A Mainstream Economist Who Changed His Mind and Became Austrian

This almost never happens. People have a vested interest in the paradigm in which they’re trained. Jeff Herbener, department chairman of economics at Grove City College (where the great Hans Sennholz taught), was honest enough to admit the flaws in what he had been taught:

I was trained entirely in the mathematical­/neoclassical tradition at Oklahoma State. Economics attracted me because it seemed to deal with fundamental and interesting questions. In this, it was unlike political science, which seemed to me to be steeped in irrelevant questions like, “what does the public think about this or that,” and superficial techniques like surveys. Even bad economics is leagues above that in sophistication. But my professors were all conventional economists, would-be planners working from one or another Keynesian paradigm. I wrote a highly mathematical dissertation on money demand that used all the latest econometric techniques. I did what everyone else was doing, and my only goal was to do it better.

I didn’t know enough to be dissatisfied with the neoclassical paradigm. I knew nothing about the Austrian School except for a brief exposure to the Böhm-Bawerkian structure of production in a class on capital theory. At the same time, I retained my interest in larger problems and deeper questions, which I owe to my father’s own philosophical turn of mind.

After getting out of graduate school, I took my first teaching position at Pittsburg State University. I began to read Hayek, and moved on to Mises and Rothbard and the rest of the tradition. They offered a much more satisfying and coherent way of looking at economic questions. This research has occupied me since.

More and more economists sense that their techniques and studies are merely arcane or even trivial. This realization provides an opening for the Austrian School. I’m surprised when I’m at mainstream conferences, or read American Economist. Many more people are showing interest in alternative ways of doing economics. If our work is good, we’ll eventually win these people over, and win the battle of ideas.

Professor Herbener’s whole interview is very much worth reading.

And Professor Herbener, who knows the neoclassical paradigm inside and out, is teaching our Austrian economics course at Liberty Classroom. I am also soliciting from him a course to be called “Keynes: His System and Its Fallacies.” I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Share this post:Digg thisShare on FacebookGoogle+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on Twitter
  • Anonymous

    One at a time, Tom.  You can see it everywhere around us.  When Paul Krugman now has to argue Austrian Economics publicly as opposed to just dismissing it like he was doing in 2008, you know that the intellectual worm is turning. 

    In the immortal words of Ambassador Kosh from B5: The avalanche has already started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote.


  • http://twitter.com/Rockin69Dennis Dennis B. Drake


  • Greg

    Hans Sennholz fought for hitler in the Second World War.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been playing hooky from Liberty Classroom. I’m tied up at a friend’s dock and stealing (er…borrowing) WiFi from some neighbor. I feel bad enough about crimpin’ their bandwidth, so downloading videos is beyond my personal pale.
    I just didn’t want you to think I’d lost interest.  
    I’ll be back home soon and will resume.
    Have a great weekend!

  • http://twitter.com/daleholmgren Dale Holmgren

    This is all nice, but I will not be satisfied until I hear these words on television:
    “I, Thomas Woods, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    Ron Paul has done all he can. It’s time for us to present our brightest,  most articulate, most energetic spokesman next time around.

  • LAmerican

    Professor Ubiratan Iorio, a prominent brazilian economist, has a similar story as well.

  • Anonymous

    Teacher’s pet!

    But I agree 100%

  • Mike

     Damn straight Dale. Frankly, he’s the only one who has not only all the qualifications Ron Paul has but even exceeds him, especially since Dr. Wood’s speaking skills far exceeds the good doctor.

  • JRT

    I can’t wait to watch the lectures on Austrian Economics which I think will be the best at Liberty Classroom! But Tom, it’s frustrating to download every single lecture. Please let us download the videos or audio material of a whole course all at once. Thanks =) 

  • http://tomwoods.com Tom Woods

    We’re working on that this very week.