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Home | Mises Library | On Universities, Krugman, and the State of Austrian Economics

On Universities, Krugman, and the State of Austrian Economics

  • Murphy-Krugman

Tags EducationU.S. EconomyAustrian Economics Overview

5 hours agoRobert P. Murphy

DEIST: Let’s begin with your assessment of the state of Austrian economics today.

MURPHY: Well, the first thing is that it’s so much bigger than it was. I’m relatively young, but even when I was going through grad school in the early 2000s, there was still a question we asked ourselves, “If you’re a grad student in Austrian economics, do you advertise that fact or do you engage in what they were calling the stealth strategy?” With the stealth strategy, you just keep your perspective to yourself, get published, and do your dissertation on a mainstream topic. You get yourself into a school, get tenure and only then do you say “surprise, I’m an Austrian.”

Now, though, the advice that people are giving is “you want to, by all means advertise that fact because we have enough of a foothold in various places that you’ve got to let them know that you’re an Austrian because if they’re looking to hire somebody who thinks like that, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.

And so, that’s just the most immediate thing that comes to my mind. So yes, we do have — and unfortunately it took the financial crisis to make this happen — a certain amount of recognition now. We’re definitely getting out there more.

One last thing I’ll mention: when I’m talking to a crowd of financial professionals and I show them what I think happened with the housing boom and bust, I’m using Austrian business cycle theory, but I’m not using that term necessarily. I’m just explaining how the Fed blew up a bubble, and so on. And they all soak that right up. They don’t bat an eye. That sounds perfectly plausible to them.

DEIST: Austrian economics is also becoming increasingly integrated into the larger profession. Do you think the term itself still has value, as a loose term of convenience? Or do you think we should jettison it and focus on individual Austrians and their impact?

MURPHY: It’s a tricky question. I think it was Milton Friedman who kind of flippantly said there’s just good economics or bad economics and I get that, but on the other hand, there really are schools of thought, and that’s a separate discussion as to why that is the case in economics. In physics, you don’t necessarily have it, but I think that’s partly because the social sciences are different from the natural sciences and it really does matter, and there are reasons that things that make sense in physics don’t necessarily translate over to economics.

I do think there are schools of thought and so I don’t think it’s helpful to get rid of the term. I’ll put it to you this way. The kind of people who aren’t going to like it because of the label, I don’t think you’re going to convince them by switching the label to something else like coordination economics or whatever some of the other phrases are that have been offered. I’m being a bit of a hypocrite because I just mentioned that when I speak to a crowd of financial professionals, I don’t necessarily volunteer right off the bat, “Hey everyone, this is the Austrian theory of the business cycle.” Depending on how much time I have, I might get back with them and say hey, if you want to learn more, this is coming from Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, you may have heard of them. I’ll do that because with some crowds, if you say this is the Austrian explanation, you’re kind of telling them, this is something that is an obscure theory and so they might somewhat shut down. They think that you’re lecturing them and just giving them some irrelevant hobby horse. It depends on the crowd, but in terms of being a professional academic economist and publishing, I certainly think we need journals dedicated to Austrian economics.

DEIST: What about economics as a profession. Is economics doing any good? Does it benefit society? Its models certainly seem useless at predicting or explaining anything.

MURPHY: That’s a good question. I’m thinking, if everybody just took a standard principles class on microeconomics, even on net, that makes the world a better place. I don’t necessarily mean a microeconomics class taught by one of my buddies, either.

Just seeing the arguments about rent control, just to know what tradeoffs are, to realize that there’s scarcity, that kind of stuff, I think that helps people. In general, the kind of information that would be covered, even if they used a standard textbook.

It gives them enough of a foothold, a grounding to think critically and better understand the purpose of high prices when there’s a natural disaster, and the politicians start talking about “price gouging.” It is easier to get that message across to somebody who has literally at least taken one economics class in his or her life.

