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Changing the world one tweet at a time

I recently had this conversation on Twitter:


Rupert Murdoch said something and I replied. Someone else overheard and I sent him a link to Madsen Pirie’s series of videos about economics. Well, how would you answer that question in 144 characters? Now one more person knows that there is such a thing as Austrian economics.

I am not surprised to encounter people who have never heard of it. “Economists” are presented as a homogeneous blob by the mainstream media. It is nice to be asked about it and to have the answer be appreciated.

11 comments to Changing the world one tweet at a time

  • I seem to recall linking from here to early numbers in that Madsen series of vids, but I never got around to watching all the later ones. So thanks for that link.

  • I was at a conference with a number of other Risk Management types around 2001 and we were comparing our economic perspectives.

    I started off with the usual “Being an Austrian, I believe that…” when one of my American colleagues turned to me and said “I thought you were from Ireland”.

    True Story (unfortunately).

    We need to spread the word – “To the Von Mises Mobile!”

  • Snorri Godhi

    Considering all the great music that has been composed in Vienna, not to mention Karl Popper (and Konrad Lorenz, and Eric Kandel, etc) it is too good to be true that Austrian economics has also come out of Austria.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Perhaps we should change ‘Austrian school’ to ‘Free Enterprise school’- that is what these Austrians were in favour of, and gets away from any national/patriot connotations. Better yet, localise it! In America, call it Rothbardism, in Australia- Singletonism, etc.

  • Alsadius

    Non-snarky reply:
    “Messing with the money supply only damages the economy in the long run, so use hard money instead to promote stability. Also, gov’t sucks.”

    (That last bit should perhaps be a bit.ly link instead)

    Snarky reply:

  • I like the phrases “Austrianism” and “Austrianist”.

    This communicates that this is an -ism that we are talking about here, rather than the mere study of the Austrian economy. But it is also clearly recognisable by all devotees of Austrian Economics as that which they are already devoted to.

    “Free Enterprise School”, by comparison, provokes confusions galore.

  • Paul Marks

    Nice exchange Rob.


    Especially in the old sense of that word.

  • Jake Haye

    I’ve tried to watch those vids before, but unfortunately Pirie’s patronising delivery and niggling imprecision made him seem like an overconfident mediocrity not fully in command of his subject, so I never got past the first installment.

    Re alternative names for the Austrian School: perhaps the Rational School, or the Axiomatic School would be descriptive of the approach as claimed.

  • If you think Madsen Pirie, a man who has probably moved more people to sound economic thinking than anyone I know, does not fully understand the subject, you would be incorrect.

    What he is, like some modern day Bastiat, is someone who communicates well with people who are not as well read as he is… which is to say, most people.

    But if he does not appeal to you, well, such is life.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Another possible name could be The Free Anarchy school. Some people use the term Anarcho-Capitalism, which seems too long to catch on. The ‘Free’ part of the title separates it from the run-of-the-mill anarchy brand, because many anarchists seems to be inclined to communardism- communal living. ‘Free Enterprize Anarchy’ might be too long.
    Any other polite suggestions?

  • Jake Haye


    My tone tends to be unintentionally combative as I find great difficulty expressing myself, for which apologies.

    In the light of your recommendation, I gave MP’s vids another look and made notes along the way. I stopped at part 6 as the post was getting rather long, so I don’t know if some or all my quibbles were addressed in later parts. I hope this clarifies my objections, unfounded as they may be:

    Part 1: Value

    1:51 Having just described the barter of a hook for a fur, MP asserts that “nobody gets the better of a trade bargain”. Even for a hypothetical exchange between omniscient traders with unlimited choice, this statement presumably entails a comparison of the subjective mental states of the two parties, which seems problematic. I think what MP meant was the weaker statement that both parties benefit from trade, given certain provisos (this seems consistent with what follows). Perhaps I’m oversensitive to such things, and I realise that MP is simplifying things for his audience, but I tend to wince every time someone leaves what appears to be an exploitable opportunity for the freedom deniers, however slight.

    MP concludes with “and that’s how wealth is created”, referring to the above exchange. Well … kinda. MP nicely explained that ‘wealth’ is subjective, but … somebody still had to make the hook and the fur, so on the face of it, this kind of trade alone seems incomplete as a definition/explanation of wealth creation. I’m not sure it would be obvious to the uninitiated to view the hook and the fur as exchanged for the time and labour of their creators. Perhaps this is addressed in subsequent parts …? Sort of: described in part 5 as ‘investing time’.

    Part 2: Price

    Good stuff; no quibbles there.

    Part 3: Specialization

    Great stuff about the pins, but the example of Eli Whitney using specialisation to win a government arms contract seems like a poor choice.

    Part 4: Trade

    1:49 On helping developing nations: “Buy their stuff”. Well … yeah, but only if it’s worth buying, right? Otherwise it’s just another form of aid. Not made clear. Goes on to say “Buy their stuff, and they become richer in the same way we did”. Risks conflation of wealth (‘riches’) and money – sloppy. Conflation of wealth and money is a common fallacy in leftist/lay arguments, so consistency/precision seems important here. Continues to imply that poorer countries (and, by extension, individuals) can only become richer by selling stuff, by not mentioning the equal importance of buying stuff, again apparently reinforcing the wealth=money fallacy (albeit inadvertently), and risking tacit endorsement of protectionism. Goes on to speak of ‘countries’ and ‘the world’ being rich – rather vague notions that further muddy the waters.

    Part 5: Time

    1:12 “Several religions have opposed [the charging of] interest”. A list would have been informative. I can only think of one.

    2:18 “We use wealth …. Instead of spending it now for gratification, we postpone that in order to generate more wealth later.” So now wealth is physical stuff that can be ‘used’ and ‘spent’? Is there another conflation of wealth and money here? What happened to the (implied) description of wealth in part 1 as a subjective mental state? Such confusion seems unnecessary simply to explain short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

    2:23 “So, in addition to wealth being created by trade, and by specialisation, it’s also created by investment”. Wealth created by trade … so wealth = subjective mental state. Wealth created by specialisation … so wealth = stuff. Wealth created by investment … hang on, the ‘investment’ part is the cost isn’t it? Less investment for the same outcome means more net ‘wealth’, surely? And what about other forms of wealth like clement weather and friendly neighbours? Where do they fit in? Etc.

    Part 6: Money

    1:54 Fiat currency is “backed by taxpayers”. I’m certainly no expert, but the meaning of this statement was unclear to me. I was not educated by it.

    1:56 “You have a legal obligation to accept it [fiat currency]. You can’t even choose whether or not you want it.” AFAIK only where no prior debt exists, otherwise one can simply refuse to trade. This was explained to me by the owner of the corner shop where I worked for a while as a teenager before flouncing off to 6th form college. Sloppy to the point of misleading IMHO.