Mises Made Easier
Percy L. Greaves Jr.
Mises aptly named his economic treatise, HUMAN ACTION. It expounds in detail and with precision the human processes of social cooperation in a free or unhampered market society. It also sets forth with a similar precision the undesirable consequences that inevitably flow from every political interference with those voluntary social actions of men and women that are in keeping with the Golden Rule, i.e., actions which, barring force, fraud and human error, provide a psychic profit for all participants. It is truly the economics bible for all those who seek peace and prosperity not only for themselves but for all mankind. There is nothing like it in existence. However, its great contributions need to be made easier for average readers to digest, reflect upon and make part of their understanding and actions.
Henry Hazlitt, one of Mises' closest friends and a distinguished member of the elite few to whom Mises expressed his "thanks for very valuable and helpful suggestions," has written:
"If any single book can turn the ideological tide that has been running in recent years so heavily toward statism, socialism and totalitarianism, HUMAN ACTION is that book.... It should become the leading text of everyone who believes in freedom, in individualism and in the ability of a free market economy not only to outdistance any government planned system in the production of goods and services for the masses, but to promote and safeguard, as no collectivist tyranny can ever do, those intellectual, cultural and moral values upon which all civilization ultimately rests."
The jacket for the first edition proclaimed HUMAN ACTION as
"the counterweight of Marx's Das Kapital, of Lord Keynes' General Theory, and of countless other books recommending socialization, planning, credit expansion and similar panaceas. Ludwig von Mises is internationally known as the head of the 'Austrian School' of economics, the teacher ... of many other economists, who largely through him have come to know economics as an inquiry into human action, based on principles no less rigorous than those of the physical sciences."
As the undersigned has written in his dedication of Understanding the Dollar Crisis, his recent attempt to put some of Mises' fundamental contributions in an easily readable form, we all owe much to Ludwig von Mises "whose contributions may yet save our civilization."
It is thus extremely important that HUMAN ACTION not only be read by present and future thought leaders but also that they read it with understanding. As Professor Mises wrote and carefully edited every page of HUMAN ACTION with scientific accuracy and scholarly precision, he chose many terms and expressions with which both lay readers and graduate students are generally unfamiliar. While his chosen words expressed exactly what he meant to say, many readers, meeting them for the first time, fail to grasp some of the fine, but important, points Mises was attempting to make. Having an unabridged dictionary nearby is helpful, but not always satisfactory, because few such dictionaries indicate the precise sense in which Mises used many of these little understood terms.
Many such words develop new and often differing meanings with the passage of time. Take the terms "socialism" and "liberal," for example. The former term once included the voluntary cooperation of a relatively free society. More than a century ago, the advocates of a politically-directed enforced cooperation, liking its popular acceptance and pleasant connotations, called themselves "socialists." In time they completely changed the accepted meaning of "socialism." Within the last century, the word "liberal" has suffered the same 100 percent shift in popular meaning. Mises, however, loyal to the word's original meaning, continued to use the term "liberal" in its traditional sense, akin to liberty and not to political compulsions. This Glossary provides his definition.
How many people read a book with a large dictionary handy? Very few. When the author of this Glossary first read HUMAN ACTION, he traveled frequently and spent many a night reading in hotel rooms. Mass transit may provide soft music and even movies, but it seldom provides a Second Edition Unabridged Webster Dictionary. In hotels and motels, they are even scarcer. Few graduate students keep one in their study. For the average adult reader, the situation is often worse and who wants to visit a library as often as he finds a foreign phrase or an unfamiliar word in HUMAN ACTION.
The need to make the reading of HUMAN ACTION easier has existed for twenty-five years. A first primitive attempt was made as early as 1952 by the late Alvin Wingfield. With the aid of a large dictionary, he defined a number of the more difficult and less familiar terms for a North Carolina group that then met regularly to read and discuss HUMAN ACTION. His efforts were helpful but lacked a precise Misesian touch.
