Veritas et Libertas

My Journey to Discover Truth and Liberty

Tag: Mises Institute (page 1 of 7)

A Brief Update

The last couple months have been pretty busy as I finished up my Gadfly of Serenity paper for the MPCA/ACA conference that took place in early October. The conference was really interesting and the presentation of my paper went well! The version here on my site is the full essay, I had to do some heavy editing to get it condensed for the 20 minutes of time allotted for me during the panel.  And in the absence of a proper blog post, I’ll just give a quick update as to what I’m doing now.

I am currently developing an economics curriculum for Schoolhouse Teachers, an online resource for homeschool families. The course is scheduled to begin in November and run for 6 months. I am excited to be doing such a large economics project!

I’ve also resurrected the Rockford Mises Circle of a few years ago. If you live in the Rockford area and are interested in getting together with other libertarians/voluntaryists, send me a message and I’ll give you more details. We meet once a month, I spend 20-25 minutes talking about Austrian economic theory, then a friend of mine shares some practical ideas about living out the philosophy of liberty, and we just chat about whatever for the rest of the evening.

I also stay busy with some tutoring, editing, and consulting at Rockford ID Shop. Next week I’ll start doing some web consulting/marketing for someone.

But lest you think I do nothing but work…I’ve somehow found time to finally watch all the Batman movies, both Captain America movies, and some episodes from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And I’ve been keeping up with Doctor Who, season 8. My weakness is definitely sci-fi TV! : ) I’ve also enjoyed reading some good fiction recently, such as, Lord of the Flies, Starship Troopers, Sister Carrie, and East of Eden. Last week I went to a Gray Havens concert with some friends, and next Tuesday I am going to see Bastille!!! If you know me at all, you know that Bastille is one of my top 5 favorite bands, so I am very excited to see them in concert!

And that’s it for now. Now that my essay is done, I hope to get back to doing more blogging, but it might be a little while before my schedule slows down enough for that.

 

Highlights from Mises University 2014

For new readers, Mises U is a week-long summer economics program hosted by the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. The conference covers theoretical and applied economics, with lectures covering topics such as epistemology, entrepreneurship, comparative economic systems, political economy, and the history of economic ideas. To see the schedule and recorded lectures, visit this page.

This was my third year at Mises U. I attended in 2010 and 2011, then went to the AERC (formerly ASC) for the past two years, and decided it was time for Mises U again. I remember seeing posts about Mises U 2013 last summer and just feeling like I was missing an amazing experience. So I resolved to be there in 2014, so I would not have another year of regret. And in the official econ terminology, I definitely felt a psychic profit! : ) I wanted to share some of my thoughts on Mises U, so I’ll first discuss some of the things I learned and the intellectual benefits, and then finish by just talking about what it was like to attend Mises U.

Firstly…there is nothing that compares to Mises University in its depth and scope of economic teaching. There is no other place where you can spend a week sitting under the teaching of the best Austrian economists in the world. There is no other place where you can complete 37 class hours in such a wide field of economic theory and application. It is the most intellectually stimulating event in the world. I will qualify that by noting that it is a subjective statement, and so I must concede that others might find different events more stimulating, but I am very confident that for myself, this is the very best in the world.

For the first day and a half, all the students attend the same classes. This ensures that everyone has heard the fundamental concepts of Austrian economics and know the underlying principles of everything else. In the terminology of classical education, I would consider this to be the “grammar” stage of economics. For the next few days, there are concurrent sessions, and this allows students to focus in on topics of particular interest. For example, I love David Gordon and his teaching on praxeology, so I attended his lecture on Apriorism and Positivism in the Social Sciences…a topic that is somewhat obscure, but of interest to some. My roommate is studying energy economics, so she went to the classes that dealt with this area. I think this corresponds, at least partially, to the dialectic stage of classical education. And then the oral exams at the end of the week line up nicely with the rhetorical stage. Having just attended a conference on classical education, I guess it is no surprise that I would see an overlap!

I found it interesting that of the three years of attending, this was the first year I took really good notes. I think it is because of all the MOOC classes I’ve taken recently, I have developed better note-taking habits…and this turned out to be very useful as I’ll later explain! Despite having heard some of this material before, I learned so much, even from the basic lectures. There were concepts that I had just not grasped in previous years that suddenly made sense now. I had gone into it knowing I would certainly learn a lot, but I guess I did not realize how much I would gain, even in areas that I thought I knew pretty well. So it was a good reminder that we are truly never done learning!

While I recommend you listen to all the lectures from Mises U, I suspect that’s rather unrealistic for most people, so I’ll share a few of my top recommendations.

