Ludwig von Mises – An Annotated Bibliography
By Duncan Whitmore
As an appendix to a series of three essays on the importance of Mises for libertarian thought, the following is an annotated bibliography of his major works.
There is little point in beating about the bush when it comes to the accessibility of Mises’ work for a prospective student – Mises can be relatively difficult to read, and one does require a considerable investment in time and mental effort to grasp the substance of his writing.
Mises is certainly not difficult in the sense that he is unclear, opaque, or inconsistent. In fact, he is remarkable for avoiding almost any lapse into one or more of all three, an ability that is largely sustained between his individual works as well as within each one. But his writing style is very different from that of say, Rothbard. To be sure, both writers are extremely systematic and logical in the progression of their ideas. With Mises, however, one can feel the years of thought and wisdom pouring off of every page, and, even in translation, oodles of meaning and ideas are packed concisely into very carefully chosen sentences. Thus, one must often invest an extended amount of time in absorbing every detail. With Rothbard, on the other hand, one almost feels as though he sat down at the typewriter, began tapping at the keys and didn’t stop until the book was finished. The result is that even Rothbard’s scholarly work is imbued with something of an improvisatory or, perhaps, conversational style that makes it more accessible to the lay reader.
Fortunately, some of Mises’ works are more accessible than others, and there are a number of study guides available to assist with the reading of the most difficult works.
Mises was the author of four major treatises which, obviously, contain the substance of his thought and his most important contributions to social science. For those who are keen to dive into the deep end, Socialism and Human Action probably have the greatest appeal. For others who may, perhaps, prefer a primer before tackling the lengthier tomes, there is a number of shorter works and essay anthologies available. The list of the latter is not exhaustive and there are other collections and stray pieces available, and some works are reproduced more than once in different volumes. However, the quantity of Mises’ output that is listed should be sufficient for anyone who aspires to undertake serious study of his work.
The dates marked after each work’s title in parentheses are either the dates of first publication or, in the case of previously unpublished works, the date of authorship. The list is presented in this order under each category. Most of Mises’s work is available in various formats from the Ludwig von Mises Institute, much of it for free.
a) Major Treatises
The Theory of Money and Credit (1912) An astonishing work written while Mises was in his late twenties, The Theory of Money and Credit is an exposition, review and development of nineteenth century monetary thought within the Mengerian/marginal framework, bringing all of these traditions to fruition. A notable discovery is the “regression theorem” in which Mises explains how money, the generally medium of exchange, obtains its original value. It is also the work in which Mises first outlined what would later become the “Austrian” theory of the business cycle. It remains the pre-eminent scholarly treatise on the subject of money.
In spite of the fact that this is Mises’ first major work, it is probably the toughest for the lay reader and, of course, the subject matter does not lend itself easily to sustained interest. Fortunately, there is a handy study guide authored by Robert P Murphy.
The book should also be read in conjunction with The Theory of Money and Fiduciary Media, an anthology of essays written by modern day “Austrians” for the book’s centenary, and edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann. A number of the ideas and implications in the original work are explained and elaborated. A particularly notable clarification is contained within the collection’s title, which is the correct translation of the original German title of Mises’ work. The replacement of the term “Credit” with “Fiduciary Media” (which is basically pure paper money) is important for it is clear that Mises considered the latter as distinct from both “money” and “credit”.
Socialism (1922) Of the four major treatises, Socialism is probably the most accessible of Mises’ works for the lay reader, and is a good starting point for those who wish to sink their teeth into a substantial portion of the Misesian world before confronting the enormity of Human Action. It remains the most complete and devastating critique of socialism, a tour de force examining its siren song from almost every angle: economic, social, political, cultural, historical, ethical, and religious. There is an extended epilogue examining various manifestations of socialism such as Soviet communism, fascism, Nazism, etc. An important inclusion early on in the book is Mises’ discovery that economic calculation and, thus, rational economic activity under socialism is impossible – a theory he expounded first in Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, below.
