December 8th 2021.
In this episode Saifedean talks to Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute: the leading think tank dedicated to spreading the ideas of the Austrian School of Economics. They discuss the mission of the Mises Institute, its origins, and how its approach to economics differs from other think tanks such as the Cato Institute. They also talk about the problems of modern empirical economics and how most mainstream economists have failed to articulate the “unseen” costs of government interventions such as Covid lockdowns and climate change mitigation policies. Jeff also talks about some timeless books and essays that accurately explain economic phenomena, and makes the case that it is more important than ever to read the originals.
- Bastiat’s 1850 essay That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen
- Henry Hazlitt’s book Economics in One Lesson
- Ludwig von Mises’ 1919 book Nation, State, and Economy
- Ludwig von Mises’ 1927 book Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition
- Saifedean’s episode The Great Covid Panic with Paul Frijters
- Murray Rothbard’s article Deflation Reconsidered (see chapter 20 of hyperlink)
- The Ethics of Money Production by Jörg Guido Hülsmann
- Jeff Deist on Twitter
- Thanksgiving dietary advice from the St Louis Fed
- Jeff’s Human Action Podcast
- Bitcoin, the Regression Theorem, and the Emergence of a New Medium of Exchange article by Walter Block of the Mises Institute
- Article on Per Bylund’s upcoming primer on Austrian Economics and Per Bylund on Twitter
- Understanding Money Mechanics by Bob Murphy
- Mises Institute blog
- Saifedean’s first book, The Bitcoin Standard
- Saifedean’s second book, The Fiat Standard
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J: Jeff Deist
S: Saifedean Ammous
S: Hello, welcome to another episode of the Bitcoin Standard Podcast Seminar. In today’s seminar, we are hosting the President of the Mises Institute, Jeff Deist. He is a writer, a public speaker and an advocate for property, markets and civil society. He previously worked as a longtime advisor and chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul for whom he wrote hundreds of articles and speeches. In his years with Dr. Paul, Jeff worked with countless grass roots activists and organizations dedicated to reducing the size and scope of government. Jeff also spent many years as a tax attorney advising private equity clients on mergers and acquisitions, but we won’t hold that against him. Jeff, thank you for joining us.
J: Alright, Saif, good to see you.
S: So, we have lots to talk about. First of all, I’ll begin by saying the Mises Institute is a place that I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for. I was one of the people who stumbled upon this blog, this seemingly innocent blog in 2007-2008 and then just kept digging into the massive astonishingly large archive of books and blogs and articles that are available there and have not stopped digging since then. That has been absolutely life changing. I was a PhD student at Columbia University learning regular mainstream economics, none of which made any sense and then you start hearing about Ron Paul, making all these crazy speeches that make a lot of sense in a world of politics where politicians are not supposed to make sense. And so you start digging into this guy and you start coming across this incredible website where all these economists make sense, which is insane. Why would an economist make sense? Economists are supposed to write arcane esoteric math and pretend like they’re engaged in some kind of centuries long struggle to understand the mathematical foundations of how reality works. But the Mises Institute gave me the idea that economics can make sense, economics can actually be something that is helpful to understanding the world. The point of economics and this is really the kind of culture shock you get from reading the Mises Institute, is that before that when you’re studying mainstream economics, the point of learning economics is in trying to understand what these economists are saying and then when you understand what they’re saying, you don’t learn anything useful for the real world. You just learn what those people are saying and then you could pass your test and get your degree and get a job. But with the Mises Institute economists, you use the work of the economists in order to understand the world. So, thank you very much for everything that you do with the Mises Institute and I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about the institute, its history and your role and the milestones in this development over the years.
J: Well, if we think about economics, I would say over the last year in particular, economists and other social scientists have done a very poor job of helping us understand the world and in particular with respect to the unseen, the unseen of all these COVID policies is going to be the real story over the next 5 or 10 or 20 years, the alcoholism, the depression, the weight gain, the drug and alcohol abuse. I mean it’s going to be incredible and so, social scientists are supposed to help us understand the human world, like natural or physical societies are supposed to help us understand that world and most economists aren’t doing that. They’re basically stuck in empirics and mathematical modeling and statistics and trying to help us see what’s happened in the past, not to understand the world in terms of human action or what we would consider a proper praxeological approach. So, I’m not sure that I’m still as animated by the idea of the Austrian School as this thing off to the side. It’s more now where we’re talking about rational reasonable people versus irrational unreasonable people. So I think the Austrian School has got a lot of new applications. I think it has a lot of new proponents and adherents. I think people are understanding that economics doesn’t work. It doesn’t really help society. It doesn’t help us understand the world. It doesn’t make us richer or happier or wealthier. It just does dumb things like fail to predict the housing crash of 2007, for example and it gives us central banking and it gives us minimum wage and it gives us basically intellectual veneer and cover for the political class. And so, when economics does that, that gives the left ammunition to say oh, you know, this is just kind of a pseudoscience. This is all here to just create a bunch of intellectual cover for capital, for the wealthy. This isn’t a real science. And so, I understand that critique. I think economists have to bear some of the responsibility for that, so I hope that the Mises Institute has encountered all that. I hope it’s just a gigantic free school for anybody who wants to avail themselves of it, maybe a little, maybe a lot. Maybe some people just want to consume the occasional tweet or the odd article to improve their understanding. Maybe some people want to really delve in and read 900 page books and come study this and make this part of their life. I don’t really care. I want to be a full service organization for those people. But the question I have for you, Saif is, you know what kind of a clown world we live in, what kind of a high time preference society that’s been created by the political and banking classes. And so, it’s very easy to look at the landscape and say, Jeff, this is not the time for 900 page books written by guys from the 1800s or even the 1900s and I understand that. But the flip side is, what matters, what lasts, what’s timeless, what is universal across time and space? And I think the answer to that question is, since there’s fewer and fewer people willing or capable of sitting down and going the hard work of reading those 900 page books. Are those people going to matter more or less in the future? I think they’re going to matter more. Because the Mises Institute is not here so that we can plant a flag on top of the pile of rubble, some kind of Mad Max scenario 20 years from now and say, see, we were right. We were right about all this stuff. That’s not the point. The point is to help people learn and to hopefully reach what I guess we could call cynically maybe like Albert Jay Nock, a remnant, people who are interested in having a world, a civilization, a society that’s real, that has a foundation and that means capital accumulation. There’s no two ways around it. And increasingly, in my opinion, that means that our goal, that we’re really talking about separation more than persuasion. If you spend anytime on social media, you’ll know that either people have gotten a lot crazier or they were always crazy and now we just know about it because they can spout off on social media all day. I don’t know which one of those is the case, but it’s clear that a significant portion of the population in the West believes enormously illiberal crazy things.
J: And so, since we have limited time and resources, since scarcity’s a fact, how do we spend out time and energy? Do we try to reach them all? Do we try to win national elections? Do we try to think that somehow liberalism is going to stand up to illiberalism? Or do we try to identify and begin to segregate ourselves and that can take place in a variety of ways. That doesn’t necessarily mean geographic secession or something like that or even geographic concentration of like-minded people but it does mean I think in a business sense, in a capital sense, in a political sense, in an economic sense, we have to just understand that we’re trying to build a world or improve a world anyway, for people who can be reached and that’s not necessarily everybody and I think when we get off this idea of political universalism, the bad kind of globalist, political globalism, it’s really very liberating. And so, I hope the Mises Institute is doing good for people. I know it does on an individual level. It’s a very tough time to say whether we do any good on a societal or wider level. It’s a very anti-intellectual age of which we find ourselves, but we want to be the biggest best school that’s free, that’s digital, that’s out there instantaneously for anybody. And so increasingly, I’m starting to view the role of our website anyway, is just to be a gigantic free library and we’re trying to buy up the rights to all kinds of books for which we don’t own the copyright and we’re trying to improve our library function. So, a free school is what I hope the Mises Institute is.
