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Teaching Austrian Economics to China

Which is better? A technically superb photo of something you’ve seen many times before, like a wonderful still life oil painting? Or, a technically very average photo of something remarkable, that you never thought you’d live to see?

If you are in the mood for the second sort of photo, and you are someone who likes the kind of ideas that Samizdata seeks to spread, you should definitely take a look at this:

Evans+ChineseAustrianism

This is a group of Chinese people to whom Tim Evans of the Cobden Centre, seated proudly in their midst, was speaking, on Friday September 20th, about … Austrian Economics. And yes that is people from China China, not from some already strongly capitalistic outlying fragment of China.

My thanks to Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home for telling me about this. Gibbs writes:

Tim Evans of the Austrianist Cobden Centre shared this image on Facebook. It is unclear who is visiting who but he is depicted front and centre with a delegation of Chinese officials as if he was an honoured guest or leader. Tim has been training the group in the details of Austrianism. The group worked with the Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Of this exercise, Tim Evans writes:

Spent a great day on Friday lecturing key academic and economic advisers to the Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. I regularly work with senior Chinese officials and find many of them to be increasingly well versed in the ideas of the Austrian School of Economics.

Austrian Economics is very persuasive to a certain sort of economically curious person, because it is basically a statement of how things are. It describes a world of realities which are true whether you care about or accept their truth or not. This stuff is true no matter what else you choose merely to believe. You can, in principle, understand that Austrian Economics describes how the world is, yet still believe that the world ought to be a centralised despotism or a socialist nirvana, or maybe even some combination of the two.

But, it is rather difficult to stick with such beliefs on a permanent basis. Once you accept the truths that Austrian Economics tells you, it is difficult not to find yourself believing that the world ought to be different from the tyrannical way that a lot of it still is.

13 comments to Teaching Austrian Economics to China

  • The Wobbly Guy

    What’s scary for me? I think they’re learning about Austrian Economics just so they can figure out how to hack it and use it to their advantage in the global market. They’re certainly not going to give up their version of statism any time soon!

    You may argue that they’re riding a dangerous tiger (the tiger in question being individualism, liberty, and free enterprise) but they probably think they can handle it. Whether or not they actually can… Also, whether that tiger will swallow them before they dominate the countries around them…

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    The Wobbly Guy, even if they absorb good ideas for not always good reasons, such ideas have an infectious quality: they spread to people who are also attracted to them for good reasons simply by virtue of how more people are talking and writing about them.

    I am under no illusions about China, but equally, not in panic about developments there, either.

  • mike

    “And yes that is people from China China, not from some already strongly capitalistic outlying fragment of China.”

    Ahem. Although the “Republic Of China” founded in the 1911 revolution now rules the island of Taiwan, only a minority of the population descended from Chinese immigrants arriving post-1945 (e.g. the upper echelons of the KMT) consider themselves Chinese. The majority of the population here speak Hoklo first, Mandarin second, are descended from Chinese immigrants to Taiwan as far back as the 17th century and identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. Many of these people fought hard during the 1970s and 1980s against the KMT to establish a democratic system, and they recoil in horror at the thought of annexation to the PRC.

    The suggestion that Taiwan is an “outlying fragment of China” is a bit like calling Australia an “outlying fragment of Britain”.

  • Westerlyman

    TWG should stop worrying I think. Austrian economics, if anything is about is about freedom of the actors in markets to choose. They might think they can control things but using any free market ideas to alter their policies will release a wave of business growth that could become an over-whelming tide that would be extremely difficult to control without some sort of economic repression which, in today’s media connected world, is unlikely to be effective or even possible without the kind of control exerted in North Korea. Once the genii is out of the bottle the number of people who really want to see it put back in will become smaller and smaller as generally people become wealthier. There are people in Russia who want to return to a soviet style society but they are politically irrelevant now that most people have tasted the greater freedom and wealth.

  • Paul Marks

    Basic principles – such as that borrowing (lending) should not be greater than real savings of physical money, are not difficult to teach. But they are hard (very hard) to practice.

    The temptation for a “free lunch” – for borrowing financed by credit expansion (a credit bubble) rather than real savings (real sacrifice of present consumption), is very strong.

  • Westerlyman:

    They might think they can control things but using any free market ideas to alter their policies will release a wave of business growth that could become an over-whelming tide that would be extremely difficult to control without some sort of economic repression which, in today’s media connected world, is unlikely to be effective or even possible without the kind of control exerted in North Korea.

    With all due respect and hopefulness: say what? Austrian Economics is just another word for good old Capitalism (not that I like the term, but that aside) – and we know what has been happening to it after it has been producing all that business growth, and wealth and prosperity: not only had the Bad Guys taken over, they called whatever we have now Capitalism and Free Market and what not, and most people stick with that definition. So just wait until they call it Austrian Economy next, and then blame Mises and Co. for all of it going down the drain yet again. Sorry, but Wobbly makes a very good point. Not that I think that lectures such as this is a bad idea or even a pointless one – quite the contrary: good ideas should be disseminated to anyone willing to listen, for whatever reason. I am just cautioning against excessive optimism.

  • Taipan

    mike, I suspect that “already strongly capitalistic outlying fragment of China” that he had in mind was “Hong Hong”, not “Taiwan” :-D

  • Regional

    Containerisation is changing the world faster than people realise, just read about Barby the American Gal which is actually a trivial matter.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Whilst this is not a geopolitical thread, China will always want Taiwan, for many reasons, not least the access that Taiwan would give it to the Pacific Ocean. So you can dream on about independence, but trying to be independent will be bloody hard!

  • Mr Ed

    Such a lecture some 64 years ago might have saved tens of millions of lives, had the harmony of rightly-understood interests been appreciated by a bunch of bloodthirsty lunatics.

    Still, start where you can, and let’s face it, at least they are listening, unlike around 640 MPs in the UK.

  • mike

    Taipan: I think you’ll find no shortage of Cantonese people who aren’t so sanguine about their dressed-up annexation either.