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Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

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The Romance of Economics

Mises Daily: Tuesday, May 24, 2005 by

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Do you remember when you discovered the great truths of economics? Maybe this moment came when reading Henry Hazlitt, or Ludwig von Mises, or F.A. Hayek, or Murray Rothbard. Maybe your intuition and experience led you to it.

It hits you like an ocean wave, and changes your thinking forever. The daily news takes on new meaning. You gain new respect for entrepreneurs and the much-traduced "rich." You see new hope for the poor, and fall in love with the beauty of commercial life.

It all begins by asking the right questions. Where does the wealth all around us come from? Who or what is responsible for all the goods and services available to the masses? What role does the government play in providing for the well-being of society?

Then you discover the economic way of thinking. Wealth is not given by nature. It doesn't fall from above. It is not delivered by Washington, D.C. It is created by people—free people. Under what system? Not force. Not taxes and regulations. Free-market capitalism is the very foundation of material civilization.

Then it dawns on you. The future of our civilization—meaning the lives of our generation and all future ones—depends on the fundamental choice we make between freedom and despotism. The market economy—the economics of liberty—is a necessary condition. As Mises said, there is no third alternative.

Once having realized these truths, you might have felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Where will the great scholars who defend liberty come from? The media will not produce them. The universities too often promote ideas contrary to freedom.

What institution is producing the brilliant defenders of economic freedom we need against the persistent menace of socialism, interventionism, and central planning?

The Mises Institute has the answer. It is the Mises University, our teaching program that attracts the brightest students from all over the country and the world. After twenty years of success, we are more convinced than ever that our future as a civilization could rest with this program.

Great minds like Hazlitt, Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, didn't emerge out of thin air. They had mentors who led them to the right books and ideas. They were trained in academies that prepared them to be critically minded, live independently, build civilization, and resist tyrants.

It was this sort of education that inspired them to reject the rising statism of their times.

Students today do not usually receive this help. Instead of learning critical thinking, students go from the earliest grades through graduate school without ever having acquired the foundational tools. At best, they are trained for drills, standardized tests, and some technical professions. At worse, they are shoved through hoops in a prison-like environment, and otherwise neglected.

What is true for education in general is especially true in the social sciences: history, law, and economics. When these subjects are taught, it is apart from any foundation in logic and philosophy. Students are permitted to see only one small slice at a time and are never encouraged to critically assess the larger picture.

Mises used to urge his economics students in the United States to learn logic and broaden their understanding to encompass philosophy, law, and history. He insisted that education should proceed step-by-step. But even in his day, this classical approach was vanishing. It was his dying hope that someday an institution would be dedicated to providing a real education in economics for a new generation.

Twenty years ago, Mises's dream inspired the creation of the Mises University. We invited all students who wanted to learn the economics of the Austrian School to apply. We promised no degrees, no career advantages, no social life, and no fancy facilities. We offered only systematic teaching that students could get nowhere else.

Today the Mises University stands as a world famous institution, but the program is still rooted in the same approach. We offer no perks or promises of financial success. Our one promise is that students will receive the best possible intellectual formation, one not available anywhere else.

Every year we receive applications from all over the world — from people who would rather be learning than soaking up sun by the pool in the summer. We offer hard and demanding work, but many more apply than get into the program. But for those who come, it is the event of a lifetime.

If you ever wonder if there is hope for our future, take a close look at this program. It attracts the best and the brightest, and gives them a look at economics that affects the whole of their intellectual lives. We start from the ground level and build upwards, exactly according to the classical model.

We cover all areas of economics in order to show the unity among various fields of study, and always with an eye to cutting through socialistic and interventionist fallacies. The faculty demonstrates the underlying logic of commerce, trade, money, banking, finance, and a host of other areas, and shows why freedom is the means toward peace, prosperity, and security.

Applications come from students at small colleges and large universities — a true cross section of the American student population, but with a difference: these young people are smart, tenacious, and principled. And they know where to go for the best in economics education.

What the applications show is that the Mises Institute has already had a huge impact on the way they think, through our website (perhaps the most heavily used of any research institute in the world), our alumni (now teaching), and our publishing program (we price books and journals so that students can afford them).  

It is the job of the Mises University to take these students and give them classroom instruction of a special sort. Forget sound bites and multiple choice. The faculty teaches logically and systematically. They teach real economics, not propaganda that blames capitalism for all ills. Most importantly, our students learn how freedom works, how it came about, and how we owe civilization to it.



The contrast with the usual classroom setting is obvious. In the social science classes in college, students are taught that capitalism causes depressions and exploits the poor. They are told that government planners are our salvation, that the bureaucrat is a hero, that we owe our wealth to the Federal Reserve, and that without massive regulation, we'd be sunk.

All the work of the Mises Institute, and the Mises University in particular, is aimed at changing this. In our classrooms, we teach economics majors, but also students in history, philosophy, law, and other fields where anti-freedom theory has a foothold.

Through rigorous training with top materials and teachers, the Mises University has produced some of the best economists, historians, and philosophers teaching today. They are still an embattled minority in the academy, but now they are big enough to constitute a movement. And they are making a difference.  

Students tell us that they value their time in our programs more than all their years at college. The appeal is the uncompromising spirit of truth. The students are drawn to this, and it affects their whole life: what they think, how they think, what they research, and why. The program can make the difference between apathy and a life dedicated to advancing what is true.

We begin with an account of the life and work of Ludwig von Mises, that great intellectual hero who built up the most solid case for the market economy ever made. As the classes proceed, we cover the nature of money and prices, interest and banking, production and exchange, the business cycle and the workings of business and great entrepreneurs. The conference even considers the philosophical basis of economic science.

Lectures, discussion groups, and panels continue from morning ’til night. It all ends with oral examinations, evaluations, and a graduation ceremony. In the end, it is not only educational but highly inspiring. It recruits young people into the world of ideas to do battle on behalf of freedom and truth. They go on to become professors themselves, and provide an increasing counterweight in academic life.

After all these years, the program has gained such a solid reputation that some college deans give credit-hours for attending. We are pleased by that, but we also know that this is not the reason that students come to us. They want a complete education in the tradition of thought that we represent.

The Mises Institute has been accused of waging an intellectual guerilla war. We plead guilty. We are fighting against an entrenched establishment with the only weapon we have: ideas. Mises always said that the sword is powerless as compared with the idea of liberty.

Again this summer, with your help, our classrooms will be filled with top scholarship students attending the Mises University, where they will not only discover the beauty of economics, but look closely at the analytical details. They will learn that big government, fiat money, central planning, and the welfare state are roads to serfdom and social collapse. They will come to understand that only private property, entrepreneurial vigor, free trade, and sound money can guarantee prosperity and civilization.

The best way to combat error is by countering it with truth. We do not have to sit by and do nothing as our society and civilization are wrecked by bureaucrats, politicians, and central planners. We do not have to stand on the sidelines as looters, backed by academic apologists, destroy what freedom has created. We can do something about it.

Won't you help us continue to expand the Mises University? We have more and better young people than ever, students whose minds and hearts can be nourished at the Mises University. And we accept only the best: kids who excel in intellect and character, and who want to be taught Misesian economics in the classical manner, and dedicate their lives to teaching.

Please help them discover what you have discovered: that freedom is the source and summit of earthly life.  

Your tax-deductible gift of $100, $50, $25, or any amount, would be great. Your contribution of $500 or even $1,000 would be magnificent.