S: Yeah, that’s very much succeeded in that. I think one of the most common initial criticisms people have about libertarians is that they come at it from the perspective of the political system and then they find out that there’s a libertarian political party that is massively hopeless and then they just think that well, libertarianism’s clearly hopeless and I think that is completely missing the point because in my mind, a libertarian political party is going to have to be hopeless because it’s like an atheist branch of Catholicism. It’s just not going to make headway in the Vatican if you start off from the premise that there shouldn’t be a Vatican. And I think this is the contradiction that a lot of the DC libertarians fall into and this is why I kind of tend to think of them as, in many cases you see their role is to be basically the bastard[10:29???] whys of the government system. They’re there to justify and give excuses to the regime and basically they convince themselves that they are being pragmatic in order to get concessions from the regime, but in reality, they are actually just helping the regime further its ends and its goals by convincing young people who have radical ideas about freedom that this is completely unrealistic and you need to get in with the system and you need to fight at the tiny little margins to get some of these tiny little increasingly extremely inconsequential ideas that people like the Cato Institute fight for. If you look at, for instance, my favorite problem with the Cato Institute is, their monetary issues. So, they’re practically indistinguishable now from run-of-the-mill Keynesians and monetarists. They are pretty much monetarists and they view Austrians as too radical, people like Mises and Rothbard as being too radical and then, that’s why even when something like bitcoin comes along, they’re naturally hostile to it. They’ve been enormously hostile and all of the…well, maybe not all but the vast majority of them…well, I’d say all have been hostile to varying degrees. Because they are basically conditioned to think of the problem as having to be solved by government and if only we just had the government to put the right people. If only they would take Cato’s monetary advisors and put them on the Fed, then we’d have a libertarian free market monetary policy, which is an absurd contradiction in terms that’s never going to get anywhere. The whole point of having a Fed is not to have a free market in money and if you’re trying to push free market ideas within the Fed, you’re just not going to get anywhere. All that you do again, is serve to move people away from promising ideas of change like bitcoin to allying with the regime and I think this is why there’s a lot of parallels and I think a lot of confluence between people in the Mises Institute and bitcoiners, that it’s the same approach as you said, the best way to have clean water is to separate the clean water pipes from the sewage and you just need to make a separate place where we can have these ideas, we can think about them and it’s not about achieving results immediately, it’s about achieving the correct results, no matter how long it takes. There’s always time for 900 page books and there’s always time to think about these things in the long term and I think people who are not reading 900 page books are still reading 900 pages of 900 different articles in the New York Times, repeating the same stupid talking points, over and over and over again. So, you could skip these articles and read the 900 page book and come out with a much better perspective. It’s a multi-preference approach. And coincidentally, it’s absolutely striking for me. Within the Mises crowd, there has been some kind of skepticism of Bitcoin, but overall, it’s incomparable to the reaction that you get from the kind of DC libertarian think tanks. It’s striking just how reasonable people in the Mises Institute have been. I’ve spoken to Hoppe about it, I’ve spoken to Joe Salerno about it, I’ve spoken to you. I haven’t spoken to David Gordon, but I know Mike Goldstein spoke to him. And so, most of these people have problems with bitcoin initially and of course, all of us had problems with bitcoin initially, everybody thinks about it, but then the notion that we’re going to have a money that is separate from the state is something that makes sense. They’re not hostile to it. They might not necessarily get all the technical aspects of it. They might not be enthusiastic about it, but they’re definitely not hostile to the idea that we’re going to separate money from state and we’re just going to have a software program that everybody can audit, replace money. And once you kind of go over a few of the technical problems that people have with it, then the reaction is, yeah, well let the market decide. Ron Paul of course is like that as well. And it’s a very different reaction that you get from the kind of regime libertarians who are just coming up with an endless parade of problems that they can’t even defend and state eloquently, but they just know that it can’t work and it won’t work and it ultimately comes down to, well, that’s not politically realistic. We need to aim for something that is politically realistic.
J: I think whenever you see someone talking about public policy, so-called, you need to run away from that person. We don’t need public policy. That sounds like something you have for cattle and it especially applies for monetary policy. I mean, when people are talking about well, we want to have this and that monetary policy and any sort of rules based Fed, any sort of NGDP targeting, all these ideas. The minute there’s a crisis or an exigent circumstance, central bankers throw this stuff out the window. They don’t follow rules. They’re operating in an ad hoc manner to save their own skins in many cases and some of them are true believers, to be fair. So, I don’t like the idea of public policy. Look, your American viewers will know that the Chairwoman of the Banking Committee in Congress is Maxine Waters. She is a crazy person. The idea that Cato is going to send somebody over to testify before her committee with some arcane idea about NGDP targeting is just laughable. She’s just going to say, well we need cheaper loans for low income people. I mean this is where politics and economics should never ever mix and actually I went back last night because I wanted to think about not 900 page books, but 2-300 page books, in particular Nation State and Economy and Liberalism, which Mises wrote in the inner war years, which are more political tracks about liberalism per se. And you should read those people because those are only like 300 pages, you can read them quick. And for Mises, liberalism meant the wholesale separation of economy and state. So, sometimes we lose sight of that when we’re talking about libertarianism as this sort of feel good liberation theology where there shouldn’t be any of these uptight social strictures and you should just go out there and engage in self-actualization. That’s sort of what liberalism and now libertarianism has become in the West and that’s not what it was about for Mises at all. It was about a rigid separation of property and state, of economics and state. And also, if you go back and look at that one paragraph in Liberalism, which makes a lot of libertarians squirm, is when he says if I had to distill the entire liberal program—of course, he’s using liberal in the 19th century idea—it would have to be a single word, property. It’s not about living your best life and just be yourself and it’s not about having to accept a host of what I would consider left cultural precepts. That’s an appendage, that’s a barnacle with which I don’t particularly agree, but I would say that people don’t have to agree.
S: It’s tangential at best.
J: It’s tangential, but more importantly, high time preference societies tend to devolve very quickly and the idea that we are going to have less external governance, but also no internal governance strikes me as a crazy proposition. In other words, we ought to be for all the intermediary institutions that stand between the individual, the hyper individual and the state, rather than against them, so that’s a little bit of a detour from your question, but I do think that when bitcoin came along, it poses a serious challenge to Austrians and libertarians. My own thinking on it has evolved a lot, but albeit gradually, starting with Bob Murphy and then Caitlin Long helped me quite a bit and then your book came along and prior to that, I had been sort of, of this mindset, well, we love the idea of denationalization of money. We love the idea of competing currencies, but is bitcoin just a particular brand among many? And we shouldn’t advocate one over the other like Toyota over Honda or something like that and that was sort of my dopey thinking before reading your book and so I’ve changed on that in the interim. I think that in Austrian circles, there certainly has been a lot of resistance. I think part of that is just because gold was considered the ideal alternative to government fiat for so many decades by people who think like us and there’s some resistance. It’s not so easy to drag people from a long held belief, especially people above a certain age. And to be fair though, to the gold bugs, I think part of that was that I believe bitcoin was promoted and sold in too much of a high tech manner. Algorithms aren’t technology per se. They can be very, very complicated, but algorithms have been around and this idea that bitcoin is the futuristic crypto thing for these kind of perpetual travelers who live on islands off of Singapore somewhere, something like that—I think it should have been sold as a digital commodity, the next step better than gold for certain reasons and it should have been sold to soccer moms who are worried about their kids. It should have been sold to older people who are worried about inflation eating away at their savings. So, there was some antagonism perhaps on both sides, but I’ve certainly come around myself and what the future of gold will be, I’ve had to change my thinking on that as well. Michael Saylor has disabused me of some of that thinking and also the idea that gold might have a future like silver once had or silver had today, as a result of, at least for pure monetary uses, its inferiority to gold. So, all of this is subject to opinion. I don’t want the Mises Institute to be a bitcoin promoter. I don’t view that as our role, but I don’t want us to be a bitcoin antagonist either. So that’s my weaselly answer, Saif.