Tom Woods on The Four Things the State is Not 

Tom Woods deftly and humorously does away with common myths of the state. He demonstrates that there is really no reason why we should want the state to exist. So if you sometimes think, or hear, things like, “but the state is just doing the best it can,” or “the state is here to solve our problems,”…you need to listen to this lecture.

Guido Hulsmann on The Cultural Consequences of Fiat Money (at the 1:20:00 mark)  

Guido Hulsmann uses economic principles to show the disastrous effects of fiat money inflation. I found this intriguing because he does not start with value judgements (“this is bad” or “this is good”) but refers only to praxeological and economic concepts to explain how fiat currency changes the culture. He answers questions like, “why don’t people save up for a house instead of borrowing money?”  and explains why it is that our society does not not—and will not—easily abandon our fiat monetary system.

Timothy Terrell on Common Objections to Capitalism 

Timothy Terrell debunks many myths about the free market and capitalistic system. These myths include things like, capitalism exploits the poor, capitalism doesn’t make you happy, or capitalism doesn’t support the arts or science. It is just a very clear and compelling case for why the free market is the best economic system for achieving wealth, equality, and cultural advancements.

Secondly, I will share some pictures and just talk about the experience of Mises U overall. It was, frankly, just amazing. As my friends know, I had some misgivings about it because I would be staying in a dorm room, with a roommate, and would have a lot more social interaction with the other students. As an introvert, this was slightly terrifying, though it didn’t stop me from going, thankfully! My roommate was incredibly nice, and we got along very well. While the evenings at the dorm did get a little crazy sometimes, it wasn’t anything like the nightmare I had imagined, and I really did enjoy hanging out with the other attendees. Along with my roommate, there were a few other girls that I got to know throughout the week, and since there are so few girls interested in economics, I was really happy to know I am not alone : )

I also got to experience Bob Murphy’s famous karaoke on Thursday night. It had been pretty hyped up (with a promo poster and everything), and it was funny because I remember in 2010 when he made an off-hand comment about having done karaoke the night before. It was like being able to say, “I knew Bob Murphy back when he was just a famous economist…” haha.

A few faithful Firefly fans finally were able to watch a couple episodes one evening (this was after about 2 hours of technical difficulties, discussions of what movie to watch, and talking through the show) and I was pretty happy about that. There’s nothing like Firefly for a group of libertarians, haha! Another night we watched V for Vendetta, which was my first time seeing it.

On Thursday night there was a written prelim exam for the Mündlich Prüfung, an optional oral exam. Having not studied at all, I figured I would just take the exam for fun, but that there was no chance I’d pass. I didn’t pass in 2010 and 2011 when I did actually study, so I was not expecting anything more. But on Friday morning when the list of students who passed was released, I discovered that I had somehow passed. I spent the rest of the day trying not to panic about the impending oral exam. I take any kind of exam or test way too seriously, so I probably could have done without some of the panicking, but at least it did give me the extra boost of adrenaline to stay awake and alert through every remaining lecture. I was very grateful for the copious notes I had taken, because without that I would have no place to start with studying for the orals. On Friday night I participated in (or rather, commanded over, as my control freak tendencies got the best of me) a study group with a few other students. Using my notes, we made a list of concepts and terms to cover, and then spent several hours asking each other questions. It was a very good experience because it forced me to do more work than I would have otherwise. I would not have necessarily memorized the qualities of a common medium of exchange or memorized the assumptions of the perfect competition model, so regardless of anything else, it was a great learning experience. I also really enjoyed being able to study with others. I am so used to being on my own—which works most of the time, but isn’t ideal for practicing for an oral exam—that I just liked being able to hang out with other people while studying.

While the late-night studying was necessary, it did leave us a little sleep-deprived on Saturday morning. When I am unusually tired, I become more emotional, so I spent the day trying not cry over the thought that it was the last day at Mises U. Anyways…I took the oral exam. It was pretty intense and definitely revealed some areas where I need to study more, since there were some concepts I was unsure about. However, I walked away knowing that I had truly done my best, and I was happy with that.

Later that evening the awards and certificates were handed out, and I discovered that I had passed the  Mündlich Prüfung. After having overanalyzed my orals, I figured that I had definitely not passed, so this was an unexpected announcement!

