Saturday, September 10, 2005

Burdens of Name Recognition Ludvig von Mises and Adam Smith

"Mises the Revolutionary" by Ralph Raico

[Posted on Friday, September 09, 2005:]

“It is said that a number of years ago, when Bill Buckley was at the beginning of his career of college-speaking, and somewhat more tolerant of libertarians than he is today, he once wrote two names on the blackboard thereby nicely dramatized the point that students in his audience were being presented with only one side of the great world-forming debate between capitalism and socialism. The name of the defender of democratic socialism — I think it was Harold Laski, possibly John Dewey — was recognized by most of those present.
The name of Ludwig von Mises was entirely unknown to them.”

“How has it been possible that the great majority of economics and social science students, even at elite American universities, are completely unfamiliar with Mises?

“But Mises was even more than a great economist. Throughout the world, among knowledgeable people — in German-speaking Europe, in France, in Britain, in Latin America, in our own country — Mises was famous as the great twentieth century champion of a school of thought which could be said to have a certain historical importance and a certain intellectual respectability: the one that began with Adam Smith, David Hume, and Turgot, and included Humboldt, Bentham, Benjamin Constant, Tocqueville, Acton, Böhm-Bawerk, William Graham Sumner, Herbert Spencer, Pareto, and many others. Offhand, one would have thought that this acknowledged position alone would have entitled Mises to being presented within the "pluralistic" setting of left-liberal Academe.”

Ralph Raico is right about the general ignorance of people about Ludwig von Mises (a deficiency you could put right, if it includes you among its population, by visiting: and other sites, like Austrian Economists, etc.,).

However, I am not so sure that having great name recognition is an unmixed blessing. Adam Smith has almost total name recognition and not just among economists. Journalists, film script writers, advertising agencies, politicians of all stripes, and columnists, and just about every ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ (and ‘Jane, Judy and Samantha’ too) know the name, think they know the economics (invisible hands and all that sort of nonsense), albeit it fatuously wrongly, and are sure he was in favour of laissez faire, intimate with capitalism (even ‘invented it!) and was rightwing to boot (and sometimes leftwing on the other foot).

Hence, the mission of “Lost legacy” is to correct the ideas associated with the instant name recognition of Adam Smith. Ralph Raico and his colleagues have a different mission: to create name recognition for Mises and to advocate his economics, which are, incidentally, closer to Adam Smith’s than, say, to Milton Friedman’s, to name another modern icon.


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