How the Mises Institute Builds New Scholars
When Ludwig von Mises began teaching his seminar at New York University in the late 1940s, he did so because he was driven to teach and to pass on the knowledge of the Austrian school.
Years earlier, Mises had realized that ideas have consequences and one of the most important ways of combating bad ideas is to offer good ideas in their place. Without good scholarship, good research, and good scholars, truth has little chance of being heard.
How a Seminar Spurred a Movement
Perhaps Mises never imagined that his teaching would ignite a new movement, but it was through his lectures (both in New York and back in Vienna) that a new generation of Austrian economists was born. By the 1970s, Mises had either directly or indirectly influenced countless economists and other scholars — including Murray Rothbard and F.A. Hayek, of course — who would go on to teach a new generation of Austrians themselves. Mises, who lived in a period of nearly unchallenged deference to socialism and interventionism, never lived to see the true impact his ideas would have. As is so often the case in the battle of ideas, progress can require decades.
Today, the Mises Institute continues Mises's efforts through programs like Mises University, the Rothbard Graduate Seminar, and the Austrian Economics Research Conference. Many alumni of these programs now teach in colleges and universities across the globe, including programs in Spain, the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, China, Guatemala, and Brazil. These scholars can be found writing books in a half-dozen languages, founding new graduate programs, and forwarding the science of sound economics.
Putting Austrians in the Classroom, Worldwide
Among our most important programs is the Fellowship program which brings graduate students to our campus in Auburn for a full summer each year so they can work directly with our senior faculty and produce new research, new articles, new books, and new careers.
Under the direction of Joseph Salerno, the students — most of whom are working on PhDs — work to improve their scholarship and competitiveness as economists so they may themselves become influential and quality scholars who will themselves advise and teach students in the future.
Last spring, I sat down with several former fellows — all of whom now have teaching positions of their own — to discuss the role of the Fellows programs in their own careers.
When asked about how the Fellows program has advanced their careers, Shawn Ritenour, who teaches economics at Grove City College, summed up his own experiences with the program by saying “I wouldn’t have a career without it.” Ritenour also added that the program gave him “a master’s level education in Austrian economics.”
Jonathan Newman, who recently finished his PhD in economics remarked that “the other students — who don’t benefit from Mises Institute programs — can’t keep up” with the rigorous level of debate and scholarship that prevails among the Institute’s fellows.
This partially reflects the quality of the faculty led at the Institute. “The faculty is encouraging, but demanding,” recalled Matthew McCaffrey, who recently found a full-time teaching position at the University of Manchester in the UK. Similarly, Carmen Dorobat, who now teaches economics at Coventry University in the UK, added that “you’re expected to really know the material. You can’t fake your way through the program.”
Building Better Economists
Former fellows remembered that the program made them better economists overall, and not just better Austrian economists. Dr. Ritenour remarked that thanks to the program he “learned more about economics in general” than he would have without the Fellows program. Paul Cwik, who now teaches at Mount Olive College, added that “we know the other schools of thought better than most economists because we have to be able to defend ourselves against them.”
One of the greatest aspects of the program, I was told, was the opportunity to take advantage of “overlapping generations” which allowed new Fellows to learn from former Fellows who had gone on to faculty positions elsewhere. It is, as McCaffrey described it, “a multigenerational fellows network.”
Those who have worked in academia know that competition for faculty positions is intense. Moreover, in spite of immense progress in recent decades, opposition to free-market ideas remains common, and being known for an association with the Austrian school does little by itself to propel a scholar to the top of his or her field. In other words, to be successful as an Austrian, one must excel at the business of being a good economist.
For this reason, the Mises faculty designed an especially rigorous program to help Austrian scholars stand apart from their peers as especially well-formed scholars.
As Ritenour remarked, “the program is a case of iron sharpening iron. It’s people encouraging each other to do their best.” James Yohe, who teaches economics at Gadsden State Community College concluded “I learned more in this program than in any of my regular university courses. ... The fellowship program is a type of ‘shadow education’ that improves your regular college courses.”
To this, Dr. Cwik added “It’s a whole second education that runs parallel to your regular program.”
But lest anyone think that the Fellows program is just a place to go where everyone will agree with you, McCaffrey remembered that “this isn’t a place where we all show up to agree with each other. In fact, the students and faculty here are more critical of your work because everyone knows the material so well.
Noting the efforts by faculty members — especially Joseph Salerno — to give the Fellows a true edge as economists and scholars, both McCaffrey and Cwik conclude: “The scholar-in-residence program is the best thing [the Mises Institute] ever did.”