The First 30 Years of the Mises Institute
[This talk was delivered at the 30th Anniversary Supporters Summit of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Callaway Gardens, Georgia, on October 26, 2012.]
What a thrill to speak to you on this happy occasion of the Mises Institute's 30th anniversary. I am delighted that Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano have been able to join us for this wonderful celebration, along with our great Mises Institute faculty from universities all over the country, some of our excellent students, and some of the generous supporters who have made it all possible. My sincerest thanks to all of you.
Three decades ago, when I was contemplating the creation of a Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Austrian School of economics, and its Misesian branch in particular, were very much in decline. The number of Misesian economists was so small that all of them knew each other personally, and could probably have fit in Mises's small living room. This is a world that young people today, who find Austrian economics all over the place, can hardly imagine.
I wanted to do what I could to promote the Austrian School in general and the life and work of Mises in particular. Mises was a hero both as a scholar and as a man, and it was a shame that neither aspect of his life was being properly acknowledged.
I first approached Mises's widow, Margit, who was what Murray Rothbard called a "one-woman Mises industry." After her husband's death, she made sure his works stayed in print and continued to be translated into other languages. She agreed to be involved and to share her counsel as long as I pledged to dedicate the rest of my life to the Institute. I have kept that pledge. Margit von Mises became our first chairman. How lucky we were to have as her successor the great libertarian businessman Burt Blumert, who was also a wise advisor from the beginning.
When I told Murray Rothbard about the proposed institute, he literally clapped his hands with glee. He said he would do whatever was necessary to support it. He became our academic vice president and inspiration.
Ron Paul agreed to become our distinguished counselor, and was also a huge help in assembling our early funding, as well as an inspiration.
Murray would later say, "Without the founding of the Mises Institute, I am convinced the whole Misesian program would have collapsed." Of course, we can't know how things would have turned out had we made different choices. I simply wanted to do what I could, with the help of dear friends like Murray and Burt, to support the Austrian School during some very dark times, and I was prepared to let the chips fall where they may.
When I look back on all we've accomplished over the past 30 years, I can hardly believe it. Naturally we've promoted and kept in print works of Mises, the Nobel Prize–winning works of F.A. Hayek, and the indispensable catalogue of Murray Rothbard. Beyond that, we've made available to the world, free of charge, an enormous library of the most brilliant and important works ever written on Austrian economics and libertarian theory.
On our campus, the library and archives — based on the massive collections of Rothbard and Bob LeFevre's Freedom School — are incomparable. We have lecture halls, classrooms, student and faculty offices, student housing, a student center, a bookstore, and much more, all thanks to our magnificent donors.
Then there's the entire run of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (which the Institute publishes), Murray Rothbard's Journal of Libertarian Studies, and the publications that he edited during the especially dark days of the 1960s and 1970s. Add to that many thousands of articles on every subject under the sun and thousands of hours of free audio and video from our seminars and other events, and you have a program of self-education that at one time would have required access to university libraries and a huge investment of time and money.
The world now has access to all of this for free, thanks to you.
At Mises.org you can even hear recordings of Murray Rothbard teaching economics to engineering students at the former Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. But instead of reaching a room of 30 people, Murray's audience is now worldwide. Justice has been done.
In fact, thanks to all these resources, the Mises Institute has become the intellectual foundation of the Ron Paul movement. When Ron inspired all those young kids to look into Austrian economics, they flocked to the Mises Institute. Here they found the knowledge that Ron had given them a thirst for: the pure, undiluted message of the Austrian School.
Of all the things we do, I'd like to make special note of three in particular.
Our Austrian Economics Research Conference brings together scholars working in the Austrian tradition from all over the world for what always turns out to be one of the intellectual events of the year.
Our Mises University summer program has trained thousands of students in the Austrian School — including scholars who will address you this weekend.
Finally, our summer-fellows program gives rising Austrian scholars the opportunity to do original research under the supervision of Institute faculty, and to give them a leg up in the job market.
And I can tell you this: the graduate students coming out of the Institute's programs today would have thrilled Murray Rothbard. These are some of the sharpest young scholars I have ever seen. You don't have to take my word for it. You'll be hearing about them in the coming months and years, as they make their inevitable impact on the world of ideas.
