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Book Review: Mises

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Mises: An Annotated Bibliography
compiled by Bettina Bien Greaves and Robert W. McGee (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1993); 391 pages; $14.95.

In his 1894 book, The Tyranny of Socialism, the French classical liberal Yves Guyot admitted that “we, who are endeavoring to recall the principles of equality before the law and the guarantees of individual liberty, are but a few. We are trying to show that freedom . . . far from being a vain word, is an important reality, but we have against us Protectionists and Socialists, who fight us with an equal ardour, and with the force which private interests have against the general interests, which belonging to everyone is defended by no one.” And Mr. Guyot insisted that it was important not to fall into the socialist and interventionist fallacy that economic liberties could be abridged with no consequences for political and civil liberties. “I will no more part with my economic liberty than with my political liberty,” he said; “they are inseparable.”

The fight for liberty towards the end of the 19th century, when men like Yves Guyot defended the market economy against the rising tide of collectivism, was still a political and economic environment dominated by the classical-liberal ideals of private property, free trade and individual freedom. But after the First World War, and ever since, the defenders of freedom have fought their battles in a climate permeated with the ideologies of socialism, communism, fascism, interventionism and the welfare state.

And it was in this 20th-century environment of statism triumphant that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote his books and articles defending the free society and laissez-faire capitalism. Born on September 29, 1881, Mises died on October 10, 1973, at the age of 92. The books he wrote, and which appeared during his life and posthumously, total more than twenty-five, and his articles number in the hundreds.

His contributions to economic theory and policy cover almost every field. The Theory of Money and Credit showed that government control of money and intervention in banking is the primary cause of inflations and depressions. Socialism, An Economic and Sociological Analysis (1922) proved that socialist central planning could not work and would only lead to economic disaster. Liberalism (1927) presented the uncompromising case for individual freedom and a totally free market. Epistemological Problems of Economics (1933) argued that economics was a distinct field of human understanding that could not be viewed as a type of natural science open to social engineering. Nation, State and Economy (1919) and Omnipotent Government (1944) explained why both world wars were the fruit of socialist and statist ideologies, and why only classical liberalism offered a path to both peace and prosperity.

Human Action, A Treatise on Economics (1949) offered a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the nature of human society, a market economy, monetary phenomena and business cycles and the impossibilities of any and all forms of collectivism. The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality (1956) discussed the political and psychological reasons for the frequent hatred for a market economy. And Theory and History (1957) refuted the Marxian theory of historical determinism and explained the uses and abuses of historical analysis.

What stands out most clearly in all his writings is a consistent world view grounded on the necessity for human freedom and an unbending insistence that in making the case for freedom, one should never compromise one’s argument to fit the expediencies of the moment.

He explained the perspective from which he defended freedom in the introduction to Socialism: “I know only too well how hopeless it seems to convince impassioned supporters of the Socialistic Idea by logical demonstration that their views are preposterous and absurd. I know too well that they do not want to hear, to see, and above all to think, and that they are open to no argument. But new generations grow up with clear eyes and open minds. And they will approach things from a disinterested, unprejudiced standpoint, they will weigh and examine, will think and act with forethought. It is for them that this book is written.” All of Ludwig von Mises’ writings were written from this perspective: to the future generations who would have lived through the disasters of the socialist and interventionist states and who would be looking for guidance back to the free and civil society.

These new generations, now at the end of the 20th century, will be greatly helped in this task by Mises: An Annotated Bibliography, compiled by Bettina Bien Greaves and Robert W. McGee. What Mrs. Greaves and Mr. McGee have provided is more than a mere listing of books by and about Ludwig von Mises. They have also included extensive and sometimes complete texts of reviews and articles about Mises’ various works, including translations from the German never before available in English. Through these articles and reviews, the reader is able, in fact, to relive many of the most important debates in economics in this century. Both the supporters and opponents of Mises’ ideas speak to the contemporary student on every subject about which Mises himself wrote. The reader only too clearly sees what Mises meant about those who do not want to hear, to see and above all to think. At the same time, the reader also appreciates anew the handful of supporters of freedom and Austrian economics who came to Mises’ defense in their reviews and articles.

The volume has been prepared for easy reference, with sections on each of Mises’ books and the reviews about them. Mises’ books and articles are listed with information about their various translations into other languages. Another part of the volume chronologically covers a vast number of articles and books that refer to or discuss any of Mises’ writings. It also includes a list of articles written about Mises at the time of his death. And the index is complete, with both subject and author listings.

Bettina Bien Greaves and her husband Percy were among Mises’ closest friends and associates in the United States. And she has put into the volume all the attention and concern for detail that only a devoted friend and student could provide. It will surely stand as the definitive reference-guide to Ludwig von Mises’ writings.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).