Why AERC Remains One of the Few Venues for Real Intellectuals
Starting Friday, the Mises Institute will be hosting the Austrian Economics Research Conference, an event I consider one of the highlights of the year. What makes AERC a particularly unique event is that it provides a platform for Austrian scholars—and intellectual allies—to present new, important work and to have it engaged with sincerely and honestly by other serious intellectuals. At a time when universities have become the most intolerant institutions toward intellectual freedom, environments like this have never been more important.
Another unique advantage of AERC is that it is not isolated to ivory tower academics, but instead encourages intellectual dialogue between professional scholars, businessmen, journalists, and other "vocational economists" who are interested in studying proper economics.
Joseph Salerno has noted why this is a point of pride for the event:
The AERC is very much like other academic economic conferences in format, but it does differ from almost all others in one respect. Whereas a typical economics conference is not typically amenable to non-economists, the AERC goes out of its way to welcome people working in business and finance, journalists, clergy, investors, retired persons, students, and anyone interested in learning about the latest developments in sound economics.
This distinctive feature of the AERC is neither accidental nor an arbitrary preference of the organizers. It is part of a deliberate strategy for effectuating political and economic change, developed by Ludwig von Mises.
While not every paper presented at AERC will make the same contribution to history as Ludwig von Mises’s "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth," or spark as much controversy as Salerno’s "Ludwig von Mises as Social Rationalist," the conference regularly features original and valuable contributions to Austrian economics, economic history, and political philosophy.
Some of the research is narrow in scope but provides interesting and original analysis in economics, history, and theory.
For example, in 2016 Dr. Karl-Friedrich Israel presented a fascinating piece on economic history looking at the work of Pawel Ciompa, a Polish economist who was the first to use the term “econometrics.” In the paper, Israel highlighted Ciompa’s view of economics as “descriptive,” a way of illustrating accounting. He contrasts that with the views of later economists like Ragnar Frisch, who helped establish the mainstream use of econometrics today. In doing so, the paper used an interesting piece of economic history to critique the flawed methodology of modern economics.
Other presentations feature creative and ambitious attempts to pioneer the use of an Austrian lens in other fields of social study.
Dr. Michel Accad offers an example with a paper that highlighted how an understanding of praxeology could have interesting applications in the practice of medicine. By coupling his experience as a doctor of internal medicine in California with an extensive study of the work of Mises, Accad critiqued the way contemporary medicine views “health” and argued that built-in assumptions within have contributed to the growing role of the state within healthcare. The presentation is the sort of interdisciplinary creativity that you can only get at a conference structured like AERC.
AERC’s keynote speeches have also demonstrated how a scholarly research conference can still have tremendous relevance outside the narrow world outside of academia.
For example, at AERC 2015, Patrick Byrne presented a visionary view of the potential for a financially decentralized world, and particularly the degree to which it would disrupt many of the entrenched powers in Wall Street. The following year, Paul Gottfried paid tribute to Murray Rothbard in an address focusing on the authoritarian nature of political correctness. In 2019, Daniel Ajamian provided a brilliant and powerful revisionist look at the Enlightenment, questioning the very intellectual foundations of classical liberalism.
As is the case with any intellectually stimulating event, the works presented at the conference often draw debate as much as they do consensus—benefiting from an environment that allows for a genuine and honest dialogue.
With the growing understanding by intellectuals on the right for the need for better institutions to help cultivate the talent necessary to build and sustain a great civilization, the Austrian Economics Research Conference should be recognized as one of the few existing venues promoting real and serious scholarship. Now more than ever, we need events (held in person) like AERC.
I’m eager to see what the conference this year will bring.