The Institute Marks an Important Milestone

The Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada marked an important milestone a few weekends ago—its first Toronto Austrian Scholars Conference. The conference was a success by all standards I could think of. First, there was an excellent turnout. The growth of the Institute since its inception two years ago has been fueled primarily by the energy of a handful of passionate individuals. The conference attracted around 70 attendees from all over Canada and abroad and should be considered a great success indeed. The attendees included a mix of academics, students, social science enthusiasts and market entrepreneurs.

The interest of non-academics is something that distinguished the conference from a typical academic annual meeting, where everyone is either a university professor or a graduate student in a narrowly defined field of study. The presence of non-academics and non-economists has, in my view, one great advantage—it motivates the presenters to express complex concepts in the form relevant and understandable to the general public. This is the ultimate goal of social science—to be understood and relevant to most members of the society.

The presenters covered a wide range of topics. Lloyd P. Gerson (University of Toronto) discussed the problem of criminal justice in a stateless society. Pierre Desrochers (University of Toronto) provided strong historical evidence that businesses take initiative in continually innovating to avoid environmental degradation. George Bragues (University of Guelph-Humber) argued that democracies have an inherent tendency towards inflation, while John Tomilson (The Cobden Centre)  proposed some practical solutions to the current banking crisis.

Moin A. Yahya (Univeristy of Alberta) showed the merits of Spooner’s idea that court juries should judge the soundness of current laws. Calvin Heyes (Brock University) revisited and re-evaluated Hayek’s fight of the century, while  J. Huston McCulloch (Ohio State University) evaluated Mises’s philosophy in comparison with that of Marx and Hegel.  Glenn Fox (University of Guelph) revealed a yet unappreciated face of Menger’s methodology. Andrius Valevicius (University of Sherbrooke), on the other hand, revealed the less known, economic features of Genghis Khan rule, like his policy of reducing taxes in all newly conquered lands.

My contribution focuses on incorporating the Austrian market process perspective into the theory of comparative advantage. This perspective helps us understand the limits of central economic planning in determining the most appropriate geographic location for particular industries and products.

There were also three PhD students presenting the current state of their work. Their topics ranged from applied problems of assessing the effects of micro credit on poverty in rural Pakistan and the problems of controlling government debt in Argentina to a theoretical analysis of property rights and the distribution of wealth.

Dusan Petrovski and Kel Kelly provided unique perspectives of independent scholars and market entrepreneurs. Dusan explained how smoking prohibitions by taxation drives the market for cigarettes underground, thus making smoking less safe rather than safer. He applied this argument to explaining the features of illegal trade of cigarettes in Canada and in his native Macedonia. Kel shared his unique experience in financial markets and outlined the paths through which financial markets can impact markets for physical goods and services.

Joe Salerno concluded the conference with an excellent keynote talk on Rothbard’s legacy on the understanding of financial crises. One aspect of Salerno’s talk I found particularly intriguing is that Rothbard’s work in the area of monetary theory is starting to receive more recognition outside the Austrian circles. This is an encouraging trend. The birth of the Mises Institute of Canada two years ago is another indicator of a revival of interest in Austrian thought, and the first Toronto Austrian Scholars Conference provided further evidence of a bright prospect for the future.

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