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Mises: An Audacious Champion of Freedom

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By Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr.

Ideas are all-important. Indeed, they are more powerful than armies, as Victor Hugo noted. But ideas are advanced by specific individuals, and inculcated in them, and historically tied to them. How blessed are we that we have not a criminal like Marx nor a monster, like Keynes to follow, but Ludwig von Mises, a hero as well as a genius. Mises was not only a dazzling economist and champion of liberty, but no Communist, nor Nazi, nor central banker could pressure him into doing the wrong thing.
Born in 1871 in the city of Lemberg, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, he moved with his family to Vienna as a young man. Mises’s father was a high executive in the Austro-Hungarian railways. The grammar schools and gymnasiums he attended—super high schools in our terms—still have his records. He was recognized as extraordinary from the first. Mises excelled as a student at the University of Vienna, earning a doctorate in economics and law. He wrote a book on housing policy before encountering Menger’s Principles and becoming an Austrian economist. Mises clerked for judges and practiced law before getting a job as an economist at the professional housing association. While there, he demonstrated that high real estate taxes were hindering new construction, a serious problem in housing-short Vienna. Through his papers and lectures, that is, the pure power of his mind, he brought about a cut in taxes, leading to more investment in housing, exactly as he had predicted. Mises was denied a paid position at the university, despite publishing his astounding Theory of Money and Credit. Before the founding of the Fed, he demonstrated that such a central bank would harm business and people to aid the government and its cronies, as well as bring on the business cycle of artificial booms followed by busts. Mises was an army officer during the war, and we are privileged to have his medals at the Institute. At first, Mises was an economic advisor to the general staff. Then he was sent to the most dangerous duty in the war and almost killed. Guido Hülsmann, author of the great Mises biography, discovered that the power of Mises’s free-market analysis led to his corrupt and statist opponents hoping to kill him. There was a lot of money at stake. Still, the wounded Mises was decorated for bravery under fire, and as a great leader of men under brutal attack. After the war, Mises secured a position as an economic advisor to the government for the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. He had been blocked from a position at the university by powerful socialists, and instead worked as a privatdozent and later a prestigious associate professor at the university, both unpaid positions. Unpaid or not, he used it to teach students and host his famous private seminar, which attracted top intellectuals from…