S: No, I agree with you. I don’t think it’s a weaselly answer because you do quite a bit of work to educate about bitcoin. But yeah, I think you’re absolutely correct in that this is the Mises Institute, it’s not a bitcoin institute. We have this Satoshi Nakamoto Institute, which focuses on promoting the works of Satoshi and with a focus on bitcoin, but the Mises Institute is the work of Mises and it has a wider rim and I think it would be, as powerful as bitcoin is, I think it would kind of be distracting from the overall mission. I know a lot of bitcoiners give me and give you trouble for that, but I don’t particularly see a problem with it. I think your approach has been quite reasonable about it and you’re absolutely correct. I think the initial image of bitcoin, which for many years I’ve heard about bitcoin and I just kind of dismissed it because I did not think that it had these properties that would make it really replace gold, get us rid of gold. Initially again, it was promoted as just a faster cheaper PayPal, that was the main idea. And only, I would say around 2014, ‘15, ‘16, does it become clear that this is a pretty powerful monster that is not out there competing with PayPal. This is monetary policy that is set in stone, nobody can change this, nobody can edit it and once you start thinking of it this way, then yeah, it begins to make sense that this is going to be a very big deal. I think that’s the conclusion that you arrive at from this. But, back to the Mises Institute, tell me more about the history of the institute. How was it started and what was its initial mission? I know Rothbard played a role in that and Lew Rockwell. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
J: Well, the aforementioned Cato was going to be the home of Rothbard and Rothbard intended to create a real viable Austrian outpost. People don’t know this. The Cato Institute started in San Francisco. Murray Rothbard was out there before it moved to Washington. So the idea was to Austrianize free market economics, which was mired in Milton Friedman and monetarism, in supply side stuff with Reagan coming in. So that was the goal, but Rothbard had a falling out with the Cato Institute, felt that they were moving in a direction that wasn’t hard core or pure Austrian, so as a result of that, Lew Rockwell got involved and Murray made a few phone calls and it turned out that Auburn University, of all places, was looking for potentially a partner and so the Mises Institute, which had a friendly trustee on the board, which had some very friendly economists in the department, at that time in the early 1980s, came down here to Auburn, Alabama. I’m very glad that happened because I think at this point we need to turn our backs on and ignore Washington, DC. I think we ought to…and Brussels for that matter, and the UN and the ECB and the WEF and all these international organizations for monetary policy, the IMF, etc., I think these centralizers have done a huge disservice to us and so I
quite a bit from not being in DC and I think in hindsight it’s absolutely beautiful that we’re not. And so, we got a start on campus. We were involved with the Auburn University Econ department. I’d like to point out that we actually paid rent to Auburn University. We weren’t housed by them or anything. And then Lew started raising some money on his own and we were able to build a building across the street and we’ve expanded that building a couple times since and so that’s almost 40 years ago now. So, over the years, we’ve tried to be a place where Austrian economics could be explored in full. Contrary to some of our critics in DC, we are not simply about Mises and Rothbard and Hoppe. You can go through our archives and find tons and tons of work by Menger and Bohm-Bawerk and Wieser and lots of other economists in the tradition. We certainly take the Misesian strand of that, pure praxeology, which I think Rothbard improved upon in many ways and we also haven’t been afraid to shy away from some of the implications, which are interesting. I mean, Mises and Rothbard, they wrote about everything. Mises was intimately involved in the Viennese Chamber of Commerce and business policy and tax policy there. We’ve never shied away from considering the full implications, let’s say, of pure praxeology, of anti-empiricism. We’ve never shied away from considering the implications, which I think are in Mises’ books, Liberalism and Nation, State and Economy, of secession and breakaway movements and radical decentralization. We’ve never been afraid of the secession work. We’ve never been afraid of openly discussing and considering the ramifications of a pure anarcho-capitalism, of statelessness, of how could defense, how could police and legal services be provided on the marketplace. Do we really need minimal government? We’ve never been afraid to discuss whether democracy is a good thing or whether that’s a bad thing. Is that the only way to organize society? Is that the final and fullest expression in the West in the 20th and now 21st century? Is that the enlightened endpoint of liberalism? Well no, it clearly isn’t. Democracy in the West was a disaster in the 20th century. So, I’d like to think that we have been radical. I’d like to think that we’ve been uncompromising and I’d like to think that we’ve carried on the intransigence, I guess is the word, of Mises and Rothbard in that sense.
S: Yeah, I think obviously the critics will take any deviation from government propaganda as a sign of you’re inflexible and you’re dogmatic and of course that’s all projection. If you don’t agree with the Overton window of DC accepted debate, then you’re considered just a dogmatic fanatic. But in reality, it’s astonishing, the intellectual width of debate within the Mises Institute itself, is far wider than the entire politically correct space of everyone in DC. Within the Mises Institute, as you said, secession and democracy, these are topics that are discussed and there are people that are in favor of them and there are people that are opposed to them within the Institute. And they get together in the meetings and they discuss it and it’s usually pretty cordial and respectful and intellectual, which is much more than can be said about the broader debate in the general public arena where these topics are just…there’s a clear idea of what is considered acceptable and it’s a very narrow range between the Republicans and the Democrats. Immigration is another one. Within the Mises Institute, there’s a lot of debate on that topic, on the topic of immigration and it might make people uncomfortable, but it’s a place where you get to hear the different perspectives on this issue and how it should be tackled. And the role of the police and the role of the military and the role of the government in terms of national defense. There’s a huge variety of perspectives within the Institute, which you don’t find within general debate and it shows that in my mind, I think it’s just like with economics, the government perspective, the government propaganda perspective is absolutely limiting and suffocating. And I think you were saying earlier where you’re not sure if people have gotten crazier or the internet has made us realize that people are crazier. I think people have definitely gotten crazier. I think the terms of public debate have been definitely moved into the realm of insanity, particularly in the last 20 months or so, I mean, since the whole coronavirus situation started. The world has truly, truly gone mad, like I mean it’s absolutely insane. Nobody could have…I mean I think even the most fanatic hysterics today, even the people who are still calling for shutdowns and lockdowns and in the most fanatic way, even those people if you spoke to them in 2019 and you asked them…I think the best way to do it is tell them, your political opponent wants to do this. What do you think about it? They would have said this is crazy. And yet, a year later, they were calling for it and people obviously from all across the political spectrum are into this kind of insanity. And it’s deeply illiberal in a way that it was just unimaginable in the vast majority of the world, not just in Western liberal democracy. I mean, it’s all over the world, in Latin American countries, in Asian countries, the move toward the idea that your movement from your home needs the permission of your local health czar and your ability to open your business and how many people can you accommodate in that business and how many people you can fit into it and what hours you operate, all of that stuff has just become the purview of somebody who is unelected and whose only credential is the fact that they have been basically brought up by the global public health mafia. This is completely insane. I think it’s crazy beyond anything that we’ve seen and I think every era likes to think that what they’re witnessing is special, but I mean, this really is special. I try and always be cognizant of that, maybe we’re just not special, it’s just we’re witnessing the world for the first time and we’re coming to…but no, this has never happened. We’ve never had anything…we’ve never imagined anything like this. I mean, all the public health people before 2020, they discussed the possibilities of different pandemics and even in the cases where things were far deadlier than this, this was never a strategy. A total lockdown of the population was never considered a viable strategy. It was ineffective. They knew it would be ineffective and it is ineffective and it has proven ineffective. And they knew that it would be massively destructive in a way that would cause far more harm than whatever the disease can do and this is exactly what we’re seeing. And I think it’s to your great credit that from day one, the Mises Institute was very clear on this. You clearly are not taking Bill Gates’ money and not taking World Health Organization’s money because everywhere else is being funded by these criminal organizations and everywhere else, suddenly, they were getting their marching orders in sync and one day you’d wake up and everybody wants you to stay home and then the next day, everybody wants you to wear a diaper on your face and then the next day, everybody wants you to not take these medicines which are proven to be effective because the science says that we shouldn’t take them and they’re not effective and it’s just everybody’s singing to the same tune. And yet the Mises Institute from day one, you did it and Ryan McMaken did it, you just said no, this is insane and the shutdowns, people can make their own decisions. It’s amazing this basis in the liberal tradition, the old liberal tradition, 19th century liberalism, it’s like a vaccination against brain damage from the media. It doesn’t matter how insane the propaganda gets, it doesn’t matter how many videos of people falling over in China you see on your TV, you’ve taken your Mises shots. You’ve done your 900 page books and it’s not going to fly. Yeah, well, oh my God that’s scary, so let’s just lock everybody up and arrest people for going to work. Only people who have the mental clarity of the Mises Institute were able to maintain that kind of framework. And bitcoiners, I should say, bitcoiners from early on were some of the very few people who were calling this out and I personally got a lot of abuse from a lot of idiots and I’m very happy about it now because I’ve managed to eliminate an enormous number of deadweight and idiots from my life because of this. But back in March 2020, it was extremely rare for anybody to say, nope, I don’t think you should force people to stay home.