Early in 1964, after the First Edition of HUMAN ACTION had gone through six printings and a Revised Second Edition had appeared, the Foundation for Economic Education contemplated establishing a graduate course in economics. Dean Russell was in charge of the project. He contemplated using HUMAN ACTION as the text. With the blessings of Leonard Read, the Foundation's President, Dr. Russell approached the undersigned, as a Mises' disciple who had helped with the Second Edition revisions, and suggested he prepare a Glossary of Human Action for FEE's internal use and, perhaps, for wider distribution.
A start was made almost immediately. Later that year, a preliminary draft of definitions of words selected from the first 397 pages of the Second Edition were mimeographed and circulated privately for criticisms and suggestions. A number of helpful comments were received. Unquestionably, the most valuable assistance came from Professor Mises himself. He returned a copy marked up with his treasured handwritten suggestions which were quickly accepted as corrections.
Meanwhile, FEE's preliminary explorations of the possibility of a FEE graduate school resulted in a finding that it would be unable to grant degrees without being subject to the supervision and regulation of the New York State Board of Regents. Since such requirements were contrary to the freedom philosophy of Leonard Read, the graduate project was dropped and production of the completed Glossary delayed. However, the undersigned continued in his spare time the work he had started.
The author had first registered for the Mises graduate seminar at New York University in the fall of 1950 and was an active participant until its final session in May 1969. He also spent considerable time with Professor Mises, often driving him home from the seminar. This provided frequent opportunities to question the learned professor on many of the fine points of his contributions and the sense in which he used particular terms. Every difficult word, expression and foreign phrase in the Second Edition was underscored and defined. Countless dictionaries and reference books were consulted. Each definition was typed on a 4" x 6" card or as many such cards as were needed. They reflected the results of numerous readings of HUMAN ACTION, as well as all other Mises' writings available in the English language.
When the author considered the definitions satisfactorily completed, he left them with Professor Mises for his perusal. This was early in 1965, when Professor Mises was at the height of his great mental powers. Appointments were later made to meet with Professor Mises in his study on March 27, April 12, and May 4, 1965. We spent three hours together on each occasion for a total of nine hours. Professor Mises read the cards that interested him while making succinct and very pertinent comments. Careful notes were made of everything he said. In a few cases, he suggested specific sources for assistance. On occasion, he would remark that it would take a book or at least a chapter to do justice with a particular definition.
The time that Mises gave to the project was a good indication of the importance he attached to it, Each definition which had not met with his approval was carefully revised in line with his comments. It was he who suggested that the name of Frederick A. Hayek be added after his, as a then current leader of the Austrian School of Economics who, like the others, was Austrian born. Except for a few cards which were later discussed with him in detail, Professor Mises never saw the definitions again. Consequently, the author must assume full responsibility for those definitions which may not measure up to his high standards.
The Glossary was basically completed by the end of 1965. The author then started to add a section on the significance of each of the many persons and places mentioned in HUMAN ACTION. This proved to be a difficult and time consuming task, particularly as the contributions of many of those cited were in foreign languages and not readily available. The urgency of other matters resulted in the project remaining dormant for a number of years.
During the 1968-1969 academic year, this professor used HUMAN ACTION as a text for fourth year economics students. The then available Glossary was typed and duplicated for student use. Although the copies contained many typographical errors, they proved to be very helpful in the reading and classroom discussions of HUMAN ACTION. On special request other duplications were later made for strictly private use.
Over the years many people have urged that the Glossary be made available in book form. With the passing of Professor Mises on October 10, 1973, it was decided to get the Glossary into print in 1974, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the First Edition of HUMAN ACTION. The idea of including an addendum on persons and places was dropped. Among those most insistent that the Glossary be more generally available has been Se?or Joaquin Reig Albiol, the translator into Spanish of the First and Third Editions of HUMAN ACTION. He has also kindly offered financial assistance and indicated a strong desire to make the Glossary available in Spanish. The author's wife, Bettina Bien Greaves, a member of the Senior Staff of the Foundation for Economic Education, has also urged that the Glossary be completed in final form and published. She offered to retype the Glossary cards in manuscript form and assist with the many details of checking and proof reading.
With this encouragement, the definitions were reread in late 1973. Page references to HUMAN ACTION were changed from those of the Second Edition to those of the Third Edition. Finishing touches were added to the few definitions that needed to be brought up to date. The saddest addition was filling in the years for our late great teacher (1881-1973). References to Mises have been left in the present tense as his thoughts will always be with us.
