Three years ago, when I hit fifty, I decided that it was time to ease off and look for a comfortable bolt-hole – something less demanding which would lead me nicely into retirement. As luck would have it, or coincidence (if you believe in such a thing), a university in China advertised a post for someone to develop a new course. The course was called "Modern Accounting." The incumbent would teach Financial Accounting in English to undergraduate students.
To cut a long story short I applied for and obtained the post and travelled from Britain to the other side of the world. When I started work I quickly realized that this was not going to be the "cushy number" I was looking for – far from it – the first year nearly killed me! Two years on I'm still "developing" the course and working even harder than I did pre-50! But that's another story.
The reason I have put pen to paper here is to describe a journey.
Not long after beginning my second year, whilst still recovering from the shock of the first, a professor from the law department asked me to edit his research proposal – he was applying for a scholarship with the Fulbright Institute in the USA. His research would be to examine the resolution of legal disputes over securitization, in particular, with reference to remoteness of damage.
His research proposal ran to five pages. It was extremely well planned and laid out. His written English was good but did need some editing. Before I could do anything I had to first make sure I really understood "securitization." I went to the internet.
Of course I didn't realize it at the time but a journey of discovery had begun. That one word, securitization, led me to the Austrian School of Economics and the libertarian movement. A whole new world began to open up. The more I read the more I realized that I had been looking at many things the wrong way around. But it wasn't easy and, much to my wife's dismay, consumed nearly all of my leisure time.
What made it so difficult was that I had to unlearn so much – and not just about economics. And then there was a wealth of new knowledge to be acquired.
Getting to grips with securitization led me a merry dance. It took me to many places, not least the Great Depression, FDR and the FHA. Whatever site I went to I was led to more and more. A paper chase had begun. I quickly edited the research proposal and then dived headlong into the chase.
As time passed I found myself focusing on three main sources of information; The Daily Reckoning, LewRockwell.com, and the Mises Daily Article. It was tough going to start with, especially the Mises articles. At the beginning it was almost impossible to read any article without looking things up, which led to other things to look up and so on.
It took a long time to get to the point where I could just read most articles without having to research as well. The whole jigsaw started to come together.
One of the questions I kept asking myself over the last two years was this: how come I'd never heard of people like Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard and Henry Hazlitt to name just three?
The answer is simple. When I studied Economics in the 1970's they were never mentioned. Even though everything in our economy was going wrong at the same time we were still being taught Keynesian economics. The only maverick on the scene was Milton Friedman. So I left university with ideas about economics which were deeply flawed – as did everyone else of my generation.
After university I spent a number of years in Accountancy before going into Education to teach Economics. To my shame, I realize now, I was passing on the same rubbish to my students as I had learned at university – it was still all Keynesianism with a bit of Monetarism thrown in. It was as if the Austrian School did not exist. After two years I changed jobs and began teaching Accounting and Finance. In the years that followed I had neither the time nor the inclination to pay attention to Economics.
How much Austrian Economics is being taught in universities today? I don't know – but I suspect not much.
I am not an economist and would never claim to know and understand the minutiae of the teachings of the Austrian School. However I have come to the view that they have the right of things. It makes sense. The difficulty lies in how to spread the message? When Ron Paul outflanked the MSM by using the internet he showed the way ahead. Indeed, if my journey had introduced me to this man and only this man, then it would have been worth it for this alone. The challenge now is how to follow his lead and keep the momentum going.
I'll finish here but want to briefly mention some people I've discovered along the way.
Ayn Rand – a free spirit if ever there was one. The following quote from her book The Fountainhead, still haunts me:
“The soul is that which can’t be ruled, it must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse – and his own mechanism will do your work for you.”
Hans-Hermann Hoppe – his article on LewRockwell.com Democracy: The God That Failed left me stunned by its clarity and reason.
Bill Bonner – a real tonic to read every morning on the Daily Reckoning. I would hate to get on the wrong side of his acerbic wit!
Thomas Friedman – I bought his book The World is Flat. As kids, our father always brought us up to love and respect books. I use this one as a doorstop. Sorry Dad.
Robert P. Murphy – When he writes he sets out to teach, not show off (see here). We could all do a lot worse than follow his example. Writing in economic-speak gobbledygook impresses no-one and spreads nothing.
Robert Higgs – I was moved by the obituary he wrote for Murray Rothbard – such honesty and sincerity – especially his closing line. See Murray N Rothbard – In Memoriam.
Lew Rockwell – I'll finish with this. When I read it I felt as if two hands had reached out of my screen, grabbed me by my shirt and given me a good shake. The only thing missing was an exclamation mark at the end – so I've added one.
"The power of government to do what we desire is strictly limited. Those who do not understand this point do not understand economics!" See The War the Government Cannot Win.
It’s been a steep learning curve and there's still a long way to go – it's a journey I will never finish, but I'm so glad to have started.
July 17, 2008