Very nice reflections on the recent 2011 PFS Annual Meeting by attendee Benjamin Marks:
by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief
and Mencken’s Conservatism author
In light of the furore arising from my appointment as editor-in-chief of the Australian economics organisation, Economics.org.au, it was decided that I travel as far away from Australia as I could until the media frenzy subsided. I was philosophical about this, figuring that having reached the pinnacle of the Australian economics profession with my appointment, the only challenges left for me were abroad anyway. So, in my new capacity as senior foreign correspondent for Economics.org.au, I attended the 6th Annual Property and Freedom Society (PFS) Conference in Bodrum, Turkey.
The significance of the conference being in Turkey cannot be understated. There was a gaudy Turkish election campaign of some sort playing out during the conference, and big clunky polluting vehicles were driven around the poorly-maintained and traffic-clogged streets with loud songs and speeches advertising the candidates. Imagine an ice cream van that went three times as fast, emitted noise almost as irritating as “Greensleeves” and offered something people had to be forced to fund. Pedestrians were treated like taxpayers. Despite not understanding the language that the election profundities were in — I was the only conference participant who was not at least bilingual —, they were still just as comprehensible to me as the confabulations of English-speaking politicians.
The PFS was founded by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, with the enthusiastic support of his wife Gülçin. It was set up to do what The Mont Pelerin Society was meant to: to be an international hub for genuine defenders of freedom. In actual fact, reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton’s nightmare The Man Who Was Thursday, the MPS is no “Supreme Anarchist Council,” but, “a lot of silly [undercover] policemen looking at each other.”1 Far from defending freedom, the MPS is more like Rabelais’s Crazy Council:
The next day, on our starboard side, we met up with nine old tub boats full of monks — Dominicans, Jesuits, Capuchins, Hermits, Augustinians, Bernardines, Celestines, Theatines, Egnatins, Amadeans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Minims, and monks named for all the other holy saints — who were on their way to the Crazy Council, where they were going to polish up the articles of faith so they could deal with new styles of heretics.2
I knew PFS would be unlike MPS, as I was familiar with the work of those associated with it. Before attending the meeting, I presumed it was like the organisation established to continue the work of Albert Jay Nock, The Nockian Society, the policy of which is: no officers, no dues and no meetings. Hoppe intends for PFS to be a place where the attendees amuse each other, refine their taste and increase their knowledge. Only a confused tiny minority of the attendees are political romantics, and when Hoppe ended his speech on the banking system, rather than using a clichéd call-to-action that almost every speech ever made suffers from, he said: “So, what a crazy world this is.” Menckenesque. Nockian. One reason for the society’s internationality is that there are not enough suitable people within individual countries to justify a national event (not that that stops us).
None of the attendees really knew how to behave, because we’d never really been around people genuinely deserving of respect for their politics before. How does one genuinely show respect, rather than fake it like usual? Well, conversation did not consist of comments on the weather, the “news” of the day, tv shows, sport, fashion or other persiflage. So that’s a big difference to normal conversations. The day before the conference began — my early arrival was ostensibly to recover from jet-lag —, I went scuba diving with a German dentist, an Italian economics professor, an Estonian investor, a U.S. Army veteran, a prolific Austrian Austrian economics author and several other conference attendees, and what we talked about the least was scuba diving (in case you’re wondering, they all spoke excellent English). What does a conversation between Rothbardians consist of? We finish each other’s sentences, slap each other’s backs and give each other knowing winks. The glare of being in the company of such enlightened people was disorientating. We spoke in our own code language, like we were in Gülçin’s Galt’s Gulch, away from the booboisie of the Bizarro World, where people dismiss the Austrian school because Hitler was an Austrian, hate the Mises Institute because they defend misers, disapprove of DiLorenzo because he advocates slavery, complain about Ron Paul’s anti-Semitism, despise Hoppe’s homophobia and oppose the gold standard because of the damage gold mining does to the environment.
