Sunday, January 2, 2011

Peter Boettke Pull the Trigger!

Following my post on Peter Boettke's interview about Ludwig von Mises, I received an email from an EPJ reader who wanted to correct me, when I wrote in the post:
I happen to think Mises was the greatest economic thinker of the 20th century. Boettke never comes out and says that, but he does list Mises achievements in monetary theory, in explaining the problems with calculation in a centrally planned economy and Mises use of the deductive method of analysis to generate a complete theory of economics.
The reader said that Boettke did, indeed, call Mises the greatest economist.

I actually listened to the entire one hour and 15 minute interview a second time to make sure that I wasn't in error. Boettke does early on say Mises was a great teacher, and well beyond the 45 minute mark Boettke does say that Mises' book Human Action is the greatest economics book ever written.

I'm sorry, but this doesn't do it for me. Boettke just didn't pull the trigger and call Mises the greatest economist. Yes, he did describe the specifics of Mises' achievements, but he never nailed down the grand picture.

It's as if the first plane ever invented by the Wright brothers was a jumbo jet, and someone asked a passenger to explain what the brothers invented, and the passenger says, "Well they invented this machine that has this great thing, wings, that give lift off, and the machine also has these great engines that give it power, and it includes a great navigating system so you know where you are at all times." This, of course, is all true. But how can you possibly list all these things and not say, "The brothers invented a damn flying machine!"?

The works of Ludwig von Mises are the equivalent in economics of inventing a damn flying machine. Yeah, Pete gets it right about the engine, wings and navigation system that Mises discovered, but he just never identifies the full scientific advancement Mises created.

Mises created a comprehensive system of economic theory, and even went beyond that in teaching that there is a complete science of human action (praxeology) that not only explains economics (the science of exchange) but beyond that a science that can explain coercion, in a scientific manner--and to boot Mises developed the methodology to advance the science.

Put simply, Mises was as much of a clear and thorough thinker as you are ever going to find. He was a genius. In a full ranging discussion of Mises, to discuss him in terms of this discovery, or that, without tying in the overall greatness of Mises is an insult to Mises. It is a great disservice.

Pete's a bright guy and I am not sure what is the reason for his constipation on this point, but that is what it is. I happen to think that Pete is a great economics teacher (Which doesn't make him the greatest economist) and he seems to be great developer of mnemonic devices that help understand economics (Which doesn't make him the greatest economist), but Pete needs to pull the trigger next time.  A reading of Jörg Guido Hülsmann's biography, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism informs us that in addition to his game-changing advancement of economics, Mises was a man of great courage. It didn't matter who was around him, or what the consequences were to his career, Mises always pulled the trigger.


  1. The greatest economist ever isn't applicable?

  2. Hello,
    Peter Boettke has pulled the trigger. In his interview with the Daily Bell (December 12, 2010) he says,"Personally, I consider Mises the greatest economist of all time, but I consider Hayek to be the greatest student of Mises."

  3. "he seems to be great developer of mnemonic devices that help understand economics"

    Would you care to name a few for us ?