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Secrets of the Mises Institute

August 9, 2011

Tags Austrian Economics Overview

I visited the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, AL, for the first time last weekend (July 26–29) along with some friends of mine from the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs (SOLE). I met a number of people from around the world (students and faculty alike of this past week's Mises University 2011), became engrossed in more than one philosophical debate lasting several hours, took in the sights, and even came away with a few secrets.

I'll share a few with you, dear reader, if only you'll listen.

Secret 1: The Mises Institute is the "home" of Austrian economics and libertarian thinking for the entire world.

As we drove around downtown Auburn last weekend looking for the Mises Institute, my friends and I ended up completely missing it the first time because we had no idea what shape the institute would take.

Was it actually on Auburn University's campus, nestled among the engineering school's buildings, the dorms, and the massive football coliseum? Would it be a regal brick-and-columned structure evoking the classic southern university aesthetic, similar to Dallas's SMU or the University of Virginia? Or perhaps it'd be completely lacking a visual distinctness, instead occupying a few floors of a nondescript local office tower?

No, when I say the institute is the "home" of worldwide Austrian-economics scholarship and libertarian philosophy, I mean it literally looks like a home. A really big home.

Which is a good thing! The Mises Institute has character and warmth. Rooms with disparate uses on each of the three floors are wrapped around each other; the hallways and stairways are like so many tunnels between them rather than following the sterile, repetitious floor plan of a modern office or college lecture hall. Corridors and rooms alike are adorned with sculptures, pictures, and paintings relevant to the history and culture of the Austrian economics community.

The grounds are well kept and clean. Along one side of the building is a terraced garden area resembling something like a quarter-odeon, where I am told lectures are given in nice weather and Mises U students enjoy projecting favorite films up onto the building's walls at night. There are a few simple fountains to add a sense of calm and tranquility with their gently bubbling sounds. Along the opposite side is a large, shaded outdoor gathering area where group lunches and dinners are held.

The libraries are well stocked with texts both friendly to and critical of the Austrian framework. While the third-floor library is more quiet, academic, confined, and reminiscent of a traditional archive, the first-floor library is more open, inviting, and comfortable. I found it hard to get away from my favorite seat in one of the two reclining leather armchairs in front of the fireplace where a picture of Mises sits over the mantle. Nearby, the bookstore beckons to anyone who wasn't already enchanted enough with the library, tempting them to spend their savings on the spot in a mad dash to acquire fresh copies of all the Austrian classics and new releases alike.

And everyone that works at the institute is just so nice. They are more than happy to show you around, they're always asking if you need anything, and they make great local concierges in a pinch if you care to find something good to eat nearby and don't know where to go. It's not like a stuffy think tank or college where many people and areas are off-limits to the uncredentialed or the "insignificant." You can wander around the institute to your heart's content and no one will ever ask you what you're doing.

Want to drop by the office of Doug French, president of the Mises Institute, just to say hello? The door is always open. Want to see what Jeffrey Tucker, media and technology guru of the Mises Institute, is busy with? Interrupt him at will, and rather than having him tell you off, you'll probably find yourself an hour later still standing with him in his doorway talking about his latest strategic vision for disseminating more and better information about Austrian economics to the world, all free of charge.

The Mises Institute feels like someone's home. You're always welcome. People appreciate your passionate desire to discuss Austrian economics and philosophy. For those who never knew it in college or afterward, the Mises Institute offers an authentic and collegial intellectual community.

Secret 2: The Mises Institute provides you with an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Early Sunday morning, before most of the Mises U students arrived, I found myself sitting around the table in the second-floor conference room, surrounded by my fellow chapter organizers from SOLE, recent acquaintances from the United States and the rest of the world, and portraits of some of the original Austrian scholars — like Menger, Hayek, and Rothbard — who had come before us.

One by one these travelers from across the country and world stood up, introduced themselves, and shared a bit about their hunger for liberty and the steps they're taking to achieve individual greatness. Those assembled had all declared themselves dedicated to taking the collected wisdom and intellectual technology developed by original thinkers like Mises and Rothbard and putting it into daily practice. We realized that these wise, ferociously courageous theorists had figured out the "why" for all of us, and now we had the opportunity to demonstrate the "how" to ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world.