There were about 150 students at Mises U, and 64 of those students had taken the prelim written exam. 28 students passed the prelim. And out of those, 12-15 students passed the Mündlich Prüfung. There were 6 who went on to the next round to vie for first, second, and third place. The winners were Summer Fellows who have obviously studied all of this much more intensively, so I figure that if I apply for a fellowship another year, I’ll try for the  Mündlich Prüfung again, but for right now I am really happy to have passed…it was a really great accomplishment to wrap up Mises U 2014!

Some pictures now…

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cert

 

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Needed a picture with the new Mises sign. The girl to my left was my roommate : )

 

 

 

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A collage of photos from David Gordon’s lecture on praxeology

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Tom Woods and Andrew Widener at chess. I think chess is the game of Austrian economists.

 

 

Emily, Megan, and me chilling with Rothbard

Emily, Megan, and me chilling with Rothbard

 

group photo

Mises University 2014

For those of you not aware of this…I am in Auburn, Alabama this week attending the Mises Institute’s Mises U. So far it has been just incredible, I am enjoying every moment of it. To follow the official posts, please visit the Mises blog. As time allows I am posting to my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, so you can check it out there as well. I am excited to share more details next week, but the schedule is pretty intense and I can’t make any guarantees about additional posts this week. Just listen to the lectures and and follow along online! : )

Concerns about the Vision Statements

In my last post I discussed the issues I have with the Shared Values of Transform Rockford. The leadership of Transform Rockford was very responsive to these concerns and when I get back from Mises University, we will be meeting so that they can better answer these questions. I’ll definitely be writing another post to update you on that situation. However, that post was really just a lead-in to my response about the Vision Rally itself. I have three primary aspects of concern with the vision statement and related statements announced at the Vision Rally.

I think it is easy for those who have been in Rockford for some years to become cynical about the possibility of change. But while cynicism will not contribute anything meaningful to the discussion, there is the need for rational and objective consideration. When I step back from the Vision Statement and look at it more critically, I see a series of statements that basically describe a utopia. Simply writing down what our dream city would look like doesn’t seem compelling. And as I commented after participating in a visioning session, the unique perspectives of the individuals are lost when all the ideas are merged. For example, my own statement had to do with promoting basic individual rights. I don’t see that idea reflected anywhere in this finished vision statement. Considering that the concept of libertarianism was drowned out by the end of the visioning session, I had no expectation it would somehow show up at the end of the process, but it was still a bit disappointing. The vision statements were so broad and generic that I was left wondering why it was necessary to get so much community input. If the vision statement and the rally itself was simply a diplomatic move to get people engaged, then it worked. But if the intention was to create a thoughtful platform for moving forward, I found the vision statements sadly lacking.

I am not saying that I was cynically watching the Vision Rally—I did get excited about it, but mostly because it was good to see so many people gathered together being excited about something. I mean, how often does that happen in Rockford? If we get together, isn’t it usually to protest or complain? But I honestly didn’t get any kind of thrill from the whole vision idea. It didn’t shake my world, it didn’t challenge my preconceptions, it didn’t necessarily inspire me onwards. It was simply the saying out loud of everything we have all thought before. The act of announcing these statements in a public context was interesting, but the content itself wasn’t overly impressive.

My next concern has to do with causation. It does very little good to say we want to get on the top 25 cities list without identifying why we got on the worst 25 cities list. What went wrong? What caused the situation we know now? Why did this happen? What are the factors involved with the high crime rate, high unemployment, and general depression of the region? What failed to work and to cause these things, and what measures possibly contributed to the decline? Hope for the future is meaningless without a deep understanding how we found ourselves in this situation. 

I do recognize that identifying causation would be controversial and problematic. There are many different interpretations of the mess we’re in right now, and everyone has their own opinion on it. It would not be an easy issue for Transform Rockford to tackle, and I honestly don’t even know where one would begin with trying to align the community on the why of our situation. But aside from the practical questions, I think that this discussion would be necessary to a solid plan for the future. I don’t know how it would happen, but I do think it is essential to successfully improving our community.  

This last objection is the one that troubles me the most. In the discussions from and about Transform Rockford, there seems to be an implicit assumption that a better future for Rockford can simply be engineered. It is as if we get enough people to attend the rally, if there are enough people planning and coordinating, if there are enough willing volunteers, then we can reach the ideal set forth. It reminds me of the Keynesian economists using metaphors of engines to describe the economy…if there are enough knowledgable technicians to “tweak” and “adjust” the engine, then we make it run beautifully. Speaking of the Keynesian and Chicago schools of economics, Christopher Westley writes,

“To both schools, the human person is a cog in an economic machine that must be coerced to act in ways that make their systems work.” (Mises Daily) 

