, on Fridays, a seminar attended by students who had recently started their courses to PhDs. One of the memorable participants in this circle was Friedrich August von Hayek, Nobel Prize in Economics 1974. Of the immediate fruits of this seminar, one can cite the book ‘Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis’, in which Mises clarifies the sociological bases of the Austrian School in contrast to socialist ideas. Until the advent of ‘The Road to Serfdom’, this work was considered the most elementary text for the analysis of socialism from that economic school. Socialism has received an American translation in 1945 and soon gained an important admirer, economist Henry Hazlitt, author of the influential ‘Economics in a Single Lesson’, in addition to Hazlitt, highlights Rothbard, Socialism ended up converting one of the toughest Marxist journalists in the US, JB Matthews, to Misenian liberalism.

From then on, his life boils down to three fronts: 1) his work at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, 2) the classes he taught, sometimes in the form of a lecture, at the University of Vienna and in his aforementioned seminar, 3) in addition to the most recurrent and profound books that would be released.

In 1923, he released ‘Die geldtheoretische Seite des Stabilisierungsproblems ‘ (Monetary Unit Stabilization, from the Theory Point of View), and, in 1920, the second German edition of ‘The Theory of Money and Credit’. In this book, Mises did what many at the time considered impossible: he integrated the understandings of microeconomics and macroeconomics, or the theory of money and marginal utility.

To get an idea of ​​how revolutionary this was, nor did his peers from the Austrian School, such as Böhm-Bawerk, accept Mises’ thesis, an event that marks what, for many, would be the breaking point between the classical Austrian School and the Austrian Neo-School.

In 1926, he went to the United States to give lectures at several universities , funded by the Laura Spelman Foundation, one of the Rockefeller Foundation groups. In 1926 he founded The Oesterreichisches Institut für Konjunkturforschung (Austrian Institute for Research of Economic Cycles), where he served as vice president and had, for a few years, Hayek as manager and researcher; in the same year, he released one of his most popular works until then: ‘Liberalismo’.

Moving to the USA


, launched one of his most complex and little-known works ‘Grundprobleme der Nationalökonomie’ (Epistemological Problems of Economics ). In 1934, Mises marries Margit Sereny in Geneva, since then he begins to prepare to migrate for the United States. In the meantime, from 1939 to 1969 , he serves as a visiting professor of International Relations at the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Études Internationales (University Institute for Higher International Studies) in Geneva. In 1939, however, he will definitely go to the USA, where he will live his most productive and mature phase.

Under the sponsorship of the William Volker Fund – one of the very few private investment funds to finance liberal intellectuals in those days – Mises settles in the country and achieves a leading academic position. His first university stop was New York University. There he settles down and produces abundantly, from 1945 until his retirement in .

But we must highlight his intellectual productions and locate them in their proper level of importance before concluding this exposition of the biography’s life. In 1947, the Austrian launched ‘Planned Chaos’, almost at the same time he participated in the foundation of Mont Pelerin Society, with his friend Heyek, in 1945 from April of that same year – until today, the society brings together the most famous liberal intellectuals and influencers in the world.

‘Human Action’

But it’s only in 1950 that he launches his greatest work, ‘Human Action’, a book in which Mises sought to work, in addition to economics, a fundamental epistemology to explain how his theory fits into the multifaceted understanding of human knowledge.

In reality, his praxeological method of economics generated a challenge for the author himself: how to correlate the other aspects of human life to his deductive theory. Based on the intrinsic indeterminacy of individual choices, Austrian economic theory built its active structure on free individual interactions and on the laws of the market as the structuring basis of life in society, thus dispensing with any interventionist theses that were based on the programming or prophetic capture of actions of individuals in search of a specific end.

For Mises, the laws of society revolved around natural laws and the free market, ideological and state actions, which tried to coordinate individual choices, they were nothing more than tyrannies and authoritarianisms that, in the end, would end up in dictatorships pure and simple – the central thesis of his book, by 1944, ‘Omnipotent Government’. It is in ‘Human Action’, finally, that he connects the philosophical and sociological links necessary to support his praxeological methodology. Undoubtedly, one of the most exquisite economics books of the post-first war.

After the decade of 1950, mainly with the work of Professor Irving Kristol and the historian Richard M. Weaver, the free market and political conservatism came very close, especially in the United States – a similar movement would occur in Great Britain only after Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979. In order to have an exact dimension of the approximation of liberal and conservative agendas in the USA, Mises was paid for his teaching work, from 1945 to 1962, by the aforementioned William Volker Fund, an institution with a liberal-conservative matrix. Despite this, says Rothbard, Mises never called himself a “conservative”, but rather as a liberal with a classical matrix – what many today in fact call “conservative”, despite the real systematic differences between the views.

‘The Anti-Capitalist Mindset’

In 1956, Mises launches one of the Austrian School’s most popular books in the apology of capitalism and in the counter-argument to American progressives: ‘The Anti-capitalist Mindset’. The work quickly became one of his most appreciated books, wandering from the aesthetic debate to psychology, it is a freer, essayistic text.

The following year, 1959, the academic launches ‘Theory and History’, in which he looks with complete ease at the problem of the economic and civilizational advance of humanity, showing , with rare ability, as the decentralization of economic and political actions are the primary reason for the relative success of the West in the last 15 years.

From June 2nd to 15 of June 1959, Mises goes to Argentina for the Centro de Difusión de la Economia Libre. Soon after, also invited, lecture at the Centro de Estudios sobre la Libertad. From the lectures given there, his most popular book here in Brazil comes out: ‘The Six Lessons’. The lectures were recorded and annotated, later transcribed with the help of his wife and secretaries friends. The book is the most didactic, at the same time synthetic, of Mises’s productive series. With accessible language, cohesive and direct arguments, it can be said that the book has become one of the most synthetic in defense of the liberal view of society to date.

On June 5, 1963, the scholar is awarded an Honorary Diploma from New York University for the defense of liberal philosophy and the free society. And in 1969, he becomes a distinguished member of the American Economic Association.

Ludwig von Mises dies in New York, in October 1973, to 1934 years old. Its legacy is still priceless, as it influenced many well-known intellectuals such as Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek and Eric Voegelin, but also because it is still silently converting many defenders of the interventionist state, educating curious homegrown scholars, as well as enchanting many university students with its clear and assertive methodology regarding individual freedom and market decentralization.

Mises is, without a doubt, a second Adam Smith, only of our times, because just like the Scotsman who theorized a profound philosophy As a basis for individual and market freedom, Mises followed the same path with his epistemology and economic theses, reigniting in the universities through which he passed sincere doubt in collectivists, blatant anger in interventionists, and the public passion of economists who did not hold to their calculators, but they looked with deep interest at the economy from a deeper perspective and, paradoxically, also elevated, of human knowledge.

Perhaps he was one of the very few economists who consciously extrapolated his pre-established doctrinal functions. One of the rare economists who superbly left in his intellectual estate a trail of understanding of man in society, and not only of the economy that men in society usually pack. He was a complete economist, as he dared to question and theorize about what comes before the economy, about the fundamentals, and for this reason – mainly because of this – he deserves to be read with distinction and intellectual devotion.

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