Ludwig von Mises is one of my heroes. He abided by a fundamental principle in life: “Never give an inch.”
It was often said by Chicago School economists and other non-Austrian economists that Mises was just too hard core. He was just too unbending. For an example of this criticism, watch this brief video, which is a segment from the PBS series, The Commanding Heights. The key comes at 1:30: an interview with Milton Friedman. Friedman dismisses Mises for standing firm. But on the issue at hand — the welfare state — he was right.
Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974, one year after Mises died. Hayek had made his reputation in England in the 1930’s by taking Mises’ theory of the business cycle, adding a couple of simple charts, and giving Mises some footnotes. His deservedly famous 1945 essay on “The Use of Knowledge in Society” is an extension of Mises’ 1920 essay, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth.” By the time he won the Nobel Prize, the academic world had long refused admit that Hayek’s major work in economics was little more than a development of the intransigent Mises. The University of Chicago’s economics department did understand this, and so it blackballed him in 1950, refusing to hire him because the did not like his methodology, i.e., his Austrianism, which he got from Mises. Another department hired him, and an outside agency — the Volker Fund — paid his salary. (This is covered in Brian Doherty’s book, Radicals for Capitalism.)
Mises was right for 60 years, in terms of both content and form. His critics were wrong. Mises had the goods from 1912 until his death in 1973. His critics sold out whenever it was convenient. He never did. Neither did his disciple, Murray Rothbard. Mises maintained his position, and fought for his position, almost alone, for his entire career. His influence today is greater than it could ever have been if he had been just one more nice guy in the faculty lounge. Fortunately, he never spent much time in the faculty lounge. He didn’t even get a salary at New York University. That was paid for by donors, including the Volker Fund. He was ridiculed by his colleagues. He was regarded as a dinosaur. Some of them recommended to students that they not attend Mises’ seminar. Yet nobody remembers the names of any of his faculty colleagues today. A lot of people remember his. Mises.org has the traffic to prove this.
Mises was never a member in good standing in any faculty lounge. He was correctly perceived as an outsider.
There has never been a social transformation that began inside a faculty lounge.
WHEN THE STAKES ARE HIGH
A Misesian friend of mine sent me a link to a recent article written by one of my critics. I don’t need to narrow it down. When I refer to “one of my critics,” this does not narrow it down. It is more like “needle in a haystack.”
The article appears in a neoconservative magazine. Yet the author is a supporter of the standard welfare state. I am not sure that the editor knows this, so bland has the author been. He signed this document. But the editor could not resist running a hatchet job on me. “The enemy of my enemy,” etc. It was a hatchet job, not on my views, but on my tactics. And, I am pleased to say, it is on target.
The author is a theologian. He has spent his career writing bland books and raising millions of dollars for a bland educational institution.
He writes about an incident that took place over 35 years ago. I debated him. I remember the debate. I don’t remember meeting him before the debate. He remembers having met me. He apparently does not remember the debate. He does not mention the topic.
I recall that in his main presentation, he said that he was looking forward to heaven, where he would have time to read the works of Karl Marx. Because I had already done this to write my book, Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968), I commented in my rebuttal that I would much prefer spending time in heaven studying the works of Dolly Parton. I figured the audience would side with me. I was right. The debate was in Mississippi, and the audience was 90% male.
He quoted a hymn that he said his mother loved: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold.” I responded by saying that that I’d rather have Jesus and silver and gold.
For him, as for most Ph.D.-holding clerics and clerks, the ideological battles of life must be subordinate to making your opponents feel nice. I have never believed this.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)