The speeches were so honest and intelligent that we will not see any of the speakers elected to public office. Thanks to the multitalented Sean Gabb — who was such a dynamo that he made the rest of us, with the exception of trigger-happy photographer and projectionist Paul Vahur, look like we were on holiday — there is video of each and every speech here. Andy Duncan’s review of the conference includes nice speech summaries. The speeches were well-researched. For example, for Roman Skaskiw’s brilliant speech on the mentality of soldiers fighting for freedom in the Middle East, Skaskiw went on multiple tours of duty with the U.S. Army to Afghanistan and Iraq. John Derbyshire went to similar lengths for his speech on China. Such is the respect that Hoppe is given when he recommends a topic to a speaker.
The wedding of successful lawyer, Deanna Forebush, to the author of Walk Away, Doug French, took place on the final night of the conference. It was a wise strategic move for the Mises Institute President, representing the libertarian movement, to align himself with such a senior lawyer. It’s a pity he couldn’t find anyone from the Roosevelt, Kennedy or Clinton dynasties, but I guess Forebush is not totally foreign. The wedding music included Ennio Morricone from Per qualche dollaro in piùs, which prompted some of the more cultured members of the audience to somersault out of the likely line of fire, and also the Star Wars theme song, which seemed to hint, if the previous song had not already, that the bride and groom have their differences; although, as far as I could tell, they got along beautifully, and I sat behind them on the flight from Bodrum to Istanbul. Anyway, the wedding was amazing. Amid snickers of “get a real job” and “tax is theft”, the non-English-speaking Bodrum-mayor-turned-wedding-celebrant did not significantly detract from the ceremony’s decorum. The wedding festivities had everything (except Australian Aboriginals hallowing the ground, and showing they can light a fire and finger-paint). For an example of the wedding celebrations that Gülçin and Hans Hoppe orchestrated, there was the release of doves and the release of fireworks. Those activities were not simultaneous. Michael McKay and other gun-toting hunters in attendance would have felt at home if they were, and Hoppe is tolerant of everyone but vegetarians.
It was great that there were many non-Hoppeans attending the conference. Yuri Maltsev, a continuous source of amusement as he shared over four-and-a-half Soviet prison camps’ worth of jokes, brought a delegation of university students from the U.S.S.A. They seemed to enjoy themselves, but as Maltsev points out, happiness is relative: in Soviet Union true happiness is when the hammer misses the balls, or when the KGB ransack your place and it turns out their after someone else. One student said her favourite economist was Keynes. Other than that, they were well-behaved. It is a pity that not all of them defected. There were also several legendary paleoconservatives in attendance and a few presented lectures. Paul Gottfried expressed disagreement with libertarianism bravely. Perhaps Gottfried and Hoppe should have debated each other on their differences, rather than each spoken mostly on their agreements. The otherwise-amazingly-learned John Derbyshire, in his review of the conference, said:
I have never read anything by an economist — though I confess I have read far too little in the field — or heard any lecture by an economist that did not leave me thinking, “If this guy’s fundamental assumptions about human nature were true, human history would have been utterly different.”
Still, I suppose someone has to do economics, and the Austrians do it closer to my own political tastes than any others.
Mises, Rothbard and others in that tradition do not hide their assumptions or basic propositions; they typically begin their essays and books with a list of them, so it would be easy to point out which assumptions were wrong if someone wanted to make a sincere attempt at criticism. Hoppe lists some of our main propositions here. Five of them are:
- “Whenever two people A and B engage in a voluntary exchange, they must both expect to profit from it. And they must have reverse preference orders for the goods and services exchanged so that A values what he receives from B more highly than what he gives to him, and B must evaluate the same things the other way around.”
- “Whenever an exchange is not voluntary but coerced, one party profits at the expense of the other.”
- “Of two producers, if A is more productive in the production of two types of goods than is B, they can still engage in a mutually beneficial division of labor. This is because overall physical productivity is higher if A specializes in producing one good which he can produce most efficiently, rather than both A and B producing both goods separately and autonomously.”
- “Whenever minimum wage laws are enforced that require wages to be higher than existing market wages, involuntary unemployment will result.”
- “Whenever the quantity of money is increased while the demand for money to be held as cash reserve on hand is unchanged, the purchasing power of money will fall.”
Anything there that conflicts with human nature? Acknowledging those five observations alone makes you a radical Austrian school economist. My reason for dwelling on this is that it would be a good idea to have structured debate with those who disagree with us as one of the main activities of the conference. It could be on stage with two lecterns, or it could just be in small groups, informally, but in the conference schedule.