But, beyond that, economics is not necessarily helpful to people. The way that macroeconomics is taught in standard courses, I think that’s actively harmful. They begin to think, “Spending’s what drives the economy.”

So, yes, I think you don’t really need that many economists walking around. There are way too many people going into the field of economics in terms of what I think is actually useful socially.

The stuff you would learn in a basic principles micro class, that’s pretty helpful because that’s what Austrians would think of as normal price theory, and it helps people to think like an economist. I guess that’s the way I’ll say it. People should know how to think like an economist. Students should know what it means to think like an economist just like a well-rounded student should know what’s utilitarianism is, what did this philosopher think, what happened to ancient Rome, and so on. These are basic things one should know to be an informed citizen, and some of them are learned in economics classes.

DEIST: What is the state of economics in terms of its place in academia? We judge professors by their ability to publish in relatively obscure journals, journals that few people read, rather than judging them by their teaching ability.

MURPHY: Yes, it’s a good question and I’m a little bit cynical on this, so take it with a grain of salt. But something’s screwed up with the system.

An example of this can be found in the so-called “replication crisis” in other areas of the social sciences where new results have been published in areas that people thought were rock solid. Now, researchers are going back and trying to replicate those results and are not able to do it in a shocking number of cases. And so, there is this growing realization in the social sciences generally — not just economics — that maybe we don’t have things figured out as much as we thought we did.

And with economics in particular, it really was an eye opening experience for the profession. It has been a crisis for the profession in the sense that there have been guys like Robert Lucas, and other heavyweights in the 2000s who had said things along the lines of “We basically solved the business cycle, we can move on now to something else.” Well, that clearly wasn’t the case, but the hubris and overconfidence is pretty shocking.

Just to go back to the distinction between the natural sciences and the social sciences, people a lot of times pooh-pooh Mises on this and state, he was an obscure person making these medieval distinctions. But it really is true that it’s important to realize that the techniques are different and that’s why it can still be the case that Keynesians and Austrians — and Chicago school, for that matter — argue about what happened in the 1930s, and why we still argue about was the Obama stimulus good or bad.

As a result, the state of the literature in economics, it’s not good. I think people would be shocked to learn the details of the economics models we were using when I was in graduate school 15 years ago.

The standard workhorse models you would learn there, they would have one consumer or one household who lived forever and they would have one representative firm. It was a very simplistic model. The profession doesn’t use these models because the scholars are lazy. It was just because the full mathematical model gets really complicated and so to be able to “solve a model,” by which they meant lay out what the equilibrium states were, it couldn’t get too complicated. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to solve it.

And so, you have people informing monetary policy and writing academic papers telling the Federal Reserve what it should do in certain circumstances. But the underlying model was incredibly crude.

Just think, if NASA said they were going to send a manned mission to Mars, but their model didn’t include moons because they didn’t have enough computing power. That would make you think, “I don’t want to get on that spaceship.” But, that’s the kind of reasoning that’s going into what’s guiding the Federal Reserve. So, to answer your question, I understand why, if you thought economics was a science like physics, it would make sense that you wouldn’t want Einstein and Niels Bohr and such heavyweights to be bogged down by teaching undergrads basic principles about Newton’s Laws, that would be crazy. You’d want them sitting in the lab or writing the latest cutting-edge research.

But with economics, I think the latest cutting-edge research is very flawed and so that sort of analogy breaks down. The good that economists do is in teaching basic principles like scarcity and opportunity cost to the general public so they can at least evaluate political claims, even if they’re not reading the latest thing in the American Economic Review.

DEIST: As a student and a scholar you’ve spent time at Hillsdale, at NYU, and now at Texas Tech. Do you think the undergraduate and graduate education model in general — which is very costly in terms of time, debt, and money — is broken, or do you think it’s salvageable?

MURPHY: I think it’s unsustainable at the current scale and I was saying this even when I was a professor at Hillsdale. That was back from 2003 to 2006, and at that point, I felt like half of the students that were going to college shouldn’t have been there.