And talking about John Maynard Keynes himself, Shawn Ritenour explains,   

“Keynes took the human out of “human action” and reduced the economic system to a machine. Man became a mere social unit, merely reacting to changed conditions according to economic instincts. Keynes’s focus on the management of economic aggregates fed the hubris of modern economists by justifying their role as the keepers of the keys to the economic kingdom.” (Mises Institute) 

But the economy, and society itself, isn’t a machine to be maintained, it is a complex ecosystem that cannot be controlled by any person or group.  Lew Rockwell writes,

“It is the conviction of the liberal intellectual tradition dating back to the Middle Ages that society contains within itself the capacity for internal self-management.” (Mises Institute)

We do not need the government to get itself cleaned up so that it can solve all of our city’s problems. We do not need to weed out corruption and implement a more efficient way for the government to work in Rockford. I offer Lew Rockwell’s words again,

“As lovers of liberty, it is essential that we constantly warn about the dangers presented by the state. But it is also our job to constantly say, in as many ways as we can, that it does not have to be this way. The state is not the foundation of society, it is not the source of our security, it does not bring about prosperity, and it does not protect us.” (Mises Institute)

Society will run itself, as we’ve seen through the ages. In the example of money, a government simply did not decree a common medium of exchange one day because they saw the inefficiency of barter. Money—a common medium of exchange—developed spontaneously in the market. The government wasn’t needed to create, control, or regulate the currency. In fact, the government’s intervention in the money supply has only led to harm over the centuries. 

So, moving from the abstract back to Transform Rockford, I am concerned with the implied need for anyone to “do” something in order to improve our community. It isn’t a matter of doing more—it is a matter of doing less, and simply letting society create spontaneous and free order. 

I realize it could be argued that Transform Rockford has said nothing about using the government to achieve these ends. But I think it is implied in much of the material. For example, one of the impact statements on Funding and Alignment states, “our local government and non-profits are impactful, properly supported and aligned with the community vision.” This definitely suggests that government will be used as part of the solution. And since the government is such an intrinsic part of society now that unless someone explicitly states that something will be done outside the purview of the state, you can assume that government will be involved. If a community wanted to explore non-government options, or wanted to remove the government from controlling it, this would take intention and purpose. I have seen nothing from Transform Rockford to make me think that voluntary solutions will be explored. Lastly, Transform Rockford would probably not hesitate to use government in order to enforce its changes. But the moment Transform Rockford uses “legal” force to make a person or a group of people do what they want, they have become an apparatus of the state.

In conclusion, I agree that there is a desperate need for change in the Rockford area. But Transform Rockford seems to lack the philosophical grounding to make a coherent and substantial difference. We are thinking beings with a worldview that drives our actions—whether we recognize it or not. Without intentionally developing and stating a position on the role of the government and the role of the individual, I am afraid Transform Rockford is in a position to be used for further state intervention—rather than encouraging the freedom necessary for true prosperity and growth. 

Reviving the Rust Belt: What’s the Answer?

Last Thursday I attended an event hosted by Transform Rockford which was part of their Community Learning series. At this event there were two economists from the Chicago Fed who spoke about a recent study they conducted on cities in the “rust belt” or, the postindustrial Northeast and Midwest regions. The goal of this study, the Industrial Cities Initiative (ICI), is to “identify policies and programs that promote (or inhibit) economic growth and vitality in industrial cities.” While Rockford was not included in this study, the results are of relevance to this city which, like cities across the Midwest, has grappled with the decline of manufacturing since the 70′s.

Cities researched during the study include Green Bay, Racine,  Aurora, Joliet, Gary, Grand Rapids, Pontiac, Fort Wayne, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids. As criterion for selecting cities, industrial cities were “defined as cities that in 1960 had a population of at least 50,000, with manufacturing accounting for at least 25 percent of total employment.” The primary question was, how does loss of manufacturing employment effect total unemployment, loss of population, and median family income?

You can read the working paper here to see the graphs and data collected. Rather than simply restating the findings, I am going to highlight some of the benefits I saw from the study and then raise a few questions about it. One cannot be a good Austrian economist without giving at least some criticisms of anything from the Federal Reserve : )

- I appreciated Susan Longworth’s emphasis that there is no “one size fits all” answer to the problems faced by industrial cities. She underscored the unique situation of each city and said the best approach is one that seeks to find the city’s specific strengths and weaknesses and build a strategy around that recognition.

- I also liked the point made about job creation itself not being enough to revitalize a city. There is more to a strong and healthy economy than simply having an abundance of jobs. “Make work” schemes don’t help a community in the long-term, they only hinder its true recovery.

