A Review of the Austrian Scholars Conference


 As some of you know, last week I attended the Austrian Scholars Conference (ASC) at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.  A number of people have asked me how it was, so I thought I’d write up this review. 

If you’ve never seen the Mises Institute, it’s a very impressive place.  Last year they completed work on a large addition to their building, which is very nice, even elegant. 

During the pre-conference session, Professor Thomas DiLorenzo discussed his new book The Real Lincoln, and Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe discussed his book Democracy: The God That Failed.  Both presentations were outstanding. 

The best feature of the ASC is that during most of the conference, there are three or four different sessions going concurrently, so you can pick and choose which presentations most interest you.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the presentations that sound the most interesting will be interesting to you.  After all, it was a conference for scholars about Austrian economics, so a number of the presentations were arcane or difficult to follow. 

I got to hear Walter Block discuss his book Defending the Undefendable, which was a real treat.  Among other things, Block explained the difference between blackmail (he’s an expert on the subject, having written some 25 articles about it), in which someone threatens to do something that’s legal, and extortion, in which someone threatens to do something that’s illegal.  As he said, unlike gossips, at least blackmailers have the decency to give you an option before they tell others your secrets.  And every transaction is really a form of blackmail (e.g., “If you don’t give me that candy bar, I’m not going to give you this 50 cents.”).   

I heard a number of other interesting presentations: Rothbard’s Copperhead Abolitionism by Myles Kantor, Mancur Olson’s Vision of Government & Economic Growth by Robert Higgs (editor of The Independent Review), Air Travel: Another Case of Failed Policy by Paul Cleveland, Chicago and the Cult of Efficiency by Thomas DiLorenzo, and The Orwellian State System: Big Brother and the Genesis of Perpetual War by Hunt Tooley. 

Walter Block gave another lecture in which he talked about the need for us to distinguish ourselves from the modal libertarians as well as what he dubbed the “shmodal” libertarians.  Modal libertarians are socially liberal libertarians who, for example, advocate not only ending the War on Drugs, but also actually taking drugs.  Shmodal libertarians are socially conservative libertarians who, for example, oppose abortion in all circumstances and oppose reparations for slavery.  Block distinguished between evicting a fetus from the womb, which he argued was consistent with libertarianism, and killing it, which is not.  Over time, he said, we would be able to save more and more of the evicted fetuses due to advances in medical technology.  He also explained how reparations are consistent with libertarianism if certain conditions are met, including payment by the heirs of the slave owner (not by the government) to the heirs of the slave (not to all blacks). 

Author James Bovard was the final speaker.  His hair is just as wild as it is in this picture, and one day he was wearing a railroad engineer’s cap.  But he seems like a good guy, and seemed to sincerely appreciate it when I complimented him on his work.

Lew Rockwell was awarded the Kurzweg Family Prize, and Stephan Kinsella won a prize for his work on intellectual property.

One of the best things about a Mises conference is seeing old friends and making new ones.  I got to talk to my friends Ryan McMaken (editor of The Western Mercury),Karen DeCoster and Steven Yates, and met William AndersonJames OstrowskiMyles KantorStephan Kinsella, Robert Higgs and many others. 

In conclusion, I’d recommend any conference that features Walter Block, Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Thomas DiLorenzo.  I could listen to them all day.  

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