Interview with Tho Bishop: Economic Populism and the Role of the Mises Institute
The following is the first part from an interview between William Yarwood (WY), digital media officer for The Mallard, and Tho Bishop (TB), assistant editor at the Mises Institute. The article has been edited for clarity, originally published at MallardUK.com.
WY: So, I thought I would start off with just by asking you a simple question—how did you come into libertarianism?
TB: Yeah, well I’m definitely a Ron Paul baby in that regard. Uhm, you know, there is a lot of things that kind of happened at the same time. I was a young conservative that kind of moved from Sean Hannity conservatism to Glenn Beck conservatism to then recognizing that the Iraq War was a sham, a disaster. We started seeing the economy collapse around us, as well as the Republican leadership, and I realized that mainstream conservatism wasn’t enough. So I decided I needed to go deeper on these issues.
The Iraq War aspect made it very easy to move towards a libertarian direction. And then Ron Paul came around and the way that he talked about economics was at the same time where I was beginning to find interests in economics. That was the radicalization point! Particularly there was this one essay by Ayn Rand that I was reading at the time. I think it’s something about the history of laissez-faire capitalism, think it’s called “Leave Us Alone” and in it, she writes like it was 2009. [The essay Tho is referring to is Rand’s “Let Us Alone” article from her syndicated Los Angeles Times column from the 1960s]. She talks about the president trying to pass a stimulus program and how bad it was. And it’s not like until the last page that you read that she’s actually talking about LBJ! Yet it was so word for word relevant for what we were seeing in 2009. That’s when I realized, man we haven’t learned any of this stuff.
So, you get that kind of the combination: antiwar sentiment, skepticism towards state power, free market economics, etc. and then you know, particularly the social issue aspect of politics at the time, I mean, everyone in my generation was, you know, liberalizing on those fronts too. It all pushed me into libertarianism. There and then, of course, once you get into libertarian movements, you realize why libertarians start fighting with each other so much. You start going down the rabbit holes of deeper ideology and then again, the focus on economics kind of brought me more and more to the Austrian school.
I read Friedman. I even read Krugman’s The Return of Depression Economics, and just the more I read the Austrian school it always looked better by contrast—so that kind of made me interested in the Mises Institute. Which then brings in additional rabbit holes in history and things like that. And so really, it was the political stage of 2008 Ron Paul campaign and losing faith in various institutions that all pushed me in that libertarian direction.
WY: Yeah, I think that is, uh, that’s quite a universal case study. I think for most Americans at that time you know, the of the height of the Iraq War in the late Bush era and the 2008–2012 sort of period was when a lot of people came to the libertarian movement. And I think that you are correct in the sense that once you get into libertarianism, you sort of realize all these splits within it and how it essentially paralyzes the movement. You talked about Austrian economics, and you said you’d read a bit of Chicago stuff too. I was wondering, why specifically did you like Austrian economics?
TB: One of the reasons that I initially found myself interested in Austrian economics is because Austrians had this great PR campaign in 2009. Mainly because they were right! Also, you had others like Peter Schiff, who was producing videos at the time on economics which were good fun. And of course, you had Ben Bernanke as a student of Friedman not seeing the financial crisis coming. So mainstream economists
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