Benjamin Powell works as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Suffolk University and is senior economist with the Beacon Hill Institute.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
I’m into mountaineering and have climbed mountains all over the United States but also in Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I’m also very into wine. I’ve tasted in California, Oregon, Italy, Austria, and Australia and am working on building a nice wine cellar. I love sports, both participating and watching.
What drew you to the Austrian school and to the Ludwig von Mises Institute?
I was drawn to the Austrian school through my own readings while I was an undergrad. I first encountered Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom and thought it was pretty good and then I found out that Hayek was his colleague so I read The Road to Serfdom. After that I found out Mises was his teacher and began reading some of his books and then I discovered Rothbard and was totally hooked. After arguing with my anti-market fellow students all semester in a comparative systems class my professor called me into his office to show me a fax he had received from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute announcing the Mises University and he suggested I might be interested given the types of arguments I made in class. So I first went to the Mises Institute in the summer of 1999. I left that seminar with no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to become the type of professor that many of the lecturers at Mises U were.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
Murray Rothbard. His vision of an overall science of liberty is inspiring. His life’s work that combined scholarship, activism, and mass education all with the aim of achieving a free society is something that should inspire all of us. I will say, that on the academic mentoring front, Peter Boettke is the person I most seek to
emulate. He does amazing work mentoring his students to become engaged academic scholars while pursuing radical libertarian and Austrian research programs.
In what ways is the Japanese recession much like the US recessions? Are there any major differences?
The first academic article I ever published was on Japan’s recession in the QJAE. There are some similarities between their recession and the current U.S. recession but also important differences. Both were partially fueled by excessive monetary creation. Both had massive real estate bubbles. After the collapse both pursued massive fiscal stimulus packages, eased monetary policy, and bailed out banks. But ultimately I think the scope for continued intervention in the United States is much smaller than it was for Japan in the 1990s. There simply won’t be the funds to support the type of decade long multistimulus approach Japan took. Also U.S. labor markets and capital are more flexible. So I expect that we’ll readjust and recover more quickly than Japan simply because the scope for the government to intervene and prevent recovery is smaller here. (see my piece “U.S. Recession Policy: Nothing New Under the (Rising) Sun” in the intercollegiate review for more on this)
Do you have any new works on the way?
I’m always working on lots of things but my major project right now is on a new book on sweatshops tentatively titled “No Sweat: How Sweatshops Improve Lives and Economic Growth.” I’ve got about half of
it drafted at this point. I wish progress were faster… perhaps it would be if someone locked me in a room with a computer, demanded I work 70 hours a week on it, and didn’t give me bathroom breaks.
What kind of impact do you hope to make with your work? What drives you to do what you do?
I hope to help change the minds of scholars and the public to desire a freer (radically freer) society. Academically I’m very interested in research on pushing the limits of markets and voluntary orderings to organize society without a government. I’m also very interested in what is necessary to generate lasting social change. But when thinking about my own research on a day to day basis, much of it is riven by what has angered me most recently. Rothbard once quipped that “Anger is my muse.” That is certainly true of me. Whatever the latest research or event was that angered me often dictates the next topic I work on.
Are there any words of wisdom you wish to pass onto the next generation of Austrian scholars?
Ha. I thought I was part of the next generation! Did I get old recently? What I can say for those coming behind me, based on my limited experience so far, is that doing Austrian economics and libertarian research is not an impediment to professional success. As long as you are doing applied research that other economists are concerned with you can make Austrian and libertarian points and have a successful academic career. Personally I’ve found that when I work on topics like applied anarchism I’ve had better luck publishing that in
well respected mainstream journals than I have with less radical topics. I think the same is true of most of my peers. Some institutes and scholars give advice to “hide your libertarianism and make something else the focus of your scholarly research.” I don’t think those people could be any more wrong. The time is great for
young libertarian and Austrian economists. I hope more will join us in the development and application of the science of liberty.
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