Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (visit his website) is the author of 11 books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. His other books include the just-released Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, and The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy.
If you weren’t a scholar, what do you think you would be doing for a career now? Do you have any hobbies?
I don’t know. I’ve always imagined myself doing some kind of academic work. I initially expected to teach math, of all things. I was co-captain of the high school math team, and was a member of the Eastern Massachusetts All-Star Team both junior and senior year. (There was a time in my life in which I would not have brought this up…) It seemed a natural fit for me. Then I met the math majors in college, and in their spare time they read books on number theory. In my spare time I enjoyed reading about a lot of other things. Eventually I decided history was a better fit for me, because I liked being engaged in the world of ideas. As for hobbies, I do enjoy chess and used to play in tournaments on Long Island, but it’s hard to find the time these days.
What drew you to the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Austrian school?
I saw a magazine ad (yes, that’s how long ago it was) for the Mises University summer program, which I attended in 1993. A lengthy list of recommended reading accompanied the required readings; with the help of my university library I sought out pretty much all of it. I was hooked. The event itself was the icing on the cake. It was the most significant event of my entire intellectual development. That was the first time I got to see Murray Rothbard in person, by the way. I saw him several other times after that. At one point he insisted I call him Murray, which I could barely bring myself to do.
How do you feel about recent events in relation to libertarianism? Do you think libertarianism is progressing? If so, in what direction?
We are still a small minority, to be sure, but we are growing faster than ever before, and the Austrian position is reaching mainstream audiences to an extent I never expected to see. I find it interesting that it is not merely free-market economics in general but the Austrian School in particular that is attracting so much attention. That isn’t to say that other approaches have disappeared; in academia they are very much alive. But from what I can see, among grassroots libertarians the Austrians have routed all competitors. In light of the demand, I put up the resource LearnAustrianEconomics.com.
You have some upcoming history courses on the new Mises Academy system. What are these courses about, and what do you hope to achieve with them?
On March 7th I’ll begin offering the first of what I hope will be a series of survey courses in American history, given from what Jeff Tucker calls an Austro-Jeffersonian perspective. This eight-week course will begin with the colonial period and continue through the ratification of the Constitution. I want to give people a painless – and, I hope, even enjoyable – way to learn U.S. history, and alongside like-minded people whose questions and discussion topics will likely dovetail with their own.
Beginning March 14th I’ll be offering my seven-week course on the New Deal for a second time. (I discuss the course in this Mises Daily and in this video.) This is an area of history people need to know cold. Even today we hear appeals to the intervention of the 1930s as an example to be emulated. I want students to be able to go beyond the libertarian talking points we all know and learn in detail why the standard version of events is so vulnerable to revision. Put less delicately, I want them to be able to smash the story we all learned in junior high, and put forth a vigorous alternative based on some of the best new research.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
My new book is called Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse. It could just as easily have been called Everything Should Be Abolished, and Here’s Why. It uses the coming fiscal crisis, which it describes in detail, as a jumping-off point to subject the various claims government makes for itself – e.g., we’d all die agonizing deaths if program X were abolished – to the most withering attacks I can muster. Jeff Tucker wrote a great overview of it. My publisher has made a free chapter available. It’s the most relentless assault on the state and its pretensions I am capable of writing.
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