The Radicalism of Mises
On Mises's Birthday: We live in a time in which many people claim to be libertarians or at least hint that they are. This includes many obviously unlibertarian people such as Bill Maher, Paul Ryan, and Michelle Bachmann. It's arguably a good thing when people who have no real interest in your ideas claim to be part of your movement, although having people identify your ideology with the likes of Paul Ryan and Bachmann certainly has its downside. The antics of ersatz libertarians offers us a reminder that there was once a time when virtually no one was a libertarian, and even fewer admitted to being one. Ludwig von Mises lived through that time, and he was one of a tiny group of Western intellectuals who carried the torch for the ideology of laissez-faire from the dark times of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s into today. Those unfamiliar with the intellectual zeitgeist of the mid-20th century might be unaware of just how radical Mises's views were at the time, but it's perhaps safe to say that Mises's philosophy of laissez-faire was beyond heretical in those days. The "third option" of actually free markets, as opposed to debating how exactly the state should intervene, simply was not an option. In the introduction to The Essential von Mises, Murray Rothbard explained:
In the world of politics and ideology, we are often presented with but two alternatives, and then are exhorted to make our choice within that loaded framework. In the 1930s, we were told by the Left that we must choose between Communism and Fascism: that these were the only alternatives open to us. Now in the world of contemporary American economics, we are supposed to choose between the "free market" Monetarists and Keynesians; and we are supposed to attribute great importance to the precise amount that the federal government should expand the money supply or to the exact level of the federal deficit. Virtually forgotten is a third path, far above the petty squabbles over the monetary/fiscal "mix" of government policy. For almost no one considers a third alternative: the eradication of any government influence or control whatsoever over the supply of money, or indeed over any and all parts of the economic system. Here is the neglected path of the genuine free market: a path that has been blazed and fought for all his life by one lone, embattled, distinguished, and dazzlingly creative economist: Ludwig von Mises. It is no exaggeration to say that if the world is ever to get out of its miasma of statism or, indeed, if the economics profession is ever to return to a sound and correct development of economic analysis, both will have to abandon their contemporary bog and move to that high ground that Ludwig von Mises has developed for us.