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A Pivotal Bus Ride

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03/19/2013

In July 1940, when Ludwig and Margit von Mises made their way by bus from Switzerland across German-occupied France [Note: Mises was Jewish], the bus driver had to proceed very carefully and make many detours via back roads to avoid German checkpoints. If you would like to play with a fascinating exercise in counterfactual history, imagine how history would have gone had the Germans arrested Mises and his wife, placed them in indefinite detention, and perhaps ended up killing them in some horrible concentration camp.

Among the many ways in which history would have been different: no works of Rothbard, Kirzner, and Reisman as we have known them; probably no resurgence of the Austrian school of economics as we have seen it during the past forty years or so; no Mises Institute in Auburn or others elsewhere in the world. For many of us, without the great English-language treatise Human Action (1949 and later editions), careers would have taken very different forms and trajectories. In ways too numerous to imagine, the world would have been different — and worse — had Mises not made his way safely across France and Spain to Lisbon, and hence by ship to New York. Perhaps never in history did so much turn on a bus driver's skills and courage.

Robert Higgs is senior fellow in political economy for the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. He is the 2007 recipient of the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, and the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

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