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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Austrian Economics in Prague

What a vibrant intellectual culture looks like

I just returned from delivering ten lectures to students in the MA program in philosophy, politics and economics at the CEVRO Institute in Prague, CZ. I have known Professor Josef Sima for close to 20 years and have followed his work as a scholar and educator with great respect and admiration at the Liberalni Institute, the PhD Program at the University of Economics in Prague (which had developed one of the most interesting programs in Institutional Economics world-wide for a time), and of course his work as President of the CEVRO Institute.

In addition to the regular curriculum, Professor Sima has established an annual research conference for those interested in Austrian economics and political economy – The Prague Conference in Political Economy (PCPE), information for the 2018 conference next spring can be found already online.

Professor Sima is one of the truly great academic entrepreneurs navigating the sometimes hostile environment of modern-day academics.Let me be clear what I mean by “Austrian economics.” Above all, it is a way to think about the range and scope of an academic discipline the follows a tradition of thought within economic science. Its modern origin dates to the 19th century but it has an older lineage in the history of ideas.

It is not a political doctrine much less the moniker of a tribe. It is a school of thought (exemplified in the work of Menger, Mises, and Hayek) that seeks the most realistic possible understanding of the relationship between economics forces and human choice. It is not narrow but broad, and the implications for economic theory and praxis are profound. 

Today the Austrian tradition continues in research centers around the world, and what Professor Sima is doing in Prague beautifully embodies what is possible. Professor Sima was also instrumental for many years in running summer seminars for students interested in learning about Austrian economics and political economy.

And, just this past year, he also initiated a new program in Behavioral and Experimental Social Science, including a conference and summer school. They also have a regular seminars throughout the year.

So you get the picture. CEVRO is all about ideas, discussion, debate, and more ideas, discussion and debate and against the background of one of the most enchanting cities in the world.  

If you have an undergraduate student who is intrigued by the ideas in political economy and social philosophy and hasn’t yet decided on what to specialize in, I recommend in the highest possible terms you steer them toward apply for this MA program. The international faculty include, among others David Schmidtz and Michael Munger – that is self-recommending in itself!

The students in this first year of the program have been keeping a blog – Ppe Life – and that will give you a glimpse into the range of discussions that go on.

My expectation is that this program will be an outstanding scholarly preparation for PhD work in the humanities and social sciences and I expect to see many of its graduates go on to receive PhDs at programs such as GMU, King’s College London, Arizona, Brown, Duke, Texas Tech, etc.

Professor Sima is one of the truly great academic entrepreneurs navigating the sometimes hostile environment of modern-day academics and doing it with great skill and commitment to truth-tracking, philosophical sophistication, and analytical rigor.  And, I should add, unleashing the intellectual curiosity of those studying with him to pursue their understanding of the social world in varied directions and from a variety of perspectives.

  • Peter Boettke is a Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University and director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.