Why You Should Read Ludwig von Mises

Why renewed interest in the Austrian-American economist should be widespread on the Right

“I love America. I love the Constitution. I love the First Amendment. I want to carry and own f—ing guns. I love private property. And let me tell you something: if you care about your own f—ng country, read Ludwig von Mises and the six lessons of the Austrian economic school, mother—s.”

So ran the now viral victory speech of Brazilian UFC fighter Renato Moicano following a dominating performance in the octagon at UFC 300. In recent years, of course, the UFC has become one of the most prominent cultural platforms for voicing conservative and libertarian views. The most prominent faces of UFC, from the mega-podcaster Joe Rogan to UFC chief Dana White, are explicit in criticizing the political Left, while Donald Trump has become a ringside regular, evoking arena-wide cheers when his presence is featured on jumbotrons. 

Still, Moicano’s message is unusual among post-fight declarations in making an explicit reference to an emigre Austrian scholar who died 15 years before the fighter was born. Why was von Mises on the mind of Moicano? One factor relates to Moicano’s native Brazil. In 2016, popular protests against the corruption and economic mismanagement of Brazil’s socialist government, then led by Dilma Rousseff, resulted in Mises becoming the most widely searched economist in the country.

Marching activists held placards reading “Menos Marx, Mais Mises” — Less Marx, More Mises. More recently the new President of Argentina Javier Milei campaigned in part on the ideas of Mises and his students against the “parasites” of the professional political bureaucracy.

And no wonder. During his lifetime, Mises was widely recognized as the foremost intellectual enemy of Marxism. His work on economics demonstrated that socialism was inherently unworkable and inevitably destined for societal collapse. This set him apart from most of the economics profession, which oscillated between viewing socialism as an inefficient but still functional economic system, and seeing it as a viable alternative to capitalism that could lead the Soviet Union’s economy to eclipse the United States.

Mises’s unwavering dedication to individual liberty and free markets has long made him a heroic figure among libertarians and free-market conservatives. Ron Paul frequently referenced his work both as a Congressman and as a presidential candidate. Today, as Brazil’s government doubles down on a left-authoritarian structure, with its Supreme Court now imposing one of the most draconian censorship regimes of any country in the world, Mises’s importance as a symbol of liberty and resistance to tyranny is greater than ever.

Both in Brazil and the United States, Mises’s pure economic insights are just as important as his political commitment to liberty. Rhetorically attacking “Soviet-style socialism” is one thing, but too many self-identified “free market” economists have failed to adequately criticize the damage done by Washington’s interventionist policies.  Arguments about cutting corporate tax rates or stripping back specific areas of over-regulation are the public policy equivalent of fiddling while the nation burns.

Indeed, since American big business (especially Big Tech and Big Pharma) have demonstrated they are only too happy to serve as de-facto extensions of the Beltway regime, many conservatives – especially younger conservatives – have found reflexive defenses of “capitalism” entirely unconvincing in an era of massively narrowing economic opportunities. 

Nonetheless, the contribution made by Mises offers a radically different and much more systematic perspective than the contribution made by Milton Friedman, probably the economist most associated with defending modern capitalism. Although Friedman’s libertarian instincts did make him an effective critic of aggressive government intervention, his economic framework remained guided by the premises of the progressive intellectual John Maynard Keynes. 

From Keynes, Friedman’s work inherited a major blind spot, namely the monetary policy of the central bank. For Friedman, monetary policy was a useful tool to steer the economy out of recessionary and depressionary danger. For Mises, by contrast, the existence of monetary policy as a political tool was itself one of the greatest threats to civilization. Though Friedman died before the 2008 financial crisis, one of his last public articles was advocating the Bank of Japan to engage in a similar policy response of so-called “quantitative easing” to the financial crisis in their country as the Fed enacted in response to ours.

Fed Chairman Bernanke was a student of Friedman. Bernanke-critic Ron Paul was a student of Mises. Inspired by Friedman, the Federal Reserve’s monetary intervention bailed out banks and was a boon for the financial services industry and their favored industries for investment, including technology and pharmaceuticals. It deliberately inflated the value of financial assets, such as stocks. All of this was cranked up to even higher levels with Washington’s response to Covid, and the policies of the Biden Administration.

The losers were those not fortunate enough to be the direct benefactors of these policies, in particular small business owners and workers. Inflation always hits paychecks at a higher rate than investment returns, so it always hurts younger generations more than older ones. The wealth gap between workers and investors grew significantly. Larger firms and banks, benefiting from the Fed’s policies bought-up smaller competitors, resulting in consolidation in a variety of sectors. Although progressive lawmakers like to talk about the dangers of “monopoly,” in reality monopolies are their underlying goal. The larger the firm, the easier it is to control it through political power, the fewer alternatives for consumers to avoid their products, the richer the firms get, and the more they can donate to “the campaigns” of the most powerful politicians in Washington.

Cronyism isn’t an unintended consequence. It is the fundamental purpose. Any discussion of the modern economy which ignores the significance of Fed-fueled financialization represents a fatal concession to a corrupt status quo. For this reason, it is not the work of Friedman but the work of Ludwig von Mises and his heirs which provides the best way to understand the modern economic system. Most importantly, the politicization of everything – the deliberate aim of the modern Left – is only possible because of this system of economic patronage. Without this underlying economic critique, attacks on various types of economic “wokeism” are doomed to be a never-ending game of whack-a-mole symptoms, entirely avoiding striking at the root of the problem. 

Regrettably, many on the New Right are disinterested in Mises’s economics, perhaps because they are turned off by its political association with libertarianism. Given the extent to which many DC libertarian operations have become de-facto defenders of privatized proxies for state tyranny, or the extent to which the label has been used as a celebration for individual libertinism explicitly at odds with cultural conservative values, this prejudice is understandable.

Nevertheless, it is the heirs of Mises who have been among the oldest veterans in the war against the militant anti-Christian, toxically egalitarian agenda of a progressive total state. Murray Rothbard, Mises’s greatest student, and Lew Rockwell, one of the men most responsible for keeping the flame of the Austrian tradition alive for future generations, were both close allies of Pat Buchanan and the paleo-conservative intellectual movement. Both men are still attacked regularly by the same libertarians the New Right despises.

In a recent interview, Tucker Carlson asked Ron Paul why Paul’s college-aged supporters knew more about the consequences of the policies of the Federal Reserve than he himself did. Dr. Paul’s response was simple: his supporters had read Mises. So has Renato Moicano and so should anyone who cares about their nation.

Visit the Mises Institute to learn more about the Austrian economics school of thought.

Tho Bishop is the Content Director at the Mises Institute. He can be followed @ThoBishop.


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