Austrians return to Austria
In 1905, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, then president of the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences), was invited to test a new technology that would allow future generations to hear his voice. He registered a humored messaged just saying that, unfortunately, the device could not do the reverse, because he would have had a lot to ask future generations. Last week, Böhm-Bawerk's voice echoed once again inside the marvelous salon of the academy which he once presided, and it was heard by the "future generation", formed by people who were gathered there thanks to the legacy of this great economist.
Teacher, students, intellectuals and entrepreneurs from 28 different countries gathered in Vienna for the event that symbolized the return of the Austrian School to its birth place. Precisely where Carl Menger defended his dissertation and where Böhm-Bawerk and Friedrich von Wieser debated so many times, we attended lectures from the greatest living economists. The event included walking tours on other locations of the swarming Vienna, such as the University of Vienna, the house where Ludwig von Mises was born and the restaurants where Mises used to have lunch and gathered after his private seminars with his students. The songs sung in these meetings, composed by the philosopher Felix Kaufman, were translated into English and sang once again at the end of the tour. We also visited the school where Mises studied from 10 to 18 years of age - which was actually under school hours - and we even entered a class room, where students were learning mandarin.
The talks were brilliant, starting from expositions on the scholastic origins of the Austrian School, covering the birth of modern economy in the Vienna of Menger (at the time still protected by a city wall), and arriving at an analysis of current problems. Robert Murphy spoke about Mises' first book, The Theory of Money and Credit, to which he recently wrote a study guide. Joseph Salerno and Guido Hülsmann also spoke about the timeliness of Mises' works and the importance of his publications. The complete program of the event can be seen here. Maybe the third and last day might have been the most special of all. It started with John Denson recounting the foundation history of the Mises Institute in 1982. Thanks to the efforts of Lew Rockwell, Mises' works were rescued from limbo. In their respective lectures, Doug French and Jeffrey Tucker related how the technological revolution in the internet era has enabled this work to reach the four corners of the world. This fact was illustrated by the fourth panel of the day, which included the presidents of four misesian institutes, out of many which have sprung up in several countries: Romania, Czech Republic, Sweden and Brazil.
The seminar ended with a lecture from the presently main Austrian scholar, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who demonstrated how Hayek temporized with the socialist adversaries and how Mises never refrained from the implications of his theory, truly earning the title of "the last knight of liberalism". Afterwards, he summarized a few of those implications on the monetary, banking and political systems, in light of Mises' and Rothbard's ideas, receiving at the end a great ovation from the attendees.
Actually, the attendees were an attraction on their own. Doug French once said the global austro-libertarian movement is a hurricane, and the Mises Institute was at its very core. That is how it felt like being there. I was able to meet Austrian economists and libertarians from Australia, Latvia, Norway - even a Czech innkeeper in the coastal city of Búzios (close to Rio de Janeiro). Giorgio Fidenato and Leonardo Facco, founders of Italy's Movimento Libertario, along with Marcello Mazzilli, were discussing with me about the idea to found a Mises Institute in Italy. Both Giorgio and Leonardo are entrepreneurs who refuse to comply with every new regulation imposed by the Italian government. True heroes of civil disobedience. Apart from owning a publishing house which translated the first Hoppe book in Italy, Leonardo is a journalist who lived in Venezuela for several years, where he wrote many truths about president Chávez. No wonder he is now barred from ever entering that country again.
Joakim Fagerström and Joakim Kämpe from Mises Swedem announced they will write a book exposing the myths of Swedish socialism, refuting one by one. They know Sweden is used in the whole world as a prime example that socialism works; but both do not condone such untruth. Among other marvels of Nordic socialism, Fagerström told me about a bizarre case of father who is in jail for educating his own son. Vlad Topan, from Mises Romania, related the great achievements the Austrian ideas had in his country.
The "Austrian Austrians" from the Institut für Wertewirtschaft showed that the Austrian school tradition is still alive in Austria. They are intellectuals who master not only economics, but also epistemology, philosophy, history, sociology, etc. In summary, they are dignified heirs of the great Austrian masters' tradition. And they are ever more present in the mainstream media, giving radio interviews, writing for prime newspapers and participating in television programs.
However, the best news came out of the Czech Republic, without a doubt. Professor Josef Sima opened his talk recalling a declaration from the current president of the country, Václav Klaus: "I was much influenced by Hayek, but Mises had the most profound influence on me". Can one imagine Obama or Lula saying anything similar? Sima confessed the first time he ever heard of Mises was from Klaus' interviews, and that the latter carried out important reforms, mainly soon after the collapse of communism, promoting several privatizations. But ever since, even staying years in power, he hasn't accomplished much in the name of freedom - a big sign the political way is really not the best path towards liberty. Furthermore, another grand feat by Klaus was authoring a book denouncing the global warming farce. Sima is the president of the Cevro Institut, which is a faculty with over 600 students, where the basic courses' books are from Mises, Rothbard and Jesús Huerta de Soto. The same is true with regards to the University of Economics, one of the largest universities in Prague, also dominated by Austrian thinking. Yes, Austrians dominate the academia over there. Though they may not yet be mainstream, the seeds are sown.
Sima told us one of the factors which led to this favorable situation was, ironically, the period under communism. He said that when communism crumbled, there were no books available but communist leaning ones. Thus, when he translated Rothbard's Power and the Market, it became one of the very few books on the topic of state interventions. The same is valid for Huerta de Soto's book on money and banking and to other several translations he published - if anyone wished to study the banking system, Huerta de Soto's book was the only available alternative! He also mentioned the Czech and Slovak Mises Institute was founded by former students of his, and that there are people from a variety of professions who studied Austrian economics, including journalists. It is in fact common place to open the main newspapers and read the news commented in a Rothbardian light. It seems Professor Sima himself is a known figure within the Czech media. He recounted he was always invited to write for "Yes and No" columns of Prague's main newspapers until they decided to request he chose any subject, and they would look for somebody with an opposing view.
In Brazil we are unfortunately distant from such a scenario. In our media there is no consistent defender of freedom. The few who worry on this issue, for lacking a solid austro-libertarian intellectual base, tolerate and even support a variety of socialist intrusions against individual rights. In the academic world the picture is even bleaker. Economics students spend four years in college without ever hearing the name of any Austrian economist.
Nevertheless, things are fortunately changing. Many economics students are aware of this situation and took the initiative to form study groups within their own universities. It started in São Paulo, then in Brasília, and now a group of Austrian economics and libertarian studies was formed in Rio de Janeiro. Mises has been positively referenced to in the current national best-seller and the author plans on writing something exclusively on the Austrian master. More youngsters are gathering around libertarian ideas and solid economic theory, as is the case with Liber. Mises Institute Brazil continues the translation projects initiated by the Instituto Liberal decades ago, and plan on expanding to online courses as well. Moreover, the website traffic is increasing every day. The battle is tough, and Brazil is a larger country than the Czech Republic, but we will keep fighting, disseminating truths and defending individual liberty. If I could use a device to send a message back to Böhm-Bawerk, I'd say: "Unfortunately, as incredible as it may seem, the disjointed Marx ideas which you completely refuted are dominant nowadays. But wait a few seconds (decades in our case), because I have feeling the state of things will change".
Translated by Fernando Ulrich