Faculty Spotlight Interview: Shawn Ritenour
Shawn Ritenour is Professor of Economics at Grove City College and adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He earned a B. A. in economics from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and a Ph.D. in economics from Auburn University. He has held the Ruby Letsch-Roderique Chair of Economics at Southwest Baptist University and has served as visiting professor at the University of Angers in France. He has contributed to 15 Great Austrian Economists and A Noble Calling and has been published in American Journal of Economics and Sociology and The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. His editorials have appeared in periodicals such as The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of one book, Foundations of Economics.
What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
I spend time with my family. We are subscribers to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra so I attend concerts often. I like to read history, literature, and theology when I get the chance. We also like to watch classic cinema, mostly from the Hollywood studio era. I like to cook when I can. My life improved immensely when Jeff Tucker introduced me to Cooks Illustrated magazine. I serve our church as an elder which requires a significant time commitment. I have recently been spending a fair amount of time on my new blog http://foundationsofecon.blogspot.com/.
What drew you to the Austrian school and to the Ludwig von Mises Institute?
As a sophomore economics major in college, I bought a copy of Mises’ Human Action through the old Conservative Book Club and began reading it on my own. I was immediately impressed and quickly found Mises’ exposition of the foundations of economic analysis thoroughly compelling. His rooting economics in real human action solidly confirmed for me that economics was something worth pursuing as a vocation. I was convinced that praxeology was the way to do economics and then began reading more and more Mises. I found Human Action pretty stiff going in parts, so I checked out the collection of essays Planning for Freedom from our school’s library and read through them in my spare time. One of my college professors introduced me to the Mises Institute by giving me a few issues of The Free Market. When I decided to pursue graduate studies in economics, it was natural for me to apply to Auburn University because of its economics program’s close proximity to and relationship with the Mises Institute.
Who is your greatest inspiration?
That is hard to say. Many people have inspired me in different ways. The hard work my Dad endured in a meat packing plant for 20 years and then as a sole proprietor selling barbecue for the sake of he and his family is a great example to me. I’ve always been drawn to people who have accomplished tremendous things against tremendous odds as a result of staying true to their convictions. That is why I’ve always found the example of J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, inspiring. Certainly Ludwig von Mises has been my greatest inspiration as I approached my calling in economics. Every time I read his intellectual memoir, Notes and Recollections I am encouraged to be a better economist, scholar, and teacher. I thought and felt the same way while reading Hulsmann’s tremendous Mises: the Last Knight of Liberalism.
You have a work coming out called Foundations of Economics, can you explain what your work is centered on?
It is an introductory economics treatise that develops economics in a Misesian, praxeological framework. When Rothbard set out to write, Man, Economy, and State, his original goal was to write an introductory work that sort of “boiled down” Mises’ Human Action in a way that made sound economics more accessible to more people. I took that approach with the intention of writing a book that provides a very readable and clear introduction to economics from the ground up. Anyone who reads it will see repeatedly that I draw heavily on Mises and Rothbard.
At the same time, I wanted to demonstrate that developing economics within a praxeological framework is thoroughly compatible with Christian doctrine as it relates to creation, man, and ethics.
What kind of impact do you hope to make with your work?
I hope that whoever reads it will have a good understanding of the reality of basic economic laws and how they apply to various economic problems with which we are challenged. I also hope to dispel the myth that good economics is somehow antithetical to Christian doctrine. Many Christians unfortunately find the free market suspect for various reasons. I hope that by reading my work, they will begin to take seriously the idea that economic law is part of the created order and hence, must be embraced and reconciled with Christian ethics.
Are there any words of wisdom you wish to pass onto the next generation of Austrian scholars?
I am afraid any words of wisdom I might offer sound pretty trite. Pursue the truth and do honest scholarship. Read as much as you can. Be passionate about your vocation, but do not let emotions that stem from ideology overwhelm your ability to do good scholarship. One thing my professor Leland Yeager told me that has always stuck with me is that an economist’s first job is to get the analysis straight. It is not to be a cheerleader. Before successfully offering pronouncements on policy, a good scholar must correctly understand the economic theory that applies to the case at hand.