Mises Daily Articles
High Courage and Unusual Integrity
Tags History of the Austrian School of Economics
Ludwig von Mises, when I met him, was exactly what you would have expected: a dignified, beautifully mannered gentleman from what Murray Rothbard called an older and better time. A genius, Mises was a great economist of the twentieth century, and a hero in his personal battles with Marxism, National Socialism, and Keynesianism.
Never did he put his own career ahead of telling the truth, which he did in brilliant book after brilliant book. As a result, he never had the professorships and honors that were his due. Forced to flee his country’s Nazi occupiers, he found American Keynesians a hostile bunch, too. So his career was stunted, but not his spirit, and not the magnificent legacy and example he left to all who cherish freedom.
Murray I had the privilege of knowing well. He was funny, charming, brilliant — a star to whom everyone in a room naturally gravitated. Like his mentor Mises, he suffered in his career for his total integrity and truth-telling, which he also did in brilliant book after brilliant book. Even oligarchs and billionaires couldn’t sway him. A model scholar, teacher, and polymath, he seemed, like Mises, to know everything, and was delighted to share it.
Murray once told me he never heard Mises express any self-pity for his treatment, but only good will and determination. I never heard Murray express such feelings either. He was the happy warrior of Austrian economics and liberty.
Maybe it is no surprise that Murray was targeted for marginalization, even as a very young man. He had been a straight-A student all his life, but had his PhD blocked for years at Columbia University. His committee had enthusiastically approved his doctorate, but in an outrage, Arthur Burns, the big man in the department, intervened to veto their decision.
The humorless Burns had known Murray from childhood, and opposed him for his spirit and ideas. Not until Burns was wafted up to Washington, to be chairman of Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers, was Murray’s degree granted. Later, Burns went on to infamy as Nixon’s Fed chairman, where he engineered the horrific inflation of the 1970s.
When Murray was blocked, his future seemingly wrecked, he might have given up. But not Murray. He just worked harder, and gained a job with the libertarian Volker Fund, analyzing all the most significant books in economics, history, and philosophy being published. He was entirely familiar with all three areas.
Not only was Murray a hardworking, optimistic genius like Mises, he also never gave up. He knew he had chosen a difficult path: telling the truth in a Keynesian profession. Like Mises, he could easily have had a top job at a top university. All he had to do was lie, flatter, and advocate State control of the economy.
When Mises asked his wife Margit to marry him, he warned her that while he would write much about money, he would never have much of it. Murray could have said the same thing to his wife, Joey. He, too, would never give in.
As a result, it took Murray a long time to get even an ill-paid teaching job, at a very minor college in Brooklyn. Nevertheless, this happy and inspiring man went ahead to create Austrian economics as we know it today, modern libertarianism, and honest history, from his living room.
Most academic journals were barred to him, so he published wherever he could, even in tiny-circulation periodicals. He seized any chance he got to teach. He had to, for establishment publishers were not interested in the compelling words of an economist who advocated laissez-faire capitalism, a private property society, and human liberty, who refuted the Fed’s inflationism and all other funny-money schemes, and demonstrated that fractional-reserve banks helped bring on recessions and depressions. Moreover, Murray was a great American historian, and historian of freedom.
You can imagine how thrilled Murray was, at age twenty-three, to be commissioned to turn Human Action into a textbook. But he soon realized that what Austrian economics needed was a treatise that built all of economics, logically, step by step, from the fact that we all have goals and seek to achieve them. The result was the famous Man, Economy, and State.
Mises heralded this work. But even having written a masterpiece, Murray faced establishment opposition. A conservative ex-communist associated with Bill Buckley convinced the publisher to suppress the last part of the book as too extreme. Why? Murray had shown that any violent intervention in the market, such as taxation, was destructive. Indeed, he showed that the State itself was a “gang of thieves writ large.”
This was the story of Murray’s professional life — he climbed over the impediments put in his way to achieve. And by the way, the suppressed part was later published as Power and Market.
Murray was always undaunted, and he beat the establishment to do his work. Even power and pelf couldn’t stop this one man and his typewriter.
When I determined to start the Mises Institute, the first person I talked to was Margit von Mises. She gave her enthusiastic blessing. Next I asked Murray to help. He literally clapped his hands in joy; I should have done the same at his involvement.
Murray loved the Institute, and devoted himself to it as the fulfillment of his strategic and ideological vision. Like Mises, he still helps chart our future. We have his immense personal library and papers. All his books are in print, and with the internet, he is far better known, and far more influential today, than in his lifetime.
Such is his power as a thinker and writer that students and scholars, business people and professionals, all over the world need only read him to see through the regime’s lies.
A couple of years ago, I was told that Murray had an “unfair advantage” over more Beltway types because all his works are available for free on the web, thanks to our donors. Give me more such unfairness!
Murray didn’t live to see the internet, but he would have loved it, and especially our spectacular new website. Already, mises.org is the best-read economics site in the world. We want to lengthen our lead.
Not only are the great Austrian and libertarian classics now available to the world for free, but we also have hundreds of other important books, the entire print runs of key scholarly journals, many thousands of articles applying Austrian theory to a great many important issues, and audio and video of all the seminars and conferences we conduct at the Institute and around the world. Not to mention our Free Market, which Murray wrote for, and other coordinated ways to reach everyone.
Murray’s example and work inspires us every day. He taught us to never lose heart, to stick to our guns, and never to be pessimistic about the future of freedom.
Murray loved our signature program, the Mises University, and the smart and dedicated students who throng to it from all over America and many foreign countries, too. He thought it essential that we keep the libertarian and Austrian classics in print, publish an academic journal, and host a professional program for scholars and students. He wanted smart Fellows in residence — our Rothbard graduate program — a brilliant and productive faculty, and courage by all in carrying the fight to the opposition. He would have loved our immense social media presence, our timely YouTubes and podcasts, our thousands of Daily Articles.
The person who said Murray had an unfair advantage was especially upset that the Ron Paul revolution was Rothbardian. Ron, our distinguished board member, should — he said — jettison his old friend Murray and his principles, and substitute a conservative Keynesian admired in the halls of government. Fat chance of that!
It is Murray the millions of young Paulians want: his cutting analysis, his vast knowledge, his devastating prose. And, of course, the more they’re told to avoid Rothbard in favor of economists more in fashion in DC, the more they want to read him.
With the Mises Academy, we offer online teaching in a host of areas. I see it as the model for future, free-market higher education amidst the ruins of the old ways.
We live at a historic moment. The State’s lies are believed by a smaller percentage of the public than ever before, especially young people. The Mises Institute, with our technological know-how, an unbeatable network of scholars, and the great body of work that constitutes our heritage, is uniquely poised to take advantage of this crucial opportunity.
Wrote Murray of Mises and the Institute:
A man of high courage, a scholar with unusual integrity, Ludwig von Mises never knew any other way than pursuing truth to its ultimate conclusions, however unpopular or unpalatable. And, as a result, Ludwig von Mises was the greatest and most uncompromising champion of human freedom in the 20th century.
It is no wonder, then, that the timorous and the venal habitually shy away from the very name of Ludwig von Mises. For Mises scorned all obstacles and temptations in the pursuit of truth and freedom. In raising the proud banner of Ludwig von Mises, the Mises Institute has indeed set up a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.
On that banner is also Murray Rothbard, who might have been writing about himself. Help us hold that banner high. Join us in the battle for freedom, truth, and the future.
I hope you will commit to help us spread the message of Mises and Rothbard, and train the next generations to carry forth the great edifice of truth that is Austrian economics and classical liberalism. Never has this been more needed.