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Human Action: A Treatise on Economics

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In the foreword to Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Mises explains complex market phenomena as "the outcomes of countless conscious, purposive actions, choices, and preferences of individuals, each of whom was trying as best as he or she could under the circumstances to attain various wants and ends and to avoid undesired consequences." It is individual choices in response to personal subjective value judgments that ultimately determine market phenomena—supply and demand, prices, the pattern of production, and even profits and losses. Although governments may presume to set "prices," it is individuals who, by their actions and choices through competitive bidding for money, products, and services, actually determine "prices". Thus, Mises presents economics—not as a study of material goods, services, and products—but as a study of human actions. He sees the science of human action, praxeology, as a science of reason and logic, which recognizes a regularity in the sequence and interrelationships among market phenomena. Mises defends the methodology of praxeology against the criticisms of Marxists, socialists, positivists, and mathematical statisticians.

Mises attributes the tremendous technological progress and the consequent increase in wealth and general welfare in the last two centuries to the introduction of liberal government policies based on free-market economic teachings, creating an economic and political environment which permits individuals to pursue their respective goals in freedom and peace. Mises also explains the futility and counter-productiveness of government attempts to regulate, control, and equalize all people's circumstances: "Men are born unequal and ... it is precisely their inequality that generates social cooperation and civilization."

Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973) was the leading spokesman of the Austrian School of Economics throughout most of the twentieth century. He earned his doctorate in law and economics from the University of Vienna in 1906. In 1926, Mises founded the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research. From 1909 to 1934, he was an economist for the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. Before the Anschluss, in 1934 Mises left for Geneva, where he was a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies until 1940, when he emigrated to New York City. From 1948 to 1969, he was a visiting professor at New York University.

Bettina Bien Greaves is a former resident scholar, trustee, and longtime staff member of the Foundation for Economic Education. She has written and lectured extensively on topics of free market economics. Her articles have appeared in such journals as Human Events, Reason, and The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty. A student of Mises, Greaves has become an expert on his work in particular and that of the Austrian School of economics in general. She has translated several Mises monographs, compiled an annotated bibliography of his work, and edited collections of papers by Mises and other members of the Austrian School.

924 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1940

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About the author

Ludwig von Mises

236 books1,007 followers
Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises (German pronunciation: [ˈluːtvɪç fɔn ˈmiːzəs]; September 29, 1881 – October 10, 1973) was an Austrian economist, historian, philosopher, author, and classical liberal who had a significant influence on the Austrian government's economic policies in the first third of the 20th century, the Austrian School of Economics, and the modern free-market libertarian movement.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 196 reviews
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 5 books104 followers
April 14, 2013
One of the most important books of the 20th century, not yet as influential as it deserves to be.

I was brought to this book in 2009 after a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with "expert" explanations being offered for the various financial and economic calamities that seemed to be happening worldwide. Economic commentary by journalists and pundits struck me as being opaque, partisan, and contradictory. Gradually I had become interested in the ideas of the so-called Austrian school of free-market economics, and eventually I decided to take the plunge and read its principal text, Human Action.

I was bowled over. In the first place, the title, Human Action, intrigued me. As a category this seemed to extend far beyond the bounds of what I thought of as economics, and indeed I was right. Von Mises founds his argument on a little-known 19th-century discipline called praxeology, or the science of human behavior. While psychology is the study of human thoughts and feelings, praxeology is the study of human actions. To be alive is to be continually in action, doing things. Why do we do what we do? What guides our actions? What motivates us?

At the bottom of all our actions lies a specific feeling: a "felt unease" that prompts us to seek its lessening, its amelioration. It was easy for me to assent to this idea, since it accords well with my Buddhist training. Indeed, "human action" is a passable translation of the Sanskrit term karma, which according to Buddhists is the mechanism of action and reaction in which we all engage due to duhkha, usually translated as "suffering", although "felt unease" is probably a better translation. It is usually subtle and underlying rather than something that is consciously felt, and I think von Mises put his finger on this quality of experience, and it was a mark of his genius to do so and to build his analysis from it.

Part 1 of the book, the first 140 or so pages, deals only with the theory of human action and the categories intimately associated with it, such as time and uncertainty. Our lives are short, and therefore time presses and we have to choose some things and forgo others; the future is uncertain, so we have to use our experience and our smarts, whatever those might be, to make the best choices we can. Each one of us is in this situation, even as we are also unique individuals in unique circumstances. This uniqueness of constitution and circumstance means that we value things differently: differently from each other, and differently ourselves from day to day or moment to moment. Nothing whatsoever has any intrinsic, fixed value: all is subjective and situational.

Building out from these ideas, von Mises goes on to explain, logically and systematically, how the free actions of subjective individuals necessarily develop into the phenomena we call markets, and how, if allowed to follow their own course, material and social benefits necessarily flow from them.

I don't doubt that some people regard von Mises as dogmatic, and he does write in a forceful, declarative style, but it is not dogma any more than Euclid's Elements is dogma--and for the same reason. For von Mises insists that the fields of praxeology and catallactics--its extension into the realm of production and consumption--are purely logical: their laws, based on irreducible constants of experience such as time and uncertainty, are inexorable and not falsifiable by experiment. Praxeology and catallactics are built up by theorems, exactly like geometry.

Again and again while reading this book I found myself confronted with new, provocative ideas. In this respect von Mises has few peers. In my own reading I can think of only maybe Northrop Frye or Eric Hoffer or Erich Neumann as offering such a density of surprising ideas per page.