I know Neville Kennard has some grand ideas to engage those who are ignorant of Hoppe with libertarianism and the PFS. But this is neither the place nor the time, and I am not the person, to announce them. (Consider this a leak due to excitement, and speculate wildly as to what Kennard has in mind.)
Kennard generously sponsored my attendance at the PFS, same as he did to the MPS General Meeting in our home-town of Sydney last year, except the MPS event did not require airfare, accommodation, intelligence or taste. Kennard offered to fund certain senior Australian think tank staffers to go to PFS, but such is the esteem in which Hoppe is held, that they did not exploit Kennard’s largesse. Maybe when Hoppe comes to Sydney in November they’ll leave the country.
I wonder whether Hoppe will get through Australian airport security. I wouldn’t dare presume to be qualified to give Hoppe any advice, but he may be interested to hear what worked for me — since I have recently flown internationally into Sydney — and to use my experiences as a footnote for the approach he decides on. I dressed inconspicuously, so as not to alert the authorities that I was an enemy of the state, wearing patriotic Australian flag boxer shorts in case I was searched and ensuring that the drugs were firmly stashed within the lining of the drawstring of the boxer shorts; I showed no eye contact to security staff, even when they were dancing naked on the baggage carousel; and I followed Ron Manners’ advice to fly economy class, “so I didn’t have to sit next to politicians.”3
The conference showed that the Hoppean tradition is in safe hands. There are a new generation of scholars, spread safely throughout the world (except during PFS), who have mastered Hoppe’s methodological rigour and, in the case of Mateusz Machaj, his accent, word intonation, sentence structure, phraseology, facial expressions and hand gestures. Acknowledging the great work Stephan Kinsella has done, and the fact that Kinsella is unlikely to take the matter to court, Machaj also does a brilliant impersonation of him. Thanks to Machaj I now have signed Hoppe and Kinsella publications.
On the Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Bodrum I was served Australian cheese and ice cream. I did not bring swimmers, so I bought them from the local Turkish markets. They were made in Australia. I wonder if this would have made “buy Australian” advocates like Dick Smith happy or sad. What is the position of protectionists on using foreign-sourced food on domestic and international flights? Such are the difficulties in dealing with the evils of capitalism.
Since six or seven readers of this article may be outside of Australia, and one of the reasons for the PFS is for people in different countries to report projects that their international colleagues will not have come across and may find useful or entertaining, I will take this opportunity to mention two from Australia:
- Libertarian YouTube videos often get many hits, but it seems that one third are computer-generated, one third are Ron Paul and one third pay homage to a genre of music called rap, so the international community will be excited to know of something very different: video of Australia’s Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, contemptuously facing a hostile pack of senior politicians. At the end of the video is Australia’s most famous libertarian quote. Economics.org.au dug it up, edited it down and uploaded it, and we now call Packer our staff member, because we employ this footage of his (Packer died in 2005, and is somewhat unlikely to have intentionally supported us).
- Economics.org.au runs several websites dedicated to targeting senior Australian public intellectuals. We are slowly increasing our list of targets and the frequency we update these sites (which will take us to #1 on google when our target’s name is typed in), but already we have set the platform and gone along way towards hijacking the online presence of Australia’s Paul Krugman, Ross Gittins, at RossGittins.info.
Lastly, of the many notes I took during the speeches, I thought I’d put this one down here so as to encourage readers (including myself) to act on it: Nicola Iannello’s insightful speech mentioned several authors and books — including Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui, Gaetano Mosca’s The Ruling Class and Max Nordau’s The Interpretation of History — that I had not heard of before and which sound very interesting, and, which are available in English. It’s becoming rarer that I come across books I’ve never heard of, so this meant Iannello’s speech was the stand-out for me. (I wonder what the “buy Australian” advocates think of this paragraph.)
- G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, in vol. VI of The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), ch. XII, p. 604; see also, ch. IV, p. 509: “the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them. They accept the essential ideal of man; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession.” ?
- François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. Burton Raffel (New York: Norton, 1991), bk. 4, ch. 18, p. 428. ?
- Ron Manners, Heroic Misadventures (West Perth: Mannwest Group, 2009), p. 201. My review is here. ?