As entrepreneurs and social practitioners, we have the unique opportunity and vision to take the intellectual heritage of our Austrian forefathers and use it to construct the free society of tomorrow. Sharing our strategies and ideas in local coffee shops and hotel meeting rooms as we typically do back home is all well and good, but coming together at the Mises Institute itself drives the point home even further that these principled men of the mind made it possible for us to be principled men (and women) of action.

Secret 3: Somewhere in the library of the Mises Institute sits a copy of Keynes's General Theory once owned by Rothbard, covered in his doodles and margin notes.

Okay, this secret was shared with me by a correspondent, and unfortunately I was not able to verify it myself during my visit despite searching in earnest. It's possible I missed it or that it may have been checked out. It's also possible that the margin notes are completely illegible. Jeffrey Tucker advised me that the Mises Institute possessed a draft of what would've been volume five of Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty, but Rothbard's handwriting was miserable, and because the manuscript was never typewritten, it probably won't ever make it to print.

To me, the value in locating a treasure like this is not to sit in awe and worship it as some sacred relic of a holy amongst holies. Instead, I sought it out as confirmation of the fact that Rothbard wasn't a god; he was another mortal man, like you and me, and he didn't just will his intellectual brilliance into his voluminous books, essays, and other writings. He had to work — hard — at developing his own ideas and criticisms, culling them from his various research sources and adding to them his own thoughts and interpretations. A Rothbard-annotated copy of Keynes, for example, is an encouraging reminder that all men, even talented ones, must purposefully employ their reason if they hope to attain true knowledge.

Consider this a secret you might confirm yourself one day with a visit to the institute.

Secret 4: Mises University is an A-list production, and it attracts talented, passionate, highly intelligent young people from all over the world who are eager to spend part of their valuable summer vacation sitting around learning!

I don't think it's much of a secret — at least not among those familiar with the institute — that the once-a-year, week-long collection of seminars and events known as Mises University is the place to be for anyone interested in learning more about Austrian economics and libertarian philosophy and sharing that interest with others.

What I think is less well known, verging on a potential secret, is the truly amazing quality of the individual students this event attracts. I didn't even get to stay for the whole event (I came in late on the Friday night before and left around noon the following Monday) and I am still in a state of shock and awe in regard to the personalities I came across.

For example, I met a young man from Germany who is currently living a "libertarian jet-setter" life, traveling around the world making connections and soaking up knowledge and experience from different people, places, and cultures, all while helping to coordinate a European chapter of Students for Liberty. In addition, he is preparing to begin a graduate program where he will study under Austrian money and banking theory master Jesus Huerta de Soto.

I met a young woman from Illinois who has recently graduated from her homeschool and is not only on her second tour of Mises U but has managed to publish her own liberty-themed WWII-era novel. Back home she recently started a job in which her boss became so impressed with her reasoning and self-responsible manner that he hired two people based on her recommendation and has essentially made her the office manager. She was visiting the institute with an older family friend who is so enraptured with this young person and her irresistible ideas that she is now something of a Mises Institute fanatic herself.

I met another young man from England who is doing a summer fellowship at the Mises Institute, working on what he calls a monograph that will not only integrate disparate elements of monetary theory by various classic Austrian theorists but, he hopes, will also result in his own original contribution to monetary theory as it relates to financial markets.

These are just a few of the many bright, motivated young torchbearers for liberty and sound economic reasoning I met that weekend. Here is the case for optimism. These people are taking Mises's dictum that ideas move society seriously. They're living their lives according to their knowledge and principles and fearlessly sharing their beliefs with others. They're leading, and convincing, by example.

It is hard not to be happy when surrounded by a crowd of these youthful doers (and thinkers), knowing that Mises University provides them a forum where they can be further enlightened and energized so they can shine the light of reason into the deepest, darkest corners of our statist planet.

Secret 5: The Mises Institute needs your help.

This is the final secret I will share from my trip. In my mind, it's also the most puzzling and maddening one. Keep in mind, I am not a paid sponsor, nor am I a secret agent or a plant for the Mises Institute. I am speaking from the heart on this.

