In Defense of the Mises Institute

10 Feb


Economic Policy Journal

January 28, 2014



This weekend, NYT was out with a profile on Rand Paul. The piece linked Rand to the Mises Institute and did a nice job of distorting the views and purpose of the Mises Institute.

Here are the key snippets:

That worldview, often called “paleolibertarianism,” emerges from the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama, started with money raised by the senior Mr. Paul. It is named for the Austrian émigré who became an intellectual godfather of modern libertarian economic thinking, devoted to an unrestricted free market.

Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have championed the Confederacy. One economist, while faulting slavery because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the daily life of the enslaved was “not so bad — you pick cotton and sing songs.”[…]

The institute sponsored lectures, seminars and conferences to promote the teachings of Mises and other “Austrian School” economists. But its offerings also range further afield. A conference this month in Houston — with Ron Paul as a speaker — included lecture topics like “Do We Live in a Police State?” and “American Fascism.”

Mr. Rockwell and Mr. Rothbard, both Northerners, became sympathetic to the Old South and its politics of states’ rights. Mr. Rockwell continues to praise the South’s resistance to civil rights legislation, while Mr. Rothbard, who died in 1995, promoted writings of Lysander Spooner — the anarchist mentioned in Rand Paul’s filibuster speech — that he said accurately assessed Lincoln’s war policy of “militarism, mass murder and centralized statism.”[…]

Several current Mises fellows and associates are regulars on the Ron Paul speaking circuit and affiliated with his home-schooling curriculum or foreign policy institute. Thomas E. Woods Jr. was a co-author of “Who Killed the Constitution?,” which denounced the Supreme Court decision desegregating schools, Brown v. Board of Education, as “a dizzying display of judicial imperialism.”

Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.

First, let’s tackle this link of the Institute to “dark biblical prophecy.” Anyone taking a serious look at the Mises Institute web site would know that it does not promote any type of religious view. My columns have appeared at and at, and I was invited to deliver the 2013 Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture at the Institute, yet, no one at the Institute knows my religous background or views. No one has ever asked.

From his writings, it is obvious that Mises regular contributor Tom Woods is a Catholic and that frequent contributor Laurence Vance is Christian, but not Catholic. Walter Block, who is affiliated with the Institute is Jewish, although I have no idea whether he is religious or not. The Institute was named after Ludwig von Mises, a non-religious Jew. There is no “dark biblical prophecy” agenda at the Mises Institute.

But, further, why is the NYT delving into the religious background and moral thinking of one specific scholar the Institute publishes? Who, by the way, happens to be a superior economic thinker. Shouldn’t an analysis be conducted of his economic thinking, when it is being discussed in the context of an economics institution?

Delving into the background of economic theorists is not a practice NYT does on a regular basis.

Indeed, I find this cheap shot by NYT to be filled with chutzpah in that the newspaper’s chief economic commentator Paul Krugman is a Keynesian. Keynes was anti-semitic, most likely a pedophile and had nice things to say about the Nazi-type totalitarian economic system.

But ignoring these facts is typical of NYT and the rest of the establishment. James J. Martin writes:

One can read whole reams of economic literature written by both fervent followers of John Maynard Keynes and his attackers as well and never know that there was a German language edition of his profoundly influential General Theory late in 1936, for which Keynes wrote a special foreword addressed solely to German readers. By that time the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler was four months short of four years in power in Germany.

Even the perfumed and sanctified Life of John Maynard Keynes by R.H. Harrod, a book going on to almost 700 pages, never even faintly alludes to the fact that Keynes had a German publisher, nor that the General Theory appeared in Hitler Germany a few months after it was published by Macmillan in England in 1936. (Keynes’s foreword to the English edition was dated December 13, 1935.) Perhaps it would have thrown readers off stride for Harrod to discuss such a matter since his book was published in the heat of the immediate post-World War Two years, appearing in 1951. But incongruous and ill-fitting matters such as this are almost always left out of romantic and poetic essays passing as biography.

Two prestigious English economic periodicals, the Economic Journal and The Economist, with meticulous coverage of European and world economic affairs, failed to make any reference to a German edition when they reviewed Keynes’s tour de force, nor did subsequent issues in the immediately following years, as far as I have been able to determine. In recent years only Henry Hazlitt has called attention to this important matter.

Some economic scribblers hostile to Keynes want too much to attack him personally as if he created the modern state, but appear to be most hesitant about challenging the state themselves. Keynes did not create the modern state. He found it the way it is, and, obviously, from the context of his German foreword, prepared a scheme or system to work within its confines; the greater and more total the state employment of his General Theory, the better. The core of Keynes is found in two consecutive sentences in the German foreword:

The theory of aggregate production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire. This is one of the reasons that justifies the fact that I call my theory a general theory.

However, the Mises Institute publishes the economic views of one scholar, who has a specific interpretation on the Bible that is never published at the Institute, and it is worthy news for NYT’s front page!

As for Walter Block’s comment on picking cotton. Here is the full context of what he wrote:

Free association is a very important aspect of liberty. It is crucial. Indeed, its lack was the major problem with slavery. The slaves could not quit. They were forced to “associate” with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory. It violated the law of free association, and that of the slaves’ private property rights in their own persons.

I’m not sure where Walter gets the idea that picking cotton is a fun life. I am a city boy and don’t think it’s such a great life. Further I don’t like to sing songs, so planation life wouldn’t be for me. That said, what Walter emphasises before and after his cotton comment is that he is against slavery.

What he is really saying is very subtle but very important, that even if the cotton picking life is a great life, you shouldn’t force anyone into that life. He is really setting up a defense here against anyone who wants to coerce others “for their own good” into directions that an individual doesn’t want to go.

Moving on. Opinions published at the Institute on Confederacy have never gone beyond suggesting that the war between the North and South was about Lincoln forcibly attempting to hold the Union together and that every region and state has a right to secede. Indeed, the Mises Institute view is that every person has the right to secede, so the pro-secession stand is about as anti-slavery as you can get. In other words, it is a consistent pro-freedom position that the Institute does not fear to take, despite how politically incorrect it may be at a given time.

As for Tom Woods and his book, Who Killed the Constitution? Tom emails me that even Publishers Weekly liked it.

The NYT comments on the Mises Institute are a serious string of distortions. I have noted some other “libertarian” web sites that instead of coming to the defense of the Mises Institute are subtly advancing the NYT attack. They know better and thus have to be viewed with suspicion. At a time like this, the libertarian movement will see who its friends are and who will carry water for the elitist, power hungry, establishment.

Bottom line, for NYT to go out of its way to publish these distortions on the front page tells you that Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute are getting into their head. This is a great and important moment.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.


The Best of Robert Wenzel

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