Faculty Spotlight Interview: Paul Cwik
Paul F. Cwik is currently an Associate Professor of Economics in the department of management and human resources at Mount Olive College. He earned a B.A. from Hillsdale College, Michigan, an M.A. from Tulane University in Louisiana, and a Ph.D. from Auburn University in Alabama. He has taught classes at several colleges and universities such as Auburn University, Campbell University and Walsh College. He has presented academic papers to the Southern Economic Association, the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, the Prague Conference on Political Economy and at the Austrian Scholars Conferences. He has been published in academic journals that include: The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, New Perspectives on Political Economy: A Bilingual Interdisciplinary Journal, and Business Ethics: A European Review. He is also a reviewer of essays in Economic and Business History and The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He has also published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
With two small children, there isn’t much free time in my life. However, I do enjoy swing dancing. I have been doing it for about ten years now. For a while I was a part of a competitive team called the MAD Hoppers. We did alright for a bunch of 30-somethings practicing in our spare time. Today, it is just a hobby that I try to get out to do once a week.
What drew you to the Austrian school and to the Ludwig von Mises Institute?
I didn’t really have much choice in the matter, for I have always been an Austrian economist. I attended Hillsdale College in the late-1980s / early-1990s. My principle teacher there was Richard Ebeling and he was absolutely instrumental in forming how I think about economic questions. At that time George Roche was the President of Hillsdale. I was fortunate to have taken a senior seminar class with him. There were the annual Ludwig von Mises Lecture series and Hillsdale also houses Mises’ personal library from when he lived in the US. (His European library and papers were confiscated by the Germans and then the Russians.) I was at Hillsdale when Ebeling discovered the lost papers in Moscow. It was a very exciting time to be an Austrian.
When I was a sophomore at Hillsdale, Richard Ebeling encouraged me to apply and attend the Mises Institute’s Mises University. It was held at Stanford University in 1990. I met Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, Joe Salerno, David Gordon and many others that first year. I was fortunate to be able to return in 1991 and take the more advanced Austrian lectures. These were great times. The lectures were deep. The
evenings were full of debate and song. Yes, song. I remember singing old World War I anthems with Rothbard one evening.
When I graduated from Hillsdale, I enrolled in Tulane University’s Ph.D. program. They offered me so much money, I couldn’t say, “No.” I soon learned that it was a big mistake. The other students had no love for Austrian economics. In fact, they knew nothing of it. Furthermore, most of my classmates were from China and while they were good at the math, they cared very little for economics. They barely knew who Adam
Smith was or what he said. It was based on my love of Austrian economics and the Mises Institute that I left Tulane University and transferred to Auburn University. It was under Roger Garrison and Leland Yeager that I earned my Ph.D.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
My mentor is Richard Ebeling. He is brilliant. I can ask him almost any question and he will usually know the answer. He has a library that fills his house. There are books everywhere. The scary thing is not that he owns them, but he has read them, all of them. The scarier thing is that he can almost instantly recall whatever he has read and usually quote you what the author said and the page number!
This past summer, I was lecturing at FEE and we, four faculty members, went to dinner on the last evening. Of course some economic topic came up and I told the story of Richard Cantillon. I talked about the several theories of his death and the way in which the manuscript eventually got published. One of others looked at me and asked (indignantly), “How can you remember all that? Who do you think you are, Richard
Ebeling?” I took it as a high compliment.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Mises is also a hero to me. He was one of the best economists in Europe and then he had to literally start over. After fleeing Europe from the Nazis, he arrives in the U.S. in August 1940, a month before his 59th birthday, and he has no career, not much of a reputation, few job prospects, and a wife to support.
I can only hope that I can accomplish a portion of what he did even though I face far fewer obstacles.
Your recent article was on the futility of social security. The upcoming GOP Congress has again promised to “privatize” social security. Do you hold out hope for this promise and if not what advice could you give for the average individual?
I am actually fairly pessimistic about the short-run and near term future. I think that politicians, as a group, will always compromise to take the path of least resistance. Everyone knows that social security is an impending disaster, but what will be done? Very little. The social security recipients are not going to give up their checks. The working populace is not going to put up with higher taxes. There is only so much money the government can borrow without exploding interest rates.
