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Good Ideas Are Key in the War Against Bad Ideas

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Tags History of the Austrian School of Economics

10/05/2018

Writing decades ago, Friedrich Hayek observed: “In all democratic countries … a strong belief prevails that the influence of the intellectuals on politics is negligible.”

Hayek conceded this was true to “the extent to which they can sway the popular vote on questions on which they differ from the current views of the masses,” but he warned that “over somewhat longer periods they have probably never exercised so great an influence as they do today. … This power they wield by shaping public opinion.”

Today, the role of intellectuals is more recognized, at least in the role of educators at schools and colleges, in shaping the ideology of the general public.

But the power of these intellectuals extends beyond even the schools. Indeed, it is impossible to turn to any institution, it seems, where people in positions of leadership do not push for greater and greater government control over our lives. The institutions permeated with these ideas include seemingly most cultural, educational, commercial, and religious institutions.

This is not an accident. The general public has been deeply affected over the decades by what Hayek calls “the professional secondhand dealers in ideas” who have ensured that anyone who comes into contact with these institutions are “educated” in the importance of modern interventionist ideology.

After all, as Hayek noted, “socialism has never and nowhere been at first a working-class movement.” Instead, it has long been the domain of artists, managers, school teachers, and religious leaders who continually insert these ideas into the daily lives of those under their influence.

Many opponents of socialism and interventionism often mistakenly assume that these ideas can be stopped at the political level — that if some lobbyists and political activists are employed, then the political system will be protected from bad ideas.

But by that stage of the game, it is already far too late.

Bad Ideologies Precede Bad Politics

In a democratic country, socialist and interventionist ideas gain traction only when they are supported — or at least tolerated — by a sizable portion of the general public. And how is the acceptance of these ideas manufactured? By years of opinion-shaping pushed by intellectuals in the cultural and educational institutions.

But how to confront these ideas?

The answer lies in countering bad economics with good economics, and by offering an accurate view of history in place of a false one.

After all, when it comes to history, we’ve all been relentlessly taught in school — and virtually everywhere else — that the history of the world shows us that capitalism and industrialization result in exploited workers, grinding poverty, and environmental pollution. And it is only through government intervention and regulation that these problems can be solved.

A more honest and accurate view of history, though, shows this is not true. In real life, capitalism and industrialization have led to unprecedented increases in the standard of living and the quality of life.

But where will people encounter this history? Certainly not in the schools, or in popular films, or on television.

With economics, the problem is similar. The public is constantly confronted with the idea that economic laws do not exist and that economic prosperity requires only the will to have government command that everyone becomes wealthier.

So long as this idea persists unchallenged, little can be done to advance true economic prosperity.

People's Political Agendas Reflect Their Views of History and Economics

And that, of course, is where the Mises Institute comes in.

We support scholars who offer a different view to what nearly everyone encounters nearly every day at school or in popular media. We offer a program of Austrian economics, freedom, and peace — and its something few are likely to encounter anywhere else.

With history, we support historians who write and teach the economic history and political history necessary to show that the history of capitalism is not what we’ve been told. Without good history to counter bad history, world views won’t change.

With economics, we support economists who write and teach sound economics which seeks to understand how markets work, and how government intervention in markets impoverishes us. Without good economics to counter bad economics, world views won’t change.

Support for good history and sound economics takes many forms: through our Fellows program, the Rothbard Graduate Seminar, Mises University, and through the mutual support shared by our students and scholars. The result is a global network of college faculty, school teachers, writers, and scholars who offer a worldview very different from what is pushed every day in schools and media.

Their scholarship is constantly being expanded, taught, and explored worldwide through countless online books and articles — freely available at mises.org — and in the classroom with historians and economists who have worked with us and taught with us over the years.

And we’re making progress. When Hayek was writing, he was a voice nearly alone in the wilderness. His ideas were being eclipsed. Few like-minded scholars could be found. Virtually no institution was interested in the scholarship of freedom and free markets.

Today, our books and articles reach a global audience. Our scholars teach at universities worldwide. Meanwhile, mises.org is visited by millions of readers each year. Not only is it possible to find honest history and sound economics if one looks for it — but even those who aren’t looking increasingly find themselves confronted with these ideas, whether from a friend or an educator.

You can help us make this movement even bigger. Please support our Fall Campaign donation drive today.

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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