This isn’t a knock against those students. I’m not saying they weren’t smart enough. That’s not even the issue. You could clearly tell, there were plenty of students that were there to get a business degree or something similar and they were only taking my class because they had to check a box to get a degree. They weren’t interested in economics, and their real goal was to run the family business and get an MBA. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just meant that half the people in class had that attitude, and that affected the way you could teach. The result was that everybody was kind of miserable. Many of the people who were there didn’t really need to be in college. They should have gone right into the workforce after high school or gone to a trade school. They were miserable. But then there were other students that were there because they loved learning for its own sake — they were also miserable because you couldn’t teach just to them because that would leave everybody else behind.

How this system is funded makes a big difference and if genuine market forces were allowed to work that could be a big part of how the problem could eventually fix itself.

The effects of the current subsidized system can be seen this way: I say to people, do you think everyone in the United States should get a PhD before they get a job? And of course that would be crazy. It would be very expensive, most people would be miserable, and it would lower the quality of what does a PhD mean if everybody as a matter of course gets one. Having a PhD would then be no big deal. By the same token, why do we just assume, “Oh, you’ve got to go to college or else you won’t get a good job.” That’s kind of crazy when you see what it means in practice. The stereotypes about students partying all the time are true. I’m not just talking about big huge state schools, but I’m including many schools I’ve visited and seen — which are somewhat elite private liberal arts schools. So the stereotype of what many students really spend their time doing is not completely made up out of whole cloth. And nowadays they’re coming out of school with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and they can’t even get a job. So, clearly that system can’t last.

DEIST: Turning back to the profession itself, what do you see as the dominant thought in economics today? Has Keynesianism led to “neo-liberalism,” whatever that is?

MURPHY: Even though we might like to make jokes about it, it is true that the average economist is generally a fan of markets. They’re not rabid laissez-faire, obviously. With most economists, though, they know socialism doesn’t work and they understand that yes, the way to bring prosperity to the third world is not just a matter of sending them aid. There’s a growing realization that yes, they need to have private property rights and solid social institutions, and that it’s not just a mere matter of technology.

So, there is a growing acknowledgement of the importance of those social institutions and that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, there is hostility toward the term neo-liberal — the critique is a little bit off with the people who rail against neo-liberalism and they complain about the World Bank and the IMF foisting free trade policies.

That’s all misguided, but the people who criticize neoliberalism are not just making all the negative aspects of it up. It is true that in many cases, this is what happens: In the stereotypical, paradigmatic case, there’s a country that maybe the military takes over. They’re in a shambles. They need foreign currency because they’ve been running their own printing press and so yeah, the World Bank or the IMF might come in and impose an “austerity” program on them. The World Bank and IMF say “yes, you have to liberalize, get rid of your state run enterprises. You need to tie your currency to gold or do these other things tied to the dollar. Open up your markets to imports.”

And some of that is coming out of a textbook for economic policies moving toward markets. But a lot of it is causing the citizens in that country to eat the losses that were imposed on them by their corrupt ruling regime as opposed to just letting the government suffer the consequences of years of mismanagement. The people again, they smell a rat and I think they’re largely correct.

They know that these outsiders are coming in and they don’t have their people’s interests at heart and they’re in bed with these big corporations and other huge nongovernmental organizations. So, I think they’re right to be suspicious. It’s just that their conclusion is “something’s wrong with capitalism per se.” Then, obviously, they come to the wrong conclusions.

DEIST: Last year, the economist Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in behavioral economics and he’s being lauded as someone who has integrated economics with psychology. Of course, 70–80 years ago, Mises and the Austrians were talking about what humans actually do. Has behavioral economics borrowed from Austrianism?

