I’ll say in advance that this post is not for everyone.
Who is it for? Mainly for readers of Rand and/or of Austrian economics who either wonder what the former thought about the latter, or who have been seriously misinformed about the substance of ‘Austrianism’ itself.
Readers of Ayn Rand who know Austrian economics only by glissandi on the interwebs performed by otherwise ill-educated Rand readers & writers (yes, they exist), or written by Rand herself in her Marginalia (opinions written in public not intended to be made public outside their context), may come away with many wrong ideas about the economics, and a notion that Rand didn’t rate what she’d read.
That last couldn’t be further from the truth, and the former less deserved. I’ve written and linked to many posts here over the years indicating why that might be so (perhaps because the founder of Austrian economics “Carl Menger was Aristotelian and had a lot in common with Rand”) For what it’s worth, neither Rand nor Peikoff held a negative view either of Austrian economics’ value nor of the value of Von Mises’s work – except where it divorced value from economics. Not only did they study his work, as seen in the books and magazines by Von Mises and his colleagues that they devoured, they rated it highly and recommended it widely.
It’s true that she thoroughly criticises Mises’s masterwork Human Action in her Marginalia, which (though now published) were never intended by her for public consumption. But note that her criticisms, written in the margins of the books as she read through, are largely of the earlier chapters of 'Human Action'-- of his epistemology, and NOT of the economics. Rand thought extremely highly of Mises's work on economics and business cycle theory, elements of which you can see in her own work.
And when one of her circle proposed taking Mises to task publicly for such things as she criticised in the marginalia, she reportedly advised, "Oh, leave him alone. He's done enough." And so he had. And so she admired.
Rand attended Mises’s seminars in New York, at which she really began her ‘formal’ education in economics. “She acknowledged him,” said Roy Childs later, “as one of the greatest minds of our time, even while disagreeing with his philosophic base, and as having made a tremendous contribution to liberty.”
And the admiration was reciprocated. Henry Hazlitt relates that he was walking with Rand one day, and told her that Mises had declared, "Ayn Rand is one of the greatest men in history." "Did he say men?" asked Rand. "Yes," Hazlitt responded. At which point Rand clapped her hands in glee.
His opinion mattered to her. And it mattered to her very much that others read and understood his work,
As late as the fifties, [explains B. Branden] Von Mises was relatively unknown in the United States - his books not published here before 1944 - until, beginning in the late fifties and continuing for more than ten years, [after being introduced to his work by people like Henry Hazlitt, Leonard Read and George Reisman1] Ayn began a concerted campaign to have his work read and appreciated: she published reviews, she cited him in articles and in public speeches, she attended some of his seminars at New York University, she recommended him to admirers of her philosophy. A number of economists have said that it was largely as a result of Ayn's efforts that the work of Von Mises began to reach its potential audience.
So for easy reference, I’ve added below a series of excerpts indicating mentions of Von Mises and other Austrians in Rand’s and Peikoff’s books. It only includes direct references, not for example articles like ‘Egalitarianism and Inflation,’ in which AustroClassical capital theory is all but explicit. Few are even remotely negative, and those that seem so (like Rand’s reply to William Hutt) simply clarify where she places economics in her philosophic hierarchy, and her view of on the danger of value-free economics (on which George Reisman, student of both Rand and Mises, once commented, “given the role of wealth in human life … it is incumbent upon economics to justify itself by providing philosophical validation for the production of wealth being a central, continuing concern of human existence.” In other words, a value.
So this is not to say that there are not things about which to disagree in Austrian economics, but as Reisman observed looking back at his own economic education, “I do not recall a single paragraph of Von Mises that did not serve as an inspiration to my own thinking, even in the cases (which were relatively few) in which I ultimately came to disagree with him” -- and he concludes his own book by recommending again the reading and dissemination of Rand and Von Mises’s books, “the further spread of the ideas of these two historic figures [being, he says] the only possible basis for the further growth and ultimate success of the pro-capitalist cause.”
