Faculty Spotlight Interview: Thomas DiLorenzo
Thomas J. DiLorenzo is the author of The Real Lincoln and How Capitalism Saved America. A professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, he has written for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, Barron’s, and many other publications. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
If you weren’t a scholar, what do you think you would be doing for a career now? Do you have any hobbies?
If I weren’t a scholar I’d probably be a golf course manager or teaching pro, or the proprietor of a sporting goods store. My main hobbies are golf, biking, and fishing (mostly for trout).
Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspirations are Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. Both men were incredibly learned, educated themselves in many disciplines, not just economics, and were masters at applying the economics of human action to the big issues of their time — and of all time, in some cases. They were strong willed and heroic, responding to the severe ideological discrimination of academe by producing ever more brilliant books and articles. That’s why their work is still studied today — and will be tomorrow — whereas all of those academic critics/bigots are long forgotten, if anyone ever heard of them in the first place.
What attracted you to the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Austrian tradition?
I learned of the Austrian School by reading The Freeman when I was an undergraduate at Westminster College in Pennsylvania. I got even more interested in it in graduate school at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University when one of my professors, Richard Wagner, used Human Action as one of the textbooks (along with Milton Friedman’s Price Theory) during my first semester there. Professor Wagner also included a lot of Austrian literature on his syllabus. In addition, one of my other professors, James M. Buchanan, had written the well-known Austrian book, Cost and Choice, and was a “fellow traveller” of the Austrian School. I recognized immediately that the Austrians were primarily interested in understanding how the economic world works, as opposed to the mainstream, which was primarily interested in tinkering with models, even if the models had nothing to do with reality. I was rather disgusted by all the hubris of academic economists whose main objective seemed to be to show off how much math they had learned, even though they were invariably pathetic compared to real mathematicians. I was also impressed at what true scholars Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Kirzner, and other Austrians were, compared to the mainstream economists whose research topics were so often trivial and unimportant (and still are today), and their research methods so shallow. Economic historians, for example, seemed to think that one can understand economic history through a few regression equations without ever reading much of actual history.
You currently have a class at the Mises academy, can you explain its purpose and perhaps any results you are seeing within the class?
I’m teaching a five-week online class on F.A. Hayek’s classic book, The Road to Serfdom. After Glenn Beck invited our friends Tom Woods and Yuri Maltsev to appear on his television show to discuss the book, it went to #1 in sales on Amazon.com. It did so because so many people understand that the explosion of government that we are currently witnessing can lead to nothing but more tax slavery and economic depression. The Road to Serfdom is a classic warning of the dangers of Big Government. In reading it one learns not just of Hayek’s personal views, but a great deal about the entire Austrian tradition of scholarship. My purpose in the class, in which about 150 students are enrolled, is to carefully examine all of Hayek’s arguments and discuss the extent to which they are still relevant today. The students will learn a lot about Austrian economics and the entire classical liberal tradition. In addition to the book, I have assigned some online readings, such as Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition by Ludwig von Mises, and essays by Murray Rothbard, Anthony Flew, Ralph Raico, Hayek himself, and other classical liberal scholars. It’s a thrill for me to teach a class in which the students are there solely for the purpose of learning about Austrian economics, and not just to get their educational ticket punched, as is the case these days with most college students. One student commented on the live chat that “The quizzes are hard, but I am determined to learn this stuff!”
Any future works that fans of your work should know about?
As for future works, I’m writing a book tentatively titled “False Virtue: The Myths That Transformed America From a Republic to an Empire.” After the War to Prevent Southern Independence, the U.S. government is said to have possessed a “treasury of virtue.” Because of this, virtually anything it did was assumed (by the government itself) to be virtuous by virtue of the fact that it was the U.S. government doing it. This is the basis of “American exceptionalism” and is one of the ideological cornerstones of American foreign policy interventions. I’m working on exploding these myths by writing about what, exactly, the government did with all that “virtue,” beginning with its war of extermination against the Plains Indians, so-called Reconstruction, all of the scandals associated with lavish government subsidies to railroad corporations, fifty years of protectionism, the killing of 200,000 Filipinos who resisted becoming part of the American empire, and so forth.
I don’t consider myself to be old enough to offer words of “wisdom,” but I would encourage younger scholars to pay attention to the method of scholarship of Rothhbard, Mises, Hayek, and other Austrians, and to consider emulating it and improving on it. The field is wide open in areas such as American history, which has been dominated for generations by Marxists and other leftists with little or no understanding of economics. The economics profession is little better, thanks to the domination of “cliometricians” who are so often unschooled in actual history. Armed with a solid understanding of Austrian economics and the classical liberal tradition in political philosophy, there is a broad research agenda waiting for young scholars to correct the record, so to speak, and to perhaps even transform the world and make it more friendly once again to capitalism and freedom as opposed to socialism, fascism, and serfdom, which is the road we seem to be on today.