MURPHY: It’s a difficult question to answer and I don’t know that I have enough interaction with certain regular mainstream economists who are not familiar with the Austrian tradition to be able to give a confident answer. There are two ways of looking at it and I’ve seen this reaction among my colleagues, either pessimism or optimism in reaction to the announcement that Thaler won. So, the good way to look at it is to say, “Oh, this is great, at long last the mainstream profession is admitting problems with the standard neoclassical textbook models of how rational economic man operates. That’s not how real people behave and so thank goodness, the mainstream finally kicking and screaming has been dragged to the point where they’re willing to admit it.”

So, there’s that element, but on the other hand — and here’s where the pessimist’s take comes in — it’s sort of like this: yes, the mainstream’s finally realizing what thinkers like Mises were saying long ago, that the way to model human behavior, if you will, is not to try to come up with a precise mathematical description that makes quantitative predictions.

But that’s not what the people who are embracing Thaler are saying. What they’re saying is “okay, so now we’re going to refrain from this hubris in trying to predict behavior and treat people like automatons.” But, for them, that just means updating the model. It’s not that they’re trying to get rid of mathematical modeling of people, they’re just trying to make the math model more accurate.

And so, if what you think is no, they’re fundamentally going down the wrong path here and that’s not the way to approach economic science, it’s a bit disheartening. Also, it’s unavoidable to bring up the fact that Thaler is involved with the whole “nudge” literature and using this knowledge of how people respond to incentives to say, “this is the way we can influence people, this is the way we can modify their behavior in ways that we economists desire.” In some settings, that’s pretty creepy.

DEIST: When Thaler claims that humans don’t always act rationally, he’s not refuting Mises — he’s simply not distinguishing between action and motivation.

MURPHY: Oh, absolutely, right. And this is again sort of the frustration one might have with Thaler. So, the neoclassical mainstream, when they say, as a working assumption, “we assume people are rational, that means people solve their economic optimization problems the way a mainstream economist would.” And so, number one, it means that people are experts at using calculus and solving difficult mathematical problems. Here’s your budget constraint and what’s your consumption path over time? This is stuff that grad students initially don’t even know how to solve because it’s too hard mathematically. And yet, economists routinely assume that consumers, when they go to the store, are able to unconsciously do the same problem.

Beyond that, there’s the way economists talk about what rational behavior is looking at in a strategic setting. One example of this is the so-called Prisoner’s Dilemma. Even if people play a situation like that a thousand times in a row, mainstream economists will say the “rational thing” to do is to keep screwing the other guy a thousand times in a row, even if they could be better off by cooperating.

But no, cooperating's not the way you solve the model, so it’s therefore “not rational.” There’s that element. So yes, when Thaler says “hey, people aren’t rational,” what he means is they behave in ways that this narrow economistic model would not have predicted. In contrast, when Mises says people are rational, all that means is “they’re engaging in human action to try to achieve some goal that they value.”

Assigning motives is not the approach you take when someone throws a rock up in the air and then it comes back down, we don’t say, “ah, the rock desired to be closer to the earth and that’s why it chose to do so.” No, we use a completely neutral, objective measure without any motivation or preferences involved because that’s the way that science has gone. In our minds, that’s the correct way you deal with predicting the motion of matter.

But when it comes to the social sciences, we do attribute motives to people, so that’s what Mises means by rational, there’s a reason, so that’s where reasoning comes in, not that the people are superhuman calculators, just that yes, they’re a being with an ego and they have preferences. But those preferences could be anything. It could be, you want to go get cocaine or heroin, or it could be you want to go help set up a homeless shelter. From that level of analysis, it doesn’t matter what the content of your preferences are, it’s just that you have them and then you use your reason to try to achieve it. So, the classic example that Mises offers is, you’re looking at some primitive tribe — primitive by your standards — and they’re dancing around and their crops need rain. A rain dance is perfectly rational in the Misesian framework. Because again, it doesn’t mean that “from our scientific viewpoint, we think that’s the right means to an end.” We just mean, “ah, I’m going to interpret what I’m observing by saying these beings have subjective preferences and they have this cause and effect relationship in their minds that they’re trying to invoke to change the future.”