Austrian References in Ayn Rand’s books, letters & journals (specific reference in bold)
From ‘The Ayn Rand Letter’ …
If student minorities have succeeded in demanding that they be given courses on such subjects as Zen Buddhism, guerrilla warfare, Swahili, and astrology, then an intellectual student minority can succeed in demanding courses on, for instance, Aristotle in philosophy, von Mises in economics, Montessori in education, Hugo in literature. At the very least, such courses would save the students' mind; potentially, they would save the culture.
- ‘The Ayn Rand Letter,’ Vol. 1, No. 19 June 19, 1972, "Fairness Doctrine" For Education--Part II”
From Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal …
The financial mechanism of an economy is the sensitive centre, the living heart, of business activity. In no other area can government intervention produce quite such disastrous consequences. For a general discussion of the business cycle and its relation to government manipulation of the money supply, see Ludwig von Mises, Human Action. … 2
The productive value of physical labour as such is low. If the worker of today produces more than the worker of fifty years ago, it is not because the former exerts more physical effort; quite the contrary: the physical effort required of him is far less. The productive value of his effort has been multiplied many times by the tools and machines with which he works; they are crucial in determining the economic worth of his services. To illustrate this principle: consider what would be a man’s economic reward, on a desert island, for pushing his finger the distance of half an inch; then consider the wages paid, for pushing a button, to an elevator operator in New York City. It is not muscles that make the difference. As Ludwig von Mises observes [in http://mises.org/library/capital-supply-and-american-prosperity ]: American wages are higher than wages in other countries because the capital invested per head of the worker is greater and the plants are thereby in the position to use the most efficient tools and machines. What is called the American way of life is the result of the fact that the United States has put fewer obstacles in the way of saving and capital accumulation than other nations. The economic backwardness of such countries as India consists precisely in the fact that their policies hinder both the accumulation of capital and the investment of foreign capital. As the capital required is lacking, the Indian enterprises are prevented from employing sufficient quantities of modern equipment, are therefore producing much less per man hour and can only afford to pay wage rates which, compared with American wage rates, appear as shockingly low’. … 2
For excellent, more detailed discussions of these issues, see Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom, especially the chapter entitled “Wages, Unemployment and Inflation,” and Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1946), especially the chapters entitled “Minimum Wage Laws” and “Do Unions Really Raise Wages?” … 2
It is significant how many heirs of great industrial fortunes, the second- and third-generation millionaires, are welfare statists, clamouring for more and more controls. The target and victims of these controls are the men of ability who, in a free economy, would displace these heirs; the men with whom the heirs would be unable to compete. As Ludwig von Mises writes in Human Action: Today taxes often absorb the greater part of the newcomer’s ‘excessive’ profits. He cannot accumulate capital; he cannot expand his own business; he will never become big business and a match for the vested interests. The old firms do not need to fear his competition; they are sheltered by the tax collector. They may with impunity indulge in routine. . . . It is true, the income tax prevents them, too, from accumulating new capital. But what is more important for them is that it prevents the dangerous newcomer from accumulating any capital. They are virtually privileged by the tax system. In this sense progressive taxation checks economic progress and makes for rigidity. . . . The interventionists complain that big business is getting rigid and bureaucratic and that it is no longer possible for competent newcomers to challenge the vested interests of the old rich families. However, as far as their complaints are justified, they complain about things which are merely the result of their own policies. … 2
How did children thrive before the Industrial Revolution? In 1697, John Locke wrote a report for the Board of Trade on the problem of poverty and poor-relief. Locke estimated that a labouring man and his wife in good health could support no more than two children, and he recommended that all children over three years of age should be taught to earn their living at working schools for spinning and knitting, where they would be given food. ‘What they can have at home, from their parents,’ wrote Locke, ‘is seldom more than bread and water, and that very scantily too.’ Professor Ludwig von Mises reminds us: The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchen and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation. … 3
