[Here is a short talk I delivered a few days ago]
To give a short talk on the work of the Mises Institute is like giving a short talk on the history of Europe or a two-minute introduction to the social sciences or a brief overview of the philosophy of mind. It is impossible to cover every point, so I would like to just sketch the rationale and overarching purpose.
Our raison d’etre consists of three main parts.
- First, we aspire to be for Misesian scholars the kind of sanctuary that the Geneva-based institute was to Mises himself in 1934, when he took refuge from political turmoil in Vienna and wrote his masterwork Human Action.
- Second, we aspire to be the public-minded source of sound economic ideas that Mises himself created in Vienna in 1927 to study and promote the Austrian theory of money and business cycles.
- Third, we aspire to be the educational institution that Mises, in the later years of his life, dreamed would be created to educate students and the next generation of professors.
Since our founding, we stayed on track with these goals, thanks to the brilliant contribution of Murray Rothbard, who was there from the beginning until he died in 1995, and thanks also to the 250 faculty members that we have working with us.
It’s not that we have a large staff. Actually our on-site staff is very smallâ€”the most dedicated, talented, and hardest working group of people you have ever met. If you come to our Supporters Summit in October, you can meet them and find out just what makes the Institute tick.
Neither did we have a large budget. Careful stewardship of every resource is the watchword of our management.
We can’t claim friends in high places, contacts with powerful people, access to movers and shakers, or supporters among the mighty and great. We get no White House briefings. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t call us for advice. No spot on the New York Times editorial page is reserved for our work.
As our faculty and students can tell you, there are no great career advantages that come with being associated with Austrian economics and Rothbardian libertarianism. To be attached to this body of ideas necessarily means making some sacrifice and taking some risks. It could mean a lower income. It could mean a lower rung on the career ladder. It certainly means giving up a chance to grab the brass ring of power.
So why are people draw to the work of liberty as embodied in the Mises Institute?
What makes the Institute so incredible are the vast range and quality of our activities, the intellectuals all over the world that contribute to our work, ours members who have dedicated themselves to the flourishing of human liberty in our times and in the future, and, above all else, the ideas that are the driving force behind all our activities.
Ludwig von Mises believed that the cause of freedom has one great hope: victory in the world of ideas. Note that he did not believe that we can win short term political battles, that we would succeed through lobbying efforts, or that we could achieve final victory through slogans, songs, and propaganda. He believed that the answer can only come from research, teaching, and public persuasion.
Is this because there are no other options? No. It is because, in Mises’s view, the real battle for the future takes place not by force of arms but in minds of men. No government, no matter how powerful, can be victorious over the ideas of liberty if those ideas burn brightly in the home, academy, house of worship, and culture at large.
A decade and a half ago, many of us witness what was widely believed to be an impossible event: totalitarian governments in Russia and its satellites melted like butter on a griddle. From all appearances, it seemed to be nearly an overnight event, but in retrospect we can see that the underlying decay of the communist system had been worsening through the decades. No one really believed in the system any more. And when consent was withdrawn, the powerful and mighty toppled from the perches of power.
Mises had written back in 1920 that communism was a system that would end by implosion. The academic establishment rejected his analytics and his prediction. Now, however, his insights are considered prophetic.
Mises’s theory was based on a larger conviction that no social system is stable unless it comes to terms with economic law and the impossibility of government planning. This is a broad critique that applies to far more than just totalitarian systems. It applies to attempts by the US government to manage industrial organization, monetary policy, income distribution, education, health care, labor relations, foreign relations, or any other sector of society and economic life.
Government planning not only fails; it tends to produce outcomes that are the opposite of what its proponents say that they favor. The only stable and productive social system is one that embraces human liberty in its totality, and defends the market economy, private property, sound money, and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention as economically and socially destructive.
This is what the Mises Institute seeks to do with all its educational programs, teaching conferences, books, journals, opinion pieces, and podcasts. We seek not only to make the ideas of liberty compelling and intellectually robust; we hope also to make the work of liberty engaging and fun. We hope to become, in the Rothbardian model, happy warriors in this cause.
The members of the Mises Institute are a remarkable group of people. They are readers, thinkers, and visionaries in their own right. They have taken upon themselves the responsibilities of being responsible stewards of a great cause. They are supporting the Mises Institute not only for themselves and their interests but also that of future generations. They are all heroes in my eyes.