DEIST: There are endless debates within Austrian circles about how best to advance our ideas. The two broad ideas have been what we might call a Hayekian top-down model, where we win over academics and their ideas trickle down to other intellectuals. The other we might call a bottom-up Rothbardian populist strategy.

MURPHY: It’s going to sound like I’m trying to be wishy-washy and not take a firm stand, but I really do think both are important and I mean it in the following way.

Part of why Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard were so able to influence the masses, is that they had academic posts. If Murray Rothbard had written word for word Man, Economy, and State and you found out that he was a chiropractor and he just in his spare time was this genius who had absorbed Human Action, it wouldn’t have carried the same weight. And in a sense, that’s a shame, that shouldn’t matter. Credentials shouldn’t matter, but yet they certainly do, if only just to guide people. You might just say, “this huge thick book that a chiropractor wrote on economics, what are the chances that this guy knows what he’s talking about?” So, I think it is important that Austrians, to get their message out — to change the world to use a bold goal — they can’t abandon academia.

Appealing right to the public is also a good thing, as opposed to just spending one’s whole life trying to convince academic colleagues and trying to convince the Dean of Harvard to take your business cycle seriously. I think that’s a waste of time when you’re setting yourself up for heartache and frustration. The idea of just teaching students and publishing peer reviewed papers for the rest of your life and going to conferences and talking with other economists — to some people, that sounds like the most horrible hell ever, and to some people, that sounds great. So, if you’re in the latter group then by all means do that, but again, it’s because that will give you a platform so that the public is more likely to listen to you. Also, if you get something like an op-ed published in a newspaper, you’re more likely to be able to do that if the byline says that you’re an Economics Professor at such and such university. I definitely do agree that going to the masses is the important thing to do right now, as opposed to tweaking the latest mathematical economics model. But again, that doesn’t mean you should ignore academia because I think there’s an interplay there.

DEIST: As a strategic matter, are some of the debates within Austrian economics harmful or helpful in your view? For example, there are debates about Mises versus Kirzner on entrepreneurship or Rothbard and Hoppe versus Selgin and White on free banking. Do you think we ought to spend time on these internal debates?

MURPHY: Well, I’m going to be debating Selgin on fractional reserve banking in New York at some point in the spring of 2018, so I hope that’s not a waste of time, I hope it’s useful.

I definitely understand the people who say, come on, guys, these internal battles, they’re not productive and they just make us look like a weird cult. I understand where those people are coming from and I used to be somewhat sympathetic when I was younger. But on the other hand, you could just as well flip it and say, well wait a minute, if we’re supposed to be a science, then of course we’re going to debate with each other and disagree. If we all just uniformly had the same answer on everything to put on our show for outsiders to where we’re trying to attract followers, that would be creepy too. That really
would be a cult.

And so, I don’t think that to gain popularity, we ought to restrict our arguments — even if that strategy actually worked. I reject that in part because it means we’re sort of being dishonest to the public and I don’t want to do that. I’m not personally going down that road if that’s what we’ve got to do to gain popularity. But having said all that, I actually don’t think that that’s really the trade-off.

I think what is true, and it is true for anything in life, is you don’t need to be a jerk about it. I get the sense that sometimes there are people within the Austrian camp who genuinely just dislike some of the other people and they want to have a fight and they use these particular doctrinal differences as the pretext to have a fight with someone they don’t like. And yes, that’s probably not productive — just because in general, going around having a grudge against somebody is not helpful. I think that these debates are important and because that’s how it’s going to progress, that actually the critics are wrong. This isn’t a cult, it’s not that we look at Mises and Hayek and Rothbard as our prophets and we’re not allowed to disagree with them. No, that’s not true at all and so there is a vigorous disagreement and that’s how this thing progresses. Yes, be civil about it, but if there’s somebody you think is wrong, then it’s your job as a scholar to try to correct it.