Human Action (1949) Human Action is Mises’ magnum opus, and the work that cements his reputation as a true giant in social thought.
Mises derives the corpus of economic theory from the action axiom that we explored in Part Two of this series of essays, and thus it is the first extended exposition of a praxeological understanding of economics. Mises also makes some important methodological observations in the earliest part of the book.
Even today, largely owing to the orthodoxy of treating economics as a branch of physics or mathematics that churns out endless, yet ultimately pointless, models of human society, Human Action retains a great freshness in its logical derivation of economic law from self evident truths, and for its emphasis on factors such as individual action, reason, choice, causality, time, entrepreneurship, and so on. These are aspects which play key roles in our lives but which are either missing from or treated inadequately in more mainstream economic tomes. Indeed, in writing this work one feels that Mises is not teaching as much as he is revealing – there is a distinct impression as one progresses through the ideas that, innately, we already know everything that we are reading as a result of our capacity as the acting human beings whom Mises is describing. He hasn’t showered us with treasure as much as simply unlocked the chest that we already had.
Human Action is moderately difficult, but is certainly not inaccessible for the intelligent lay reader willing to reap the rewards. Some topics do presume a certain familiarity with economic concepts, but there is a helpful study guide by Robert P Murphy to aid the student through this and any other difficulties that may be encountered.
Theory and History (1957) Mises was especially preoccupied with methodological problems, a dedication which culminated in this, his fourth and final treatise, in 1957. A somewhat neglected and, probably his least quoted work, it nevertheless has ramifications for the entirety of social science as Mises expounds upon his earlier stances on methodological dualism, subjectivity and value, as well as an extended critique of historical determinism. The latter half of the book is given over to a detailed philosophy of history and the method of historical investigation. One may see the glimmer of this topic, in a far more trivial sense, in the current problem of “fake news”. Simplistic accounts of what “fake news” is will tell you that it simply spouts lies, which may well be the case. But, as Mises informs us, it is not the facts themselves that create a narrative – it is the knowledge, theories, and assumptions that one uses to select, juxtapose, emphasise and derive cause and effect from facts that may well be agreed. Thus, two very different worldviews could tell two very different stories from the same set of facts.
b) Shorter Books
Nation, State and Economy (1919) This was Mises’ first book written after World War One, and is, in large measure, influenced by the particular preoccupations of that era. There is an extended treatment of the meaning of the “nation” and national identity, an understanding of which was pertinent given the post-war upheaval in Eastern Europe at the time. There are also sections on the war economy and socialism which serve as proto-theses for his later treatise on Socialism (see above).
Liberalism (1927) This is the closest that Mises came to writing an explicitly political treatise. A defence and reinforcement of classical liberalism from the ultimate starting point of private property, the book is both historical in bringing together the strands of liberal thought, and prospective in its argument for a future state of minimal intervention. Especially pertinent are Mises’ thoughts on the right of self-determination in which, as we noted in Part One, he would grant the right of secession from the state to each individual, but for practical considerations. Thus one could see quite clearly how far Mises’ political individualism extended.
The book is very accessible but one must take care not to lift certain passages out of their context or without an appreciation for the whole.
Epistemological Problems of Economics (1933) This is the first of Mises’ works that was specifically devoted to epistemological and methodological issues. The book is quite broad in scope, covering the entirety of social science. Interestingly, the English language version was translated from the German by George Reisman, who would later branch away from the “Austrian” school by authoring a monumental treatise that attempted to reconcile “Austrian” and “Classical” economics.
Interventionism – An Economic Analysis (1940) In this book Mises explains how the “halfway house” of state intervention into the economy – sometimes referred to as the “mixed economy” – must inevitably lead to either full socialism or the abandonment of the interventions.
Memoirs (1940) A rare, autobiographical work that was published posthumously, Mises recounts the difficulties he faced in his professional and academic life up to the point of his arrival in the United States after World War Two. He explains and reveals his motivations and efforts in fighting for the truth in spite of whatever turn society may take. This is the closest we can get to understanding Mises the man in his own words, although he rarely ventures into strictly private or personal affairs.