Some questions I would have liked to see addressed:

- Briefly mentioned at the start of the lecture was the fact that this study was being conducted so the Fed could better understand community development and have make better monetary policy decisions. Of course, being a Fed study, it would not have considered the possibility that the Fed should not be making monetary decisions at all, but this was the glaring issue from my perspective. The role of the Fed (and the oft-cited Community Reinvestment Act) in the economic downturns that impacted these cities so dramatically was, of course, not discussed.

- In most of the graphs shown, Rockford’s data was compared to the numbers for the United States as a whole. I think this is misleading. I think it denies the natural ebb and flow of the economy throughout the nation. Each city should not be expected to have the same ratio of manufacturing work, skilled workers, employees with higher educations, etc…because these are variances that make some cities good for some things and other cities good for other types of production.

- Also, it seems a weak assumption that these industrial cities should regain the manufacturing jobs lost over the years. This point was hinted at, but not explored as it deserved to be. Susan Longworth noted that when manufacturing has returned to these communities, it requires fewer, but more skilled, employees as it used to. This points to an improvement of the capital structure—less-skilled workers have been replaced with capital, such as better machinery or production techniques.  There is nothing to be decried here. It is a beautiful example of how the economy develops. I think it was Henry Hazlitt (though I could be wrong) who gave the example of unemployed carriage-makers at the beginning of the 20th century. No one in their right mind would bemoan the invention of automobiles, simply so these carriage-makers could maintain their familiar occupations. Of course the upheaval of their market was difficult, and it took time for them to find and adjust to new employment, but this invention offered long-term benefits. The automobile made the world a better place, and freed the carriage-makers to use their time for a more highly valued end.

- It would have been interesting to see the correlations between increased minimum wage, higher taxes, increased regulations, protectionist policies, and the loss of manufacturing in these cities. I wanted to ask questions about these causes, but since they were not included in the study, it would have been to no purpose. But rather than studying the common number of community leaders in each city (how many people held leadership positions in multiple organizations), I would have liked to see some data on how the government’s intervention has harmed these communities. But I wasn’t expecting this kind of presentation from the Fed anyways, so I wasn’t very disappointed.

Overall, the faulty assumptions made about why these cities have experienced a decline made it difficult to find useful application from the data collected. And the emphasis on data as a source of knowledge for decision-making made me grateful, once again, for the solid axioms held by the Austrian school because these irrefutable truths about people and the economy leave us with no doubt as to the ideal path of recovery.

For more reading…

Index for the ICI study 

On the Community Reinvestment Act and the Housing Crisis

On the Austrian Business Cycle Theory 

Book Blogging: The Case Against the Fed

In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what to do with my site. It has undergone a lot of transformations over the years. My site is a reflection of me, and like I’ve changed and evolved from my young high school self, this site has developed too. To reflect my reading projects and enjoyment of writing as a way to process what I learn, I am going to start doing something new, what I’m calling, “book blogging.” Up till now I’ve tried to write about books only after I read them completely through. But now I am going to be blogging my way through books. This will look different for each book, but it will be a way to capture my thoughts in real-time versus waiting until I’m done. Having said all that, my first book will be a lot like a book review because I did indeed finish reading it, but only about an hour ago.

The Case Against the Fed by Murray Rothbard is on the list of required reading for Mises University. I’ve read it several times before, but I wanted to refresh my mind on the details. It is so much broader than the title suggests. Rather than being a tirade against the Federal Reserve alone, it is really an historical and theoretical demolishment of central banking.

The first few chapters deal with monetary theory, how a common medium of exchange develops, and addresses that ubiquitous question, “what is the optimum supply of money?” Rothbard also makes a brilliant and crucial distinction between loan banking and deposit banking. Confusion between the two very different roles of banks has led to much of the monetary mess we face today. He shows how fractional reserve banking came out of these different banking types and is an attempt to keep the facade of deposit banking while actually being a loan bank. He then goes on to deal with the implications and problems that are caused by fractional reserve banking and how this creates a perfect situation for the emergence of a central bank.

But this isn’t a pure theory book—his arguments are rooted in history and go much farther back than 1913. He traces the development of banking in England and the situation which brought about the Bank of England. Recognizing that America has always been strongly influenced by England, this serves as a good lead-up to the story of banking in the United States. Rothbard is never satisfied with the established story, he digs deep into American history to show who was behind the major financial changes since the American Revolution and demonstrates that a central bank has nothing to do with creating market stability and everything to do with guaranteeing that inflation will not collapse the economy. He traces the dark history of the Fed from the last 19th century through the passing of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. But he goes on to show the internal struggle between the different elite bank families and how this impacted the country. For example, in the first few years of its existence, the Morgan family had maintained ultimate control of the Fed. But this was not to last, for,  “The New Deal constituted a concerted bringing down and displacement of Morgan dominance, a coalition of opposition financial out-groups combined in the New Deal to topple it from power.” This coalition was formed by families and banks such as the Rockefellers, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and the Kennedys.

