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Austrians and the Mainstream Economists

Economics / Economic Theory Jan 27, 2015 - 04:06 PM GMT



John Cochran writes: Mises Institute: You recently retired after a long time at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where you were both an economics professor and the dean of the Business School. How did you end up there, and end up as dean?

John Cochran: I had a good guardian angel who helped me come to Metro State. I’m not sure about that on becoming dean, though. I received my undergraduate degree in economics from Metro State. Gerald Stone, then chair of the econ department, and Ralph Byrns were two of my professors there. As I worked on my graduate degrees at University of Colorado-Boulder, I would occasionally stop by Metro just to touch base. In spring 1981, I was just completing teaching my first principles course at UC-Boulder and had just completed the requirements for an MA in economics. The first edition of the Byrns and Stone principles book would be available for fall 2001. Metro had an open visiting position and had offered the job to a recent CU PhD. He had told them he would take their job, but wouldn’t use their book. Ralph and Jerry were talking it over and Ralph said to Jerry, “We can’t hire him.” Jerry said, “We can’t not hire him just because he said he won’t use our book.” Ralph replied, “But he is telling us he will be a ‘lunch tax’.” Jerry said, “Yes, but who else can we get?” [A “lunch tax” is a high-maintenance employee. — Ed.]

About that time I walked into the office to say hello. Ralph asked me three questions. Do you have a masters? Have you any teaching experience? When I said yes to both, Ralph, then asked, “Would you like a full-time teaching position this fall?” I have been at Metro ever since.

I taught from 1981 to 1986 in a visiting position as I completed my research on Hayek-Keynes and my dissertation which eventually developed into a book I co-authored with Fred Glahe, The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research (Edwin Mellen Press, 1999). From 1986 to 2004 I taught in the economics department. I was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 1990 and promoted to professor in 1996. I served as chair of the department from 1990–1994 and then again from 1996 to 2004. I might say I was an accidental dean. Late in the fall of 2003, during the aftermath of the first boom-bust of the Great Moderation, Metro fired the dean of business. I was encouraged by many faculty members and staff to apply for the interim position. I was hesitant, but then realized I (and many others I respected) really did not want to work for any of the folks who either wanted or were being considered for the position. I applied and was appointed to the position perhaps a week before the start of the spring 2004 semester. What I thought would be a 6 month-to-a-year position lasted two-and-a-half years. I was hired as permanent dean in July 2006.

MI: There are now at least two Austrians at MSUD, Nicolás Cachanosky and Alexandre Padilla. Did you have a role in their coming to teach at MSUD?

JC: I had a direct role in hiring Alex Padilla. Metro State had a visiting position open for fall 2002. Hoping to attract an Austrian, I posted the job announcement on the Mises Institute scholars email list. Alex, a former Mises Fellow who was just finishing a stint at George Mason and had just published “Can Agency Theory Justify the Regulation of Insider Trading?” in The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, applied, interviewed well, and was hired. He thrived in the position and I was able a couple of years later to use a recruitment tool to convert him to tenure track which began spring 2006. Padilla had more to do with bringing in Nicolás Cachanosky, who actually was hired into the position I vacated when I completed my transitional retirement in 2012. Alex chaired the search committee. There was at least one member of the committee adamantly against an Austrian influenced economist, no matter how good his scholarship and teaching accomplishments. Although just completing his PhD at Suffolk University under Ben Powell, Cachanosky’s qualifications to date were clearly vastly superior to any others in the pool, which did include some George Mason graduates and ABDs. At Alex’s request and as an emeritus prof, I reviewed the files of the top ten or so candidates. I then lobbied longtime colleagues on the committee, the department chair, and wrote a strong letter of support to the current dean of business. I look forward to excellent contributions to MSUD and the Denver community from both for many years ahead.

MI: Generally speaking, do other economists see a benefit from having a diversity of schools of thought within a department, or is there resistance to having Austrians on staff?

JC: Many economists do see an advantage in diversity. One of my dissertation advisors, Tracy Mott, now at the University of Denver, was an excellent role model as a gentleman and scholar. While his work focused on extending the ideas of Michal Kalecki and John Maynard Keynes on the relation of financial considerations to economic activity, he was open to disagreement and instrumental in my early research. While at DU, if he had students interested in Austrian economics he would occasionally have me or Padilla in to make a presentation.

In general, most good economists are looking for colleagues who are good scholars, good teachers, and not a lunch tax. Most of the Austrians I know and respect easily fit this bill. Obviously — from the comments above on the hiring of Professor Cachanosky — there can still be resistance. There can also be resistance from outside the economics department. I was denied promotion to professor the first time I applied when the college wide review committee did not like my two papers with Fred Glahe on separating school and state (“Praxeology and the Development of Human Capital: The Separation of School and State,” in Cultural Dynamics and “Privatization True and False: Private Enterprise and Education,” in the Journal of Private Enterprise). The next year I promoted the papers as anti-voucher instead and flew through with flying colors.

MI: In a recent interview, Guido Hülsmann said that he’s seen great progress in the ability of Austrian economists to get faculty positions at good (if not highly-elite) institutions. What are your observations here?

JC: Mine are more indirect, but I would tend to agree. Ben Powell has moved from San Jose State University, to Suffolk, and now to Texas Tech. More and more GMU grads are moving into positions with at least masters programs and some with respected PhD programs. During my term as dean at Metro State we had at least two (if not more) Austrian or fellow-traveler candidates whom we would have liked to hire, but we were not able to compete with other institutions with either salary, teaching load, or scholarly support. The Colorado mountains only buy so much.

MI: In the past, the availability of materials by Austrian economists — such as Rothbard’s History of Economic Thought — was a real issue. What effect has the spread of affordable Austrian publications in the last twenty years had on the instructor’s ability to engage students?

JC: I just received a short note from Lew Rockwell thanking me for being such a faithful donor since 1988. I became such a faithful donor because the great work the Institute was doing to make material available in print and online was benefiting me not only professionally in my scholarship, but was making it incredibly easier for me to engage students. Benefits for many extended beyond the classroom. Class handouts or a web link often stimulated curiosity and led at least some to become self-learners about Austrian economics and the philosophy of liberty.

Walter Block once sent me an email asking if I was a classical liberal or an anarcho-capitalist. I replied that it depended on how long it had been since I had read or re-read Rothbard (I would now add Robert Higgs’s Delusions of Power). If recently, I was an anarcho-capitalist. But in my teaching, I was probably more of a classical liberal (although my intro lecture which highlighted the distinction between the political and economic means often would have at least one leftist/progressive in tears). I found it more effective with less tuning out. By using materials available at, students who were intrigued would, on their own, discover the anarcho-capitalist perspective.

John P. Cochran is emeritus dean of the Business School and emeritus professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver and coauthor with Fred R. Glahe of The Hayek-Keynes Debate: Lessons for Current Business Cycle Research. He is also a senior scholar for the Mises Institute and serves on the editorial board of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Send him mail. See John P. Cochran's article archives.

© 2015 Copyright John P. Cochran - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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