Doug French opened today’s events in Vienna with a discussion about the extraordinary ingathering of people from all over the world. And truly, at the opening reception, people were walking from person to person in amazement to see so many friends and new faces from people from all over the Americas and Europe and the UK. French said that this event has brought together 210 attendees from 28 countries.
It was indeed a roomful of friends, students, intellectual, businesspeople, all gathered in the Austrian Academy of Sciences in what is surely one of the most beautiful lecture halls in the world. An event like this would not have been possible without people on the ground making the arrangements with all the relevant institutions, and truly we all felt welcomed and at home.
The coatroom was the first room we found a huge mural of debaters from the old days, with Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk as the lead voice. amazing! I apologize for my rotten iPhone pics.
The first speaker was Gabriel Calzada, now visiting Francisco Maroquin in Guatamala. He opened with the background of the founding of the Austrian tradition, beginning with Josef Schumpeter’s thesis that economics really began with the scholastic thinkers on the Continent They were the first in print on matters of economic theory. Gabriel speculated that there were two factors that give rise to economics: the search for an explanation of money’s value in light of gold imports from the new world to Spain, and also the search for an explanation of the economics of war.
This second factor might have been most significant. What gives rise to war? How is war financed? How do governments go about depreciating the currency? Gabriel surveyed of all the great Spaniards of the 15th and 16th century who worked on time preference theory, price theory, monetary theory, cost theory, trade theory, and more. Gabriel’s own favorite is Juan de Mariana who was imprisoned not for his justification of tyrannicide but for his monetary writings. Leonardo Lessio helped pull the ideas of out of the scholastics into the Protestant world. He spoke of the links between the scholastics and Locke, Turgot, Condillac, and Cantillon. He completed his tracing of the Austrian tradition from the 15th century through the modern Austrian School with a tribute to Menger’s own scholastic education.
The talk by Rahim Taghizadegan, founder of the our sister organization in Vienna, is the one that caused the quiet hush to fall over the audience, as we all realized the significance of the place where we were meeting. Carl Menger defended his dissertation in this very room in the Academy of Science. Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk had lectured here many times; it was his second home. Friedrich von Wieser had too.
This was the room that had nurtured the the ideas, giving birth to the modern revolution in economics. I would like to describe it but it is not possible really simply because of the scale and materials. The wood floors are themselves gorgeous. The crystal chandeliers are stunning. The walls and the columns and the statues are marble, no doubt brought from many lands. The acoustics are perfect.
In any case, Rahim treated us to a round-up of the history of the school, using original documents, including telegrams to and from the main figures in the history of the School. He completed his presentation of this history with an actual recording of the voice of Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk. It was made as a test and demonstration of the new technology.
Boehm-Bawerk’s message was as intriguing as it was brilliant. He said that he had been asked to give a message to future generations. He said that he would much rather himself received a message from them, so that he could know the future. But, he adds, this is sadly not possible so there is nothing left to say. That was the message he gave, and it was in his own bright, jovial, and brilliant voice.
Eugen-Maria Shulak presented a super-compressed history of Vienna, from the middle ages to the beginning of World War I, demonstrating how this town had given rise to the explosion of scientific exploration that took place here. The history of the demographics of this town give rise of massive immigration from all over Europe, and so it became a kind of melting pot.
Herbert Unterkoefler produced the first letter that referred to the Mengerian perspective as the Austrian School. The context was the struggle over economic method. It was used in contrast to the German Historical School. Carl Menger was the first to refer to the Austrian School. Herbert showed pictures of the university calendar from the early 20th century to demonstrate the huge dominance of the Austrian School over the university. In particular, Carl Menger gave rise to at least 40 followers in the university.
Unterkoefler concluded his talk with an interesting insight. His reading of the long tradition from the 19th century until the current day leads him to conclude that the core of the spirit of the Austrian School was more than just a paradigm. It is an attutude of exploration, tolerance, collegiality, friendship, and a shared love of human liberty
Peter Klein continued with a look at Mises’s own work and his place in the university today. As Mises grew older, he began to develop doubts about the institution of the university to really be the main vehicle for the transmission of ideas. He cites the many programs of the Mises Institute, including the Mises University and Mises Academy, which are working as monopoly breakers. He also cited some two dozens graduate institutions around the world that today provide training in the Austrian tradition.
Joseph Salerno discussed Mises in a long line of thinkers in the Currency School tradition that believed that sound money and sound banking was inseparable from the market suppression of fiduciary media unbacked by specie. He clarified that the main role of free banking is be a path toward sound banking, not unhinged credit expansion.
David Howden gave a round up of his and Philipp Bagus’s book on the Iceland meltdown. He described the spectacular event as having begun in the most inauspicious way: through a flawed system of deposit insurance. The system guaranteed unlimited deposits in any currency, encouraging a wild expansion that came crashing down in the worst way. I hadn’t known until this talk what a smash hit their book had become, and it is being translated now in five additional languages.
Robert Murphy finished out the day with a report on Mises’s first book, The Theory of Money and Credit. He urged readers not to skip around in this book but rather to read it from top to bottom, because it really is an integrated whole.
The social environmental of the conference is incredibly exuberant, like a happy meeting of Mises Global, which this truly is.