The result of legislative intervention was that these dismissed children, who needed to work in order to survive, were forced to seek jobs in smaller, older, and more out-of-the-way factories, where the conditions of employment, sanitation, and safety were markedly inferior. Those who could not find new jobs were reduced to the status of their counterparts a hundred years before, that is, to irregular agricultural labour, or worse—in the words of Professor von Mises—to ‘infest the country as vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers and prostitutes.’ Child labour was not ended by legislative fiat; child labour ended when it became economically unnecessary for children to earn wages in order to survive… 3
The proper answer to the critics of the Industrial Revolution is given by Professor T. S. Ashton [from a book edited by F.A. Hayek]: There are today on the plains of India and China men and women, plague-ridden and hungry, living lives little better, to outward appearance, than those of the cattle that toil with them by day and share their places of sleep by night. Such Asiatic standards, and such un-mechanized horrors, are the lot of those who increase their numbers without passing through an industrial revolution.42 Let me add that the Industrial Revolution and its consequent prosperity were the achievement of capitalism and cannot be achieved under any other politico-economic system.… 3
CUI - Recommended Bibliography
Books by Ludwig Von Mises
- The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality
- Human Action: A Treatise on Economics
- Omnipotent Government
- Planned Chaos
- Planning for Freedom
- Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
- The Theory of Money and Credit
Books by Henry Hazlitt
- The Critics of Keynesian Economics (edited by Hazlitt)
- Economics in One Lesson
- The Failure of the "New Economics": An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies
- What You Should Know About Inflation
Books and articles by other Austrian authors
- Ballve, Faustino, Essentials of Economics
- Bohm-Bawerk, Eugen von, ‘The Exploitation Theory’
From The Journals of Ayn Rand
From Part 3 - Transition Between Novels: s. 8 – ‘The Moral Basis Of Individualism’
…Granted that collectivism and statism are brought about by minorities—as [Ludwig] von Mises proves. What can the minority of prime-movers do about it? Are the collectivists' methods open and proper to prime-movers? Won't the majority always follow the collectivists if given a clear choice? (No, I think.) Isn't it actually true that even among collectivists and statists it is always a prime-mover off the track who does the real damage?—so that the world is destroyed by the Wynands, not the Tooheys? (I think so.) [Here AR is grasping an idea essential to Atlas Shrugged: that evil is impotent it has no power except that which the good grants it.] But if so—can it ever be stopped? What can stop prime-movers from going off the track for one reason or another? I suppose the answer is: Nothing. There is no automatic fool-proof and error-proof [way]. If there were, there would be no free will. Nothing can ever replace man's necessity to make a free, conscious choice—the necessity of an effort of reason. All we can do is indicate the right way, the proper principles—and then fight, fight, and fight for them. …
That a man knows the right idea is not enough. He must still act upon it. There are, then, two acts of the free will: the will to know the truth and then the will to act upon it. The first does not lead automatically to the second…
From The Letters of Ayn Rand
From The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged Years (1945-1959)
To Leonard Read
February 28, 1946
…That is why I do not believe that an economic education alone is of any value. That is also why you will find it difficult to arouse people's interest in the subject. I believe you are conscious of this difficulty; your prospectus shows anxiety on the scope of "creating a greater desire for economic understanding." You will not be able to create it.
The great mistake here is in assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophical and political principles, and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them. It can't be done.
The best example of that is Von Mises' Omnipotent Government. That is precisely what he attempted to do, in a very objective, conscientious, scholarly way. And he failed dismally, even though his economic facts and conclusions were for the most part unimpeachable. He failed to present a convincing case because at the crucial points, where his economics came to touch upon moral issues (as all economics must), he went into thin air, into contradictions, into nonsense. He did prove, all right, that collectivist economics don't work. And he failed to convert a single collectivist.
Dear Rose Wilder Lane
…Now to your second question: "Do those almost with us do more harm than 100% enemies?" I don't think this can be answered with a flat "yes" or "no," because the "almost" is such a wide term and can cover so many different attitudes. I think each particular case has to be judged on his own performance, but there is one general rule to observe: those who are with us, but merely do not go far enough, yet do not serve the opposite cause in any way, are the ones who do us some good and who are worth educating. Those who agree with us in some respects, yet preach contradictory ideas at the same time, are definitely more harmful than the 100% enemies. The standard of judgment here has to be the man's attitude toward basic principles. If he shares our basic principles, but goes off on lesser details in the application of these principles, he is worth educating and having as an ally. If his "almost" consists of sharing some of the basic principles of collectivism, then we ought to run from him faster than from an out-and-out Communist.