J: Well, it reminds me now, looking back on that month or so, it reminds me of the period right after 9/11 in America where there was this sort of sinking feeling in our stomachs, but it wasn’t about the virus, it was about what our government might do in response to the virus and so that was very similar to 9/11. Looking back, I think that this may be worse than the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft global war on terror. I think the government response to COVID, well first of all, it was near universal across the globe, so that’s one difference is we’ve never had this kind of coordinated state policy across the globe. We didn’t have that with the Spanish Flu, we didn’t have that in a couple of world wars, so that’s different. Everything’s instantaneous now and we’ve seen that the West, Gemini, it’s imperialism. We really should view it as almost neo-colonialism, which is that the West makes these decisions and the rest of the world follows suit. This is not a healthy situation. We have 200-odd countries on this planet. They all ought to have policy based on their internal sovereign decision making, as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to see a thousand countries or 10,000 countries. So that was very scary. That was a very scary time. Looking back on it, I’m about as cynical I guess as anybody with respect to politics and the managerial state, the bureaucratic state, which Trump couldn’t control, electing him did nothing and which I’m sure Biden doesn’t control either. But the fact that they’ve managed to keep it going this long, that they’ve managed to change the narrative this many times. You know, two weeks, flatten the curve, get this first shot, do this, do that. Everyone thought in March, well this will all be over by the end of the summer, surely we’ll be back in school in the fall and that didn’t happen. So, the fact that they’ve been able to do this around the world is really something. It’s breathtaking, it’s pretty scary. I mean this world had enough problems with money and entitlements and war, prior to COVID policies and what’s so remarkable about all this is that economists, social scientists who should have been out there sounding the alarm saying look, just because someone’s a public health expert, so-called, just because someone’s a doctor and most of them don’t know much about immunology and virology, by the way. They don’t learn that stuff in medical school, but even those who do know about that stuff, I mean that doesn’t mean that they’re equipped to make the cost-benefit decisions for society as a whole. That’s crazy. We don’t just allow scientists to run our lives. You know, during the blitz in London people went to work. During the plagues, during the Spanish Flu, people went to work, so the idea that we just sort of drop everything like children, almost, that we just abdicate our own individual or personal decision making to these medical doctors and they decide whether we have our restaurant open or whether we can get on an airplane or whether our kid stays home all day and gets depressed, that’s crazy and so economists and social scientists who were supposed to be out there helping us see the unseen, what’s the unseen? The unseen is the opportunity cost, the tradeoffs, all the harms which are going to wash over our society and our economies over the next 10 or 20 or 30 years as a result of these lockdowns. I mean, kids, teenagers lost a year and a half…well so far, now two years in their development. Infants, it’s like a twilight zone show. Infants were looking up at these masked faces. What is that going to mean for early childhood development? How many people gained 20 or 30 pounds and how do you measure that across an economy, across time with early death and diabetes, all the things that come as a result of obesity? Alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, spousal abuse, all of these things, all of these unseen things that are very hard to measure. You have to weigh these up against these people like Fauci who are saying, look, if everyone had just been out doing what they were doing, we would have had millions of deaths. Mm, not sure that that’s true., but even if it were true, we would have to understand the tradeoffs and this is where economists failed us. Economists should have been asserting themselves two years ago and saying, hey, hold on, we need to talk about the unseen.
S: This was truly the most astounding part of this entire insanity for me. And we’ve had one economist from the London School of Economics on our podcast before, Paul Frijters and he’s an empirical economist, very not Austrian, all about numbers and he was shocked and I was shocked that he was like this exception because you know, this is what I expected all empirical economists to do. I went to the Elysian to Columbia University and I studied a lot of empirical economics with a lot of empirical economists and I know that these people will try and calculate and measure the most obscure and arcane little details and consequences of things. So, they get hundreds of thousands of dollars to study, what is the impact of giving one African village a little bit extra food for one year olds? And then they’ll follow these one year olds, 10, 20 years down the line and quantify the impact on their income and on their IQ and on their height and on their everything. There’s an enormous industry of empirical economists out there measuring the impact of all kinds of things. And of course, you and I have our problems with that because ultimately, without theory, this doesn’t tell you anything and of course this can be utilized and abused in all kinds of different ways. And I still expected that you’d get these stat nerds to speak up and say, well, you know, if we’re going to shut down the world for two weeks, which is what it was initially, this is the impact, this is how many people are going to die from unemployment and how many people that are going to die from poverty. This is how many cancer diagnoses are going to be missed, this is how many malaria cases are going to die, this is how many tuberculosis patients are going to be dying because they won’t be getting their treatment, AIDS patients, etc., etc. And yet all of these empirical economists, all these essentially regime bootlickers, they were just out there, trotting out the same stupid propaganda that was being put out by the World Health Organization and all these other organizations. It’s just, oh well yeah, we need to do this because otherwise millions of people would die, according to the model. And suddenly, these models, these completely nonsensical models of millions of people dying, were just counted as if they were reality and then the empirical economists were just measuring how many lives we saved based on comparing it to the model and of course, ignoring the glaring cases of Sweden and Belarus which never implemented lockdowns and didn’t get to see any of this mass devastation and death that everybody else was mentioning. It’s truly astounding and I think, as I said earlier, it’s a great credit to the Mises Institute and to Austrian economists for being some of the very few economists to speak out against this, without needing to do sophisticated math, but I think it’s also a damning indictment of this sophisticated math because even for all of my appreciation of what Paul Frijters has done, this clearly shows that numbers without theory, numbers without a guiding framework, numbers without a praxeological basis, are just basically, they’re prostitutes that can say whatever you want. You just focus your analysis on one part of the story and you can make those lockdowns look great and you focus your analysis on something else, you can make the lockdowns look bad. And that’s why these economists are so easy to manipulate and…I mean empirical economists are so easy to get to say all of these nonsensical things because you just fund the questions that you want. You fund them to look into the numbers that you want to look at, so you make assumptions about how much staying at home has saved lives and then they can go and spend another two years running regressions analyses to tell you how much lives were saved and they don’t have to look at the unseen. So, just simply conceptualizing the unseen without any numbers, is far more powerful and far more useful than all of the sophisticated mathematics that you could deploy when you are funded to ignore the unseen.
