Ebeling on Mises, the Applied Economist
By Alberto Mingardi
The Liberty Fund has recently made available on line the introductions, written by Richard Ebeling, to the three volumes of “Selected Essays” by Ludwig von Mises that he edited some ten years ago. That project developed out of the discovery, made by Richard and his wife Anna, of the “lost papers” of Ludwig von Mises in a formerly secret KGB archive in Moscow, Russia in 1996.
Put together, Ebeling’s three essays are a marvelous introduction to the great Austrian economist, and a must read for economists, historians, and curious laymen.
The papers discovered by the Ebelings shed new light on “Mises as applied economist, detailed policy analyst, and economic policy problem-solver in the detailed reality of the many pressing public policy issues that confronted the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and the new Austrian Republic in the aftermath of the Great War, and then the need for reconstruction and economic reform after the Second World War”. Richard Ebeling rightly stresses that point, as many consider Austrian economics to be at best good philosophy, necessarily quite remote from the world of policy making.
Surely Mises is most famous as a theorist, and rightly so. But at the very beginning of his career, as he couldn’t enter academia for a permanent job, applying his insights to public policy provided Mises a good occasion to develop his own worldview.
As Ebeling writes,
At a relatively early age Mises seems to have formulated in his mind a rather comprehensive classical liberal worldview of the social order. His experience in the role of applied economist clearly left its mark and influenced his understanding of the effects that government intervention could have on the effective functioning of a modern market economy.
Well, this “experience in the role of applied economist” does not warrant seeing Mises as basically a “think-tanker” (as Edmund Fawcett does). But it may help us in correcting the ever-popular, and yet wrong, picture of Mises as a doctrinaire who was fonder of abstractions than of reality.