As an example of the kind of "almost" I would tolerate, I'd name Ludwig von Mises. His book, Omnipotent Government, had some bad flaws, in that he attempted to divorce economics from morality, which is impossible; but with the exception of his last chapter, which simply didn't make sense, his book was good, and did not betray our cause. The flaws in his argument merely weakened his own effectiveness, but did not help the other side.
Dear Rose Wilder Lane
…You asked my opinion of your review of Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. Your review is excellent, and I agree with all of it (except one small point). I think you have been eminently fair in giving him credit for the virtues of his book—and there are many. But you picked quite properly on its basic weakness. I think this is another case such as that of Ludwig von Mises. Hazlitt tried to divorce economics from ethics. He presented a strictly economic argument, telling how things work out, and carefully omitting to state why the way they work out is proper—that is, what principles should properly guide men's actions in the economic field. He did not say that we should sacrifice minority groups for the sake of the whole, but that was certainly the implication of his book, which is certainly a collectivist implication.
This is an example of why I maintain that no book on economics can have real value or importance if economics are divorced from morality. When one attempts to do it, one merely spreads the implications and premises of the collectivist morality and defeats one's case for the more thoughtful readers.
I wish you had blasted one particular passage in the book, which made me more angry than all the other flaws, and really spoiled the book for me. That was the passage where Hazlitt states that a virtuous, responsible man of wealth should donate to charity and should refrain from buying luxuries, because these take productive resources away from the manufacture of necessities for the poor (p. 192). That was really a crucial betrayal of our case. It is not true as economics, and it is wrong as morality. It is pure, explicit collectivism.
To Henry Hazlitt, February 26, 1951
I do envy you for the fact that your novel [The Great Idea, later retitled Time Will Run Back] is finished and is about to come out. Archie Ogden was here and told me a little about it. It sounded extremely interesting, and I am looking forward to reading it. All my best wishes to you for the success you deserve.
I have not been able to read every issue of ‘The Freeman’ from cover to cover as I would have liked to, but I have followed your political editorials "The Fortnight." I have no criticism to offer in that respect, only my best compliments and my wish that you keep it up.
Of the articles which I liked very much, I'll mention "Council for the Minority" by Robert Morris, "Lord Keynes and Say's Law" by Ludwig von Mises, "For President: Mickey Cohen" by Morrie Ryskind, "Plan for Counter-action' by Rodney Gilbert—particularly this last….
Dear John [Hospers]
… You are right when you say that "It's true that money has to be spent over a long period in order to get more money in the end, but that this does not constitute any reason why the government should do it." I would like to offer further objections to their argument as you present it in your letter: not every long-term investment of money is necessarily and automatically profitable or self-liquidating; that depends on the investor's economic judgment; bad judgment leads to a total loss, to bankruptcy or "money poured down the drain." When, however, the investor is the government, then the results are necessarily disastrous for the economy, for the following reasons:
A. There is no way, standard or criterion by which to judge the economic value and future of an investment, outside of the free-market mechanism of supply and demand (see Ludwig von Mises for the details of why economic calculation is impossible to a socialistic government).
B. Assume in some specific case that the government has invested money in some long-term project which may actually have future economic value; the fact that it was a forced, premature investment which was not yet economically justified (that is: not yet profitable for private investors), which the economy could not yet afford, has disastrous repercussions on the whole economy and causes unpredictable, incalculably harmful consequences. The best example of that is the government-subsidized construction of the so-called first transcontinental railroad in the United States (the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific). A railroad, as such, is an economic value; but the premature construction of a railroad which private capital could not yet find profitable caused economic evils (the plight of the farmers, the Granger movement, etc.) which are still multiplying to this day.
