Exchequer

Slate vs. Mises and Hayek

 

There is so much thick-headedness and tendentiousness in Stephen Metcalf’s anti-libertarian tirade in Slate that one could write a very long response to practically any paragraph.

Because I do not  hate myself that much, I am not going to do so, but this bit particularly stuck in my craw:

Libertarians will blanch at lumping their revered Vons — Mises and Hayek — in with the nutters and the shills. But between them, Von Hayek and Von Mises never seem to have held a single academic appointment that didn’t involve a corporate sponsor. 

As an attempt to impeach the intellectual integrity of two great thinkers, this is fairly lame, not to mention crude. It is also an invitation to mockery: Mr. Metcalf’s work at Slate is supported by worthies pitching their products thus: “57 Year Old Mom Looks 27!” and “Vacuums on eBay.” I didn’t click through to check out that 57-year-old mom, but I’m pretty sure that Mr. Metcalf ought to retire this sort of ad pecuniam argument, and especially the word “shill,” which really ought not to be used unselfconsciously by any former employee of the Clinton clan.

For the record, Mises taught for twenty years at the University of Vienna and then for six at the Graduate Institute for International Studies in Geneva, where he held a chair in international economic relations. When he arrived in the United States in 1940 — a refugee from the Nazis — he was nearly 60 years old, an age when many academics are wrapping up their careers rather than launching new ones. Mises went on to teach, notably at New York University, until he was 87 years old, and retired as the oldest active professor in the United States. It is true that he was not a salaried and tenured professor in any of these roles. In Vienna, he was secretary of the chamber of commerce and later worked for the government. In the United States, he worked also for the government, in the National Bureau of Economic Research, and later at the National Association of Manufacturers. His work in the United States was also supported by a number of nonprofits, including the Volker Fund and the Earhart Foundation.

F. A. Hayek — not von Hayek, incidentally — was on the faculty at the London School of Economics. He taught in various capacities at the University of Chicago, the University of Freiburg, UCLA, and the University of Salzburg. He also won the Nobel Prize in economics, for what it’s worth.

Does Mr. Metcalf of Slate seriously believe that all of these academic institutions (and the Nobel committee) were somehow corrupted by filthy lucre to such an extent that they allowed themselves to be used by “nutters and shills”? (And, if so, why would a regular academic appointment at one of these corrupt institutions be desirable?) I have my reservations about the academic establishment and its merits, but that theory still seems to me preposterous. Mr. Metcalf also seems blind to the possibility that the fact that neither Mises nor Hayek became a Harvard don or similar, and that their work was supported in no small part by businessmen, speaks very poorly of the midcentury academic establishment and very well of midcentury businessmen. I am reminded of the case of Prof. F. A. Harper of Cornell, who quit his professorship when a trustee of the university tried to forbid him from having his students read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, on the grounds that it was reactionary and that everybody knew — everybody! — that economic central planning was the wave of the future.

But, hey, Stephen Metcalf of Slate says that’s not good enough. So, there! 

 

—  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

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