Is von Mises a capitalist? Absolutely. Capitalism, in its pure state, is the condition of free individuals engaging with each other without coercion. Von Mises deplores violence, and for him socialism is intrinsically violent and should be shunned because it leads inexorably to poverty and slavery--things that no human being seeks. At the same time, he's well aware that there is plenty of coercion and fraud in supposedly capitalist societies, and to the extent that this is the case, those societies are materially poorer and less free than they might be.

I do not feel competent to argue with anything that von Mises is saying, since the depth and range of his thought in these areas is so vastly greater than my own. But I did have a couple of questions or proto-critiques. One was in von Mises' assertion that military conscription is a justifiable intrusion on the liberty of individuals. Since this to me is a form of slavery, I find it hard to square with his dedication to individual liberty. Another issue was in his assertion that all values are subjective; he takes it as an axiom that no absolute value can be found. My intuition is that this point of view is one that ignores the spiritual dimension of human life. In Buddhism, for example, duhkha or "felt unease" is not the last word; in a sense it's only the first word. For like von Mises, the Buddha started there--but he took that notion in a much different, and a much deeper, direction. The Buddha taught liberation from that unease; von Mises is only teaching us how to get along with it.

But in all, my considered opinion is that Human Action is one of the greatest works of literature of all time. And as such it is, I believe, worthy of your time and attention.
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
462 reviews187 followers
September 15, 2021
2021-09-15 - Just noting that the first edition of Human Action was published on this day, in 1949! Another good little reason to check it out.

2009-March - This book is one of the greatest of the 20th century and will endure as a bright beacon of wisdom for centuries to come.

I began this book in a curious, but still recommended fashion, in college. Because of its size (over 800 pages) and at times, especially in the beginning, difficulty, I chose to use it as a reference book. In going to classes or doing my other reading, if I came across an idea/critique of free market capitalism that bothered me, or one which I thought, "there is no way the free market can solve X problem" then I simply looked up "X" in the Table of Contents &/or Index, then read the passage(s) by Mises.

Time and time again, not even having read all the context surrounding each passage, I found a whole new (and usually much clearer than anything I had ever read) approach to the problem/idea. In almost every instance I saw new ways of thinking about how the free, voluntary marketplace really could solve X problem(s) better than passing a law for the government to do something coercive about it, as is the common trait today. Often the passage from Mises would show very clearly why the government may have caused the very problem in the first place with previous laws or it's actions.

But you probably don't believe me.

So I just challenge you to try it. Human Action will not answer every problem in the world that you come across, but I bet you will come away enriched, intrigued, and amazed, at how logical and consistent, how in touch with reality, and how persuasive Mises is.

Go ahead, try it, see what you think. The book is on-line, for free at several websites. There are many editions in paperback and hardcover if you prefer a physical copy. The book even has at least two different audio versions with two very competent professional readers, and probably more on Youtube. My favorite is the edition read by Jeff Riggenbach. He really understands the work and has great pronunciations and enunciations.

But watch out, when you check on five or ten social/economic/political problems. Seeing how Mises deals with them might get you to actually read the whole book from cover to cover. If you are like me, that ain't a bad thing at all.

I admit (am proud actually) to having read it at least four times (over 40 years) and wanting to do it again (sooner, rather than later). What is really a gas is to read in stages (50-150 pages) and talk about that section in a group that has committed to discussing each part as they go. Even better is if you can find a mentor to lead the group, someone who knows the book well enough to help those who have difficulties and point out various key parts. I've been pretty lucky to have participated in three different such groups. Each group met about 10 times over the course of almost a year. Each group was wonderful and helped me see so many new insights, besides the side benefit of making new friendships with all the great interaction.

Oh, one more thing: getting a copy of the book "Mises Made Easier" by Percy Greaves to have handy while you read Human Action, is a big plus. It is a glossary of most of the tough, obscure or foreign terms in Human Action and most of the other books by Mises. It does not have absolutely all such terms in Human Action defined, but it has a great many, and is quite a bit better and much smaller and easier, than using a big dictionary. Dictionaries can have extraneous definitions, and also miss completely some of the key terms.

Love to hear back from you on your experience with my suggestions:
1. introductory method of getting acquainted with Human Action &/or

2. the more serious and thorough discussion group method too - I may even know of someone in your area who might like to join you in such a project. (I have a pretty good worldwide network of friends interested in Mises.)

3. check out https://www.facebook.com/groups/mises...
or if you prefer an alternative to Facebook: https://mewe.com/group/5fdcfe7943c2a5...

So, if you have difficulty finding someone, just send me a message.

Enjoy. You could be getting into something truly transformational.

2021-01-22 - updated for clarity and a short audiobook commentary.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,864 reviews523 followers
December 24, 2022
The book contains almost everything you need to know about economics. Some consider Mises to be the greatest economist of all time.

From the earliest beginnings of human history, the two opposing principles of the market economy and the national economy have clashed. Government, a social apparatus of repression and constraint, is necessary for peaceful cooperation. The market economy cannot dispense with a police force that safeguards its normal functioning, thanks to the threat or use of violence against peacebreakers. But the indispensable of this power's administrators and their armed satellites are always tempted to use their weapons to establish their totalitarian domination. For the ambitious monarchs or supreme commanders of the armed forces, the very existence of a sphere where individual facts are not subject to their direction constitutes a challenge. Princes, rulers, and generals are never spontaneously liberal. They only become so when the citizens force them.
Profile Image for Clif.
444 reviews122 followers
June 1, 2009
Ludwig von Mises is a major contributor to what is called the Austrian School of economics. Human Reason is his magnum opus, a thorough-going look at the way that the innate human desire to decrease uneasiness is the pursuit for which capitalism is the mechanism.