To illustrate my point in a simple manner: suppose that you are an industrialist and that you want to market an invention which will bring you a fortune in ten years; if your calculations are sound, that would be a good investment, and you would be justified in saving your money for it and in living modestly for ten years. But suppose you decide to market an invention which will bring you a fortune in a hundred years and for which the savings of your lifetime are not sufficient. Would that be a good investment? Would you become prosperous by spending your life on the level of semi-starvation and by draining the resources of all those who may lend you money? Would that be wise or economically sound? By what standard could you be certain—even if your entire generation died in misery, pouring all resources into your project—that the invention would still be needed or valuable to your children or grandchildren who, by that time, would be perishing for lack of shoes, clothes and adequate shelter?
These are merely the economic or "practical" consequences of government "investment." The moral meaning and consequences are obvious: by what right does the government take the money of some individuals for the future benefit of other individuals? By what right does it [exact] privations on an individual, against his own choice and judgment, for the future benefit of himself or others, actual or hypothetical? That which is in fact beneficial to an economy (that is: to the individuals who comprise an economy) is done by men voluntarily (as the history of capitalism demonstrates); that which cannot be proved to be beneficial does not become so at the point of a gun…
To Martin Larson, a "humanist" writer
July 15, 1960
Dear Dr. Larson:
… As to your statement that "laissez-faire" capitalism is the cause of depressions—this is an issue of economic fact and is simply untrue. The cause of depressions is government interference into economics. For proof, I refer you to such books as Capitalism the Creator by Carl Snyder, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, How Can Europe Survive by Hans Sennholz, and the works of the great economist Ludwig von Mises…
To W. H. Hutt, economics professor at the University of Virginia
August 28, 1966
Dear Professor Hutt:
… No, the "Austrian approach" has not "helped to mould" my philosophy. It is one of the many approaches to capitalism which I oppose, though I do agree with many of its purely economic ideas…
Austrian references in Leonard Peikoff:
From Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand,
…There are flaws in classical economics, to be sure, and even in its best modern heir, the Austrian school as represented by Ludwig von Mises. But capitalism is not perishing from such flaws. It is perishing from the absence of a rational philosophy. This absence alone explains why the abundance of economic answers offered to our century by a better past has been ignored by the world and will go on being ignored.
Economics is invaluable as a supplement to philosophy. Like a body without a mind, however, it is worthless and impossible apart from philosophy….
From The Ominous Parallels,
2 - The Totalitarian Universe
The initiators of German nationalism in the nineteenth century were not the Junkers, the military men, big business, or the middle classes. "All these groups," notes Ludwig von Mises,
were at first strongly opposed to the aspirations of Pan-Germanism. But their resistance was vain because
it lacked an ideological backing. There were no longer any liberal [individualistic] authors in Germany. Thus
the nationalist writers and professors easily conquered. Very soon the youth came back from the
universities and lower schools convinced Pan-Germans. (15)
On this issue, the leading teacher of the teachers of the youth was Hegel.
7 - United They Fell
Bismarck's conservative supporters at the time, including the professorate and the Lutheran Church, had accepted such programs enthusiastically, as a natural expression of Prussian paternalism, social-mindedness, and sense of duty. The base of Bismarck's approach was established by the so-called "socialists of the chair," a group of highly influential social-science professors at the German universities. The ideas of these men, notes von Mises, "were almost identical with those later held by the British Fabians and the American Institutionalists .... "
… The Free Corps did not consist only of soldiers. "Next to the war veterans," writes one scholar, "students formed the largest group in the Free Corps. For the most part, they were young idealists" who despised "peace and money-grabbing." "Next to the racist officers," said the leader of Hitler's Storm Troopers, Ernst Ro m, recalling his Free Corps days, "it was primarily the aggressiveness and loyalty of the students that strengthened us."(32)
Such were the men who, in a series of brutal armed confrontations (brutal on both sides), decisively crushed the Spartacist threat—thereby gaining, at the expense of the hand-wringing moderates, the prestige of national heroes. From this time on, the Communists were forced, despite their ideology, to try to gain power by electoral means. "The German nation," observes Ludwig von Mises, "obtained parliamentary government as a gift from the hands of deadly foes of freedom, who waited for an opportunity to take back their present."(33)
References to Chapter 12
… Von Mises describes the Nazi method of expropriating profits: "As all private consumption is strictly limited and controlled by the government, and as all unconsumed income must be invested, which means virtually lent to the government, high profits are nothing but a subtle method of taxation. The consumer has to pay high prices and business is nominally profitable. But the greater the profits are, the more the government funds are swelled. The government gets the money .... "(p. 226) Brady, op. cit., p. 292; quoting Hjalmar Schacht at the opening of the National Labor and Economic Council in Nuremberg.
