The official part of the conference began early after an evening in which participants spent the evening in Vienna’s amazing cafes and restaurants. So of course coffee hour was spent sharing tales of delicious meals in fascinating places. In my own mind, I’m thinking back to our conference in Spain where the meals were more exotic and peculiar than in Vienna.
The cuisine here is more familiar to Americans but with an elegance that was a nice change from the usual American fare. The plates usually come with two or three main simple items: a soup or small salad, potatoes or some vegetable, and a meat such as fish or veal. Again, there is a quiet elegance about the style, which is also reflected in the restaurants and cafes, which do not play loud music (relief!) and which permit smoking, usually throughout the restaurant or in special places (no conflicts and nothing is really stinky). I’ve never seen so many coffee shops and restaurants per block in any place in the world.
The first speaker of the day was Toby Baxendale, who was instrumental in the founding of our sister UK organization, the Cobden Centre, which he describes as a “do think” and not so much a “think tank.” His description goes far beyond what in the United States is pathetically called “political activism” – an activity that tends to be nearly as corrupt as politics itself. The “do think” is not about warming up to persons and institutions but instead specializes in “political agitation” – upsetting the existing institutions with arguments, editorials, radical legislation designed to make a point, and generally being a pain in the neck. In particular, Baxendale discussed the formation of a radical movement of monetary reform in parliament. They are pushing debates on banking reform that would be insist on clarity in the deposit contract, as a means of pushing sound practices.
Another bill concerns the introduction of competing currency bill, a push to make real the hope of F.A. Hayek for free competition between currencies. This is one means to smash the monopoly. He urges these reforms as soon as possible lest the entire system of central banking explodes as it continues to monetize bad debt.
Josef Sima of the Czech Republic was the next up with a description of his activities in Prague. He reports that his initial contact with the Mises Institute completely changed his life and lead to his lifetime vocation as a teacher and activist for liberty. He described the remarkable progress made in his country for liberal ideas, nurtured by the ideas of the Austrian School. It is at the center of the debate over the future of European Union. He further described the application of Hayek’s principle that in politics, the worst get on top.
Thorsten Polleit produced a demonstration that Misesian monetary theory is methodologically related to Mises’s overall framework for understanding economic theory in general. It can be logically deduced that money is depreciated when its quantity is expanded by the banking system. Eventually, argued Polleit, fiat money is destined for collapse.
Philipp Bagus’s book The Tragedy of the Euro, came out just as the Euro entered entered its period of instability and collapse. The core problem is presented in detail in the book: while European monetary policy is united, fiscal policy and banking practice remains the province of sovereign states. Thus is the entire system afflicted by a moral hazard that leads to relentless bailouts. This tips the balance of the great debate in Europe today: libertarian or socialist. The libertarian view favor individual liberty, rights, and free trade, while the socialist view favors central planning, protectionism, political rule, and constant intervention by the state against the economy. The sovereign debt crisis has pressed the issue and the need to choose between these two visions. Bagus speculated that the only way out will be for the EU to break up entirely, with Germany in particular leaving the union and the Euro.
Arlene Oost-Zinner, the translator of several major Austrian works from Germany to English, including Mises’s memoirs and the Shulak-Unterkoefler work on the Austrian tradition, spoke about the responsibility of translation. The translator must breath new life into the text, which is an awesome responsibility. He must serve the text, creating a new text which might be different from the original. But there are many considerations in this task, which is far more art than science. She provided many examples of the tradeoffs and decisions to be made in translations from Menger to Shulak-Unterfoefler.
Jorg Guido Huslmann, who teaches in three languages, spoke about Mises’s monetary theory and its evolution over a lifetime of writing. Hulsmann sought to explain Mises analytical approach to tackling such a huge topic and producing a theory robust enough to last 100 years. The great themes were four: the typology of money, the subjective value of money, the purchasing power of money, and the economics of banking. The secondary themes concern the theory of monopoly and the an institutional analysis of government intervention.
In the afternoon came the walking tours, which covered the great spots in the town that mark the Austrian tradition, streets walked by Mises, Menger, and all the rest. Everyone ended the tour back at a cafe where we sang the songs of the Mises Circle in an atmosphere that seemed extremely authentic. The singing went on for two hours and spirits were extremely high.