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War (1944) Written towards the conclusion of World War Two, Mises explores the rise of Nazism, tracing it back ultimately to the drive towards autarky that resulted from the rejection of free trade and the rise of “etatism” that saw foreign conquest as the means to prosperity. The book is also notable for its explicit categorisation of Nazism as a form of socialism, i.e. leftism, and not a creature of the political right, as is typically supposed. Although a variety of themes are explored, the book provides an explicit example of how wrongheaded economic theory can lead to complete disaster, a theme we explored in Part Three of this series of essays.
Bureaucracy (1944) This is a little gem of a book that distinguishes the bureaucratic from the market method – a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the priorities and preoccupations of politicians and bureaucrats, as well as the effects of bureaucratisation.
The Anti-Capitalist Mentality (1956) As the title suggests, this short work investigates the origins of the psychological hostility towards capitalism and free enterprise. The relatively relaxed writing style is somewhat different from Mises’ usual, and one senses a degree of patience and politeness below his usual notch which lends the book a slightly more forceful tone.
The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science (1962) Mises’ last book deals, once more, with methodological issues, which had truly gone astray in the mainstream profession by the time the book was published. It remains the most concise of Mises’ works on the nature of economics and economic theorising.
c) Essays, Articles, Lectures and Anthologies
Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth (1920) This is the groundbreaking article in which Mises determined that socialism was, quite literally, “impossible” as a result of its inability to provide rational economic guidance through the calculation of profits and losses. The argument was later incorporated into Socialism, above.
The Free Market and its Enemies: Pseudo-Science, Socialism, and Inflation (1951) These are the transcripts of nine lectures given by Mises to the Foundation for Economic Freedom in 1951. They serve as useful summaries of Mises’ thought on his main interests: method, money, and human action. One prominent article covers Mises’ thoughts on the importance of the gold standard and how it can be restored, which readers may wish to compare to Rothbard’s The Case for a 100% Gold Dollar.
Marxism Unmasked: From Delusion to Destruction (1952) Similar to the previous volume, this is another series of lectures given by Mises, this time in 1952 at the San Francisco Public Library. It is a usefully compact volume of Mises’ thoughts on Marxism and its contrast to market economies.
Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow (1958) This book contains the transcripts of a series of lectures given by Mises in Argentina in 1958, covering Mises’ views on capitalism, socialism, interventionism and inflation before concluding with his thoughts on the influence of politics and ideas upon civilisation.
The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics (1969) This is an essay covering the history of the early “Austrian” School, including an account of its methodological clash with the German Historical School in the methodenstreit.
The Causes of the Economic Crisis (various) This book is a remarkable collection of essays dating from the interwar period around the onset of the Great Depression. A must read for anyone with a particular interest in Mises’ views on the business cycle, it includes critiques of the prevailing monetary dogmas both before and after the crisis hit.
Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises (3 volumes, various) Published by the Liberty Fund, this collection contains a large number of articles and essays, many of them previously unpublished. Volume 2, in particular, resurrects writings from the interwar period that were thought to have been lost when Mises left Europe for the United States.
Economic Freedom and Interventionism (various) This is a collection of popular writings and speeches given by Mises in the United States. There is a notable section containing reviews and critiques of works by other authors, including Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State and Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, as well as his thoughts on Adam Smith.
Money, Method and the Market Process (various) This is a collection of various published and previously unpublished essays covering Mises’ usual battleground, as the title suggests. One section includes comparisons between different economic systems, which may serve as a useful summary for the treatments in Mises’ longer works. A notable essay is his take on the so-called Co-operative Movement, if only because Mises displays a degree of biting cynicism that is often absent from his main body of writing.
Planning for Freedom (various) This volume contains a number of mostly post-war essays and lectures. A notable inclusion is Mises’ own views on his personal contribution to economic thought.
d) Biography of Mises
Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism (2007) by Jörg Guido Hülsmann.