Mises was confident that the ideas he championed would triumph someday (if only because reality could not be postponed forever), but like Rothbard and so many other geniuses, he did not live to see his own vindication. Of course, that makes his courage all the more admirable. Spurned by the establishment and ignored by his peers, Mises made no effort to cater to them, nor to corrupt his message to advance his career.
And neither did Murray. The conservative movement spurned Rothbard for the same official reason it spurned Ron Paul. We love him on economics, they protested, but we can't stand his foreign policy.
As early as 1956, Murray was coming to believe that war was the critical and defining issue — "the key to the whole libertarian business," as he put it. His essay "War, Peace, and the State" provided a theoretical grounding for the libertarian position of nonintervention abroad.
But Murray went beyond theory and became a full-fledged revisionist historian of war. This, of course, was what doomed him in the modern conservative movement. Murray even rejected the US government's military interventions during the Cold War, which so many conservatives claimed was an exceptional case that required a massive global military presence. Bill Buckley even hailed a "totalitarian bureaucracy" in DC. This would all be scaled back when the communist menace was defeated, conservatives assured us. Sure it would, Murray said.
And in fact, with the Soviet archives now opened, Murray has been vindicated: the preposterous claims of Soviet capabilities and intentions find no support in the records, which show a Joseph Stalin who — far from looking for a fight — was still licking his wounds after losing 27 million lives in World War II, and presiding over a desperately poor economy.
Standing up against US foreign policy was just about the most unfashionable thing Murray could have done. He was a great economist, and if only he had shut his mouth on sensitive issues like these, he could have been the well-known and celebrated figure he deserved to be.
Instead, he followed his principles and his conscience, reached whatever audience cared to listen, and never felt sorry for himself. To the contrary, Murray was about the most cheerful ambassador the libertarian movement has ever had.
Henry Hazlitt once told me that the greatest thing I'd ever done was to give Rothbard the platform he deserved, by creating the Mises Institute. Now Murray could reach an audience that vastly exceeded anything he had been able to garner in the past. And thanks to our fellowship programs, he could even, at long last, advise graduate students.
So many of us wish Murray could have lived to see both the Internet revolution as well as the victories of the past few years in particular.
We can only dream of what the ongoing Austrian rebirth would have meant in practical terms for Murray. Students today are reading him to a far greater extent than ever before. A genius who once edited newsletters that reached a handful of people would today be addressing packed lecture halls all over the country and the world, and starring on the Internet.
And I feel sure the excitement of instantaneous commentary on current events would finally have pushed Murray, who used only a typewriter to write his books, into the world of computers and technology. Everyone in the libertarian world — friend and foe alike — would have read his commentary every day, and non-libertarians would have been drawn to him as well.
It was not to be. But these extraordinary men paved the way for the intellectual triumphs of which the experiences of the past few years are only a taste.
Mises Institutes have been formed — spontaneously, without any direction from us — in countries all over the world, including Brazil, Poland, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Russia, Italy, Estonia, Ecuador, Finland, Israel, Portugal, Ukraine, Romania, Sweden, Belgium, Colombia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Slovakia.
We have accomplished all these things without a billionaire and without an obsessive eye to mainstream respectability. We have achieved them thanks to you, and thanks to a faculty and staff dedicated to the cause of truth.
The works of Rothbard and Mises, and the contributions of the other greats of the Austrian School, are the patrimony we have been fortunate to inherit. But that patrimony carries with it a tremendous moral responsibility.
We have flourished for these 30 years thanks to your help. But this is truly a critical moment in the history of the Austrian School. Thanks to Ron Paul, more young people than ever are interested in this venerable tradition of thought. More of them than ever are skeptical of what their professors are teaching them. And more of them than ever want to absorb everything they can of the Austrian School, even to the point of becoming teachers and professors themselves.
Will we be able to help this huge cohort of budding Austrians? Will the renewed interest in Austrian economics continue and strengthen, or diminish and fizzle out?
These are questions we have to answer together.
A tremendous opportunity, greater than anything I have seen in my lifetime, lies in our hands. Many of the brightest young kids are committed to the world that Mises and Rothbard worked so courageously and without fanfare to bring about.
We have already witnessed so many early victories. Help us build on them, and make the dream of these men a reality.