Interview with Professor Jörg Guido Hülsmann: "Academia, as we see it today, is a fruit of the mushrooming welfare state"

Jörg Guido Hülsmann is Professor of Economics at the University of Angers in France. He is Senior fellow at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He is author of many publications some of which are:  "Deflation and liberty", "The Ethics of Money Production", "Die Krise der Inflationskultur" (The Crisis of the Culture of Inflation), and "Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism". Professor Hülsmann is one of the most distinguished scholars of the Austrian School of Economics. He is teaching a course on "Money, Banking, and the Financial System" at the Cevro Institute in Prague for the Master's program in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). 

SiP: Professor Hülsmann, what had happened if you had never gotten to know the Austrian School of Economics?

JGH: I actually don’t know what I had done if I hadn’t gotten in touch with the Austrians. I would certainly still be interested in economics, but I would probably not have pursued an academic career. Especially in Germany, being an academic demands some lengthy preparation. First, you need to acquire a PhD, then you have to write a habilitation thesis. Then you typically work for a few years in temporary positions without any security that you will get a permanent position. That would have been too risky for me if I had only been interested in mere economics. I would have rather pursued a job in business which I actually did before joining academia. 

 SiP: You have been teaching in France, in the US and now also in the Czech Republic at the Cevro Institute. How does your Czech experience differ from the others?

JGH: The PPE-program at the Cevro Institute is one of the very rare ones in Europe and possibly even in the world. That’s why I don’t think that the students I met are representative for the whole Czech Republic. The group I taught was very good and I would not have such a composition of outstanding students in France. I enjoyed my first week of teaching here because it is a very interdisciplinary program with interesting people having different backgrounds, bringing different ideas, perspectives and knowledge to the table. We had good discussions. The overall experience I made here is better than what I am accustomed to with the graduate programs at my own university.

SiP: You were also teaching at the Grove City College. The Grove City Archives were of relevance for your biography of the late economist Ludwig von Mises of whom many private letters and manuscripts are stored there. Was your teaching at the College triggered by your archival work?

JGH: Grove City was always very sympathetic towards the Misesian way of understanding economics. The great economist Hans Sennholz taught there for many decades. That was a reason why the Mises Archives were stored there. An Austrian faculty was hired quite recently, starting with Jeffrey Herbener in 1997 – the year I went to Grove City for the first time to study the Mises Archives. Herbener has become a friend of mine and we really much like each other’s work. He is the one who invited me several times to teach at his faculty as a Visiting Professor.

SiP: You are German and an outstanding Austrian scholar. Why don’t you teach in Germany?

JGH: Well, I could imagine teaching in Germany. For some strange reason, I never had strong academic ties to German universities. If I had found a position there, I would have probably stayed. Unfortunately, not many schools in Germany are interested in the Austrian approach. That’s just a plain fact.

SiP: Coming back to the great focal point of your past research: Ludwig von Mises. You are an economist and also engineer by training. What was your experience writing a historical work and what have you learned in the process of writing?

JGH: When Lew Rockwell, head of the Mises Institute in Auburn (US), asked me to write Mises’ biography, I didn’t feel quite well prepared for the task. However, I knew the Austrian School and Mises’ works fairly well and I also command the languages of the places where he lived. That put me in a relatively good position to engage in this project. Also archival material on Mises just had become known in the mid-1990s. Many of Mises’ documents dating before WWII ended up in Moscow in a formerly secret archive.  The project was trailblazing and the topic super-hot at that time.  I accepted this challenge because I wanted to enter the academic world. It was a great opportunity for me and my career but had I known how much work this was going to be, I would have probably not accepted the offer. But eventually I am proud of my contribution, particularly regarding new material on Mises that I presented in the book. 

SiP: Which skills have you acquired writing the book?

JGH: It always helps if you know something about economic history. As far as my main research is concerned, which deals with economic theory mainly, I cannot really feed much on my historical research. But my experience certainly helps my teaching. It is good that you are aware of historical developments. That knowledge enhances the quality of my classes.

SiP: Carl Menger, the doyen of the Austrian School studied in Prague. His disciple Friedrich von Wieser taught political economy at the Charles University. Do you think that Mises nowadays would be teaching at the Cevro Institute?

JGH: Mises was very picky when he fled Europe and moved to the US. He could have found a teaching job at any colleague, but he would not have accepted that because he preferred a prestigious university but couldn’t get tenure there. Now, Cevro is located in a capital city, an interesting place to live. It’s very centrally located, and a distinguished private institution. So, Mises would possibly have accepted Cevro’s call.

SiP: You discussed negative effects of inflation on culture, morals, etc. Do you see any repercussions of our “culture of inflation” on academia?

JGH: Academia, as we see it today, is a fruit of the mushrooming welfare state. One of the major areas of government services  is education. Academia has to a large extent become a branch of the public sector. Most university teachers in France, Germany, and I believe also in the Czech Republic, are civil servants. So, they have the typical outlook of civil servants. They usually feel that government intervention is necessary and beneficial and should therefore be expanded. This problem can be explained by the fact that such people were selected by people who already work in that system and newcomers are naturally interested in working for the public sector. This generates a very strong pro-government-bias among public intellectuals.

SiP: In your Mises-biography you pointed to Georg Simmel and Joseph Schumpeter (born in Třešť) who had characterized the essence of economic action as exchange. You have engaged in some lively exchange with students here. What was the most interesting that you have experienced in your lectures?

JGH: I was very happy about the interest that the students showed about the topics discussed. We had very fruitful exchanges regarding aspects of economic theory, the theory of banking and money. We had a special session on Mises and there was some good exchange too. What I can take home is an excellent impression about the vitality of the school.

SiP: In your lecture you said “the role of government is not to create wealth.” What do you think is the role of education and where do you see your very own role as a professor?

JGH: The role of education is to help students develop into personalities. That’s the ultimate goal of education – to make them citizens of the world, able to understand the world around them, and especially able to acquire knowledge that they need to understand the world. So, the ultimate goal is not to feed information into an empty space but to help young intellectuals to help themselves. We can only assist them providing some orientation. But you can give this orientation only if people have some sort of knowledge. My own political views are very libertarian. If I were just standing in front of my students, professing about how things should be run, I wouldn’t get much attention. So, my lectures are usually about explaining economic mechanisms. With the degree of becoming an economist you automatically become more skeptical about the possibility and desirability of government intervention.

SiP: You also try to present and see the things as they ought to be. Where do Germany and the Czech Republic stand on this matter, which country is closer to the ideal?

JGH: It’s hard for me to provide a valid assessment for the Czech Republic. So far, I have only walked within a radius of 3 km around my hotel which is quite a lot but not sufficient enough. There is much rural area in the Czech Republic. But what I have seen here in Prague is very positive. I like the atmosphere of the city. It has a nice flow. People are friendly, quiet and almost relaxed. Not in a sloppy way. You simply don’t see this haze that you have in other cities such as Paris or London. It’s a very pleasant atmosphere. I also like the way people dress here. It’s a rather conservative way – modest. I have not seen many people running around with very visible tattoos. I like the food, I like the beer. This is really a great place to be at.  

SiP: Professor Hülsmann, thank you very much for this interview.

Professor Hülsmann was interviewed by Dominik Ešegović in Prague 30 March 2017.




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