The thesis is simple. Human beings take action to make things better for themselves. If we were satisfied, there would be no economy. But most of us will be cautious in what we do, avoiding as much risk as possible in our attempt to get what we want.

Certain individuals, the entrepreneurs, however, seek out risk when they see an opportunity to obtain capital (the materials needed to produce something) at a total cost less than the price that can be obtained by selling the final product - what we call profit. Of course we all seek individual profit when we do anything - even something as simple as moving an object in the living room closer to a chair so we can reach it. But the entrepreneur seeks profit in a way that he/she hopes will benefit others, why else would people buy what the entrepreneur puts up for sale? If the entrepreneur is successful he or she is rewarded. If the product does not sell, he or she loses money and the business fails. Risk results in reward or failure.

Rather than decrying the wealth of those who are successful in taking a risk in the hope of a reward, we should be grateful that such risk-takers exist because they are the ones who bring forth the products we desire, who take the time and money and effort to come up with the products and services that have created the huge increase in wealth obtained since capitalism took root in the 17th century.

Consumers are not victims of capitalism, but kings of the market that exists only to provide things for which we, those consumers, are willing to pay. We end up paying for what we want and not having to pay for what we don't want.

Socialism is, according to von Mises, an idealistic fiction that cannot but end in chaos because it has no method of determining prices and is driven by the few who make policy in the name of the many who must accept what they are told is best for society as a whole. The man or woman on the street ends up faced with great quantities of products that few want and too few of the products that many want. Only by having a capitalist system to determine prices is there any chance for a socialist system to even limp along (as the USSR did for several decades). Under socialism there is no opportunity to vote with one's money.

Not a single chart or graph will be found in this lengthy work and that is in keeping with von Mises insistence that human action cannot be quantified with formulas that provide any guide to future events. Human beings decide what is best for them as individuals who evaluate conditions in non-quantitative ways.

A validation of von Mises concept is presented by modern advertising that has largely thrown out plain speech (advocating a product) in favor of atmospherics and emotional settings that tug on the non-rational side of human thought to sway purchasing decisions.

This book is a perfect read at this time (2008-9) of huge interventions by government in financial affairs. We hear economists making a case for this or that government action based on what has been learned in the past, particularly in the Great Depression. But von Mises argues that history can never repeat itself because the factors that make up any economic situation are too complex for more than a very broad (and hence of little use) comparison between the past and the present.

Government actions are broad and blunt and slow-acting while the economy changes from minute to minute. Like the bull in the china shop, interventions are more likely to create future problems than to solve current ones.

In the careful arguments that he makes (Human Reason is nothing if not a collection of solid logic) von Mises provides the reader with a real education in the meaning of savings, investments, unions, welfare, prices and so much more. He makes short work of Marxism by showing the faulty premises on which it is based.

Never one to rant, the author maintains that though there is a certain amount of pain in capitalism (to those who lose jobs or investments) it is more than offset by the vast increase in wealth for humanity as a whole that it has provided. We may not like what the market economy does to us as individuals at certain times in our lives, but we can hardly deny the fabulous abundance of consumer goods that we can have for very little money - something that even the kings and queens of old were denied.

This book is for the person who wants to know why things are the way they are. It is not for casual reading or entertainment but it is intellectually satisfying, highly educational and best of all - it makes sense!

Profile Image for Brian Michels.
Author 3 books218 followers
March 23, 2016
There cannot be a serious conversation about economics without Mise's. Human Action is the definition of Free Market and delivers the goods for a just economy while cutting down to size any alternative economic system.

This is a "must read in your lifetime" book. The sooner the better
27 reviews4 followers
November 17, 2012
Human Action is considered by many to be the definitive theoretical work for what is known as the Austrian school of economics. Reading it was 10 weeks of brain-stretching concentration, peppered liberally with moments of personal paradigm shaking, and demystification of how our actions affect each other. It enhanced my appreciation of the beautiful way in which life orders itself.

In the first section of this masterwork, Mises gets right down to laying a solid epistemological and methodological foundation for the study of the social sciences. The ideas in this section could be Mises' most powerful contribution to mankind's body of ideas, and I consider it one of the most fascinating discoveries of my adult life. Mises shows the inherent difference between the nature of the subject matter of natural sciences and the social sciences. For example, it is not possible to carry out controlled social laboratory experiments in reliably revealing ways. This does not in any way de-legitimatize the study of the social sciences, but it indicates that sound understanding of them requires a more suitable methodological approach than that of the natural sciences. In order to make some sense of the virtually infinite white noise of historical data, one must have a theoretical base with which to recognize the relevant data, and use it to draw causal-links between events and phenomena. This is the context of his introduction of the basic ideas of praxeology, the study of human action.

The fundamental concepts of praxeology are that actions are performed by individuals, individual action arises from a motive or purpose, and that purpose is the attempt to satisfy some perceived need or want. To develop economics using praxeology, we don't have to understand where purposes come from, the complex neurological mechanisms going on, whether they are purely determined by physical law, or if there is some sort of extra-physical aspect to desires/intentions. No matter what sort of truths are discovered or beliefs held along these lines, we still know that there is action, and action is purposeful. Mises uses this principle to build his economic theory from the ground up.

Mises illustrates that the economic models used by more mathematically-oriented economic schools of thought are based on an assumption of static resource levels and consumer demands, as well as unchanging technological knowledge. It is meaningless to take these models and derive impressive-looking mathematical formulae that attempt to describe reality, as reality is always unpredictable, and in flux. However, Mises doesn't dispense with these static economic models altogether, but uses them brilliantly as theoretical tools. By changing one "variable" at a time, Mises shows how a given static model relates to the dynamic unpredictability of reality, in which every action of an individual actor aggravates the static state illustrated by the model. With this technique, Mises shows the respective ways in which the various types of individual and institutional actions shift the end equilibrium state within these models, which the economy is approaching (but never reaching) at any given instant of time.

