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Walter Block Says: Support the Mises Institute!

Mises Daily: Thursday, December 22, 2005 by

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Mises Institute Photo Before Katrina and her aftermath played havoc with my fall semester 2005, I had been, like thousands of other people beside myself over the years, a regular visitor at the Mises Institute. 

Perhaps my attendance there was more assiduous than most, since I participated regularly in the Austrian Scholars' Conferences, the Mises University, and several weekend retreat conferences there per year.

But, like most others, I was only a visitor. I never got to see the "inner workings" of the place.

But a few levees bursting in New Orleans changed all that (see here, here, here and here ). Thanks to Lew Rockwell's kind offer (supported with a generous grant from Steve Berger, and thanks also to Ken Garschina and Michael Martino for their support towards the publication of the book I was working on), I became the Steve Berger Visiting Professor at the Mises Institute in the fall of 2005. Thanks to that experience, I am now ready to REVEAL ALL.

I spent the bulk of the Fall semester ensconced in an office at the Mises Institute, for a total time of about six weeks. My very good friend and many times coauthor Bill Barnett ( see here) overlapped with me at the Mises Institute offices from October 15 until we both returned to New Orleans on November 22. When Lew takes in waifs from New Orleans, he doesn't do things by half.

My office, one away from Bill's, was adorned with pictures of Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Carl Menger beaming down on me. I dared not do anything than give my all to my work. How could I do otherwise with people of this sort to inspire me?

Indeed, this six-week period was just about the most productive period I have ever spent in my life. Egged on by Bill, I probably got as much writing done during my stay at the Mises Institute as I do for three times as many weeks. I hate to confess this, but I have become a bit of a workaholic in my dotage. But, ordinarily, there are activities out there that distract me from my work. Six weeks was long enough for me to get a swimming pass at the Auburn University Aquatic Center, but apart from that, eating and sleeping, I pretty much worked nonstop from about 8:30am to about 10:30 p.m., seven days a week. Exhilarating.

One impression made upon me is the sheer physical size of the establishment. Whenever I was there before, there were dozens, sometimes hundreds of others guests as well. But during this time period, there were only those on permanent staff and a small number visiting researchers and students. They were scattered throughout the building, well, two different connected buildings, tucked in functional offices, working in quiet but concentrated frenzy to bring about the results the world sees.

The atmosphere is monastic, studious, diligent. One could walk for 50 yards, I exaggerate, but only slightly, without seeing or hearing a single other person, and I don't mean at night; I am talking about during business hours.

I never used the library before, in any of my visits. I was always there for too short a duration. But, I tell you, while the Loyola University New Orleans library has many more books, when it comes to the specialties of interest to me (you guessed it, Austrian economics and libertarian political theory) there is none better than the Mises Institute's collection. Many is the time that Bill and I would come back to our offices with entire stacks of books. Rarely was there a book, article, periodical we wanted that was not available.

One of the high points for me was the ability to interact with people I had long admired from afar. Bill and I enjoyed several lunches with Roger Garrison, Roderick Long and with the Man himself, Lew Rockwell (a fellow workaholic). We also went out several times with some of the younger people on staff: Dick Clark, Harry David, Lauren Havens, and a visitor from Canada, Mike Cust. Also very helpful in terms of making us feel at "home" were Kristy Holmes, Norma Willock and Chad Parish. And, of course, there was Jeffrey Tucker who could be counted upon, at least several times per week, to come to the aid of us hapless Katrina evacuees. Jeff's interview of the two of us ( here) was another memorable event. He drew the two of us out in a very shrewd way.

I don't want to embarrass anyone, but the truth is the truth: the LvMI runs a very tight ship (I told you I would TELL ALL). The esprit de corps of the staff is very high, but only twice during my entire stay was there a gathering of the entire gang for a freebie; once when Mardi, Lew's wife, had an ice cream social, the other when Lew brought breakfast for the entire gang. Much to my amazement, about 20 people showed up; the place seemed so empty, I didn't realize there were that many people there.

What I am trying to say is that if you donate money to the Mises Institute, it will be severely pinched. Virtually nothing is spent lavishly; it all goes to the books, tapes, journals, conferences, etc.

Another experience: Auburn football must be seen to be believed. I thought they were football crazy when I worked in Arkansas, but they are really weird about this sport in Alabama. For a Saturday home game, the vans and RVs start gathering on, I am not exaggerating, a Wednesday. By Friday, the place is packed, and traffic hardly moves at all. On Game Day, forget about it.

Bill and I managed to get to work by dint of some very shrewd maneuvering, and a little help from our friends, but the entire parking lot of the Mises Institute is rented out on game day (see above, under penny pinching). I kid you not, the vans and RVs don't leave until the Monday following the game. An entire week for a game where there is real action, oh, for only 5 minutes or so per hour! Don't these people have anything better to do with their time? The stadium holds over 86,000 people, so on game days, no, weeks, Auburn is the fifth biggest city in the state, after Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery. Weird!

Lew was invited to give a television commentary on Walmart, but talked me into going in his place. He is a very persuasive man. Happily, I didn't have to go all the way to Atlanta; the Auburn television station was up to the task. Well, sort of. Another weird experience: I could hear the interviewer and the other two interviewees, but I couldn't see anyone. All I had for company was a blank camera, staring me in the face. But that didn't keeping me from ranting and raving, as is my wont. For the results, see here.

Another high point for me in my weeks at the Mises Institute were the mass piano lessons given to children every Saturday. There is a gigantic concert grand piano, a Bosendorfer, on the premises, and massive numbers of kids all take a whack at it, under the supervision of Arlene Oost-Zinner. The older ones are quite skillful, but, as they all play Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and others of my favorites, and, as I’d rather hear beginners play music like this than professionals play pretty much anything else, I really enjoyed those times

I can't put into words what a wonderful experience it was. I spent minutes at a time staring, open mouthed and goggle eyed, at the portable typewriter (a Royal) on which Human Action was typed, by Margit von Mises, whenever I passed it in the trophy room. With more time on my hands to appreciate the place than on my very brief visits (when there were dozens of people I very much wanted to talk to and only a few days to do so), I could spend many happy minutes gazing at the busts of Rothbard and Mises, and thinking great thoughts.

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Walter Block is Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar, Endowed Chair of Economics Loyola University, and senior fellow of the Mises Institute.  Wblock@loyno.edu.  Comments on this article can go to the blog.