The overall message of The Case Against the Fed is that, despite all the propaganda, the Fed essentially exists to prop up an unstable economic system based on pyramid inflation. In a free market, the fraud would be quickly discovered, but a central bank will artificially “save” the market from collapse through increased inflation (which caused the instability to begin with) and the cycle is perpetuated. The astute reader will quickly see how Rothbard’s explanation of our monetary system is seen in our current situation. Nothing has really changed since 1913. We have new words to describe our financial problems, but there is the same cause and the same ineffectual answer. Nothing will change until we recognize the true role the Federal Reserve plays in our recessions. It is no “savior” to the economy but rather the market’s greatest nemesis.

 

The Problem of Property

There’s been a lot of controversy about the Bundy Ranch situation, and like basically every other high-profile news event, there’s an awful lot of hype associated with it. I’ve been following the story, but I haven’t dug into all the details. However, this article from the Mises Institute is a thought-provoking exploration of property rights in the West.

While the 19th century “Wild West” was in some ways an excellent example of anarcho-capitalism, this freedom was eventually overshadowed by the federal government’s intrusion into the West and its claim on much of the land. Just as one could point to the railroads as a prime example of entrepreneurship, the story is much more complicated. Most of the railroads in the Midwest and West were subsidized by the federal government and turned out to be black holes of inefficiency and waste. Libertarians have done a good job reclaiming the heritage of the free West and demonstrating that the absence of extensive government intervention did not result in chaos and mayhem—contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal. But the West certainly was no libertarian paradise, considering that 93% of federal land is in the 13 Western states. Just like the railroad tycoons welcomed government subsidies to give them advantages over potential competitors, those with larger ranches and businesses welcomed government ownership of land as a way to keep their smaller competitors from expanding.

The issue of property simply becomes very complicated when it is public land. From controversies over carrying firearms on public property to grazing cattle on state land, there is no end to the controversies over land usage. It is almost deceptively simple—and yet revolutionary—to propose that all land be privately owned. I think few people recognize the lack of ownership as the root cause of so many problems in our day, and so it seems irrelevant to suggest private ownership as the solution.

But I suggest this: The next time you hear about a disagreement or politically charged situation, consider what would happen if every square inch of land in America was owned by individuals. My guess is, you’d  be surprised at how many problems this would eliminate. Of course, there are a lot of implications and questions about how it would work for land to be privately owned, but the first step is to recognize the philosophical soundness of the idea. As the story goes, when a free market economist met with a Communist dictator, the dictator asked him to predict how many shoes would be produced if his country became free. We laugh at the short-sightedness of this question, realizing that no one can decide the future this finitely. In a similar way, it is important to embrace the principles of liberty and let the choices of free individuals determine what our future looks like. That’s really what freedom is all about.

What My Day Looks Like

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Spending this cold winter’s day starting a Mises Academy course on The Interwar Years and enjoying coffee and hot chocolate : )

Yes, I’m still alive…

There’s a lot I could say. I think this post is so delayed because whenever I think about writing I wonder where in the world I’ll start. I guess the logical place to start is where I am right now. And I’m actually in the lovely town of Auburn Alabama, enjoying the Austrian Economics Research Conference at the Mises Institute. Yes, I know you’re jealous. It is amazing. Seriously. I think we sometimes get really distracted by our circumstances in life. We get caught up in where we’re at and forget where we want to be. Sometimes we need to be grounded and reminded, “ah, yes, this is what I love and this is my passion in life.” Because, honestly, how many people are true to their passion? Sadly, not many. It is far to easy to live forever trying to get along, doing all the little mundane things, and never considering how that might fit into our dreams. So I don’t think it is unusual to need this “regrounding” in a world which is about fitting in and achieving mere mediocrity. Getting back to AERC, it is reminding me of what I am passionate about, and although I haven’t the slightest idea how or when I’ll end up realizing my dreams, this is what I love and I can’t forget it. There’s just nothing like the intellectual stimulation of the Mises Institute. And the best part of AERC is that it is all about the work that needs to be done yet. It is like, “oh, here is the complete and exhaustive exposition of the Austrian School of Economics.” Far from it, nearly every lecturer says at some point, “and there is much more research to be done on this subject.” Which inspires me because that means this is an alive thing. We’re not talking about a static body of knowledge. This is an area that is constantly expanding in knowledge, interpretation, and application.  So as a young student, this inspires me to consider what advancements will be made in my own lifetime, and hopefully I will make my own contributions someday.