As Mises would put it, economics is a value-free science. It does not aim to tell us what we should strive for, but rather, what is the most effective way to achieve whatever it is that we do strive for. I don't agree with every philosophic idea that Mises presents. But as Mises elegantly shows, it is not necessary to be lock-step with his cosmological or social philosophy in order to understand the great practical applicability of his economic ideas to understanding the ongoing drama of human action and exchange. Having said that, in my mind Human Action handily rebuts the major criticisms I have seen of his economic theories and methodological approach. In the face of the praxeological base of Mises' theoretical work, the criticisms leveled against them usually seem pretty shallow and lacking in any real attempt to understand the fundamental concepts of praxeology.

Five years ago if you told me I would be as fascinated by an economics book as I was by Human Action, I would have had a good hearty laugh. All through my formal schooling, I found economics a bore at best, and a racket at worst. However, I discovered Austrian economics at a time when I was ripe with desire for understanding, and I find the methodologically sound and logically rigorous approach of its major writers consistently elucidating. After reading a half-dozen or so other books from within this school of thought, a book club that I was participating in took on this treatise, much to my good fortune.

Don't make this your first step into the world of theoretical economics, but if you have an understanding of some basic philosophical concepts, have a moderate level of economic literacy, and understand the commitment of time and energy involved in absorbing this masterwork, then I highly recommend Human Action.
Profile Image for P.E..
762 reviews529 followers
May 23, 2023
The market nexus

A thorough and rigorous development on what the author calls praxeology, i.e. the study of human action, especially how it manifests itself in the economy. Recommended to me by Patrick Peterson, I would like to thank him for the heads-up as this work proved worth the time and effort invested. I have found it to be quite instructive indeed about the workings of inflation, in full swing nowadays.

I would have liked it to be shorter, and less ripe with repetitions from one part to another, but on the other hand, this is what allows you to freely flick through the book or read a specific chapter and still get the context or articulation to the rest of the work. Overall, I would recommend it to whoever feels curious (or puzzled enough) to dip into this study of the fundamental building blocks of economics.


Quotes :


Natural Right and History
The End of History and the Last Man
La modernité désenchantée

303: Mémoires industrielles
Race et histoire
On Liberty
Théories économiques en 30 secondes
Liberty and Property

Au Bonheur des dames
Profile Image for David.
797 reviews8 followers
March 11, 2015
There are so many problems with this work. The fundamental is a rejection of empirical observations. He dismisses all attempts to understand Economics by looking at historical data or using mathematics as WRONG. He sees all human actions as irreducible and too complex to be understood. He then builds an entire argument ostensibly on rationality. If you look from a probabilistic world view, you see that each step he takes away from an empirical fact introduces uncertainty. Since each claim that is pilled on top, now multiples the uncertainty. Given the length of this book, you can make a mathematical argument that the certainty of the authors conclusions are wrong, would approach 100% given the methodology. The author argues against taking on beliefs based on authority, but what else is this book? He makes all kinds of assertions about the basic nature of man, and human prehistory, which I don't believe line up with either contemporary or modern understandings of either subject. Clearly this is written by a man who sees a totalitarian communist everywhere he looks. What troubles me, is that I see so much of modern thought based on these assumptions about the nature of man. I think the value of this book is getting to see the rotten foundations of this mode of thought.
Profile Image for Gary.
941 reviews205 followers
August 15, 2020
Von Mises was a psychopath. The evil Mises Foundation has an article actually saying that in Dicken's A Christmas foundation Carol Scrooge BEFORE his transformation had the right ideas.
Profile Image for Jacob Aitken.
1,582 reviews266 followers
October 25, 2017
All deductive systems are dangerous if formulated incorrectly. Their appeal lies in their power, and Mises’s system is powerful indeed. Mises advances Praxeology, an economic doctrine emerging from the Classical School when it was realized that human action and not the inherent value of an object is what drove economics (Mises 3). Since our knowledge is limited, our choices will always have an element of uncertainty.

Thus, Mises can advance his main theorem: Human action is purposeful action. And the second is like unto it, “All action aims at a removing or lessening a present uneasiness.” Action does not measure utility or value; it chooses between alternatives. When I choose between unit a and unit b, I am not choosing between the total stock of either, but simply between the marginal values of both a and b. And this leads to the key gain of the Austrian school: the doctrine of marginal utility. The marginal utility of a good decreases as its supply increases. Whenever I get a good, I devote it to the most important end. As I get more goods, I devote them to lesser ends. Obviously, this applies to subjective-use value and not a thing’s perceived objective value. This allows the Austrian School to avoid the hang-ups which plagued all of the Classical Economists from Smith to Ricardo to even Marx.

Not directly, but indirectly related to the above is another axiom: Because man is an acting man, situations change. Prices will change. There cannot be a universal “set price.” Past prices are a guide to future prices.

Another axiom

Mises has several challenging chapters on interest and the Industrial Revolution. He argues that interest


Mises's Utilitarianism is subject to some devastating defeaters, mainly Betrand Russell's: the only way to justify an action is in light of its consequences, but the only way to justify whether those consequences are good are in light of the consequences' consequences, and so on to infinity.

Fortunately, most of his system is salvageable from that.
Profile Image for Lori.
342 reviews60 followers
May 21, 2020
This book is a bad idea to read even if you like to indulge in free market fantasies. I would recommend that one read Milton Friedman instead of Mises, same dose of capitalist ideology, but shorter and with better arguments.

