As someone who only began studying Austrian economics less than 18 months ago and whose only contact with the people at the Ludwig von Mises Institute had been through e-mail, you could say that attending the Supporters Summit this past weekend was a milestone for me. I had a few goals other than to listen earnestly to all the lectures. One was to meet Ron Paul and Lew, introduce myself to them and ask a few questions. Another was to get a feel for the institute as a whole, that is, to take in the intangible qualities of the organization, to "catch the spirit" if you will. Lastly, and perhaps my most important goal, was to crystallize my personal philosophy as it relates to Austrian economics. I wanted to fly back to Dallas and know exactly what to do next. I’m happy to report that for all three goals it was mission accomplished.
Knowing that so many of the supporters have been fighting this uphill battle for decades, while I just started a short time ago, I felt like the slacker who didn’t prepare for the big midterm exam and instead cheated by peaking over the shoulder of his studious classmates. Knowing the amount of sacrifice and scholarship that went into building the foundational principles of Austrian economics, I felt like the guy who rented a golf cart and hired a caddy while the other players walked the entire course and carried their own clubs.
Those feelings of unworthiness lasted about five minutes. The folks at the Mises Institute are so generous and welcoming with their product they even provided a live feed of the conference for those who couldn’t attend. A friend watching the feed called and asked that I wave for the camera during an intermission so he could send me a screenshot. I was happy to oblige.
As the conference closed, I realized why the Austrian school is such a strident adherent of a gold standard, which was the topic of focus for the summit. Whether gold, paper, or some other currency is more productive is not the point: the fact that gold is honest money is what matters. It cannot lie like other forms of currency. Gold is a straight shooter; if you ask it of a price, it will generally tell you the same price over time. Paper money is very unsure of itself; it keeps changing the answer every time you ask. How can an entrepreneur predict the future needs of a market if the main determining mechanism arbitrarily changes over time? What’s the point of a working person to save money only to see the value of his measuring unit vanish before his eyes? Imagine if a dieter had to find out the new weight of a pound every time he got on the scales.
However, the main reason the Austrian school exhorts a gold standard is because it is the linchpin in the fight against the practices of force, violence, constraint and oppression. Paper money has always been a scheme of governments, and they always print more money than they should. They’ll often get into fine messes such as wars and depressions because of superfluous printing. If governments only used gold for money, they couldn’t easily wage costly wars, and they wouldn’t inadvertently put us in recessions, depressions, and panics.
Once the governments’ hands are pinned down by the weight of honest money, it would minimize crises. Crises are often used by governments as an excuse to flip back to paper money and increase spending. When it becomes available online, I suggest watching John Denson’s talk “Unsound Money and War in the 20th Century.” Though crises would be minimized, rest assured one will always manifest, and the government will find a way to take advantage of it. That is why economic education for the masses is needed if we are to be serious about creating and maintaining peace and prosperity.
Education works. Back in the day, people were sacrificed to appease the sun god. Bad harvest? The sun god needs fresh blood. We now know that bad harvests are caused by many factors and once the people no longer accepted the violent exhortations of the sun god’s priests, human ingenuity gained an upper hand and led to new ways to deal with a bad harvest such as building granaries, rotating fields, or inventing new tools and methods to increase yields.
If our government told us that the current depression is caused by a lack of virgin blood for our thirsty sun god, we’d all reject the reasoning because we now know better thanks to so many people having an education grounded in sound science. We Austrians know that the cause of the current depression is due to government intervention, but since so many people are unaware that this competing theory even exists, they continue to believe that government is in no way at fault and that worst-case scenario it was asleep at the wheel. The government manages to convince the masses that it will get the economy fixed right up in no time and it’ll even pinkie swear that another depression won’t ever happen again since there will be new regulations in place to prevent it.
So the philosophy I walked away from Auburn with is this: get back on sound money, so we can minimize crises brought on by government spending, and to prevent the wool from being pulled over our eyes when crises do occur, we must teach as many people as possible about Austrian economic principles.
This is where we can help. Teaching and learning do not have to happen in a classroom. Thankfully, the faculty at the Ludwig von Mises institute have steadfastly put together a corpus of knowledge that is by far the largest of its kind in the world. In these halls thrive thousands of books and essays, and many hours of lectures. Most of it is free for the taking. That means there is no financial excuse for you not to do your part and learn. If you’re too busy to read an electronic version of What Has Government Done to Our Money?, then listen to one of Robert LeFevre’s lectures during your morning commute. Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for all your family and friends? Buy 10 or more copies of Economics in One Lesson and they’re only nine dollars apiece. I suggest reducing paper waste by wrapping your perfect gift with a single golden bow.
The basics of Austrian economics are not difficult to understand. It is easier than you think to tell others about them. Now is the time to do the teaching. When the economy is up thanks to an artificial boom, nobody wants to listen, but when things are bad, that’s when you have an ear. That’s when people are asking the question, "What went wrong?" If you wait, then you’ve lost your opportunity to tell the truth to someone.
This is what I’ve gained from the Mises Supporters Summit: a deeper respect for the science’s founders and scholars, a better understanding of what Austrian economics means to me, and a strong desire to tell others what I have learned, despite my limitations in knowledge and ability.
Todd Steinberg [send him mail] works with his family at a wholesale teddy bear company in Dallas. In his spare time he is furiously working on his cartoon, "Don’t Tell My Wife I’m a Cult Leader," which he plans to unleash on the Internet and beyond in 2009.