So what is the course of least resistance? Money creation. The government is able to create an infinite amount of money out of a big black hole of nothingness. Government has given itself this power and it is a terrible and awesome power. Money creation is at the center of so many of our economic ills that it is no wonder that Mises in the 1950s and ’60s spent so much time discussing inflation and tirelessly warning of its
So the question is how best to avoid the negative inflationary effects. The best thing one could do is to be the first one to get the newly created money. So the government is the biggest winner. Then those who have the big, fat government contracts are the next big winners. As the money is diffused through the economy, the benefits turn into harms. Prices start to rise while many people have not yet received the new money. For
those people, their real wealth falls. Those on fixed incomes are hurt the most, closely followed by those with long term contracts.
Rothbard categorized citizens into two classes: net tax-payers and net tax-consumers. The first group pays more to the government than gets out of it and the second group gets more than it pays. If you are a part of the first group, you will want to become a part of the second. This is only natural. However, think about what this does to the long-term sustainability of our economy, our country and our way of life. It is for these reasons that I am pessimistic. As everyone tries to become a net tax-consumer, the system collapses.
However, I also know that since this is an untenable situation, and things must change, it can change for the better. Economic laws cannot be overridden by legislation. As a result, I am optimistic in the long-term. The free market always (eventually) finds a way around even the craziest rules and regulations. I suppose that to be a long-term optimist,it helps to have the truth on your side.
Do you have any new works on the way?
I am working on several things right now. I have been working on a series of articles all focusing on different aspects of the Business Cycle. My hope is to get them individually published and then to combine them into a useable introduction to Austrian business cycle theory. I would like it to be a supplement for principles and intermediate level teachers to use in the classroom along side the standard Macroeconomic textbooks.
I am also writing “articles” for my blog. Actually, it’s not my blog; it is Tillman School of Business’s blog which is open for any of our faculty to post. The thing is that I am the only one who is posting anything. So it is de facto, my blog. It is found here: http://tillmanspeaks.blogspot.com/
The articles I write for it are at a newspaper reading level (or maybe a little more) and are about 1200 words long. They are longer than a typical Op-ed. The most popular are my reviews of the Austrian Economics Reading Forum meetings at NC State University. In Spring 2010, we covered The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics edited by Dolan. It’s quite fun to see what was “modern” Austrian economics in 1974. This past semester (Fall 2010) we covered Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order.
What kind of impact do you hope to make with your work? What drives you to do what you do?
You are not asking easy questions. I hope that my work converts people to Austrian economics. I hope that it changes enough minds that our civilization changes direction to a society that is based upon liberty, private property and sound money. I hope that people will come to realize that a market economy is the most peaceful, most equitable, most humane system for society, that it has generated more wealth for more people than any other system, ever. It has done all of this in a relatively short period of time, just a few hundred years.
I know that my work, alone, will not come close to accomplishing this. However, if I am able to influence a few people, and if they are able to influence a few more people, we can continue to grow this movement.
I am an optimist for the long-run future. With two small children, I have to be. Life would be too miserable otherwise.
Are there any words of wisdom you wish to pass onto the next generation of Austrian scholars?
It is hard to believe that there is a generation of Austrian scholars younger than me. It seems like yesterday that I was the one in the audience listing to the professors. Twenty years have flown right by.
In these past 20 years, I have learned some things. Before marriage and kids, you have more time to read, think and write than you will for the many years that follow. (Maybe you’ll have that time again when you retire. I don’t know. Ask me in another 20 years.) For now, as an undergraduate, as a graduate student, before the responsibilities of life takes over, don’t waste your time. Read Mises and Rothbard. Read Hayek and Kirzner. Read the obscure and the well-known. Write notes in the margins as you read them. Create an idea book and list your thoughts about future papers you’d like to write. Don’t get sidetracked into thinking that you can remake the world and win every argument, but do believe that if you stay true to your principles and have an open and inquisitive mind, you can and will influence some people. And then those people will influence others, etc.
Mises was human, and he, too, would get depressed. In Notes and Recollections he said the following, “Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence for a change in ideology. But I have never allowed myself to be deceived. I have come to the realization that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.” This is a profoundly sad statement.
Then he went on to write, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, Bureaucracy, Human Action, Omnipotent Government, “Planning for Freedom,” Theory and History, and The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science and dozens of essays, articles, public speeches and so on.
So, I guess I can sum up my advice as don’t waste your time doing things that won’t bear fruit. Your writings might not be for the present. They may be for future readers. So do good work that will stand the test of time. Austrians are very good at reading the works of those who have come before us. So don’t get caught up in fads of today, and look forward to the future because we have truth on our side.