Normally I would have rated it with two stars given the author's clear writing, but I couldn't do it due to the vacuous content. I was utterly dismayed when I read the following in chapter 10 (The Procedure of Economics):

[..] it is expedient to establish the fact that the starting point of all praxeological and economic reasoning, the category of human action, is proof against any criticisms and objections. No appeal to any historical or empirical considerations whatever can discover any fault in the proposition that men purposefully aim at certain chosen ends. No talk about irrationality, the unfathomable depths of the human soul, the spontaneity of the phenomena of life, automatisms, reflexes, and tropisms, can invalidate the statement that man makes use of his reason for the realization of wishes and desires. From the unshakable foundation of the category of human action praxeology and economics proceed step by step by means of discursive reasoning. Precisely defining assumptions and conditions, they construct a system of concepts and draw all the inferences implied by logically unassailable ratiocination. With regard to the results thus obtained only two attitudes are possible: either one can unmask logical errors in the chain of the deductions which produced these results, or one must acknowledge their correctness and validity.

This utter certainty that aspects about human nature are definitely true—with no supporting evidence—is everywhere in the book, and as the author above admits economic action is derived, and justified through reason alone! Of course, the author doesn't seem to realize that in order to use reason, one must define a formal system in which to reason, which in turn probably has statements that one axiomatically assumes. But here's the problem with creating a formal reasoning system around human action: all axioms related to human behavior are sooner or later testable empirically... but I am wasting my time arguing here. Fuck it, I'm just going to list other problematic things, and then the reader can see for themselves if it's worth exploring or not.

Things the reader can expect in this book:
- the author uses the broadest possible term "socialist" to denote usually one single branch of socialism, and strawmans to the limit both socialists, and "marxians". This is incredibly intellectually lazy, and one would expect better arguments in a ~1000 page tome. My initial plan was to read Mises' "Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis", but something tells me the arguments in that one are just as facile as the ones in this book, no point in wasting another 60 hours of my life.
- the standard idolization of the "entrepreneur", and even though it is the "expert", and "worker" who know best how to do a job, it is still the entrepreneur who has to make the truly important decision on the market!
- the absurd fantasy that the entrepreneur is fully subjected to the whims of the consumer. Two concepts for the people who believe this: supplier-induced demand, modern marketing.
- the arguments surrounding the economic calculation problem are laughable. The author has the gaul to insist that only when something is reduced to money one can engage in economic calculation. Basically the argument goes as follows: let's reduce the irreducible complexities of human action, need, and of the physical world to one single quantity, and then use that quantity to do economic calculation.
- generally the arguments seem to degenerate into the ridiculous. For instance, the author made good points about the limits of mathematical economists, but he then goes on to dismiss the whole field as utterly useless.
- the same tired idealization of the free market. This level of belief that every problem can be solved by reducing its complexities to money quantity and then making it subject to unhampered market forces is pathological; life isn't that fucking simple, folks.

Anyway, whenever I'll hear "Less Marx, more Mises!" I can have a hearty laugh. The one thing I can give to Mises is that he writes in a manner that the reader can easily understand, whereas Marx writes like shit.
Profile Image for Jake.
740 reviews42 followers
September 27, 2016
Ludwig von Mises is a god among free-market capitalist / libertarians. Since conservatives now seem to think being an intellectual is a bad thing, I had to go back a few decades in the hopes of reading a real thinker from the right. I wasn't disappointed in von Mises for the first few hundred pages, he was thoughtful and academic. He started to get dogmatic and dull after that. He stated at the beginning that he wasn't interested in morality or what we should do, but only with what works economically. Economics is an incredibly complex network of human actions which is almost impossible to understand, according to von Mises. I think he failed to realize that he did not actually remove morality from his work, but it only seemed to apply to the rich. He often expressed outrage directed at interventionists and socialists (he saw them as the same thing, even calling Winston Churchill a socialist at one point) for removing the incentive to produce by taxing the rich. He used the reduction ad absurdum over and over and over to equate any taxation of the rich to being the same as (or leading to) 100% taxation. He wasn't much for subtleties and nuance. And check out this quote from his discussion on slavery, "The slave becomes intent upon satisfying his master through application and carrying out the tasks entrusted to him; the master becomes intent upon rousing the slave's zeal and loyalty through reasonable treatment. There develop between lord and drudge familiar relations which can properly be called friendship." Really? He then goes on to credit the free market for ending slavery, completely ignoring the civil war. Maybe a free market would have ended slavery eventually, but government force and guns ended slavery. At moments he touched on complex issues like when he started to discuss copyright, public spaces, and freedom being a societal concept, but then he would quickly bail out and say it is a complex issue not for this treatise. Boo! Overall, this is an excellent book for conservatives to read to see that being intellectual isn't bad. It's also good for the left to understand the ideology of capitalist wealth creation as a means towards peace. I just wish it didn't end up as dogmatic as an old lefty communist book from the other end of the economic spectrum.
22 reviews19 followers
December 7, 2010
After having read the first 500 pages 3 times over the course of 2 years, I finally completed my reading of Human Action. Without being overly poetic, it is by far the seminal intellectual book of the 20th century, and probably the most important contribution to human knowledge so far.

It may seem audacious for me to say something like that, but given that ANY other book dealing with one of the physical sciences (like a book on Advanced Quantum Mechanics)--or any other science for that matter--can only be an expansion of the disciplines that were laid out millenia ago by the Greeks, it becomes easier to understand where I am coming from with my assertion, given that as far as I can see in the literature today, Mises' treatise is the first and most encompassing book that deals with the YOUNGEST of all sciences, Economics in a pure absolutist manner.

