An Austrian School economist, Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises devoted much of his life to writing and educating on the subject of classical liberalism. While several classical libertarians including John Locke and Jean-Baptiste Say preceded him, Mises’ revival of the ideology following the Second World War has cemented his place as one of libertarianism’s most revered figures.
Mises was born in Austria-Hungary in 1881. While studying at the University of Vienna he began to strongly favor the works of Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School of economics himself. Mises went on to work in law, lecture on economics, and serve as a front officer in the Austro-Hungarian artillery and as an advisor to the War Department. It was during Mises’ government work that he hired Friedrich Hayek, who would continue on to become yet another foundational classical libertarian thinker.
During the late 1930s Mises very correctly supposed that Europe was a poor place for a Jew to live in, and so fled with his wife to New York City in 1940. Our universities were happy to receive him. Mises held the position of visiting professor at New York University from 1945 until four years before his death in 1973.
Mises publishedHuman Action: A Treatise on Economics, his best known work,in 1949. In it he made a compelling case for laissez-faire capitalism based on praxeology – the theory that human behavior is purposeful and rationalized rather than merely reflexive. To briefly summarize so important a book would be to grossly mistreat it, but at its core Human Action doesn’t simply argue that the free market trounces any government system. Mises claims the free market is the very basis of civilization itself!
Mises proposed the economic calculation problem in 1920. With it he laid out his theory that the price system under capitalism inherently assigns the correct value to goods, whereas a socialist approach necessarily requires guesswork. In his 1922 book Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis Mises further underscored his point that bureaucrats are never properly equipped to assign value to capital goods.
Mises’ critics have declared his understanding of human nature flawed, his attribution of anti-capitalist sentiments to envy ignorant, and his viewpoints inflexible to the extent of being harsh. But none deny the importance of Mises’ work, and today his inflexibility is often considered a sign of his absolute and unwavering sincerity in his economic theories.
Hailed as the godfather of conservative libertarianism, Milton Friedman quotes openly attacked Keynesianism in an era when most economists widely accepted its fundamental premises. Friedman won the 1976 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy.”
An Austrian-British economist and philosopher, Friedrich August von Hayek remains a pivotal figure in the defense of classical liberalism – the assertion that civil liberties and economic freedom are paramount to civilization. Hayek quotes are worth reading and considering given the influence he’s had on freedom and liberty movements.
Rothbard was born in 1926 to Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. He received his PhD in economics at Columbia University, noting that he was nearly the only student at the school who didn’t espouse extreme leftist ideologies. Rothbard went on to teach at the New York University Stern School of Business where he was also paid to write Man, Economy, and State, a textbook based on Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action which the author himself soundly approved of.