I once again was able to attend the Mises Institute’s AERC and once again there was a marvelous time to be had. As a matter of personality perhaps, my mind tends to immediately jump to meta themes related to the Institute and its place in the world of ideas and culture. Specifically related to the problem as to “what must be done;” not only at an academic or intellectual level, but also at a long-term strategic positioning perspective. Such questions and concerns are of course related to the future of liberty and property rights and our beloved Mengerian causal-realist methodology of economic theorizing. But more and more, we are seeing a need to act as a bulwark in terms of the cultural struggle. These more sweeping and grand-narrative thoughts will be saved for later in the week, in an essay that I have almost completed entitled Strategy and Hope.
For now, I will highlight from among the specific sessions I was able to attend at the conference.
Remembering the Interwar Right
I chose to attend this panel (for those unaware, the structure of AERC prevents one from attending each and every presentation) for three reasons. First, the opportunity to hear from the tremendously nuanced and ever-careful insights of the great Paul Gottfried– someone who was important to my own understanding of the development and character of the “Right” as it has been and as it has become through the course of modern history.
Secondly, the Old Right is something I’ve always been attracted too, at least ever since reading about it in relation to the early stages of the libertarian movement as expressed by Rothbard in his Betrayal of the American Right.
Perhaps most timely, however, is the fact that the Interwar Right plays a key role in the narrative being pushed in our forthcoming Spring issue of the Austro Libertarian Magazine. Ben Lewis has written a tremendous essay on this antiwar movement broadly speaking and as the editor, I carry the ultimate burden for historical accuracy both in specifics and in overall storyline.
Of special note was Brion McClanahan’s impassioned plea for a revived southern regionalism over against Tucker Carlson’s nationalism. Praising Carlson’s willingness to challenge both Neoconservative “right” (which both the panel and myself consider more accurately categorized as an international leftism) and mainstream cultural left, he also warned that Carlson did not enough appreciate the decentralist tradition in the United States; a tradition which, as Gottfried later extrapolated on, renders the United States particularly incapable of developing a healthy and “natural” (as opposed to unnatural) national mind. Nationalism may have a healthier opportunity in opposition to European centralism in the secessionary movements in Britain and Ireland, for instance; but it makes little sense in the cultural variances of the North American continent.
I was quite impressed by McClanahan’s articulate praise of the South and Southern culture, and especially the role that the regionalist spirit played in the interwar years. But perhaps more impressive, and important, is the very fact that he had a platform for such an important presentation in the age of a libertarianism that is dominated by the Political Correctness brigade at Reason, the LP, and so forth. The Mises Institute remains a shining light in this regard.
Robert Luddy on Long-Term Thinking
Bob Luddy applied the idea of long-term thinking as a morally vital aspect of the way business owners think about their managerial conduct. In our time of startups and playing the bubble and raising tens of millions of dollars in debt and equity financing merely intended to artificially raise the valuation of a company for a quick exit, Luddy’s presentation was a breath of fresh air.
But while he kept the conversation to the boundaries of running his business (relevant to myself in that I own several businesses and always do have in my mind the short and long term tradeoffs that surround my activities), the place of the Mises Institute and the Austro Libertarian tradition was also constantly teasing at my brain. For instance, one immediately thinks about the fashionable libertarians that surround the libertarian social media world– thinking in typical democratic-political fashion, everything is all about short term success; appealing to the social trends, winning elections, and all the rest. It’s a tired strategy, and something I aim to focus on in future editions of the publication.
100th Anniversary of Nation, State, and Economy
One of Mises’ earlier and less read works offers profound insights for understanding the global developments of international relations that set the stage for the conflicts during the World War era. But it’s not just history; Mises derives particular conclusions about international relations, the nature of the state itself, and how various entities and interests come together to construct a system in an increasingly integrated world such as ours. Not all national interrelationship are harmonious, and what specially is it about the state that tends to cause the tensions and struggles that nations face?
The panel consisted of presentations by Guido Hulsmann, Tom DiLorenzo, Joe Salerno, and Nikolay Gertchev.
The Costs of Enlightenment
One of the lesser anticipated sponsored lecturers was Daniel Ajamian on the Cost of Enlightenment. I say lesser anticipated merely because most of the audience was likely previously unfamiliar with him as a person and his thoughts on these matters. I am grateful to have previously met him and corresponded in various avenues previously; so in my mind, this was the lecture I was most eager to attend.