DEIST: A few years ago, you had some run-ins with the aforementioned Paul Krugman, also Brad DeLong on issues like quantitative easing and inflation and Austrian business cycle theory. How do you assess those run-ins today?

MURPHY: For people who don’t know the backstory: After the financial crisis, a woman emailed me and she said, “I just saw Paul Krugman in a Barnes and Noble and he was on a book tour. In the Q&A period, I asked him ‘why don’t you debate Austrians on business cycle theory?’ His answer was, ‘this is going to sound elitist, but mainstream economists, the profession doesn’t listen to those guys anymore. They were big like in the 20s, but they’ve been eclipsed since then, so I wouldn’t give them a platform.’”

And so then I thought, “okay, well he’s going to ignore us that way, so I have to somehow provoke him.” I set up this goofy effort to challenge him to a debate, and then we were going to raise money to go to a New York City food kitchen, if he debated me. And so, that was kind of a publicity stunt. It was kind of funny, but I think that’s why he knew who I was and why he specifically attacked me later. Obviously, he was not happy with my shenanigans.

The official CPI did not jump as much in response to the Fed’s quantitative easing as I predicted in those years right after the Crash of ’08. Then Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman noticed people arguing on my blog and responded, “Aha, these Austrians, what a bunch of religious people here in the sense that they don’t respond to objective evidence. This guy Murphy made a prediction, he was wrong and yet he’s not updating his model.”

This shows how slippery these guys were because the economists I was busy debating about QE were not exactly in agreement with DeLong and Krugman. Bryan Caplan at George Mason is an anarcho-capitalist, for example, and Krugman and DeLong obviously weren’t about to declare Caplan right. Obviously, they didn’t say “anarcho-capitalism is vindicated because that anarcho-capitalist Bryan Caplan was right and Murphy was wrong.”

In their minds Keynesianism was right, even though there was nothing expressly Keynesian about QE. And the jury is still very much out concerning what the ultimate effects of monetary expansion will
be now that the Fed says it will reduce its balance sheet over the next few years. Admittedly, though, I should have been more careful with predictions that reflected my personal view. I mean, Austrian economists, number one, don’t make quantitative forecasts based on Austrian theory, per se. That’s one of the hallmarks of Mises’s view, if you think you’re going to predict the stock market just by using praxeology, then you’ve misunderstood what praxeology does for you.

So, there’s that element. But also, the Austrians themselves make important distinctions when it comes to price inflation. In the 1920s, the Austrians were saying just because there’s not rampant price inflation, doesn’t mean things are good. But since I had been poking Krugman and some people were learning their Austrian economics through my writings, I should have been more careful. And this is what I say to this day at Mises U and at other events with students: whether it’s fair or not, we’re in the minority, the mainstream is going to use any excuse to discredit us. And so, it’s sort of like you’re representing Austrian economics and watch yourself and don’t commit unforced errors.

That’s sort of my takeaway. Ben Bernanke, for instance, made a string of mistaken predictions, and you can go watch them on YouTube. You can see just how wrong he was time and time again going up to the crisis, and of course, Krugman, once Bernanke got reappointed was lauding him on his blog and saying, there’s nobody he would rather have at the helm of the Fed than Ben Bernanke. So, obviously Krugman doesn’t think a bad prediction disproves a theory. But when an Austrian gets caught losing one particular bet to other free-market guys, that’s somehow supposed to discredit an entire theory.

DEIST: What do you say to young people who ask you whether they ought to pursue a PhD, in economics or otherwise?

MURPHY: One thing I’ll do right away is just say, do you want to teach or at least is that acceptable to you? Could you imagine that is your day job for the rest of your life, that you’re at a college teaching the students and writing peer reviewed papers and if the answer is yes, then I say yeah, by all means, go ahead and go into it.

