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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tradition of Austrian Economics at FEE

This blog is primarily about the history of FEE and how it is still important today. The Foundation is, of course, still moving forward but it is important not to forget our past. It is after all a rich and interesting history relating to free market ideas. Looking back can be an important part of moving forward. This tradition continues today, particularly with FEE’s summer seminars (with next summer’s application process starting soon). These seminars are steeped in the ideas of the Austrian school of economic thought. FEE can, itself, rightly claim its place as an important part of the history of the Austrian school.

As Israel Kirzner (who many can rightly claim to be the current dean of the Austrian school) illustrates well in his “History of the Austrian School” lecture every summer here at FEE (watch his 2009 lecture here), the Austrian school at about the time of FEE’s founding in 1946 was anything but the mainstream of economic thought. Sure Mises and Hayek were still putting out work, but as Kirzner says in his lecture “…books that no one was reading.” Economists at the time were following Paul Samuelson’s lead with the neo-classical synthesis, which stated that the classical school was correct in microeconomic issues but Keynesian economics was needed for macroeconomic issues, and the mathematical formulation of the discipline.

Kirzner is not completely right though; the work of Mises and Hayek was not completely unread. A small minority was still resisting the new trends of the economics of the 1940s and 1950s and this is in large part due to the work of organization’s like FEE. For a while FEE was the lone voice for these ideas and because of these efforts Austrian ideas are spreading. This, however, is all the more reason to work harder to make sure these ideas spread even further.

The Austrian school is part of the larger mainline of economic thought from Adam Smith, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and to modern economists such as James Buchanan and Israel Kirzner. And this tradition is still moving forward and being written. Today’s document is a photo of a slightly younger Israel Kirzner giving a lecture (probably his history of Austrian economics lecture) in the historical FEE classroom in Irvington. He is writing Menger (for Carl Menger the founder of the Austrian tradition) followed by ….. Many great minds have helped contribute to the ideas of Austrian economics but this photo is a stark reminder that the best may still be yet to come. Who will be the next in the line of great Austrian economists? Who ever it is they, like many of the current Austrians today, may very likely get their start here at FEE.

Download the picture of Kirzner lecturing in the FEE classroom here.

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.