The themes included in the lecture will play well into my forthcoming thoughts on culture and strategy as they relate to Austro Libertarianism and its prospects.
Ajamian challenged the overall narrative of progress in the west; clearly influence by Hoppe’s own attempts at sweeping narratives. Rather than seeing the enlightenment and its subsequent casting off of religion, tradition, natural hierarchies as the prerequisites to freedom, he sees these things as ultimately undermining the eventual contributions of free market capitalism. If the law is more important than the body that seeks to create and enforce the law, if the ethical foundations are boundaries on what the state is permitted to do in society, if in the state we see an ugly replacement for the social institutions of a natural society, then the results of the enlightenment are not all they are cracked up to be.
Of utmost importance in this area of cultural narrative, of course, are the questions pertaining to where the libertarian right ought to focus its efforts. “What must be done” in light of our reflections on the costs of enlightenment?
As Ajamian and I discussed on the Wednesday before the even began, it’s a dead end to make “socio-economic” efficiency the lifeblood of what our movement offers. Who ever stormed the barricades for a 2% increase in GDP? Is there not more we should fight for? What is western civilization and, to the extent that it is still a meaningful concept that we can recognize around us (that is, to the extent it hasn’t been overcome by statism and leftism), what can be done to preserve it?
Society is not self-preserving; social changes and characteristics are the result of humans acting and thinking.
Economic Development and Inequality
Shawn Ritenour chaired this session and discussed the importance of honing in and giving renewed focus to what sets the Mengerian economic tradition apart: causal-realism. As I discussed in my own essay on the “Two Austrian Schools” in the first, Digital only practice issue of the Austro Libertarian Magazine , the causal-realist school is best represented by the family tree stretching from Menger to Bohm-Bawerk to Mises to Rothbard. Ritenour indicated he was working on a new book dedicated to the causal-realism of this tradition and the importance that it has in the development of sound economic thought.
There was another paper being mentioned in this session of particular note. Jeffery Degner is researching the empirical evidence of a negative impact that expansions of money and credit has on the institution of the family. Increasing student loan and mortgage debts make it less likely for women to raise children while their husbands work, it has shifted back the average age of first time marriage, and so on. Humans behave differently when they do not have the same financial security, and much of this culture of debt is driven by cheap money, suppressed interest rates, and distorted capital structures that result from central bank policy.
Finally in this session, Alex Cartwright presented some of his research on just how completely wrong Thomas Piketty was when he opined that the mere ownership of capital put this capitalist class at an advantage by guaranteeing that they would receive an increasingly substantial amount of the productivity off this capital. In fact, shows Cartwright, the rich of 30 years ago are not the same rich as today precisely because there is difficulty in maintaining one’s wealth levels in a dynamic market of changing consumer behavior, technology, and competition.
The Significance of Hans-Hermann Hoppe
The event culminated into a celebration of the life and contribution of Hans Hoppe. There is so much to say here but in the interest of brevity, there were six short presenters, reflecting on Hans and his work: Joe Salerno, David Gordon, Mark Thornton, Stephan Kinsella, Tom Dilorenzo, and Guido Hulsmann.
Hans Hoppe offered his own reply to the comments. Salerno shared the story of the debate over Hoppe’s key essay on whether money held in cash balance (as opposed to invested in a business) was actually productive in the market economy. It was interesting to hear the dynamic of Joe Salerno defending the Hoppean thesis over against the GMU “Austrians” such as Steve Horowitz and the intense back and forths in the blogs and comment sections that resulted. But as Salerno pointed out, where was Hoppe this whole time? Why wasn’t he participating?
Because Hoppe’s entire presence in the Austro Libertarian movement, peculiar to Hoppe himself (the same most definitely could never be said of Murray Rothbard), was characterized by a unique structure of contribution. This structure had Hoppe writing and synthesizing and clarifying some major key debate in a long and holistic essay. Then he would let everyone else divide themselves across the essay while he moved on to his next large contribution. That was his style. He always had the meta-narrative at the front of his mind. What were the major works to be completed, the major gaps to be filled? The rest would come over time as his students and peers flushed out his arguments.
In that light, Hoppe finished his talk with a promise to add one more work to the canon– one more great refinement to Austro-Libertarian property theory; he has one more in him, he thinks, and looks forward to sharing a last major contribution to the edifice.
More to come…