Last April, Jill and I participated in an ASA Literary tour of the Southern States of the USA with 24 other Australians. The party was led by Susannah Fullerton who is famous for her work on Jane Austen.
We were introduced to many southern writers, saw the homes where they lived and the places and the cultures they had written about. There were writers we were familiar with such as John Berendt , Margaret Mitchell, Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Joel Chandler Harris, and Harper Lee; and others not so well known such as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Greg Isles and William Faulkner.
The tour began in Savannah in Georgia and travelled through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana ending up in New Orleans. Local people acted as guides and gave lectures throughout the tour. My two lasting impressions were of people who were hospitable and community minded. They spend lots of voluntary time in and on their communities, maintaining the fabric of their towns and promoting their heroes.
On 17th April, I took leave of the party and headed for Auburn, Alabama for a very special visit. Auburn is a small University town, population only 80,000 but with 30,000 at the University and a large football stadium. But it was not the State University or the football that took me there. Auburn is the home of the Mises Institute, a boutique private university, specializing in libertarian philosophy and Austrian economics. It is named after Ludwig von Mises one of the towering intellects of the twentieth century.
I first read Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action in 1964. For many years I would say he was the only economist I had ever read that made any sense. Subsequently there have been others, but my instincts were good. Here is Lew Rockwell, founder of the Mises Institute and current Chairman, explaining what it is all about: “Austrians view economics as a tool for understanding how people both cooperate and compete in the process of meeting needs, allocating resources, and discovering ways of building a prosperous social order. Austrians view entrepreneurship as a critical force in economic development, private property as essential to an efficient use of resources, and government intervention in market process as always and everywhere destructive.”
The Mises Institute offers fellowships, research grants, opportunities to publish in scholarly journals, academic conferences and access to its extensive libraries to scholars from all around the world. Through its summer schools and graduate seminars it has helped thousands of students. For the general public, it offers numerous publications, seminars, online classes, videos and a daily blog - all free of charge. It publishes books by Austrian economists and runs a bookstore - Mises Store.
I was greeted by Kristy Holmes and shown around the wonderful facilities. There are lecture rooms and extensive libraries – over 40,000 volumes, including Murray Rothbard’s personal library. There are private study rooms for academics and PhD students. A most significant feature of the campus is the numerous discussion areas – many of them in the open – where students can debate among themselves and with their professors. In a very personal and intimate touch, there are busts of our heroes – Mises, of course, but also F.A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Henry Hazlitt and Leonard E Read.
Joe Salerno and Mark Thornton took me to lunch where we discussed many matters of mutual interest but specifically I recall Mark making the observation that Nixon’s “War on Drugs” had criminalized the drug industry and had led indirectly to an increase in homicide. Later I met the Chairman, Lew Rockwell and the President, Jeff Deist.
What a day! What an experience! What an opportunity to build lasting friendships with such fine people and to see at first hand the wonderful work this privately funded organization is doing.
For more, read my book The Fragility of Freedom: Why Subsidiarity Matters