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 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 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 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…