Clearing Up Some Misperceptions About APEE
by Bruce L. Benson, President
Association of Private Enterprise Education
I was about half way through the writing of my autobiographical sketch that Walter Block asked me to write for the collection on libertarians and/or Austrians that he is putting together on LewRockwell.com when I received a copy of Walter's LewRockwell.com article on "Private Enterprisers and the Dallas Fed." I am currently the President of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE), so I stopped writing the sketch because I felt compelled to reply to Walter's description of APEE. After all, if readers of LewRockwell.com accept Walter's description of APEE they may shun the association, and that would be unfortunate. The fact is that I have been working to get more libertarians and Austrians involved in APEE ever since I was elected to its executive board in 1999, and I have made significant progress (several participants in last year's APEE meetings also participated in the Austrian Scholar's Conference [ASC], for instance, and I believe that the overlap will be even greater this year).
My first APEE meeting was the one in Dallas that Walter referred to in his article, and I had a very similar reaction to the Fed's involvement that Walter had. However, as Walter stated, that was "several years ago." I went back to APEE the next year because a good friend asked me to participate, and then I was approached about serving on the APEE board. I agreed because I thought that the Association had considerable potential to be a worthwhile organization. After being elected and learning about how the association actually operates, I voiced precisely the same concerns about Fed involvement to board members that Walter raised in his article. Whether that is the reason or not, the Fed is no longer involved in funding APEE nor are Fed officials on the board.
In fact, I believe that the last Fed official who was on the board left the last meeting he attended a year ago in a huff because he felt that he was not getting the kind of respect he deserved. I do not point this out because I think that Fed employees should be excluded from APEE, however, and some remain active. There are some strong free market advocates who work for the Fed (and for state universities like Florida State, Auburn, UNLV, etc.), even though they may not share the views that Walter and I hold about turning everything over to the market. As far as I am concerned, they are free to join if they want to, however. While they may not understand the potential for free-market money (or roads, courts, policing, rule creation, etc.), they might learn about it if we can keep them coming to the meetings. I was concerned about the perception of APEE created by Fed funding of some APEE activities, and by high-ranking Fed officials' being involved on the board, not about Fed employees involvement as individual members, including those on the board.
Walter stated: "In the intervening years [since attending the APEE meeting in Dallas], I have had time to reflect upon this curious situation, and hence a few thoughts." I wish that he would have recognized APEE's progress when he presented his thoughts because his failure to do so put APEE in a very bad light. In particular, Walter went on to claim that "The 'free enterprise' of APEE does not extend so far as to include money, macro economics, business cycles, etc. APEE espouses a rather narrow conception of economic liberty."
This statement is the most disturbing part of Walter's article, for several reasons. First, APEE's membership is quite different today than it was when he attended a meeting "several years ago," but his statement suggests that the snapshot he saw was an equilibrium. Organizations evolve, however, and Walter failed to note the evolution of APEE over the past several years. Second, APEE does not espouse any particular concept of liberty, other than a general support for free markets. As stated on its web page (http://www.apee.org/), "The mission of The Association of Private Enterprise Education is to put into action accurate and objective understandings of private enterprise. We are committed to teaching and research in private enterprise."
APEE members espouse concepts of liberty, of course, but those concepts vary considerably. Some believe (incorrectly, if Walter and I are correct) that liberty is consistent with government provision of money, police, roads, and so on. Others do not. Third, since 1999 I have repeatedly invited libertarians and Austrians to both organize and participate in APEE sessions on any topic they want. I attended both the ASC and APEE last year, for instance, and for the most part the ASC was very good, but so was APEE's conference. APEE had many sessions that the people who attended ASC would have appreciated. I personally organized two sessions on private provision of "so-called" public goods for this year's meetings (April 6—8 in Las Vegas) and I tried to get someone to discuss money to go along with people like me, Jeff Hummel, Ed Stringham, and Larry Sechrest who are discussing roads, laws, "national" defense, financial market "regulation," etc.
I was not successful in getting a money paper, but during the last board meeting two board members indicated that they were planning to try to organize a session on free banking. I have not seen the program so I do not know if they did so or not. I hope they did, but the fact is that APEE is an organization of people and it can only do what people who are involved are interested in doing. If free-market advocates, including Walter, do not like what APEE has done in the past, I invite them to become active in the organization as I did, and try to change it.
I expect that Walter actually raised the whole issue about APEE and the Fed because he thought that it was a clever and provocative way to pose the question that occupied the last part of his article, an interesting one that I have debated with myself over the years: "Is it even compatible with libertarianism ... to accept funds from a tainted statist agency...?"
While I continue to be troubled by the fact that I am paid by the state, I obviously have concluded, as Walter seems to, that a true libertarian can do so without being corrupted. Unfortunately, by choosing to make his point by using APEE as an example, Walter may discourage people from becoming involved with APEE who I would like to see spreading their ideas at the meetings. Indeed, I fear that this article could reduce the chances for APEE to move in the direction that both Walter and I would like to see by convincing the kinds of people who could make APEE even better (libertarians and Austrians who read LewRockwell.com) that they should not get involved in the organization. Therefore, I appreciate LewRockwell.com (actually, Lew Rockwell) giving me the chance to clear up the misperceptions that Walter's article may have created.
Bruce Benson [send him mail] is professor of economics at Florida State University and author of The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State and To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice.
A Reply From Walter Block
I greatly regret that my article "Private Enterprisers and the Dallas Fed" was unclear as to whether I was criticizing APEE of the 1990s, when the Dallas Fed was heavily involved in this organization, or the present APEE, which is a very different and much improved organization. On the good side, I started off this op-ed indicating I had in mind the APEE of "Several years ago...." But on the other hand, I mistakenly stated: "1. The 'free enterprise' of APEE does not extend so far as to include money, macro economics, business cycles, etc. APEE espouses a rather narrow conception of economic liberty." I should have put this in the past tense, as follows (this revision now appears in the archived version of the article): 1. The "free enterprise" of APEE of the 1990s did not extend so far as to include money, macro economics, business cycles, etc. APEE espoused a rather narrow conception of economic liberty."
Bruce Benson has worked tirelessly to promote a greater free enterprise perspective within APEE, and I very much appreciate these efforts of his.
January 16, 2003
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