It not only covers an all-encompassing defense of Economics as a science, but openly displays the epistemological problems with the science and then features a total deductive formal system of knowledge in which to understand the entire concatenation of human phenomena starting at the beginning and most fundamental aspect of human life.

In other words, Human Action as a book serves as the first book to attempt and successfully (in my opinion) explain the Theory of Everything.
Profile Image for Jay.
329 reviews11 followers
June 13, 2015
To the modern reader, this is probably a three star book (if they are economics enthusiasts), but given that it was written the 1930s-40's, it gets four starts for it's importance at the time. Slogging through Von Mises magnum opus was no easy task, not because it's particularly hard (although one section was full of equations and went it one ear and out the other) but because it's fairly dry with nuggets of humor and passion. It's amazing how much we take for granted now that wasn't so obvious in Mises time, as he argues against Nazi ideology, nationalism, and compares class warfare ideology to race warfare ideology. It's a relief to see that, although Mises might disagree, his side kind of won the ideological battle, at least for a little while.

The real strength of Mises work is to always emphasize that the market is a *process* that is wholly comprised of acting human being, and never a blob of arbitrary sectors. I like his argument that "rational" or "irrational" is an inappropriate way to think of human action in the study of economics. Instead he contends that human action is based on the removal of uneasiness and must always be speculative. I'm still milling over some of the ideas, like that of "originary interest" which states that all other things being equal, a person will always want something in the present rather than in the future. The book is full of statements like that, in which Mises claims no proof is needed as the statement must be true. I'm not sure if it must be true or not.
Profile Image for Vagabond of Letters, DLitt.
594 reviews270 followers
December 17, 2019

What this book loses in terms of elevating Benthamite utilitarianism and ethical/valuational subjectivism to the importance of First Principle and Ultimate Given, it makes up for in historical importance and its incisiveness and catholicity of analysis. Secondly, in importance to libertarianism and anarchocapitalism and firstly, in providing the premiere demolition of socialism via demonstration that allocation of goods can not be efficiently performed without the market feedback mechanism of prices, an argument noteworthy enough to have its own Wikipedia page, viz. 'Economic calculation problem'). It loses a bit again in open-borders fundamentalism and in considering the State a given and not following its own arguments to their logical conclusions of a stateless and power-devolved system of social organization and division. (On these, see Hoppe, 'Democracy', and Salter, 'On Genetic Interests'.)

Indicative of its breadth, the book includes in the very beginning an entirely original and stunning antitheistic argument which in truth is an original and strong argument against any univocal theory of theological language - and this in a book of economics!
Profile Image for Stefan.
1 review4 followers
March 26, 2015
An absolutely BRILLIANT book, a true eye-opener that goes way beyond economics, destroying innumerable myths. It explains human action in such terms that one reaches a true understanding of society and politics.

Prof.von Mises distinguished himself by accurately predicting the outcome of various policies and ideologies.

In 1922, he wrote his "Gemeinwirtschaft" (Socialism), in which he predicted the fate of the recently founded USSR, including the economic collapse, the famines, the dictatorship, the oppression, mass murder and ultimate collapse that were to come, based on only ONE assumption: that they would act exactly according to their stated principles, i.e. that they would try to implement true communism.

In January 1929, he was the ONLY economist who predicted the coming market crash, based on the fact that the Fed had flooded the markets with fiat money that totally distorted market information and led to the destruction of capital.

He denounced the Nazis' economic policies as well and pointed out how their much hyped, publicized successes were nothing but lies.

He also predicted the failure of the British and American implementation of Keynesian "economics".

Shortly before the Nazis took over Austria, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was teaching at the university for a few years, then moved on to the US, as he feared that even Switzerland might not be safe. Indeed, the day the Nazis entered Vienna, they raided his apartment and confiscated his property, proving that they were very much aware of his publications and that they feared him.

A man so feared by Communists, Nazis and Keynesians is worthy of attention.

Once you read this book, you will see current events from an entirely different perspective. The entire "financial crises" will appear as what it is: the outcome of bad monetary policies by the US and the EU that von Mises had warned against.

And the crises continues, because those policies are followed persistently. They will ultimately lead to a complete economic collapse, as seen in Greece, unless a majority of the people demand a radical change away from inflation and government expansion.
Profile Image for Dave.
108 reviews
June 15, 2012
This was very interesting. I think the Austrian economics by itself would not have provided the economic prosperity we have experienced until 2000. Austrian economics expects people to have a long term perspective for future growth and based our recent experiences this is highly unlikely. Example you pay an above subsistence wages to your employees because they drive you top line revenue growth. Prosperity of the labor pool means you sell more products... and during times of slow demand people needs do not go away, they continue to eat, get sick and required shelter. Hayek, Mises, Friedman and the tea party seem to over look this. It seems as if you do not fund them they will cease to exist.

We have really messed up the global financial system, it will require a lot of pain to correct it. We messed up Keynes theory .... it seems there are times when both theory's would work better than what we have done...Hayek's theory is aged idea mostly as an opposition to centralized planning & Russian style Communism.... Chinese style communism is certainly different in theory and practice.

Most American's have no idea about any of this, beyond what the cable new has told them to think... Americans still run on arrogance and an sense of entitlement by virtue of being an American .
.......News flash all this was made possible by the sacrifices of past generations; NOT by the current ones...
Profile Image for Eric Sexton.
38 reviews4 followers
August 12, 2013
I agree with the other reviewers who claimed that this is one of the most important books of the twentieth century. In fact, if Mises' approach is indeed correct, this is undoubtedly one of the most important books in the history of human civilization.

