This is a good overview of Mises, his life and background and his economics. It is workmanlike, basic and easy to read. It is not spectacular but it is very solid.
I did enjoy reading it, however. The first two chapters give alot of background information on von Mises’s life and work and I found that interesting because it is always nice to know a bit about an author as a person rather than just his work. And the bottom line about von Mises is that he was a couragous, honest and brilliant man and the proof is in the tremendous admiration earned by worthy friends and supporters.
The Third chapter takes up von Mises’s ideas on methodology, his a priorism and his commitment to value free economics. The two page section “The Intellectually Revolutionary Character of Economics” is really good. Section 5 of the chapter, “Mises’ Methodological Defense” didn’t really help me understand Mises’s case for a priorism as opposed to empiricism, but I already know that from “Human Action” (huan events are complex and variables can’t be held constant so it is always possible to come up with different plausible explanations for happenings; you can never isolate specific causes and their effects because it is not clear what is causing what). Section 6 “Mises and the A Priori: The Extremist?” explains what Hayek thought was a critique of Mises and Kirzner shows how it wasn’t but I couldn’t follow him. The one page section “Mises and the A Priori: Not So Extreme!” was appreciated because it gives alot more plausibility to Mises’s claims about economics having to proceed a priori; I like the idea of economic logic but I think empirical studies and just common sense observation have got to play a role in economics, though I need to think about this more.
Chapter Four was pretty familiar but “The Entreprenurial Character of the Misesian Market Process” was welcome because it just emphasized for me how central the entreprenuer is to Mises’s conception of how the market works.
I skipped Chapter Five on monetary theory, the business cycle and interest rates but it looks pretty good.
Chapter Six tries to address how Mises reconciled his idea of value free economics with his passionate arguments for capitalism and against socialism and interventionism. Socialism can’t work and interventionism produces consequences the intervenionists didn’t want and eventually leads to socialism (which doesn’t work 😉 I accept the arguments by Ayn Rand on the foundations and standard of ethics and so I can argue rationally for capitalism but I don’t know that von Mises can.
In the end, I think that one has to read von Mises himself to get an appreciation of just how deep and comprehensive his grasp of human action and economics is. But this book does provide a little context and a useful overview. Maybe I was expecting too much; after all, how are you going to do justice to one of the greatest thinkers of all time in 200, double spaced pages? Can’t be done.