The Economics of Ludwig von Mises: Toward a Critical Reappraisal
In March 1974 I got in touch with Professor Leland Yeager, who was then president-elect of the southern Economics Association, and told him that I wanted to organize a symposium on the economic thought of Ludwig von Mises for the November 1974 meeting of our association in Atlanta, Georgia. Mises had died in October 1973, and we would be meeting on nearly the first anniversary of his death. Yeager agreed that, although Mises had been named a "Distinguished Fellow" of the American Economics Association in September 1969, many economists were not well acquainted with either the content of his thought or the enormous range of subjects to which he had devoted more than seventy years of active scholarship. At a time when the cherished "idols" of the intellectual marketplace were being regarded with suspicion, and economists were becoming critical of their basic assumptions and methods, it seemed appropriate to devote an entire session to someone whose lifework had been on the foundations of the science. Thus, we had every reason to believe that a panel on Mises would be well attended and set to work deciding whom to invite and what aspects of Mises' contribution could be most profitably discussed in the short space of two hours.
Professors Murray N. Rothbard and Israel M. Kirzner were approached first: both were well-know students of Mises and had themselves extended Mises' contribution in several directions. Rothbard chose to reevaluate the famous debate on economic calculation in order to show that Mises' objections to centralized planning were more firmly grounded than his opponents imagined. Kirzner proposed to outline Mises' approach to capital and interest by contrasting it with the approaches of Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Frank H. Knight, and John Bates Clark.
A large portion of Mises' writing is concerned with the broad issues of political economy and sociology. On Rothbard's recommendation, we contacted Professor William Baumgarth, who agreed to prepare a paper on Mises' political philosophy, inasmuch as Baumgarth's own doctoral research on Friedrich Hayek's political thought had brought him into contact with Mises' writings. Finally, I chose to speak about Mises' contribution to monetary economics by emphasizing the use Mises made of the cash-balance mechanism in his treatment of monetary disturbances.
What our session lacked, by mid-April, was a chairman and principal discussant. Yeager wrote to Professor Fritz Machlup, whose friendship with Mises dated from the interwar period, when as a graduate student at the University of Vienna, he had participated in Mises' famous seminars in economic theory. Machlup agreed to chair the session, introduce its subject as well as the speakers, and close with evaluative critical comments on the papers presented. Finally, Professor Karen I. Vaughn consented to act as the principal discussant; it was her job to pull the session together by uncovering common themes in the four principal papers and offering criticism of what had been said. In this task she was joined by Machlup, whose penetrating final comments suggested further linesd of research and contributed to the voerall goal of our meeting, which was to promote interest in Mises' scientific contributions.
On Friday morning, 15 November 1974, our panel convened before an audience of nearly 200 economists. At the conclusion of the session nearly half that number responded to Professor Machlup's invitation to continue our discussions on an informal basis over a generous buffet luncheon hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies in the elegant Atlantis room of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, where the convention was being held. Thanks to the efforts of the panel participants, Professor Yeager, the other officers of the southern Economics Association, and the Institute for Humane Studies, the meeting proved to be a great success. Many of us came away with the feeling that a beginning had been made in a scholarly reevaluation of Mises' thought, and, regardless of the outcome, our own understanding of the foundations of the science would be greatly improved as a by-product of this endeavor.
This book contains edited versions of the four principal papers presented at the conference and the edited transcripts of Machlup's and Vaughn's remarks and criticisms. In addition I have included two brief appendixes, one listing important dates in the life of Ludwig von Mises and the other listing Mises' most important translated writings.
I would like to thank George Pearson and Kenneth Templeton of the Institute for Humane Studies for their sincere interest in the work of the Austrian school of economics and, in particular, in the writings of Ludwig von Mises. Their encouragement in the form of expert advise and financial assistance was as essential to this enteriprise as the work of the authors themselves. I would also like to thank each of the contributors to this volume, who have attended to deadlines and worked hard on the final stages of production. Fritz Machlup and Ilse Mintz furnished some of the biographical material I have included in the introduction. Finally I wish to thank my typist, Ms. Cynthia Annunziata, for her careful and thoughtful handling of the manuscript.
LAURENCE S. MOSS
University of Virginia
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