But if the motivation is “I really love Austrian economics or libertarianism and the free market and I guess, gee, the next logical step is to go get a PhD,” then I would say be careful and caution them that they could be wasting some valuable years of their lives.

Fortunately, a PhD in economics is more marketable beyond just academia — compared to, say, a PhD in philosophy. So, there is that element that you’re not as constrained if you get a PhD in economics as you would be in some other fields.

But, I do caution them that if you’re not sure if you want to go into academia, a PhD might be not worth the cost, all things considered. And I don’t mean money. I mean the time, the available years that you’re losing time you could have been out earning experience in industry or whatever you’re going to do with your life.

If you are going to go into it, though, be sure to work on research that you’re passionate about because that’s going to be the thing you’re known for. You’re going to be a world expert in this little thing that your dissertation’s on. You’d better be interested in it.

Another upside to the degree is there’s a huge area of overlap between financial economics and Austrian economics. A lot of the conflict between Austrians and other schools isn’t there when it comes to talking to people in the financial sector. I think there are a lot of applications that young Austrian economists in academia could do by publishing articles relevant to a financial crowd as opposed to the more official economics journals.

DEIST: Finally, you have been outspoken on your personal blog and otherwise about your own Christian beliefs. Why have you chosen to be outspoken about this and do you think that this has in any way helped or hindered you career wise?

MURPHY: It’s a great question. I’m outspoken on it just for the obvious reason that if you’re a Christian, that’s the most important thing, period. And so, why you would be focusing on other things and not talking about that is problematic if you really are a Christian. If you believe that the state of people’s souls are resting on an issue, that’s far more important than the heterogeneity of the capitalist structure. But, as far as whether it is helping or hurting, I really can’t say. My guess is that there are plenty of my colleagues who are agnostic or outright atheists who might see the things that I post on Sundays on my blog and think, “Bob’s very rational, but I’m glad he can compartmentalize because when he talks about economics, he’s real smart and rational and gee, when he starts talking about the Bible I just don’t get it.”

I’m sure there’s plenty of people who think like that, but I think probably they just say well, there’s a lot of religious people and that’s just how they were raised and they move on and they kind of give us a pass, if you will. So, to be honest, I don’t think it’s really hurt me. I do consulting work in the insurance sector, and not that anything in terms of professional relationship has anything to do with a religious litmus test, but I have noticed just as I reflect, that a lot of the people that I work the most closely with in that realm are also Christian.

I think it’s more of a worldview thing, that the kind of people who believe in the Bible, they see the world a certain way and so, if they hear me talking about the Federal Reserve, that’s going to resonate with them even if we’re not literally talking about scripture. I do think this sort of goes back to what we were saying about the state of Austrian economics. Some people might say, “You want to keep that to yourself so people don’t blackball you.” But on the other hand, if there is the remnant out there, the minority who thinks like you, they need to know who you are, so they can find you and work with you. I think there’s something like that too with my spiritual beliefs, that hiding it, that’s going to make me feel bad and I’m going to feel miserable, afraid to share my beliefs. But also, you should be a beacon of light to the other people who think like you.

The last thing I’ll say is, it wasn’t that I was worried about professional blowback. In the beginning I was worried about some pretty militant atheists in the free-marketsort-of-libertarian community, and they did hammer me in the beginning but I think they just got bored of it. Things like, “Can’t you see that the state and the church are identical?” They both tell you, you need us, give us your money or you’re going to suffer. I certainly get those superficial similarities, but like I said, it kind of went away and what really encouraged me though, was I got a lot of emails over the years from people saying, “hey, I keep my head down because I don’t feel like fighting with people online, but I’m glad you’re out there doing that.” I used to think I was one of the few Christian libertarians. Now I realize that’s not the case.

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

Cite This Article

Robert P. Murphy, "Universities, Krugman, and the State of Austrian Economics," The Austrian 4, no. 1 (January/February 2018): 4-14.

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