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Home | Blog | 'Hell on Wheels,' Jeff Deist on the Austrian School, and More

'Hell on Wheels,' Jeff Deist on the Austrian School, and More

February 6, 2014
janfmAlready in mailboxes is the January edition of The Free Market, the Mises Institute's monthly. In this issue, Ryan McMaken writes on the AMC show Hell on Wheels and the transcontinental railroads:
Hell on Wheels wastes no time in making it quite clear that this is not the story of heroic entrepreneurs or industrialist visionaries. It is the story of con artists and thieves capitalizing on the expansionist ideology of a militarized and war-torn society. Durant, wishing to extract as much money as he can from the federal government, chastises his workers for seeking to build the railroad efficiently, reminding them that “this undertaking is being subsidized by the enormous teat of the federal government” and that the railroad, which is being paid by the mile, should use a much longer route in order to take advantage of “this never-ending money-gushing nipple” that is the U.S. Treasury. Because of its political provenance and its lack of participation in any functioning markets, the railroad exists forever on the brink of chaos and bankruptcy as Durant must manage politicians and stockholders to ensure that his corrupt show can go on.
And Mises Institute President Jeff Deist discusses what attracted him to Austrian economics:
Remember that much of what passed for free market or libertarian thought at the time remained mired in 1980s Reaganite clichés. Supply-side economics was still the focus of the Right, with many otherwise sensible people talking about the Laffer Curve and maximizing tax revenue! Quasi-utilitarian arguments flourished in the economics mainstream, ceding the intellectual high ground in favor of arguments that free markets merely “worked” better. “Law and economics” theories were trendy, with strict liability tort models offered as the supposed remedy to judicial overreach and externalities. Tax cuts and enterprise zones typified the weak-tea fiscal policy ideas coming from the political class, even as Clinton outfoxed the elder Bush by co-opting limited government rhetoric. Of course both Alan Greenspan and the Fed were wildly popular across the political spectrum, with some pundits promising not only an end to poverty (through monetary policy) but an end to history itself. Democracy, so we were told, had triumphed. Against this backdrop Austrian economics opened up a whole new world for me. It became clear that antipathy toward government and support for free markets was not enough: it was necessary to understand and explain the harm caused by all kinds of government intervention in economic terms, which is to say, human terms. Reading breezy libertarian books and articles could never substitute for more rigorous academic self-study.
Also included are numerous notes about our scholars and alumni, and more. All Mises Institute Members receive copies of The Free Market. Join here.

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