In 'Human Action' Mises describes an a priori approach to the social sciences which he terms "praxeology". Although most of the book deals with the arm of praxeology specific to economics("catallactics") Mises repeatedly reminds the reader that praxeological theory can be applied to every aspect of human action.

Some might find it odd that such an obscure book could have so much importance. Indeed, that's a question I don't have the answer to. The implications of Mises' work are crystal clear to anyone who reads it. However, an explanation for its inability to gain traction in mainstream economics is less clear. My best guess is that number historical, political, unfortunate coincidences prevented Mises' praxeological theory from ever receiving the level of scholarly scrutiny it deserves.
Profile Image for Josiah Edwards.
71 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2022
Big toss up between 3 or 4 stars—but I had to pick one.
Although this is not my first Ludwig Von Mises read, it is certainly the most Misesie. There were many sections throughout that I was completely lost and he did very little to help me understand (he suffers from a lack of examples for the theories he's discussing—and uses algebra instead. To say that this approach is not my forte is a laughable understatement.)
However, I think Mises has done more in properly articulating the importance, power, and general attraction of economics than any economist I've read. His ability to articulate complicated and abstract ideas is brilliant. Even though I'm sticking with the opinion that Rothbard is better at discussing Mises' ideas than Mises is, I know I'll come to appreciate him more as I grow in my understanding of these theories.
Profile Image for Brian Gladish.
8 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2021
Today, I finally finished reading one of the (if not THE ) most important books of the 20th century. I started, as I remember, in 2006, and got distracted some time later after about 500 pages. In my defense, in the interim I have read "Part One: Human Action" three times as well as Mises's two epistemological tracts, Epistemological Problems of Economics and The Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science (the former twice).

Although many will disagree, including those who believe Hayek (influenced by Popper) produced a more sound epistemology, I believe that "Part One" is the linchpin of understanding why Mises's ensuing arguments are to be accepted and forms the basis of any sound economic theory. It is the logic of human action, not the empirical theory of human action. In fact, I think that much of what Mises discusses may be expanded into the logic of all living action (see my blog post, Ludwig von Mises, the Action Axiom, and Biology).

Mises, in a style that is amazingly clear, given that English was not his first language, systematically builds his economic theory and explodes fallacy after fallacy put forward by interventionists and socialists. There is hardly a paragraph that does not merit underlining, and the quotable quotes are without end. For example, in our current situation with covidmania, we can relate to the following on page 849:

They [demagogues] will always be ready to declare that "in the present emergency" there cannot be any question of piling up capital for later days and that, on the contrary, consumption of a part of the capital available is fully justified. The various parties will outbid one another in promising the voters more government spending and at the same time a reduction of all taxes which do not exclusively burden the rich.

Later, on page 875 he writes about the state of economic education:

They [the majority of students] do not see the contradictions in the works of their teachers, who one day lament the madness of competition and the next day the evils of monopoly, who one day complain about falling prices and the next day about rising living costs. They take their degrees and try as soon as possible to get a job with the government or a powerful pressure group.

If you wish to be educated and go beyond the myths that people like Jerome Powell, Janet Yellin, Paul Krugman, and Larry Summers spin, and actually understand how the world works, this book is for you!
Profile Image for John Yelverton.
4,228 reviews36 followers
July 15, 2020
Let me start by saying that this is NOT light reading; however, it is extremely understandable if you're willing to put the effort in, which is saying something for a concept as complicated as economics. The author believes that economics is a pure science and therefore has very little patience for Political theory, Philosophy or Theology. In fact, it's rather glaring as he continually takes pot shots at wishful thinking on how economics ought to work versus how they actually work. The result is by the author's assertion an apolitical work, which definitely takes the heat out of an otherwise charged discussion. I do wonder though if this piece is perfect, or if the author fails to take fully into account the human factor which is the bane of all scientific models.
Profile Image for Tomasz.
135 reviews21 followers
November 2, 2021
Nie spodziewałem się, że to będzie aż tak złe i dogmatyczne. Zadziwiające, że w połowie XX wieku powstał ten gruby i szeroko czytany traktat z wydumaną racjonalistycznie ontologią społeczną, dedukcyjną teorią społeczną i radykalnie odrzucający nie tylko wiedzę historyczną i empiryczne nauki społeczne, ale i statystykę oraz modelowanie matematyczne. To jakiś dinozaur z końca XIX wieku.
Profile Image for Don.
166 reviews14 followers
January 19, 2009
Notable only now for ideological and historical reasons.
Profile Image for Nate.
295 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2022
This is, in my eyes, something much more than an ordinary book. It is an absolute juggernaut aimed at leveling the most damaging and corrosive beliefs of our time. Which, fascinatingly, were the same terrible, dogged beliefs dragging down the entire earth’s population 70 years ago, when this book was written.

Von Mises outshines nearly everyone that ever tried to explain anything. He is explaining a monster of an idea, and so the book is a kind of a monster book. But his simple logic and clear explanations sing with a lively truth that uplifts.

I’m not an economist. I’m not a scholar. And I don’t know Latin, which people back then seemed to relish sprinkling into their writings. So, the first 72 pages were difficult for me. It’s a lot of groundwork being laid down, but it has to be done. Like laying the rails of a railroad so that the trains run smoothly later on.

So, for me, Chapter 3 started to get pretty interesting. But Chapter 8 is where I began to genuinely enjoy the book. About page 143. There were a few dry spells for me after this mark but they were few and far between. Mostly I found it all very interesting, even invigorating. The words of the book often seized my full attention and opened my eyes to many new, old ideas. I realized many times that my own unconsciously internalized beliefs about certain areas of economics were lazy or muddled or incorrect. The whole experience was a pleasure.

