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Helio Beltrao and Mises Global

June 14, 2011

Tags Free MarketsHistory of the Austrian School of Economics

It might strike the reader as odd that a person in Sweden has taken the time to write an article in thanks to Mr. Helio Beltrao, the founder of Mises Brasil, and thus he might ask himself, "What exactly is the connection between Mr. Beltrao and a country that is on the other side of the globe, with a climate that can only be described as the total opposite of Brazil (both in regards to people and weather!), with the some of the highest taxes in the world, and with a reputation for being the world's most (or only?) successful welfare state?"

The question is completely justified, so allow me to answer it.

It all started on a bus heading from Madrid to Salamanca. It was October 2009, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in connection with the Juan de Mariana Institute of Madrid, had organized a conference in Salamanca, named "The Birthplace of Economic Theory."

As Rothbard explained in his excellent two-volume work An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Salamanca was famous in the 1400s and 1500s for its scholastics, such as Juan de Mariana. The scholastics from Salamanca were among the first intellectuals to deal with economic problems, and they also happen to be the forerunners of the Austrian School. It was in Salamanca that the Austrian School, or in reality "economics," was born. Five hundred years or so after this "golden" period, Salamanca was once again to be the birthplace of something else, albeit something much, much smaller and of a lot less importance. It was to be the birthplace of the Swedish Ludwig von Mises Institute, something that would not have been possible without the encouragement and inspiration of Mr. Beltrao.

As a brief history, I and my good friend Joakim Fagerström (together referred to as the Swedish mafia by Mr. Beltrao) had met at work a year or so earlier and had struck up a friendship. We were both very interested in libertarian ideas and economics and were eager to "do something," to "make a difference." We both felt that Sweden desperately needed it, and since Sweden's most famous libertarian blogger had gone off to work in the European Union (which he lovingly refers to as the "Death Star") there was a vacuum that needed to be filled. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum, and so we both felt the drive toward accomplishing something in order to fill the void we felt existed.

In the beginning we had many ideas, and I can now, in hindsight, admit that they were all horrible and would have amounted to nothing. However, the idea of doing something stuck with us, and so on that day in 2009, on the bus from Madrid to Salamanca, we met Mr. Beltrao.

Joakim and another friend and I sat chatting on the bus, one row in front of two Brazilian people that we did not know who were speaking a language we did not understand. They were Mr. Beltrao and Fernando Ulrich, who at the time was studying for a masters in Austrian economics in Madrid, under Jesus Huerta de Soto. We struck up a conversation with them, and it soon became clear that Mr. Beltrao was the founder of Mises Brasil. He started explaining to us what Mises Brasil did, how they did it, how they got started, and so on, and we all listened intensely.

At some point I turned to Joakim and said that this was exactly what we should do in Sweden. The only problem was that we had absolutely no idea on how to get started, or how things should be done. Hell, was it even possible to just start a think tank? How would we even do it? So we kindly asked Mr. Beltrao, and he gave us the best answer anyone could have given us:

He said, "Just do it!"

And yes, it really was that simple. Get started, be motivated, and figure out the rest as it unfolds. It was as thrilling as it was simple.

During the conference in Salamanca, which included among other things speakers such as Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Walter Block, we had many more subsequent conversations, some more serious and some less serious. In these conversations a plan was developing. Not only did it seem plausible that we could do it; it seemed necessary. It was simply something that needed to be done, and that definitely could be done.

Upon returning to Sweden, we got started right away. We started translating articles and designing a webpage, and approximately four months after the meeting in Salamanca, the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Sweden was launched.

The costs were low, the work had been done (and would need to be continuously done), the time was right.

Our hopes were not very high. Bearing in mind that Sweden is a very small country, with a long socialist tradition (more or less 80 years of continuous social-democratic rule), and where even the right wing arguably can be considered to be more socialist than some socialists in other countries, the amount we had hoped to reach in terms of visitors was 40, maybe 50 people.

However, in only one month we had a more than a 100 unique individuals visiting our site per day. This was more than we were expecting, and when the numbers continued to grow, albeit slowly, we felt inspired to carry on. So far, after more than a year in existence, we have accomplished, among other things:

  • More than 150 articles, and countless blog posts, published.

  • A four-part lecture series, two hours each, about economics held at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, named Econ101.

  • A seminar in front of the Finance Regulatory Committee, teaching them about banking and the monetary system.

  • A handful of speeches given about liberty, economics and the environment.

  • Acquiring the manuscript and the right to publish Mises's Economic Policy (which I believe also was the first book published by Mises Brasil).

  • Translating two other books, currently waiting to be published.

  • Acquiring rights to republish three old translations of books by Mises and Hazlitt.

  • Being part of organizing the very first Freedomfest in Sweden, which had almost 100 visitors.

One thing that needs to be mentioned before moving on is that none of this would have been possible if it hadn't been for the totally open and generous policy of the Mises Institute, which allows anyone, anywhere, to use whatever material they publish.

Before starting up we had many conversations with Mr. Jeffrey Tucker about this, and we were amazed by his open attitude and extreme generosity. He truly understood not just the power of ideas, but also the importance of spreading them in a completely decentralized way. Of course, without this attitude we would not be where we are today, and on a global scale you can see that this attitude is really having an impact. When we started the Swedish Mises Institute, there were maybe 5 other Mises Institutes around the world, and today, one and a half years later, there are almost 20! The Austrolibertarian starfish is truly here to stay.

As of now, we currently average around 200 and 300 unique visitors every day. It might not seem like much, but as Lew Rockwell once said, given the state of public opinion, it is easy to make a big difference. I don't know if I would say that we are making a big difference, but we are definitely making a difference.

Thanks to the continuous inspiration, support, and encouragement of Mr. Beltrao, the future for liberty in Sweden is looking up, and we look with great expectations for what will happen in the coming years. It is true that there might be tough times ahead, but that only makes our work so much more important. As Hoppe says, history is ultimately determined by ideas, be they true or false, and ideas can, at least in principle, change almost immediately. That is why I cannot overstate the importance of educating people about true ideas, of peaceful cooperation, and of sound economic thinking when things get bad.

As Mises so eloquently stated it,

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping toward destruction. Therefore, everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interest of everyone hangs on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.

Mr. Beltrao is definitely doing his share. He is truly a shining light in the liberty movement, and I consider myself very lucky to be able to call him my friend.

The caricature of a liberty-loving, free-market-oriented person is a cold-hearted, greedy, and selfish person that cares about little else than progress, progress, and progress (and of course himself). Mr. Beltrao could not be further from this mischaracterization. He is a truly genuine and warm person, always with a smile close at hand, and with a true passion for justice and a love for humanity.

He is also a very good friend.

So Helio, my good friend, thank you for being a ceaseless inspiration to me and to all of us here in Sweden. We all salute you and congratulate you on your first 1,000 articles! Here's to another 1,000!

And, as we say in Sweden, hipp hipp hurra!

In liberty,

Mises Sweden

[This article was originally published by Mises Brasil, 2011.]

 


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