J: Well, also you bring up Africa. I think there’s this idea in the West that we’re simply rich and all this material wealth that surrounds it will organize itself regardless of what we do policy wise, regardless of incentives and that we don’t have to worry about it. And so, we can shut down supply chain for a year or two and that we can tell people they don’t have to go to work. We can give employers PPP loans to make payroll without producing the good or service that they normally produce. We could tell people they don’t have to pay their rent and all these things are just costless. I think the average American at this point just thinks these things are costless because the government just has the money and we can just do this forever and ever. And the analogy I like is if you go to a financial planner, for example, and talk about what your retirement might look like if you begin saving money…well back when you could save money when there were interest rates…saving money in your 20s, as opposed to starting in your 30s and 40s and the cumulative effect of compounding interest and how much better off you’d be. So, what do we think that this means for capital accumulation across the world, in terms of our future prosperity when we shut things down for a year or two? How do we measure that over time? We’ll never know, I suppose, but what strikes me more than anything is this acceptance by people in the West that this is costless. And the left loved it because the left says, you know, everyone’s working these crappy jobs, like you got to go work at Subway for $8-10 bucks an hour and these jobs aren’t fulfilling or meaningful and this is great because finally we sent everybody home and finally the workers have some bargaining power in the labor-management relationship and they’re never going back to these jobs. These jobs are terrible and of course, as you know, Saif, employers of all sorts are really struggling right now to fill jobs really across the board, but certainly at the retail or more minimum wage type jobs, fast food and that sort of thing. And so the left loved this. They loved this idea of a reset because they think wealth exists almost as a fixed part of nature rather than wealth being something that millions of people have to get up every day and strive to produce. It’s an ongoing thing. We just think that electricity and hot and cold running water and a Starbucks on every corner and everything works and there’s cars and planes all day, we think that this just organizes itself without respect to incentive and that’s the most dangerous mythology of the COVID shutdowns is that we can get by without production.
S: Yes, and I think it’s the left, but it’s also the fiat world. This is fiat par excellence. This is the world of people who just think that government can dictate those things. The reason we have all of these things working, the reason you walk into a house that is protected from the elements and that has electricity and has all of these amazing devices is because the government passed a law and said houses should be like that. They don’t understand the amount of work that went into it and for me, the crowning glory of this kind of mental dysfunction is when people tell you, well, now what do you bitcoiners suggest to do if we have an economy that was running on bitcoin? How would you shut down the world on a bitcoin economy if you couldn’t print money and hand it out to people? And checkmate, bitcoiners. As if the fiat just allows you to suspend the rules of economics and now the government just hands out money and then we create prosperity. Uber Eats still shows up outside your door and you still keep getting the food and your economy will continue to work and hum along seamlessly for the next decade because the government is just printing money while you’re protected. Well, in a cruel hard money economy, if you had gold or bitcoin and you had those evil Austrian economists in charge, then the government couldn’t protect you by printing money and you’d have to go out and actually work in order to produce those things. It’s such an insane way of looking at the world, but it really is fiat. It’s the fiat viewpoint. It’s something I discuss in detail in the Fiat Standard because it’s exactly what fiat allows people to think because you look around and the government is constantly able to give things for free, take things for free, make things for free. It’s always the case that we can just get whatever we want. Do we want to make Afghanistan into a modern democracy? Just print a bunch of money and go to Afghanistan. Do you want to make Iraq into a modern democracy? Same thing. Whatever it is that you want, you can just print money and get it and the only limit, the only restraint is just getting the political will to do it. And that’s MMT, this is now a school of thought, if we could use that word, but this is a school of thought with a growing number of people, particularly among young people because the younger you are, the more you’ve lived in this clown fiat world where economic reality is dictated from above, rather than as a result of work and that’s the mentality of…it’s easy to poke fun at the left of course and I’m always up for poking fun at the left, but I think what’s really amazing is how many people in finance think like that? How many people who work in fiat finance think like this? One of the most remarkable, of course, is Nassim Taleb, who’s just completely lost his mind on this issue and has absolutely no conception of how an economy works and just thinks…and just yesterday, you know, with this new variant hysteria, his buddy in the World Economic Forum, I think Yaneer Bar-Yam, whatever that idiot’s name is, he was saying oh well, new variant means new epidemic, we need all the restrictions reinstated from day one and Nassim was just retweeting him saying yup, we’ve learned nothing…he’s learned nothing from the last two years. We just need to go and implement all of this because in his world and in the world of a lot of people who work in finance, money is just numbers on your Bloomberg terminal and the economy is just you sitting there and gambling whether you’re going to get a green candle or a red candle and you make money on that. And of course, in Nassim’s case, he doesn’t even trade, he just writes books about trading and pretends to be trading and never shows what he does, but it’s just a game. It’s like a video game. There’s no actual resources, there’s no capital and nobody discusses this issue that you have pointed out, which is the impact on capital accumulation. What’s the world going to look like in five years’ time when the things that we count on today needed to have been invested in today in order for them to serve us in five years’ time? The grids and the airplanes and the transportation and infrastructure, all of that stuff that we need, 5, 10, 15 years from now, needed to have been invested in today, but who’s investing in that stuff today? We are shortening the cycle of production and production is becoming more and more instantaneous and investment is becoming more and more short term because of all the inflation and because of all of the disincentives for work and production.
J: Yeah, talk about inflation, I mean, little old ladies have to go out and chase yield instead of getting paid 5 or 7% on just being thrifty throughout their lives when they get old, so that’s not good and that, I think props up a lot of the tech stocks is people looking for yields. But this idea that things are costless, yes, there are certainly people in finance, people on the right who think that economies can just be commanded or engineered, that goods and services can be summoned or legislated into existence. At some point, I just don’t know what to say to people who don’t understand that more money and credit does not equal goods and services and society, that production has to precede consumption. At some point, this just becomes I think, too tedious. It’s interesting that in the face of COVID, much like any other natural disaster, a terrorist event like 9/11, a war breaking out, in any of these kind of uncertain times, it’s interesting that fiscal and monetary policy immediately shifts into doing exactly opposite of what humans want to do naturally. These should be deflationary events. You point out in your new book, I’m about halfway through it, Hutt wrote this interesting article called The Yield from Money Held. What does it mean when people hoard money, when they just keep cash balances? Well, whenever there is uncertainty in the world and there certainly was uncertainty in the world in March of 2020. People didn’t know if they were going to lose their jobs. People didn’t know how…if millions of people were going to die. People didn’t know what COVID was. Whenever there’s that kind of uncertainty in the world, people immediately begin increasing their cash balances because cash is the best thing to have in an uncertain time as opposed to something that’s tied up like real estate or stocks, which may be less liquid. And so, Hoppe wrote an article called The Yield from Money Held Reconsidered, which is about Hutt’s article and he talks about all the socially beneficial things that happen when people hoard money, so-called. And a lot of the free market types disagree with this. They think money has to circulate, we have to worry about velocity and money needs to move around like we’re watching a pinball game or something. Well no, when people hold money, first of all, it gives them the flexibility to perhaps move, if they had to, to rent a new apartment, to perhaps survive for a few months if they lost their job. There’s a reason why they hold money for their own benefit when times are uncertain, but more broadly, that increases everybody else’s purchasing power because that money is sort of taken out of the purchasing economy, at least temporarily. And so, that’s deflationary, in effect, which is exactly what we want to see when we have what I would consider wildly overheated markets due to monetary policy, monetary expansion. I mean, we want to see prices fall when production falls and savings increase. And yet, everything our politicians do, everything our central bankers do is designed to fight this natural tendency. We need to stimulate, stimulate, stimulate. We need to create demand. Everything’s about demand, consumption and so we need to create more money and credit on the monetary side. On the fiscal side, we need to flood people with not even tax dollars, but newly created dollars to get them to pay their rent or pay their employees or go buy a new car. We all need to get brand new $50,000 Ford F-150s. That’s what we could do when we’re thinking that the economy’s really soft, this is a dangerous time and I might lose my job. So, if I might lose my job, the smart thing to do is go out and get a $50,000 Ford F-150 and worse yet, make payments on the thing. But that’s exactly what our system encouraged last year and as a result, auto dealers in the United States anyway, had both the worst months for many of them in their existence and the best months not long after. So that’s an example, that’s a real world clown example of what happens when you muck around with people’s natural inclinations during a crisis.
