DEFINITION of Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig von Mises, one of the most influential Austrian economists of his era, was an advocate of laissez-faire economics and a staunch opponent of all forms of socialism and interventionism. He also wrote extensively on monetary economics and inflation. Mises taught at the University of Vienna and later New York University, and published his most renowned work, Human Action, in 1949.

BREAKING DOWN Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig von Mises was born in Austria-Hungary in 1881 to Jewish parents who were part of the Austro-Hungarian nobility, and a distant relative to a Liberal Party deputy to the Austrian Parliament. Von Mises showed scholastic gifts early on through the fluent use of German, Polish, French, and Latin. But politics would not be his field of study and achievement when von Mises entered the University of Vienna in 1900. It was there that he would fall under the influence of the writer Carl Menger, one of the founders of the Austrian School of Economics. Menger had developed what he called “the subjective side of economics,” whereby all participants in a trade exchange achieve value and that there are no losers in trade.

In 1906, von Mises graduated with a juris doctorate in law and began a career as a civil servant, but between 1904 and 1914 he began to be influenced by well-known Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. He took a trainee position in a law firm but remained interested in economics and began to lecture on the topic, and became a member of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Von Mises served in World War One as a front officer and an economist to the War Department of Austria, but through his association with the Chamber began to come in contact with others interested in his passion for economics and its effect on human behavior. He soon became chief economist for the organization, and through this position became an economic adviser to Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who believed in Austrian fascism but was strongly anti-Nazi.

Despite his association with people in power, von Mises was nonetheless a Jew and this fact helped him consider options outside of Austria or Germany as the National Socialists began to influence those nations. In 1934, he was able to secure a position as a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Stuides in Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked until 1940.

In 1940, von Mises came to the US with the help of a Rockefeller Foundation grant and became a visiting professor at New York University in 1945, remaining there until his retirement in 1969. A libertarian academic organization, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is named in his honor and seeks to celebrate and extend his writings and teachings, particularly those related to praxeology, a study of human behavior as related to economics.