Friday, November 01, 2013

Does Robert Sarvis Disdain Austrian Economics?

Robert Sarvis
Various individuals who have been trying to cast doubt on Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis' libertarian credentials have pointed to a comment he made in an interview with Ron Paul biographer Brian Doherty in Reason magazine, which has been interpreted to mean he is not entirely dedicated to Austrian economics, a staple of libertarian thinking.

Sarvis is the Libertarian Party's nominee for governor. He faces two rivals on Election Day, November 5: Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli and Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.

Current public opinion polls show Sarvis might expect 8 to 10 percent of the vote, an unusually high number for a Libertarian (or any third-party or independent candidate for statewide office) so close to an election.

Charles C.W. Cooke cited the Reason interview on National Review Online on October 31, for example. 

Another instance of the questioning of Robert Sarvis' libertarian bona fides can be found on, where International Politics Examiner Andrew Moran wrote:
George Mason University is known for its free-market economics program (see Walt Williams). This is where Sarvis attained his economics degree. However, he doesn’t adhere to the principles of Austrian Economics, which is usually what libertarians promote.

Here is what Sarvis said in his interview with Reason: “I’m not into the whole Austrian type, strongly libertarian economics, I like more mainstream economics and would have been happy to go elsewhere.”

Wait does he mean “mainstream economics” that has gotten us into this current mess and continues to cause more problems?
An answer to that question may be found in an interview I did with Sarvis two years ago, when he was running for the Virginia state Senate.

That interview was also published on (just a coincidence). I had asked Sarvis about his favorite economist, and he offered up names of three people he admired: Friedrich Hayek, Adam Smith, and Scott Sumner.

It seems that, to Sarvis, "mainstream economics" means that derived from the work of Adam Smith, author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Here's the relevant excerpt:
His libertarian philosophy is reflected in his answer when asked about his favorite economist. Without pausing, he named Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian Nobel laureate who taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago.

“Hayek is someone who really influenced my thinking,” Sarvis explained: “How to think about problems that face national economies and how public policy can influence it in many unintended ways.”

While a lot of people, such as talk-show host Glenn Beck, focus on Hayek’s 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, Sarvis said he “was more influenced by his 'The Use of Knowledge in Society,' which was probably the seminal paper that won him the Nobel Prize, and also [volume] one of Law, Legislation, and Liberty, where he talks about rules and order.”

In addition to Hayek, Sarvis cites Adam Smith as an influence in his economic thinking.

“In philosophy, they say, there’s Plato and all else are footnotes,” he quipped. “I think that can be said more truly of Adam Smith than of Plato.”

Among contemporary economists, Sarvis pointed to Bentley University professor Scott Sumner, who blogs at As Americans have focused on the financial crisis and the recession, he said, “Sumner has been the most persuasive in what exactly is going on [with regard to the] monetary policy mistakes of the Fed. We really are in many ways repeating some of the mistakes of the depression.”
Then there is Sarvis' biographical sketch on the web site of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. (Both the Mercatus Center and the GMU economics department are hotbeds of Austrian economists.)

Emphasis added below:
Robert is a native of Northern Virginia and a lifelong believer in freedom, free markets, and the rule of law. He holds degrees in mathematics from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge and a JD from NYU School of Law. During law school, he co-founded a libertarian and classical liberal law journal, the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, dedicating the first issue to Friedrich Hayek, and he has been outspoken in arguing against government regulation of the tech industry. Robert has worked as a software developer, a lawyer, and a tech entrepreneur, and his research interests span a wide range of topics relating to law, economics, and public policy.
Can the off-hand comment Sarvis made to Reason about his choice of a graduate school overwhelm the other evidence of his admiration for, and influence by, Austrian economists?

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