I ended up coming to AERC 2013 on my own for the first time. Which meant getting a bus to O’Hare, flying to Atlanta, and then getting a shuttle to Auburn. It was a really long ordeal since my plane was delayed by about 3 hours. I distinctly remember the first time I ever flew on my own. It was actually a year ago, for ASC 2012. I was terrified. For weeks ahead I imagined every single thing that could possibly go wrong, and of course each potential problem seemed like such a catastrophe. It was incredibly nerve-wracking, to say the least. By the time I arrived home safely I decided it was actually almost enjoyable, although it took me some time to recover from the terror I had inflicted on myself, haha. But this year was completely different. My initial reaction to the thought of doing the entire trip solo was, “wow, this is going to be such a fun experience!” I even resisted printing out maps of the airports and plotting my way ahead of time. I made sure I had the necessary info with me (boarding pass, shuttle reservations, etc…) but refused to worry about anything until I actually crossed that bridge. And instead of panicking when I was told my flight was delayed, I was just like, “oh, ok, let me call the shuttle company and move my reservation.” And I got to walk around O’Hare about 5 times in my extra time, haha. It was actually fantastic. I used to hate changes, being incredibly OCD or paranoid or whatever, and on Tuesday I changed my hotel arrangements, and then my flight was delayed, so two major changes in my plans, and yet oddly enough, I wasn’t bothered by any of it. The entire trip is just a grand adventure, no matter what happens. So definitely a good experience. And I get to do it all again on Sunday!

On a more serious note, I think the most thought-provoking theme I’ve encountered at AERC so far is the question of, “why did the Industrial Revolution happen when it did?” After realizing how civilization didn’t really progress all that much for thousands of years, and then suddenly in the past 200 years there’s been a dramatic transformation of culture, one has to ask, “why?” We understand the technological advances that became the Industrial Revolution, but the deeper question is, “why did those things happen at that time?” Or more precisely, “why didn’t the Industrial Revolution happen sooner? Why did it take thousands of years of little progress, relatively speaking, to get to that point?” Several speakers at AERC have offered their thoughts on this, and it has made me extremely interested in the subject. I don’t think it is an issue of pure historical speculation, I think this is relevant to modern times. How so? Well, if we understand what caused the Industrial Revolution, we would also discover how that progress could be reversed, and knowing this would allow us to hopefully prevent such a tragedy. We should all be interested in ensuring that society doesn’t regress but continue improving.

I will probably be blogging about this again in the future, among other subjects that I’ve thought about since being here, so you’ll hear about it again, I’m sure.

The other thing about AERC is being able to talk to like-minded people. Nothing compares to being surrounded by people who are discussing monetary theory, the business cycle, ethics, philosophy, and pretty much everything else. It is a place to talk to people who are interested in intellectual pursuits, and although everyone comes from diverse backgrounds and have their own unique interests, we are able to share our enjoyment of these subjects. We don’t agree on everything, but we all are here because we like learning and discussing new ideas. To me, that is what really matters.

Well, that’s about it all for now. I may get time for another post this weekend, but if not, I doubt I’ll get a chance to write for the next couple weeks. I have a feeling life will be really crazy once I get home. But I’ll be back…eventually : )

Wandering — But Not Lost

So in case you were concerned that I had dropped off the face of the earth…I have not. I have felt that way on occasion, but it was only a temporary sensation. In trying to describe my life for the last few months, I am reminded of Tolkien’s famous quote, “All those who wander are not lost.” To sum it up briefly, I’ve had some interesting ramblings across this earth, both physically and metaphorically. But the main lesson I’ve learned, or relearned recently is 1) God is in control of all things and 2) God is a good God. We may think we know what is going to happen, only to find ourselves on a detour or redirection, and no matter how painful or confusing it may seem, it is happening for a reason and there will be great blessings and benefits that come out of it, whether we realize it or not.

