What brought me to Austria
Not really a Road to Damascus story, but nevertheless, I think it’s important to explain what brought me to the Austrian school.
I had always been “conservative”, even in my early youth. I remember vividly working (though sadly too young to vote) in the 1980 Reagan campaign. I worked alongside my parents and went to many campaign activities. It was an amazing experience.
I’d almost liken it, though I feel horrible in making the comparison, to the hoopla over the current president. Except that there wasn’t the religiousness nor the blind devotion to an individual. Reagan was a man of ideas, and he was but a spokesman for those great and noble ideals of freedom, capitalism, and America. This is quite unlike the current pretender who is devoid of ideas, save old, discredited and disastrous ones.
Nothing was more persuasive than the line from Reagan’s first inaugural, that government is not the solution, but the problem. And it was as true then as it is true now. In fact, it is far truer today.
I went to college and ended up majoring in economics. Long story really, but I was fortunate to have many wonderful professors, who, despite their Keyensian views, were nevertheless thoroughly professional and fair. Yes, they forced me to confront and challenge my beliefs, but out of academic inquiry and intellectual honesty, not out of coercion or fear. (Maybe they weren’t Keyensian after all!!)
I picked up two books, Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” and Frederick Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”. Both were so clear and perfect explanations about why freedom and capitalism works, always, everywhere, and wonderfully, and why intereventionism fails, always, everywhere, and miserably.
I was heavily influenced by the supply side theorists as well as the monetarists. I remember doing a senior research paper on the effects of money supply and GDP. It clearly demonstrated the power that the money supply has on the economy (yes, at the time it was heavily monetarist in theory) and the complete lack of influence fiscal policy has.
Now, it is true that both monetary and fiscal policy end up with ruinous results. No doubt the intervention from both the government and the fed create massive distortions in the economy, which the Austrians have so clearly shown. Unfortunately, I was not exposed to Austrian theory and sans the internet, resources were scarce.
But it is important to recall that I went to school in the mid to late 80’s, a time when Keyensian thought had been thoroughly discredited (would that were the case today!!) by rampant inflation and stagflation. It is also the time when the supply siders and the monetarists began their rise to prominence. It also coincided with massive economic growth with low inflation. So it appeared, at least to this undergraduate, that those two schools were on to something.
What was obvious, and I believe is consistent with the Austrian school, is the agreement that markets, capitalism, and free trade and exchange work. All those schools were thoroughly anti-Keyensian, at least as far as the interventionist and the silly demand driven theories go. They also believed it necessary to increase investment and production. So, given the current economic situation, it was wholly understandable that I would find myself, not in one camp or the other per se, but accepting the overall general view or free markets, capitalism, and investment/production driven economies.
Politically I had always been a Republican with very strong libertarian leanings. Having been so thoroughly upset with the first President Bush (gee, like father like son) for raising taxes, I re-registered as a Libertarian. However, I ended up returning to the Republican party after the election of Bill Clinton. I was enthused by the Republicans re-embrace of federalism and limited government. I was had hope (long before, well, you know!!) that the Contract with America would help us return to a more (little r) republican society.
Republicans supported the balanced budget and the line item veto amendments. Okay, perhaps that pesky separation of powers thing nixed the latter and the former at least became if not law, accepted in practice. Budgets were balanced, even to the point where, mirabile dictu, surpluses occurred. Welfare reform was passed as well.
Well now, perhaps we were heading in the right direction. No, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but at least “the era of big government” was over, or so we were told.
But as always happens, Republicans end up just like democrats, and once “in power”, they were consumed with leviathan. Somebody really ought to explain the difference between the two parties. I think it is simply this: both parties lust power and will do everything to achieve it; and once acquired, everything to maintain it; one party makes no pretensions while the other feigns disdain.
So, having become thoroughly disgusted with the Republicans, I re-registered as an independent. This was also about the time that I stopped blogging. It became harder and harder to defend “conservative” politicians and ideas. I was happy with much of what I was writing, and thought it rather thoughtful and insightful, but more and more, found less and less to write about. Thus, it became a chore and I simply lost interest.
In the meantime, I undertook to reading extensively on a variety of subjects, from ancient history to philosophy.
This still doesn’t necessarily explain my path to Austria, but rather that I have always very libertarian.
A few years ago, I taught an online economics class at my high school. In my search for resources that the students could use online, I stumbled across Professor Roger Garrison’s website at the University of Auburn. Well, besides being a treasure trove of outstanding resources, I began to read some of his essays. But what I noticed was a link to the LvMI. Once I clicked, my “conversion” was complete.
First though, I must say this about Professor Garrison. Before I would use any of his materials, I emailed him and asked for permission. Not only did he give me permission, but also told me to check back often as he would update the resources and provide newer and improved resources. Talk about generosity.
So, from searching for resources that took me to his website, that led me to the LvMI, the journey was complete. Here I found not only a vast library of resources to expand my knowledge, but a most magnanimous and friendly collection of scholars and individuals dedicated to liberty. I have emailed many of the contributors and received replies almost always. This despite the fact that they must all be very busy.
So, did I become a convert or did I just find an intellectual home? Well, that’s rather easy to answer. What I also discovered was far more than just simply an ideological counterpart, but much more importantly, the only truly accurate and prescient economic analysis.
So, the past few years have been spent not only keeping current on the latest Austrian insights, but studying Austrian economic theory. Needless to say, the last few years have been some of the most exciting and stimulating intellectually.
However, there are some issues where I find some disagreements. I am not wholly convinced that non-interventionist foreign policy is a safe path. There are too many dangerous parts of the world, and today, more than ever, those threats around the world will not remain there. And yes, this is a major concern for libertarians, and one not all libertarians agree upon. But we’ll just leave that as a point that we agree to disagree.