From Rand’s Voices of Reason,
10 - The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Our Age
…It was not the businessmen or the industrialists or the workers or the labour unions that began the revolt against freedom, the demand for greater and greater government power and, ultimately, for the return to an absolute, totalitarian state; it was the intellectuals. For a detailed history of the steps by which the intellectuals of Germany led it toward totalitarianism, culminating in the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship, I will refer you to a brilliant book entitled Omnipotent Government by Professor Ludwig von Mises. For a detailed history of the intellectuals' role in America, I will refer you to The Decline of American Liberalism by Professor Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr., which I mentioned earlier….
- The logical place to begin would be the with the books and writing already recommended above, in addition to the magnum opus of the student of both Rand and Mises, George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, the very title a tribute to both.
- More impatient students however who still need convincing that the enthusiast for Rand will find much to value in Austrian economics may enjoy some of Ed Younkins’s many article-length efforts to demonstrate the connections between them both, including
UPDATED 10 and 11 Jan. (Update 1 & 2) to add:
1. James Valliant has reminded me that Henry Hazlitt & Leonard Read had introduced Rand to Mises’s work in the mid-40s (their names have been added), and has challenged me on the claim regarding Reisman.
This last is my own supposition based on a combination of Reisman’s ‘Preface’ to his book Capitalism, and the context given by note 7, page 172 of the Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, which says that the comments therein on Human Action have omitted all references to George Reisman, to whom "a few" of her marginal notes were addressed. (How many or how few we can only guess.)
Given this context, and understanding that several of the marginal comments are addressed to "George," it seems clear she is reading Human Action for the first time, which means encountering Mises’s actual economics in toto for the first time, and while ploughing through the praxeology of the early chapters she has not yet realised either the value of the book to come, nor of its author, nor of the school for which he was then the foremost proponent. (For Example "George!” she notes at one point [p.136], “If it weren't for you, I would drop any book containing that sentence." She didn’t, but it seems likely it was only because of George’s recommendation.)
PS: There is probably a good article to be written on how her comments change as she progresses through Human Action (a shame, in this context, that George's name has been edited out), noting (as the editor does in his introduction) that most the criticisms in the Marginalia recede as she gets past the praxeology and on to the economics.
2. From the chapter ‘Common Fallacies About Capitalism’ by N. Branden
3. From the chapter ‘The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children,’ by Robert Hessen
UPDATE 3: James Valliant adds further ammunition on this front:
To see how Rand appreciated the Austrians, including Mises, all one needs to do is to open the very first issue of Rand's first periodical, 'The Objectivist Newsletter', which declared Mises to be "the most distinguished economist of our age" and "an intransigent advocate of freedom and capitalism" ('The Objectivist Newsletter', "Review: Planned Chaos by Ludwig von Mises," vol. 1, no. 1, Jan., 1962, p. 2), praising his "brilliant lucidity and ruthless logic," and then, the second issue which declared Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson to be "a classic in the literature of freedom" and "the finest primer available for students of capitalism" ('The Objectivist Newsletter', "Review: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt," vol. 1, no. 2, Feb., 1962, p. 2.)
The admiration was reciprocated: Mises invited Rand to attend his seminar as an "honoured guest" (J. Burns, Goddess of the Market, p. 177), and he praised Atlas Shrugged as "a pitiless unmasking of the insincerity of the policies adopted by governments and political parties" and "a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society" in a personal letter to Rand (dated Jan. 23, 1958, quoted in Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, p. 996.)