 

I obviously never got back to finishing my Ligonier posts, so don’t hold out for any more on that topic, unfortunately. I guess I didn’t post anything specifically about that whole Ligonier/ASC trip, so let me just say it was greatly enjoyable and I feel much more confident in my ability to navigate my way in the world. It was a really big deal for me to fly for the first time, and on my own. And it went without a problem, besides unexpectedly finding the full-body scanners at the Madison airport and having to opt-out of that. Not fun. But the flight back was great, the Sanford-Orlando airport was awesome, even the TSA people were friendly and there weren’t any full-body scanners! So it was just a fun experience and it feels good to have crossed that off my list of things that intimidate me.

 

Then in May there was another “first”…a cross-country road trip with some young people from my church to a Christian conference/retreat in Pennsylvania. It was odd because I had decided to curb my “control freak” inclinations and simply go along for the ride (since I clearly stated from the beginning I would not be driving) and not worry about knowing the route or directions. So that was a freeing experience, haha. The road trip itself was really fun, I was a little concerned about how I would handle a 12 hour car ride with other people, being that I tend to want my own space and lots of quietness. The conference was fantastic! Everyone was so incredibly friendly and welcoming. We were well-known by the other attendees because we had come the farthest. “Oh, you’re from the Illinois group!” The teaching was very informative and also inspiring. The topic was the life of Charles Spurgeon and what we can learn from his example. I enjoyed learning about the historical context of his life and the situation in England at the time. I was able to fit him into my mental history timeline, instead of this vague idea of a preacher at some point in history preaching somewhere in England. His passion for the Gospel was very convicting. He was a committed Calvinist and believed fully in the Doctrines of Grace, but contrary to popular opinion, this did not mean his Christianity was cold and legalistic. He spent his life sharing the Gospel with lost sinners because his greatest goal was to save souls from eternal damnation. But since he realized that humans have no ability to save others or even to save themselves but it is only the work of God within them, he was free to simply preach the Gospel and leave the rest to God. He also organized many evangelical efforts to reach those who would not attend church services and believed it was important to tend to temporal needs, such as food and shelter, for people, along with tending to their spiritual needs. Because he lived in the turbulent times of the Industrial Revolution and because there were no other sources for people to get the necessities for survival, this was a very good thing. I have thoughts on this, trying to figure out how this idea applies to American society now…but I’ll save that for another day. :) The drive back was pretty long, I ended up getting home at about 2am, and managed to get to work by 8am, which was quite a feat. Suffice to say, I didn’t get a whole lot accomplished at work that day, but at least I showed up. :)

So now…after a rather unanticipated hiatus from my studies for a few months, I’m back at it :) I was talking to a friend recently who was exhorting me to read as much as I can while I’m young. The message resonated especially with me as I am realizing the value of this time in my life and that I should be redeeming each moment and spending every day learning, growing, improving my mind and becoming a better person. It is really an immense blessing to be out of school, so I don’t have the pressure of needing to accomplish certain things by a specific time, and it is also great to have a part-time job so I do have an income. So all that means I have time and funds to continue my education and I really enjoy that! My current goal is to read at least 8 books per month, with the plan of reading at least 100 books per year.

The books for this month are:

Living for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke

Holiness by JC Ryle

The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel

Thinking as a Science by Henry Hazlitt

Liberty Defined by Ron Paul

The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson

Becoming Dr. Q by Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa

Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The ones in bold are the ones I have yet to read. Actually surprised with myself at how well I’m doing! I plan to write some short reviews of various books I’m reading in the future, so look for that!

Also working on a research project with a friend about Charles Dickens…won’t say anything more at the moment about it, besides I’m really excited and it is going to be really fun.

I recently signed up for Tom Woods’s Liberty Classroom and am currently taking the Western Civilization History course from Prof. Jewell which I’m greatly enjoying. Only on Lecture 2 but I know it is going to be fantastic. It will probably take a year to get through the whole thing, if I push it, may end up being two years, but that’s ok. Also taking a couple courses from Ligonier, History of Philosophy and Understanding Free Will.

Hmmmm…I think that is all the academic stuff I have going on right now. Besides the heat making life really miserable in our old farmhouse (no a/c) it is a good summer. I’m missing Mises U and almost wishing I had decided to go, because July just doesn’t seem the same without going to Mises U. But I think it has turned out for the best that I decided not to attend, but am looking forward to possibly attending ASC 2013!

If I try to make this any longer I will risk never publishing it, so I’m going to end here. But I will say that I plan to use this more of a personal blog as well as an outlet for my economic ideas. I will probably be posting quotes and random things that strike me as thought-provoking, as well as writing about pretty whatever subject I’m thinking about at the time. I hope that opening this up more will mean I’ll post more, but only time will tell! If you persevered through this post and are still reading, thank you. If you’re a returning reader, thank you for not giving up on me :)

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