S: Yeah, and it’s really remarkable. I mean, people will say well, the government won’t be printing money in a hard money economy. Well yes, they won’t be printing money, but if there is a disaster, a real disaster, let’s say there’s a massive natural disaster or a world war or whatever, yes, a lot of economic destruction will happen. Free markets obviously can’t protect you from earthquakes, but they can ameliorate that because they’re going to mean that people are going to stop spending money on useless stuff and people are not going to spend money on things that they don’t need. So, what’s that going to do is that if you were planning on buying a new car this year, you won’t do it. You’re going to save your money because who knows, maybe you’ll lose your job. And so what happens is that the price of cars falls. What you want to buy, the only thing that you do want to buy is money. You want to hold onto your money, so the price of money, basically rises, so you don’t need the government to print money and hand it to everybody. Everybody’s cash balances appreciate in real terms because everybody’s holding onto their money. So, at that point, goods become cheaper and that’s the way in which we ration those goods. Good become cheaper because there’s no new demand for them, so the new cars that have been made already will only go to the people that really, really need them, everybody else is going to save up their money and everybody’s money is going to appreciate, so they can buy more and that’s how you weather the storm. That’s what you do. It applies on a personal level, it applies on a national level. If you’re in trouble, you stop spending on frivolous stuff and you save. But fiat world just flips all of this on its head. It’s remarkable.
J: Well, I’m going to say that I think your new book is an important one. I think in many ways, it is elaborating on the themes that Guido Hülsmann presents in his book, The Ethics of Money Production, which is that monetary debasement…or I don’t even want to call it debasement. Let’s just say political control of money, political money, money that serves political interests. What that does to a society in terms of creating high time preference and that that means for families, for work, even for ones own personal integrity and morality, I think your book is really fleshing that out and going into particular industries like food. So it’s a fascinating topic, the cultural implications of monetary policy and there’s not too many people talking about that, let’s just say. Everything’s viewed as this technocratic set of dials and knobs and we just sort of fine tune things to get optimal production from the barnyard animals and that’s not how it works.
S: Yeah, it’s very good for me that nobody wants to talk about this stuff because it’s clearly hitting a nerve for a lot of people who can really see this stuff like clearly, the kind of money that you use in every single trade with the rest of the world and with yourself is going to have an effect, but nobody wants to talk about it among the economists except basically Hülsmann and me and a few other Austrians here and there, which is great because it just means more sales for my books, so I encourage all other economists to continue to stick to their NGDP targeting models. That’ll surely work out one day when the Fed appoints you and you get to show us how you are actually right with all these equations.
J: Right, if we just get the right Fed share. This is what Washington DC gives us. It gives us this idea that we fix things politically and that’s too far gone now. The money’s too far gone, the politics are too far gone, the entitlements are too far gone. It’s like you’re in a car and it’s going around a sharp curve and you’re going too fast and there’s a steep drop off a cliff beyond the curve. Well, there’s a point at which there’s no amount of braking or counter steering or anything else is going to save you from going across that cliff and that’s why I think our mindset really ought to be on building things rather than trying to save things.
S: Very much so. And I think this mentality, it’s not even that you can actually be the right person in the Fed. There is no right person in that job. The right person in that job is no person in that job. And I think recently, you and I were both commenting on St. Louis Fed taking on the role of Betty Crocker and giving the world dietary advice about how to handle their Thanksgiving. And so, unsurprisingly enough and this was amazing because it came exactly in the week in which I published my book and in my book there’s a huge chapter on fiat food, on how government intervention in the food market has resulted in the degradation of the dietary experience of the average person in the world today and a shift in the Overton window of what is considered food and it’s allowed the inclusion of all kinds of industrial waste into our food supply, pushed and promoted by governments because this stuff helps hide inflation. And this is the kind of thing I’ve said before that my North Star in life is the jeering of idiots, when idiots start jeering me, I know I’m onto something important and it happened with coronavirus, it happened with bitcoin and it happened with this discussion of fiat food, when I started talking about this, a lot of people were laughing that ah, this is ridiculous, he likes his meat and he’s trying to pass off his diet as being something more profound than just him liking steaks. But I wrote a whole chapter about it, maybe 10,000 words in the fiat standard on this and then thankfully the Federal Reserve chose to give me this amazing gift on the week of the publication of the book where they decided that, hey, if you actually substitute your turkey instead of eating an actual turkey, if you make your turkey out of soy, you’ll get more proteins per dollar. And it’s amazing and you had a very astute comment about this, which is that the more central planning happens in the monetary realm, the more we will inevitably have the central bank have to intervene in all aspects of life.
J: Yeah, it’s pretty scary to see the new woke language at the Fed and at central banks in general. You pointed out earlier that younger people who’ve grown up in this, younger economists at central banks, really under 40, but certainly under 30, a lot of them are brilliant in terms of pure IQ and horsepower. They went to Wharton, they went to Harvard, they went to Stanford, but they’ve never really seen a bear market and they’ve never really seen interest rates and they really have no conception of the history of economic thought. So, they don’t really even know much about Marx and Keynes and Samuelson, much less what came before that, the Austrians, the Spanish scholastics, Adam Smith. So, it’s almost like you take them and drop them on an island with no information about how they got there and so I think that’s very, very dangerous because it creates this army of young quants, these young brilliant people who think that they can engineer things, they can engineer outcomes and that they can make humans respond, I guess, in the ways that they want them to. That’s what scares me and we’ve seen a lot of this the last couple of years that central banks need to fight sexism, they need to fight racism, they need to help us achieve some sort of justice in society and most importantly maybe they need to help us with this amorphous idea of climate change. That’s a real shift. That would shock the ghost of Paul Volker and I guess that’s just part and parcel of the world we live in now where everything has been so politicized that they’re able to make this stuff seem nonpolitical. Well of course, everyone wants to fight climate change, that’s not a political perspective, that just is being a good person who wants to leave the earth intact for future generations. Well, we already had that. Teddy Roosevelt had that. It was called being a conservationist. We don’t need central bankers from Wharton to tell us this and when they do start telling us this, when they’re losing the plot like that, it strikes me that we’re in very dangerous waters because there’s real problems they ought to be dealing with, with respect to the dollar and at least if you believe their Twitter feed, they’re not doing that.