This Glossary should not only make it easier for readers to grasp the full significance of Mises' contributions in his great treatise, but it is also an economics text in its own right. It presents many of Mises' concepts in both a readable and convenient form. Mises often, too often, assumed that those who read or heard him could understand his message. He frequently wrote and spoke for students of the graduate level, with the belief that those interested had already familiarized themselves with his earlier writings. Unfortunately, this assumption was often contrary to fact. Long after this author had read HUMAN ACTION many times, he needed more contact with Professor Mises before he could ferret out his finer meanings. Mises saw these fine points so clearly that he found it difficult to realize that others, without his extraordinary acumen and encyclopedic knowledge, could not grasp them at a first reading.
This Glossary provides the reader with the answers in succinct form to many of the popular economic fallacies of our times. It also provides the reader with a ready reference to the pages in Mises' English writings in which be discusses in some detail the subject of the definition. It is thus hoped that it will make it easier for thought leaders to grasp the full significance of Mises' great contributions, contributions which "may yet save our civilization." If this Glossary should encourage a modicum of scholars to pursue a serious study of the free market society and all the writings of Mises, this author will feel he has made a small down payment on the huge debt he personally owes his late great teacher.
On page 488 of the Third Edition of HUMAN ACTION, Mises has a section entitled "Observations on the Evolution of the Time Preference Theory." A footnote thereto refers the reader to his National?konomie (1940) "for a detailed critical analysis of this part of Böhm-Bawerk's reasoning." This reference has not been available in English and the book is not likely to be translated, because its contents, for the most part, have already appeared in HUMAN ACTION. Consequently, this author long ago asked Mrs. Greaves to translate this important passage needed for a complete reading and understanding of Mises' position on interest. The passage has recently been reworked and this author has edited it into a form he believes Mises would have approved. It is included with this Glossary as a useful addendum for the serious Mises student.
Two years before Mises died, he sanctioned the translation of three of his short German works by Bettina Bien Greaves. These works all deal with the monetary problem which remains the greatest threat to our civilization. Their availability will be another great aid to those who seek to understand this very complicated problem. They are:
The Stabilization Problem from the Viewpoint of Monetary Theory (Die geldtheoretische Seite des Stabilisierungsproblems), January 1923;
Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy (Geldwertstabilisierung und Konjunkturpolitik), 1928; and
The Causes of the Economic Crisis: An Address (Die Ursachen der Wirtschaftskrise), February 28, 1931.
In his letter of September 24, 1971, to Mrs. Greaves, he kindly added:
"It is my further request that your translations be carefully reviewed and edited by your husband, Percy L. Greaves, Jr., to assure that they present, as far as possible, a faithful English language interpretation of my ideas originally expressed in German."
The translations having been completed, the pleasant chore of editing these works will now become the order of the day.
Before closing this Preface, the author wishes to thank Dean Russell, Leonard Read and the Foundation for Economic Education for their part and help in getting this project underway. Thanks are also due Mrs. Bette Fletcher and Mrs. Virginia Clifford, who typed with great care a large number of the original cards. The author is also indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Roger Sharlow who typed the 1968-1969 version of the Glossary and to Mr. Bart Carley who taped the classroom discussions of the HUMAN ACTION course in which the Glossary was used. The author must also thank his beloved wife for her encouragement, which at times might more precisely be called "goading," and for her assistance with the typing, proofing and myriads of other necessary details. She has contributed much of her time and knowledge to help make an understanding of Mises easier for the reader of this Glossary.
In closing, the author wishes to stress again the sentiment with which he ended his remarks at the Commitment of the late Ludwig von Mises on October 13, 1973. May this Glossary help further the influence of his name and works through the ages.
Percy L. GREAVES, JR.
June 9, 1974
P.S. The author wants to express his gratitude to Mrs. Ludwig von Mises for her graciousness in writing the Foreword. He must also acknowledge with thanks that it is due to the generosity of some Spanish friends of Professor Mises and this author that this Glossary appears in such a fine form.