Sunday, June 10, 2012

FEE--Introduction to Austrian Economics Summer Seminar 2012

For the week of June 4th – 9th, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) held the first seminar for the summer in Atlanta.  This is the 50th anniversary for FEE to host a summer seminar.  I am honored that this has been my 10th year to lecture to students for FEE.

This past week was an introduction to Austrian Economics.  Steve Horwitz and I suggested a schedule for this year and we are grateful that it was accepted without revision.  I am really pleased with how well the lectures were integrated.  I can’t really think of any particularly unique issue that we didn’t at least mention.  The lectures were videoed and FEE will be posting them later this summer.  When they come out, I will link to them on the left-side of this blog. (You can see some earlier lectures posted there now.)

I gave four lectures for FEE and participated in a roundtable discussion on the controversy between fractional reserve free banking and 100% reserve banking. 

My first lecture was “Menger and the Early Austrians.”  In it, I talk about four major contributions Menger made.  Since I covered issues of capital and interest in a later lecture, I focused on Böhm-Bawerk’s approach to value theory and his refutation of Marx.  Then, I walked through the books that Wieser wrote, with (of course) some analysis of each.  And I finished by covering some of the insights made by David Green, Philip Wicksteed, and William Smart.  The PowerPoint to the “Menger and the Early Austrians” lecture is found here.

The second lecture was “Praxeology, Supply and Demand.”  Here I began by comparing the methodology of the Austrians with the mainstream.  I presented the mainstream’s approach to methodology and critique it.  In contrast, I presented the Austrian methodology and build up the Laws of Demand and Supply from first principles.  We then built a model of the market.  I finished the lecture by comparing the manner in which the mainstream derives demand curves using indifference curve analysis.  The mainstream’s approach suggests that there is an income effect and a substitution effect for each price change.  The Austrians tend to think that policies that are derived from this thinking are equivalent to hocus-pocus.  The bottom-line is that when the mainstream derives demand curves in this fashion, they are comparing two levels of total utility and looking at the marginal rate of substitution.  When the Austrians derive demand curves, we are looking at the marginal utility derived from the next unit.  While both approaches use marginal analysis, they are not the same.  The PowerPoint to the “Praxeology, Supply and Demand" lecture is found here.

The third and fourth lectures really build upon each other.  The third was “Capital and Interest” and the fourth was “Business Cycles.”  In “Capital and Interest,” I criticize the mainstream’s approach of allowing objective factors to control the interest rate and also the notion that capital can be represented by a homogeneous pool.  In contrast, the Austrians hold that interest rates are determined by subjective time preference for both the supply of loanable funds (savings) and the demand for loanable funds (borrowing).  Furthermore, Austrians hold that capital is mostly complementary.  As a result, capital has a structure that cannot be ignored.  If we do so, we miss some significant aspects to economic theorizing.  The PowerPoint to the “Capital and Interest” lecture is found here.

The last lecture was on “Business Cycles.”  I began by developing Garrison’s three interlocking graph model.  It contains the Loanable Funds Market, the Production Possibilities Frontier Curve, and the Structure of Production.  We then walked through how the model works for various macroeconomic fluctuations and finished with working through the stages of the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle.  The lecture finished with examining how the other modern macroeconomic theories explain the boom and bust of a business cycle.  The PowerPoint to the “Business Cycle” lecture is found here.

The last activity was a roundtable on 100% reserve banking vs. fractional reserve free market banking.  All four of the faculty participated in this discussion.  We started by first explaining why the current system of fiat banking with a Central Bank was a terrible system.  Then we explained how 100% reserve banking would work and then how fractional reserve free banking (with competitive note issuance) would work.  We then voiced our concerns about each system and then took questions from the students.  Since this was the last time we were talking before the group, we opened the last 15 minutes up to any question the students had on Austrian Economics.  There are no PowerPoint slides associated with this so I cannot link to anything right now.  However, when FEE posts it on the web, I’ll be sure to link to it.

I want to thank FEE for hosting another very good summer seminar.  The students asked some of the best quality questions we have heard for quite some time.  And the FEE staff did a marvelous job.  I appreciate the fact that the supporters of FEE have been able to keep this program going and also to be able to do it at such a high quality level.  Thanks!


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