S: No, it’s amazing because the statistics constantly show that there is no problem of inflation. Alright, there’s a little bit of transitory inflation maybe here and there and it’s because of supply chain issues and the climate crisis and this and this and that, but it’s reached Soviet levels of propaganda now where people are visibly suffering, prices are massively going up, supply chains are disrupted because nobody’s working because everybody’s getting paid to sit at home. Economic production is being destroyed, prices are going up, money is being printed and handed out like confetti and economic production is essentially falling apart, but they’re covering it up with their amazing empirical magical statistics. And then, they believe their own bullshit in a sense that well look, we can manage the pandemic, we’ve saved the world from the virus, we’ve printed all this money and we didn’t cause inflation, so what else can we fix? Well, let’s fix people’s diets by feeding them soy and let’s fix the climate by stopping the production of cows and replacing cows with soy, as if grazing animals are ruining the planet, but all of these mono cropping mass facilities where they’re just destroying the soil, killing everything on it in order to grow these disgusting crops, that’s how we take care of the planet. It’s Soviet levels of delusion and propaganda. And they believe their own nonsense about it being successful and so there’s no limit to how far this is going to go and I think you’re absolutely correct on the climate change. It’s another thing that I keep harping on about and people mock me and laugh at me and tell me you’re being crazy. But carbon dioxide is an essential component of every living organism on earth. There are no living things that don’t contain carbon dioxide and so, if you’re able to control carbon dioxide under whatever stupid pretense you come up with, you’re able to control all of life and this is an enormous, enormous step forward for central planners around the world and I think it’s absolutely mind boggling to imagine that they want to control how much carbon dioxide is being emitted all over the world. It’s insane. And to go back to the fiat standard, I spent part of the book in the middle part talking about fiat life. I talk about energy and I talk about food and I discuss how in the 1970s, the central bank’s monetary policy which led to inflation, also led to central banks and the governments all over the world trying to promote these alternative sources of nutrition and energy because they were cheaper. And so they were very happy to support and subsidize and promote all kinds of idiotic pseudoscience that tells you, meat is bad for you and you should eat soy because that’s how you stay healthy and that meat is bad for the planet and fossil fuels are bad for the planet and that the future is eat soy and rely on wind and solar energy. And of course, if you do that, there’s no inflation because these things are far cheaper to produce, but of course, they’re far inferior. If you live off of solar and wind, you live like your ancestors just lived 500 years ago. It definitely keeps the CPI down, but also makes surviving the winter much harder and it also means no transportation and it also means you’re going to have to live in a much tinier house to keep it warm. And I think we’re witnessing the world head towards that now. We’re seeing a revival of these 1970s memes. They never left us because inflation never left us. But now, we are seeing it really being pushed very aggressively and when you add in the prospect of central bank digital currencies—and this is the thing I discuss in the last chapter—when you have the prospect of central bank digital currencies, which are going to allow central banks to have basically complete control over every dollar of spending that you do and social credit scores and we’re already seeing all of this vax passport stuff is just a prelude to that. There’s a reason why all of the people who are hysterically afraid of the virus are also hysterically afraid of climate change and also believe that inflation is not a problem because inflation is not going to be a problem if you have a social credit score system and the central bank digital currency that limits you to 50 grams of beef a week and 300 milligrams of gasoline a month or whatever it is, but you’re going to have rationing Soviet style done through your iPhone and you’re entirely dependent on delivery to your house and you’re not going to be able to afford a big house, everybody’s going to move into these tiny little bug pods where they’re going to stay home all the time with Mark Zuckerberg’s headset on their face to get to experience life through the headset and you’re going to eat the soy and you’re going to live in the pod and you’re going to not move and you’re going to stay cold and there will be no inflation.
J: Well, I’ll give you an anecdote on that. I was recently in Texas and my wife and I visited a little chain taco place and at the bottom of the menu, they had a couple of Beyond Beef offerings, in other words, fake meat. I’ve never had fake meat in a taco. But anyway, we asked the guy, does anybody ever order that and he said no. So, I’ll leave you with that hopeful note. Maybe Beyond Beef is not going to make it.
S: Yeah, well I’m pretty sure nobody orders that stuff willingly, I mean, even the real fanatic vegans and vegetarians, they don’t like that stuff. They believe that they can get their nutrition from just eating whole foods and fruits and plants and just eating fresh plants. They don’t really like this…well I shouldn’t generalize, but a lot of them don’t like this stuff. They’re mistaken I think in imagining they can get their nutrition from whole foods, from whole plant foods, but they’d also be mistaken if they imagined they could get their nutrition from this. Nobody eats this, which I think on the one hand, it’s encouraging. On the other hand, it’s even more worrying because these things are everywhere and nobody eats them and yet, they are everywhere. It’s incredible how far they’re being pushed everywhere. It’s incredible that the World Economic Forum wants you to eat them. It’s incredible that the Economist magazine has this new story about this garbage at least once a month and about how you have to eat it and how it’s good for you. And the criminalization of the idea of eating meat is spreading more and more. Even people who eat meat are apologetic about it and we’re just waiting for the day when they make lab grown meat, as if such a thing is even possible. But that’s what it’s going to be. One day they’re going to just mix in some bugs with some of these soy burgers into a new formula and tell you, oh, we grew this in the lab and here’s your lab grown meat and it’s being normalized and I can see how with increasing poverty and inflation, people are just going to have to eat it because there are no alternatives. And of course, the way that fiat food gets in most commonly is through schools, that’s where it is. And then we’re already seeing all over the world, schools are heading towards this. Of course, it’s cost cutting, but they’re packaging it in stupid climate propaganda nonsense. It’s a scary time, but on a positive note, reading the Mises Institute’s archives and holding bitcoin protects you from this. It’s the inoculation you need to resist the Great Reset. I think, you know, if you’re still stuck in the fiat world, you’re going to have to eat the bugs and the soy. Bitcoin is your only option. You’re going to need to buy bitcoin and hold onto it for a long time and accumulate as much as you can in order to be able to eat meat tomorrow. I think many bitcoiners are going to be disappointed. They’re going to get rich in dollar terms, but with inflation, I think people are thinking alright, I’m going to become a millionaire in bitcoin. In their mind, when they started stacking stats, I’m going to become a millionaire meant living like a king. I think in a few years’ time, being a millionaire is going to basically mean living like middle class people lived in the 1990s. You’re able to afford a steak. You’re able to afford to eat meat and have a car and drive around and have a house with separate rooms. That’s going to be millionaire status, basically.
J: Well, I hope that’s not true, but I’m fearful that it is true.
S: Yeah. Alright, one other question I want to talk to you about, your Human Action podcast. I listen to that quite a bit and I really enjoy it. You talk about the great books and you host some Austrian economists to talk about the great books. Make the pitch for people who haven’t dug into the 800 page tomes, why are those books great and why should people read them?
J: Yeah, I really dug myself a hole. There’s too many podcasts and I thought, God, do we need a podcast? Do I need a podcast? And I thought, well how could I distinguish this podcast and I said, well let’s just focus on books and mostly econ and mostly econ theory. Now not entirely, sometimes we get into political science, sometimes we get into philosophy, related topics, occasionally even fiction, anti-war stuff, but for the most part, econ theory. And so, almost by definition, that is not the broadest audience. So, it’s tough in the sense that every week, people want to hear about current events. They want to hear a podcast about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial or something like that. So, I didn’t exactly create the most popular platform, just for starters, but the good news is that people, they seem to like the show. People who do listen, listen pretty religiously and my pitch is this is, if you’re not going to read that book, this is the Cliff Notes. It’s like watch the movie instead of reading the book. You might get a short and dirty version of it and in some cases, it might inspire you to actually go out and read it. But look, when there’s actually a 900 page book, we go through that over multiple shows, so we don’t rush through things. But, it’s not for everybody, it’s a little bit of an acquired taste and hopefully, we’re just keeping these books alive and hopefully you can go back and listen to one of these podcasts five or ten years from now and it’ll still have value, which I think is not true of a lot of podcasts. So, it’s sort of the tortoise and the hare. I always try to ask myself with respect to the Mises Institute is, what has value and what lasts? And so I don’t know how these podcasts will look five or ten years from now, but those books will still be here and our explanations of them or our elucidation of them will still be here. So, if people are interested, follow me on Twitter. I’d love for you to check out the podcast.
