While Ludwig von Mises was writing his major works and conducting his seminars at New York University, he found time to write short articles and book reviews for various publications. Up to now, they have been difficult to locate. In Economic Freedom and Interventionism, forty-seven of these gems are gathered in one fascinating volume.
The Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves reminds the reader of the daunting intellectual context in which Mises originally wrote these essays—i.e., capitalism was considered exploitative, businessmen were unquestionably evil, Keynesianism was the miraculous recipe for interventionism, and Marxism was the road to Utopia. To the limited extent that the world today has come to question these views, she argues, it was Mises who helped lead the way.
In the first section, “Economic Freedom,” Mises shows again and again that only capitalism can improve living conditions on a mass scale. He also discusses how political and economic freedoms are indivisible and why “morality makes sense only when addressing individuals who are free agents.” In the next section, “Interventionism,” Mises illustrates the futility of adopting a “middle way” between capitalism and socialism, and explains why the welfare state is a deception that leads people to vote for policies that ultimately harm them.
Perhaps the most interesting section in this book is “Mises as Critic,” in that it gives us the rare opportunity of seeing Mises in the role of book reviewer. He was widely read and had strong opinions about the state of reasoning and writing in economics. He believed that books were the vital means of transmitting ideas 10 from generation to generation. In many cases he believed good ideas would be lost forever if their transmission were left entirely to teachers enamored of the latest, erroneous theories. Here, Mises provides an Introduction to a modern edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (which he recommends, but with the warning that Smith shared premises with Karl Marx and was not at all the best of capitalism’s advocates), a favorable review of Böhm-Bawerk’s Capital and Interest, critiques of Keynes’ works, and an illuminating criticism of the way in which economics taught at the high school level.
In the final set of essays, “Economics and Ideas,” Mises argues that “the champions of freedom can win only if they are supported by a citizenry fully and unconditionally committed to the ideal of freedom.” Admirers of Mises will recognize that many of the themes here are treated more intensively elsewhere in his longer, more theoretical works. But this new volume occupies a distinct place among Mises’ writings because it offers brief summaries and direct applications of his economic principles to a broad variety of everyday events. These essays comprise a Mises “candy sampler,” to complement the more enduring intellectual banquet he offers in his treatises.
This review is made available by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (formerly Second Renaissance Books)