The billing going into the web debate last night was witty and absurd, but the debate itself turned out to be robust, rigorous, and deeply informative. Karl Smith of UNC represented the new Keynesian point of view and kept his argument focused on what he considered to be the narrow range of circumstances that would require government action to lift the economy out of recession (our current circumstances pass his test). He was charming and intelligent and made the best-possible case. He didn’t seem the least bit awkward with the technology.
He was also an extremely good sport for doing this. The Mises Institute was obviously the home team and most of the fans in the stadium were of course pro-Austrian – so he was at some disadvantage coming into this. But he approached with good humor and sincere conviction, going all the way to the end, argument for argument. He set up one excellent challenge after another.
Of course I thought our own Robert Murphy was simply amazing. He did a thorough job of making the case against stimulus and also advancing the Austrian position. Only earlier that day I had read some newspaper paper account that dismissed the Austrians as rejecting scientific approaches, so it amused me to see that Murphy made his case entirely on the evidence first and it was clear that he had great command of all the relevant empirical literature. In fact, on theory, history, and policy, he made an outstanding case. He really was at his best.
Before summing up, let me just say something about the technology. It adds to the intensity of the event. I keep repeating to myself: this is a miracle. Broadcasting live, we have our administrator working in Taipai, Robert could be anywhere, Karl was in North Carolina, and I’m in Auburn, viewers and students are probably in 30 different countries, and we are watching this live private event through the internet. This wasn’t network tv – which would have never sponsored something like this. It was our own Mises Academy. It is a beautiful thing.
So finally let me say something about the content. I’m not sure that I recall hearing an extended exchange like this, where both debaters were given a full chance to make the case, that pit the Austrian against the Keynesian view – and that the audience was digital seemed to make it more intelligent than any brick-and-mortar debate I’ve attended. It was extremely revealing. I would say that the Austrian position emerged against the competition even stronger than I might have expected – in theory and history but especially in policy.
The Keynesian position, regardless of any other issues, presumes that the economist somehow has control over the state apparatus and can control it according to his own judgment about what is or is not important to his own mind. This is the most fundamentally unrealistic assumption in all theories of interventionism.
It is a bit like having a theory of how a hurricane should proceed. “It should go a bit west and then go a bit east, leaving some rain in its wake, die down as it approaches further inland, bringing just the right amount of precipitation to those who need it but only wind to those who have had already too much,” and so on. If someone went on this way, we might think he had lost his mind. After all, we can’t really control hurricanes, right? If we could, we would have done so long ago. No one person is the hurricane’s dictator.
So it is with government, the agency responsible for unfathomable amounts of social wreckage in all of human history. Even if we are willing to presume that the theories are sound, why do we presume that one theorist or team of theorists can somehow make the state behave how they determine it to behave? And if they cannot do so, why would we ever add our voices to granting power to an institution capable of causing such wreckage?
In any case, we hope to sponsor more such webinars and debates in the future. We intend to put this one online when it is processed and produced, which will probably be in a few days.