S: Alright. We have a couple of questions. Philippe wants to ask you on regression theorem, Philippe, do you want to go ahead?
P: Hi, Jeff. Thank you for coming to the podcast. Really enjoy the Human Action podcast and recommend it to everyone, especially the discussion of books and the guests with the wealth of knowledge that they bring. But my question is, what are your thoughts on bitcoin fitting Mises’ regression theorem?
J: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’ve read a few articles on this, a few different thoughts. I guess the question becomes what is the preexisting nonmonetary use of bitcoin? What’s the value? What’s the there-there other than its quality, its moneyness? The degrees of moneyness, I like that phrase. I think it can satisfy it. I think that the immutability of it, the mathematical certainty of it, the tech, all those things combined to give it a there. In other words, the technology itself is in a digital sense, like a commodity. It becomes a thing which is visible to all the parties involved and the fact that it’s a digital thing rather than a shiny metal thing, not in and of itself, I think, caused this to somehow fail the regression theorem. But again, I think we have to understand, look, Mises did a huge service. Menger comes along and say, how does money get its value? Does it need to be created by government? No, money arises as the most saleable commodity. Great. But then Mises comes along and says, well why do people value it? Well, they value it because they can trade it for goods and services. Why can they trade it for goods and services? Well because they value it. Well, that’s obviously circular, so how do we solve that? We have to go back earlier in time to try to figure out what gave it value from the beginning. And so, whether something is money is really for the marketplace to say. It’s not for any one human being to say, it’s not for Satoshi to decree. It’s for the market to decide, ultimately. So I’m going to punt a little bit. I do think that getting hung up on whether bitcoin satisfies the regression theorem is missing the point a little bit. In other words, we might not be able to identify the commodification of it, the earlier preexisting value or use until we have the benefit of hindsight in terms of its moneyness. But, I don’t think because it’s not a physical commodity in the physical world, that that disqualifies it from Mises’ theorem.
S: Does that answer your question, Philippe?
P: Yeah, perfectly.
S: Yeah, I agree with that entirely. I think people make too much of this idea that it doesn’t fit with the regression theorem when the thrust of the theorem is that you don’t need the state to mandate the money and so, anything that has any value can grow into money by acquiring more and more monetary value. And bitcoin had value before it had monetary value, so people were expending electricity to acquire bitcoins, even though they had no expectation of paying for their coffee and no expectation of selling them. Up until 2010, you basically couldn’t sell your bitcoin for any amount of dollars because nobody wanted to buy bitcoin. There was no market for it, but then there was a market for buying and selling bitcoin. But later on, we got the market for using bitcoin as money. Later on…people first bought bitcoin and then somebody used it to pay for that pizza. So, it seems to fit perfectly fine with Mises’ theorem, as far as I’m concerned. Chris, do you have a question?
C: Yeah. Hey, Jeff, thanks a lot for today and I’ll be doing a lot more digging on your website. I’ve perused it and come across it of course before. But anyway, my question is, just a reference. Any suggested first book on Austrian economics, something I can use to Austrian pill some people who have not heard of it before and when I mention it, they kind of go what the hell is that? Do you got a suggestion?
J: Well, yeah. I’m going to suggest you hold out and wait for Per Bylund’s book that he’s writing for us that’s coming out in 2022. It’s a primer—some people say primer, I still say primer. So, what we asked Per to do and there are some very short introductions to Austrian economics. One of them is by Randy Holcombe, for example, but a lot of these were published by academic publishing houses and so, you get this thin little volume costs $98 or something crazy like that. So we said, Per, what we want you to do is take Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and make that even shorter, even shorter than that and try not to have language which is temporal about current events. Make this a timeless book and basically take Austrian economics and do a few distinct silos like Capital Theory and money and method and that sort of thing and create Economics in One Lesson, but for Austrianism. And so, this is going to be almost pamphlet. I mean we’ve tasked him with keeping it at 100 pages or fewer. It’s going to be paperback, it’s going to be dirt cheap. We’ll probably give a lot of them away. It’ll be maybe 2 bucks or something, so unlike the stupid academic houses, this book’s going to be super accessible. It will immediately be online in html format and free. So, that’s going to be an exciting project. But in the short term, there’s so many. I mean, you should certainly read Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. There’s nothing better than that. Ping me afterwards, I’ll send anybody a box of those. We have hundreds of thousands of those available free. I mean, physical books, I’m happy to send you some. That’s as good as any introductory to economics. And I really like Bob Murphy’s new book, Understanding Money Mechanics, which is basically, it’s all you need to know about money. It is a course in money in one book, so if you read that book, you’re going to know more about money and its history and its applications and shadow banking and crypto and all kinds of applications. You’ll know more about money, unfortunately, than a lot of economists will. So, those would be my two suggestions if you don’t want to wait for Per Bylund, but poor Per, we’ve got him under the gun here trying to…it’s harder to write a 100 page book than a 500 page book. I think there’s no question about that, but it’s going to be great. And to anybody listening, just stay tuned for that because we’ll send you some.
C: Awesome, thank you so much. And yup, I have read Economics in One Lesson and I was going to mention that, but I didn’t to give you a leading question and it’s good to hear you mention that one. How do you spell Per’s name, so I can Google him?
J: So, Per is Swede, so his first name’s Per, P-E-R and his last name is Bylund, B-Y-L-U-N-D. He’s great on Twitter, everybody should follow him for sure.
S: Yes, Per’s great on Twitter. We should follow him and we’ve also had him on the podcast here, one of the earlier episodes. I urge you to go listen to that one, it was a very good discussion of his work. Anybody else have any other questions for Jeff?
J: Well I see on the side, the name of the upcoming book. Well that’s tough. We’re trying to crowdsource that name. I’m not sure I want to call it Austrian Economics: A Primer because that sounds like a one-room schoolhouse in Little House on the Prairie or something. So, I’m not sure, but if anybody’s got a brilliant idea, title matters a lot, so I want to hear it.
S: Hopefully you’ll get some good suggestions from some of the listeners for the podcast. And of course, we should also add, people should follow you on Twitter and your handle is @JeffDeist, right?
J: Yes, correct.
S: And of course, the Mises Institute account, @Mises, there’s a whole bunch of interesting stuff that’s always being posted in the Mises Institute. Another very impressive thing about the Mises Institute is just the consistency. I’ve been following them on Twitter and on the internet since 2008 and there’s a new blog post almost every day. How many blog posts do you do, three a week now or what is it?
J: I’m not sure, more than that. We certainly have three to four new articles every day as well.
S: Yeah, just constantly churning out articles and it’s constantly reliably high quality analysis. It always makes you think, always interesting, always smart and always a very welcome change from just the incessant noise of the regime propaganda apparatus.
J: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that, Saif.
S: Thank you, Jeff. It has been an absolute pleasure having you over and we will do this some more, I am sure, in the future and I’ll be over in your podcast as well.
J: Thank you, Saif.
S: Cheers, have a good day. Bye-bye.
[01:30:00 end of recording]