In December 2015 during a visit to Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, I was asked to discuss future of American politics and the rise of populist movements. With my great predictive capacity, I told my audience that they were jumping to conclusions. The Republican and Democratic primaries had not even started and that soon the populist rhetoric would be tuned down, and the more middle-of-the-road candidates would emerge. I was wrong, and I was wrong throughout most of 2016 in terms of predicting the mood of the country.
But it wasn't just this country. As 2016 started, I was in London and again asked a question about the upcoming BREXIT vote, and again I said, there is no turning the clock back and that globalization and cosmopolitanism was the future. How wrong could I be AGAIN?!
What makes matters worse is that I actually published a paper in the Winter 2016 issue of The Independent Review that argued that nativist impulses and zero-sum thinking should give us pause in the genuinely optimistic slant that the economic way of thinking and the focus on the gains from trade and the gains from innovation that an entrepreneurial perspective would suggest. So I should have known better than to be so confident in suggesting the the optimistic forces would outcompete the pessimistic ones. To use the language of Joel Mokyr, there are "headwinds" and "tailwinds", and the "headwinds" of zero-sum and negative-sum thinking can be strong as to slow the progress that the prevailing "tailwinds" would otherwise suggest.
I remain optimistic, but even more cautiously than before. If 2016 taught me anything, it was that we economists should stick to our jobs as "students of civilization" as the founding members of the Austrian School saw their intellectual mission.
Despite my rather pathetic record in political prediction, we at the Hayek Program had an excellent year in terms of publications of articles, books, and popular outlets. One time dissertations of former students in our program became books with university presses, and some of those books became award winning works. New dissertations were written, and new appointments earned by a new class of alumni. Articles, books, and essays. We celebrated books published by Richard Wagner, Erwin Dekker, and Virgil Storr, Stefanie Haeffele-Balch, and Laura Grube.
We added Roberta Herzberg and Ariella John to our faculty in the Hayek Program, and Roger Koppl is the Hayek Visiting Professor for this academic year. Last year, which included Spring 2016, was Robert Higgs. His conversation with Chris Coyne is a must listen to any serious student of political economy. We also started a project on Medium entitled "Vienna Circle" that using a multi-media platform to inform readers of the research activities of the Hayek Program.
We also had several events that were very successful, including a conversation between Deirdre McCloskey and Don Boudreaux, a lectures by Israel Kirzner on his life as an Austrian economists, and another on the nature of the competitive market process, and a lecture by Michael Munger and a panel discussion with David Schmidtz, Barry Weingast and Luigi Zingales to celebrate the receipt of the Nobel Prize in Economics by James Buchanan in 1986. The library also officially announced the Buchanan archive project with a ceremony, and then the university announced that two buildings at GMU would be named after our economic Nobel Prize winners --- Vernon Smith and James Buchanan. Smith Hall will be in Arlington and will house both Mercatus Center and the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, and Buchanan Hall will be in Fairfax and will house the Economics Department and the F. A. Hayek Program of the Mercatus Center.
In addition to my academic work in editing, publishing, and teaching*, I also coordinated the 2016 Southern Economic Association meetings in my capacity as President-Elect and by all reports the meetings were a great success with highlights being lectures from Andrei Shleifer, Israel Kirzner, Deirdre McCloskey, Vernon Smith, and Jim Alm. The annual Society for the Development of Austrian Economics meetings which meet in conjunction with the SEA since its founding as an affiliated association had a great dinner with record attendance, honors going to Paul Lewis, Deirdre McCloskey, and Vernon Smith, and a wonderful presidential address by Edward Stringham.
In September, I also returned from the Mont Pelerin Society general meetings with the surprise announcement that I was named President of MPS for 2016-2018, which will take me to several different locations over the next few years.
As for my travel schedule -- 2016 was a bit hectic, but it saw me travel to London and speak at IEA, King's College, and do archive work at the LSE. I participated in both APEE and HES annual conferences as well as the SEA meetings. I spoke at a variety of universities and colleges throughout the year.
One of the most intellectually stimulating activity I am involved with is our Adam Smith Fellows program at Mercatus. Five years ago we began this program with 15 PhD student from throughout the US, this year we have almost 100 fellows in getting their PhDs in elite universities throughout the US and Europe. These are serious young scholars in the humanities and social sciences are a constant source of inspiration for new ideas and new directions. They devote themselves throughout the fellowship to a deep engagement with market process and spontaneous order theory, public choice and constitutional political economy, and the institutional analysis of development and polycentric systems.
After grades were submitted and the offices were officially closed, I went into our offices and walked through the empty hallways as a way to reflect on what we have accomplished and what we have planned for the future. I am so grateful to work with my great colleagues in the Hayek program. Our PhD fellows are dedicated students and aspiring professionals, and our staff works with enthusiasm and efficiency. I have often be quoted as claiming that academic success for a research and teaching program requires three things: IDEAS, funding and positions. I capitalize IDEAS because only if you have good ideas can you get off the ground as a research and teaching program. But even the best ideas will go nowhere if there are no funds to support the efforts and/or if solid professional positions and a plan for professional advancements is limited for those that pursue these ideas. But my typical presentation underestimates the #1 critical factor -- PEOPLE. You need high quality people to make a research program, and we have that. We have the tools and mentality to be 'students of civilization" as our intellectual tradition demands.
Onwards and upwards for 2017.