Von Mises is exceptionally good at explaining abstract ideas. He uses unusually clear thinking to argue for free market capitalism. He brings up a lot of little known but very relevant history. He’s adept at pointing out and avoiding any kind of emotional, fuzzy reasoning that is so often used in economic debates. He will usually summarize what his opponents argue on each topic, and then point out the flaws in their reasoning. Of course it’s not the same as hearing from an actual opponent, but I think Von Mises is pretty fair.

It took me quite a while to read. About 4-5 months. I found that I couldn’t read it if I was tired—it’s the kind of reading that takes a lot of energy and focus. I usually read just 10-20 pages in a sitting so I could digest it.

I will also mention that the 900 page edition I got was stocky and heavy. So I took a razor blade and sliced it into four separate “books.” I highly recommend doing this to make it more portable and readable. It took some patience and about 15 minutes. My splits were on pages 232, 520, and 684, which evened it all out pretty nicely. So my four books began on Chapters 1, 14, 19 and 25 respectively

I’ve never read anything quite like this book. The scale on which the author examines everything is immense. It’s a bird’s eye view so to speak, and it feels unbelievably valuable. The perspective is not something available to the average person, who doesn’t spend a lifetime studying these things. It’s like being given an aerial photograph of your city if you lived in the year 1700.

If you want something more lightweight, try reading The Road to Serfdom. It too, is an incredible book, about similar ideas, but much shorter and easier to read./
Profile Image for Don Lim.
66 reviews10 followers
July 31, 2020
Forgotten in America and for the most part in Europe, Ludwig von Mises' contributions to not only economics but also political science, philosophy (epistemology and methodology), and history remain unrecognized. Mises' treatise, Human Action, provides a grand explanation for human choices, behavior, and action--hence, the title. Since the marginal revolution of Menger, Jevons, and Walras, economic theory applies not only to exchanges on the market and the value between goods and services but through any goals--means--we will.

As such, the structure of the book begins broadly and then threads into specific topics. The first form of analysis must be how man and woman make sense of their worlds, that is, the method in which we understand our environment. In understanding reality, we cannot separate cause and effect. In other words, for there to be an effect, there must have been a cause prior to that effect. Humans cannot understand a world where an effect occurs without any cause. Since humans have needs they wish to satisfy, they must identify the cause to reach that satisfactory state. Here, we reach the distinction between means and ends. Ends are the goals which humans will, while the means are the methods of obtaining those ends. Every human action, however, is constrained by the law of cause and effect.

From this realization, Mises goes through the logical implications of human action and formulates economic concepts and theories, such as subjective value, time preference, the disutility of labor, the law of diminishing marginal utility, the law of returns, the division of labor, price theory, interest theory, and etc.

In doing so, Mises' tome is also about human cooperation. As a neo-Kantian, Mises implies it is not through our natural propensity to truck, barter, and trade which results in exchange and the division of labor, but it is through our rational understanding that through exchange, both parties benefit.

Indeed, correctly read and understood, Mises provides a powerful argument against authoritarianism, interventionism, and other types of force and coercion, as such means cannot achieve the ends of greater material wealth and overall human wellbeing.
Profile Image for Allen.
81 reviews
November 2, 2011
Von Mises makes a case for laissez-faire captialism that is insightful and (I guess, I'm no logician) consistent. His main point is that economics is like logic or mathematics, an abstract law that requires discovery through careful reasoning, and that trying to live without adjusting one's behavior to this reality produces frustration and failure. The scope of the book is huge and von Mises is bold in his proclamations. Put on your thinking cap and get out your philosophy glossary if you're going to read this book.

My favorite part of the book was that he kept referring to government as "the social apparatus of coercion and compulsion," an insightful definition, even if it's a dark one. Sometimes he would vary this phrase to say "violent oppression." Von Mises thinks government is necessary to support social cooperation (the market), but he relentlessly refers to government in these terms. He was persecuted by the Nazis as an ethnic and political enemy.

Von Mises and his followers are dismissed as lunatics and were denied admittance to professorships and scholarly journals. As he wrote 70 years ago, we live in an age of interventionism and Keynesianism, so his unpopular theories are suppressed or rejected by the establishment.
Profile Image for Jake.
232 reviews50 followers
July 2, 2019
A very strong defense of laissez faire capitalism, and a fairly strong attack on socialism. Mises takes a bottom up approach of economics. He looks at humans in the light of their existence in a surprisingly philosophical perspective. He sees humans as organic beings living in the shadow of death who out of necessity of their need to continue existing for as long as possible must acquire certain things... I wonder how he would have responded to the idea of climate change, but who knows.

If you are interested in economics, this is a very good introductory text. Obviously for a more balanced view you should read texts that argue for the opposite conclusions and all things in between, but Im pretty sure this isnt a bad place to start framing your view of the science of human transaction, or rather, human action.

act sir homo actus!
Profile Image for Michael Jones.
310 reviews53 followers
March 17, 2016
This book has had a powerful influence on many. It is definitely highly philosophical and reminded me of reading Cornelius Van Til. For example, epistemological (how we know what we know) issues regarding human action affect our perceptions of the actions and their value on the free market.
This man was a deep thinker.
Honestly, much of it went over my head as I tried to grapple with it because he doesn’t use all that many practical examples.
However, at a philosophical level, it provides a strong defense of the type of thinking that leads to balanced free-market economics and away from statist tyranny.
I’ll try to offer more thoughts as I wrestle through this more. Perhaps I will understand this book better as I understand economics more.
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