I was positively flabbergasted to learn of the shoestring budget the Mises Institute operates on annually. I had no idea that the institute pulls together funding for each special event and presentation, such as its various Mises Circles, and even Mises University, on an individual basis. I did not know that the institute does not have some massive private endowment and that they have far more projects and ideas than they have funding for currently.

Case in point: this year's Mises University. While it was an outstanding event that provided a lot of young people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn, share, and grow, a lot of eager people got left behind. Did you know that the 2011 Mises U saw record attendance of 221 students, but that this was all they could accept out of a total application pool of 400?

That's nearly 200 young people that didn't get to learn about Austrian epistemology and ethics, the methodology of praxeology, the history of the struggle for individual freedom in economic thought, the philosophy of nonviolence and peaceful, voluntary exchange with growing wealth and prosperity for all. Hopefully those people, and others, were catered to by the ongoing outreach efforts of Mises.org and got to enjoy live broadcasts of many of the speeches and seminars this year. But in not being able to attend due to funding limitations, many missed out on what could've been a transformative life experience.

That's just a rotten shame.

All the criminals and bandits and villainous scum out there — the politicians and their paid-for academic apologists, the connected capitalist cronies, and the bureaucratic legions munching down our stolen wealth as so much pig swill at the federal and state troughs — don't seem to have any trouble finding millions upon billions of dollars to fund their various think tanks and captured universities and research centers. But one of the few beacons of truth and consistent reason in the world, the Mises Institute, working 24 hours a day to spread the knowledge and intellectual technology of the free market and individual liberty, can't even find the money to host all 400 applicants for its week-long summer program?

Come on!

Part of the reason for this is that the Mises Institute is 100 percent privately funded — it refuses, on principle, to take any money or grants that are or might possibly have been tainted by connection to the state. And it is good that the Mises Institute doesn't flout its own principles in the name of spreading its principles.

But it is positively baffling that there are not enough freedom lovers in this country, or the world, to at least help 400 young knights of liberty find their intellectual arms and armor in the Auburn summer.

My friends and I at the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs have recently issued the challenge to our members and acquaintances to take our liberty advocacy seriously — to live our principles in a purposeful manner every day. One way to do this is to put our money where our mouth is. We've encouraged our attendees to consider putting at least 1 percent of their net, after-tax income toward achieving personal freedom on a monthly basis. After all, the cretins who control us are spending a lot more than that every month trying to keep us all enslaved.

Of course, nobody is obligated to do anything for personal freedom or for the Mises Institute. That's one of the great things (though frustrating in this case) about our philosophical credo. That being said, if you've been a beneficiary of the Mises Institute — if you've had your eyes opened, the fallacious chains of your previous mental prison torn asunder, your life transformed for the better in a powerful, meaningful way — maybe you should consider what kind of an effect it might have on your world if you helped provide the same opportunity for others.

It's not about giving back. You haven't "taken" anything and you needn't feel guilty of what you have received. Rather, it's about ensuring that those who want to receive — those who can transform the world with this knowledge and these tools — have the continued and expanding opportunity to do so.

The Mises Institute works ceaselessly to promote an individualist, rational, proliberty philosophy that we all benefit from. Unfortunately, it is not a profit-generating business, and so it cannot support itself without some help. We cannot all be politicians and academics. If we want to continue to enjoy the fruits of institutions like the Mises Institute, those of us who are out there "doing" in the world and putting these ideas into practice, entrepreneurs and employees alike, will have to make the voluntary choice to do what we can to help the institute get its work done.

Some secrets should never be told. These, however, are secrets worth sharing. If this post was your first introduction to the Mises Institute, I hope it has inspired you to take a closer look and get more familiar with the Mises Institute and Austrian economics. If you're a long-time learner, I hope you'll consider spreading the message more urgently and earnestly than before. No one is coming to save us and no one is waiting in the wings to deliver liberty to all of us.

If we want to live in a free society, we'll have to build it (and advertise its merits) ourselves.

This article was first published at EconomicPolicyJournal.com, August 1, 2011.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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