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Adventures in Energy Economics

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Tags EducationFree Markets

06/27/2013Robert P. Murphy

I am pleased to announce that on July 2 we begin my new Mises Academy online class titled “Adventures in Energy Economics.” This will be a five-week course for only $59 that will cover the economic treatment of depletable natural resources, pollution, and climate change, as well as the current public policy debate. The course naturally will focus on an entrepreneurial, property-rights, Austrian perspective, but the standard mainstream views will be accurately presented. All reading materials will be provided and are included in the course fee. After the five-week course, the student will have a solid command of some of the major issues in energy economics and will be able to handle typical objections to laissez-faire capitalism coming from an environmentalist perspective.

The Scope of the Course

The weekly lectures will run from July 2 through July 30. The first week will address the question, “Will we run out of energy?” We will cover the standard mainstream treatment (based on the classic article by Harold Hotelling) and then see the weakness in this perspective, because it fails to account for the role of entrepreneurship. To see the “optimistic” Austrian take, we will cover selections from Julian Simon and Robert Bradley, arguably the world’s leading Austrian expert on energy economics, who chose Murray Rothbard to oversee his dissertation on the U.S. experience with oil and gas regulation.

In week two we will cover the libertarian property rights framework of environmental issues as laid out in the classic article by Murray Rothbard. We will also mention some of Walter Block’s contributions in this area. Contrary to popular belief, “free market environmentalism” is not a contradiction in terms. In fact, the worst ecological basket cases in history occurred under strong centralized States.

In the third and fourth weeks we will focus on my specialty (which I have developed over the past 6 years in my role as Senior Economist at the Institute for Energy Research), which is the economics of climate change. We’ll first get a broad overview of the physical science, but then focus on the economic issues involved, such as the role of the discount rate, the nature of the (alleged) damage estimates, and a comparison of a carbon tax versus a “cap and trade” approach. As always in my Academy classes, we will cover the conventional textbook approach, before listing criticisms of the typical case for a penalty on carbon to correct the “negative externality” of greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, in the fifth week we will put the theory aside and discuss the real-world policy debates on energy issues, as I have testified before Congress and toured several states during a “bus tour for affordable energy.” After slogging through some of the technical details in previous weeks, this lecture will consist of fun anecdotes, including my (subtle) attempt to push Dennis Kucinich to end the Fed.

Structure of the Course

In a typical week of the course, I will give a live video broadcast on Tuesday from 5:30–7:00pm Eastern time. I will spend the first 75 minutes lecturing on that week’s material, and then I will field questions from students for the remaining fifteen minutes. In addition, on a typical Saturday I will have “office hours” at a varying time of day (in order to cater to different students each week), meaning that I will be available on a live video broadcast to answer questions from any students who tune in.

Note that the Saturday sessions are purely for the students’ convenience, and are not mandatory. Also, all broadcasts will be recorded and available to enrolled students, so that people who have a scheduling conflict can still take the class if they wish.

If a student wishes, he or she can simply “audit” the class. This has been a popular option for adults who can watch the lectures, but because of other demands, can’t keep up with the readings.

Students may also take the class for a grade. Students will take a multiple-choice quiz each week, in addition to a final exam which will also be multiple choice but cover the entire course in greater detail. Although the Mises Institute is not accredited, we will present certificates of completion and a formal grade at the end of the class to those students who desire it. Homeschooling parents in particular may decide that their child will receive excellent instruction on this crucial issue of energy economics.


Energy permeates every aspect of the modern economy, and it is thus no coincidence that the government seeks to regulate it in various ways. The latest assault comes in the guise of restricting greenhouse gas emissions so as to slow climate change. In this course, the student will learn the true history of governments versus property rights when it comes to environmental stewardship, and will also receive an excellent introduction to the economics of climate change.

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