If thoroughbred liberals in Brazil can fit into a van, the Austrian School is a kind of van inside the van.
This line of thought has always been viewed with some disdain by mainstream liberalism, for mixing philosophical and behavioral concepts with the “harder” part, so to speak, of economic practice. “Austrian doesn’t count” is a common provocation that fans of this school need to hear.
Over the last few years, this image has gradually changed, thanks to the work of entities dedicated to the subject, such as the Mises Brasil Institute and the Mackenzie University Economic Freedom Center, among other clubs and smaller societies.
To the point that today, the Austrian School is more influential in Brazil than in countries like the US, where it is seen as something almost folkloric, with its libertarians and proponents of anarchocapitalism.
A new step in this popularization is being taken by two institutions that honor the most influential pair of Austrian economists of the 20th century: Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992). It is a partnership between Mises Brasil, created in 2007, and Hayek Global College, founded last year.
The institutions will exchange professors in their postgraduate courses and hold academic debates together. The first collaboration will be in one of the MBA disciplines offered by Hayek College, which addresses historical debates about the virtues of the free market.
“Today, teaching economics in Brazil is Marxism, and we want to break this bubble. I studied economics, but it wasn’t until my master’s degree that I went to see liberalism”, says Adriano Paranaiba, academic director of the Mises Brasil Institute.
The objective of the partnership, says Paranaíba, is to promote liberalism and the Austrian School in an intellectually hostile environment. “There are a lot of people working against liberal ideas in Brazil today,” he says.
He refers above all to the left, but also to many who place themselves at the ideological center and see a preponderant role for the state as an inductor of economic activity. They are all adherents of the so-called Keynesianism, followers of British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), father of the American New Deal.
Despite this, there is progress, says Edson Agatti, CEO of Hayek Global College. “Rhetoric has changed a lot. Today, we no longer see privatization as a bogeyman”, he exemplifies.
For a slope that until recently was seen as a sideline, some interesting signs have emerged, says Agatti. “There are people discussing liberalism on YouTube. The other day I even saw senator Renan Calheiros saying he is liberal”.
The course, says Agatti, aims to meet a demand for an MBA aimed at liberalism in Brazil. Its first class has 14 students from 11 countries, all connected online, in classes taught in English. The focus is on training new leaders in the business area, with students in the preponderant age group from 25 to 35 years old.
One of the inspirations for the course is the Francisco Marroquín University, in Guatemala, considered the only institution with a totally liberal bias in all of the Americas.
According to Paranaiba, who taught at the Guatemalan university in 2016, the time is now to take advantage of the enthusiasm in Brazil with liberal ideas, which, at least formally, can be found in some niches of the Jair Bolsonaro government and state administrations, such as the of Romeu Zema (Novo) in Minas Gerais and João Doria (PSDB) in São Paulo.
“Our concern is to go beyond excitement. The objective is to offer ideas for the discussion of public policies”, he says. Whether these ideas will be used in next year’s presidential election, says Paranaiba, is beyond the institute’s control.
What is not under discussion, he says, is the growing role of the Austrian School in the Brazilian economic debate. To those who tease the “Austrians” for not liking to do the math, nor for having macroeconomic recipes ready for the future, he answers in the can. “We do, yes, a lot of math. What we don’t do is play with a crystal ball”.