Later this month is the 50th anniversary of the South Royalton, Vermont conference on Austrian economics. Liberty Fund asked Richard Ebeling, one of the attendees to write the long essay, and then two people who attended (Mario Rizzo and I) and one person who didn’t (Geoffrey Lea) wrote responses.

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

Like Richard Ebeling, I was excited to attend the first Austrian Economics conference in South Royalton, Vermont. My motivation was different from Richard’s. I didn’t regard myself as an Austrian economist, but I did find Friedrich Hayek’s work on the socialist calculation debate, and Ludwig von Mises’ work more generally, profoundly insightful and important. I was also a big fan of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, the first thing by Hayek that I had read. I had read Hayek and Mises in the late 1960s when I was a young undergraduate mathematics major at the University of Winnipeg. I never took a course in Austrian economics: all of my reading was on my own. In the fall of 1971, when I applied for the Ph.D. program at UCLA, I knew a lot about UCLA’s strong free-market orientation and was looking forward to taking classes from Armen Alchian, Harold Demsetz, and Sam Peltzman, the three UCLA economists whose work I had read. While I knew that none of them was an Austrian economist, I hoped that some of them would be sympathetic. So I took a chance on my application letter, writing, “I would like to be in a graduate program where, if I refer to Mises, people don’t assume that I’m mispronouncing the name of a childhood disease.” It worked, if you judge by the outcome: I was offered full tuition plus a 2-year teaching assistant position paying $440 per month for a 9-month year. That was more than this kid from rural Manitoba had imagined he could get and, more relevant, more than I was offered at my second choice, the University of Chicago.

The person who had motivated me to get into economics was Harold Demsetz, whom I had met in January 1970, when he gave 3 talks at the University of Winnipeg. I was hooked on economics. Although I almost always took Demsetz’s advice—he was my dissertation advisor and my mentor—in this case I went against his advice. I told him that I had received an offer to attend the South Royalton conference at someone else’s expense, and the program looked interesting. The three main speakers were Murray Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, and Ludwig Lachmann. I had read, and been impressed with, much of Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. Demsetz’s friend and colleague Ben Klein had assigned Israel Kirzner’s Competition and Entrepreneurship in his industrial organization class earlier that year. While I don’t recall Klein saying why he liked the book, I think one reason was that Kirzner rejected the idea that perfect competition had anything to do with perfection. I do remember that Ben liked the idea of dynamic evolving competition that Kirzner, and the Austrians in general, refreshingly brought to the economic discussion.

So I was surprised that Demsetz discouraged me from going to the South Royalton event. He told me that, now that my course work was done, I should be digging into my dissertation immediately. But I needed a break after two intense years, and this “busman’s holiday” seemed like what the doctor ordered. I probably batted a thousand on Demsetz’s advice: taking it on every other issue and rejecting it on this one. The conference was well worth it.

Here’s a link to Richard Ebeling’s leading essay, Mario Rizzo’s response essay, and finally my responses essay. Geoffrey Lea’s response is yet to come.
Don’t miss the part in my essay about Frances Hazlitt’s comment to Milton Friedman.
The people in the photo are, from left to right, Harry Watson, Milton Friedman, Jerry O’Driscoll, Jack High, and Richard Ebeling.
Personal note: I had a major medical test yesterday. The results were negative; I never like the word “negative” as much as I do when I hear it from doctors. I was sweating the test on Monday and Tuesday morning and having the test Tuesday afternoon. Thus the absence of blog posts Monday and Tuesday.