Mises U with Murray
I met Murray in 1988 and I will never forget the experience. The story begins the previous year, as I was completing my bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of North Carolina and considering pursuing a PhD. I was familiar with Murray’s writings as a semicloseted Austrian in a mainstream economics program. I had seen an advertisement for some strange group called the “Mises Institute” which was offering fellowships for graduate study in economics, and I eagerly applied. Sometime later I received a letter—it was all snail mail back in the day—saying that my application had received a favorable initial review, and that the next step was “to have a telephone interview with our Vice President for Academic Affairs.” You guessed it! A phone call with Murray was arranged. You can imagine how nervous I was the day of that interview! But Rothbard was friendly and engaging, his legendary charisma coming across even over the phone, and he quickly put me at ease. (I also applied for admission to New York University’s graduate program in economics, which got me a phone call from Israel Kirzner. Talk about the proverbial kid in the candy store!) I won the Mises fellowship, and eventually enrolled in the economics PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley, which I started in 1988.
Before my first summer of graduate school, I was privileged to attend the “Mises University,” then called the “Advanced Instructional Program in Austrian Economics,” a week-long program of lectures and discussions held that year at Stanford University and led by Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Roger Garrison, and David Gordon. Meeting Murray and his colleagues was a transformational experience. They were brilliant, energetic, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Graduate school was no cake walk—the required core courses in (mathematical) economic theory and statistics drove many students to the brink of despair, and some of them doubtless have nervous twitches to this day—but the knowledge that I was part of a larger movement, a scholarly community devoted to the Austrian approach, kept me going through the darker hours.
That week-long experience in the summer of 1988 was amazing, not just for the instructional content per se, but also for the social and informal aspects. Nearly all reminiscences of Murray note his indefatigable spirit, his incredible energy, and his humor, as well as his penchant for late-night dining, drinking, and discussion. There was plenty of that, and it was a privilege to hang out with Murray and the other faculty (though few could hang in there until the wee hours) and students. In these conversations, while Murray was the center of attention, he didn’t dominate the conversation, but asked questions, listened, and engaged. Along these lines, Murray was what people today call a “lifelong learner.” I remember one session of the conference at which one of the other faculty was presenting. Murray was in the audience and I was sitting right behind him. At one point I leaned forward and was shocked to see that he was taking copious notes. I thought, Doesn’t this guy already know everything? But no, he was paying close attention to the other speakers—themselves younger Rothbardians—hoping to pick up a few nuggets of insight, some new perspective or approach, a new interpretation, or another way of increasing his own understanding. I have tried to model that behavior in my own career.