Human Action: Introduction

I have finally started on Ludwig von Mises’ famous tome, Human Action , which is certainly one of the most important books in the history of the Austrian school of economics. I can make no promises that progress will not be slow but, in the interest of spreading knowledge to those who do not have time to read the work themselves, I am going to attempt to post notes, synopses, and recaps as I read. Tonight will mark the first such installment, with just a couple of strong quotes from Mises’ introduction. (Some of the more grandiose and overarching points occur in the introduction, and I find it difficult to really summarize them here. I will work more closely with them as they appear throughout the book.)

What is wrong with our age is precisely the widespread ignorance of the role which these policies of economic freedom played in the technological evolution of the last two hundred years. People fell prey to the fallacy that the improvement of the methods of production was contemporaneous with the policy of laissez faire only by accident. Deluded by Marxian myths, they consider modern industrialism an outcome of the operation of mysterious “productive forces” that do not depend in any way on ideological factors. Classical economics, they believe, was not a factor in the rise of capitalism, but rather its product, its “ideological superstructure,” i.e., a doctrine designed to defend the unfair claims of the capitalistic exploiters. Hence the abolition of capitalism and the substitution of socialist totalitarianism for a market economy and free enterprise would not impair the further progress of technology. It would, on the contrary, promote technological improvement by removing the obstacles which the selfish interests of the capitalists place in its way.

It is true that economics is a theoretical science and as such abstains from any judgment of value. It is not its task to tell people what ends they should aim at. It is a science of the means to be applied for the attainment of ends chosen, not, to be sure, a science of the choosing of ends. Ultimate decisions, the valuations and the choosing of ends, are beyond the scope of any science. Science never tells a man how he should act; it merely shows how a man must act if he wants to attain definite ends.

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2 Responses to Human Action: Introduction

  1. Alec says:

    Hello. I started Human Action, but quickly realized I wasn’t ready for it. Instead I’m reading Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. So far I’m very pleased with my decision. I look forward to reading your Hampsterdam Notes on Human Action.

    • Hamsterdam Economics says:


      I actually had the same experience awhile back, and felt that Man, Economy, and State was a much better starting point (I only read the first few hundred pages, though, before I went back to school for my senior year, and sadly have yet to pick it back up). It has taken me a couple years to work up to Human Action. After a couple abortive early attempts, though, I feel that I am finally ready. I think you’ll have a similar experience if you come back to it a little later on.