Liberty Matters

My Journey to South Royalton and Conference Social Life

I want to start by thanking David Henderson, Geoffrey Lea, and Mario Rizzo for their reminiscences, reflections, and reactions to my lead essay. I greatly enjoyed all three of their responses.
David and Mario told their stories of discovering Austrian Economics and how they came to be invited to and attending the South Royalton conference. In my case, I had the good fortune of meeting two guys in Hollywood, California, where I was living, when I was 16 years old, and they introduced me to the ideas of Ayn Rand. Her non-fiction writings, especially, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, had numerous references to books by Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Carl Menger, and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk that led me to start reading the Austrians at that tender age. When people used to say, “It usually begins with Ayn Rand,” in my case that also included a discovery of the Austrian Economists (Ebeling, 2023, 97-106).
My Journey to South Royalton
After I moved to Sacramento, two friends took me to meet Floyd “Baldy” Harper, the founder and first president of the Institute for Humane Studies, when IHS was still headquartered in Menlo Park, California. Also at that meeting were George Pearson and Ken Templeton. (After Baldy died in April 1973, Ken ran IHS for several years with financial support of the Koch Foundation.) I clearly made enough of an impression on them that in the early spring of 1974, while still an undergraduate at California State University, Sacramento, I received an invitation to attend that first Austrian conference in South Royalton.
They only offered to pay my bus fare to the conference in Vermont. So, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Sacramento, and headed east on a more than three-day ride across the country. In the middle of the Nevada desert, the bus broke down; all the passengers had to wait hours in the midday heat until a replacement bus came to continue us on our journey. In Des Moines, Iowa, new people boarded the bus as it went on to Chicago. Overnight, a young man and woman who clearly had never known each other before getting on the bus and who were sitting next to each other in the row right behind me, proceeded to have sex together – and more than once before the sun appeared on the eastern horizon! They disembarked in Chicago, kissed, and walked away in opposite directions. Then, in eastern Pennsylvania, a one-year-old baby “did its business” in its diaper, but the baby’s mother had left all the extra diapers in her luggage in the baggage section in the lower part of the bus. The remainder of the ride to New York City was a most “aromatic” one!
I changed buses in the New York Port Authority bus terminal to go on to Vermont in the evening. The person sitting in the same row across the aisle from me turned out to be also going to the Austrian conference. We talked (quietly) most of the night before arriving at South Royalton in the very early morning hours of June 15th. But I must confess, I cannot for the life of me remember who it was with whom I had that delightful conversation.
Spooky South Royalton and Social Life at the Conference
We walked across a bridge over a stream to get to the actual town of South Royalton. It was spooky. The entire town was seemingly abandoned. Buildings facing the town square had open doors and music seemed to come from some of them, but not a human soul was in sight or responded to a “hello.” The hotel where the conference was to be held was open and empty except for a cleaning lady who knew nothing about the conference or with whom we should check in. I felt like I had entered Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.
In a few hours, however, more people began to show up, including Ed Dolan, the local coordinator of the conference. I was assigned to a room on the second floor of a two-story building around the corner from the hotel. The floor in my room sloped on a decline, with the bed situated under a window. I practically had to hold on to the sides of the bed not to slide out of the window!
Meeting Israel Kirzner, Ludwig Lachmann, and Murray Rothbard that first day was, for me, like meeting intellectual gods from an Austrian Mount Olympus. I had read their books and articles – practically memorizing many of them to better argue with my Keynesian and Marxist undergraduate economics professors during class times. I only knew Rothbard from the pictures on the dust jackets of some of his books. I imagined him to be thin, tall, and extremely serious. What a shock to be face-to-face with this relatively short, rotund, squeaky-voiced individual constantly laughing and cackling away as he told stories.
David Henderson mentioned late night sessions with Rothbard during the conference. Rothbard would hold court every evening until way past midnight. He would sing political songs from across the political spectrum in several languages, tell humorous anecdotes, and explain why Austrian Economics was so important. I remember one night at about two in the morning, Rothbard’s wife, Joey, came downstairs and told him it was time to go to bed since he was the first speaker that morning. Joey took Rothbard by the hand to take him upstairs, and as he was being led away Murray said in a forlorn child’s voice, “But I don’t want to go to bed.”
One evening someone tried to make a phone call from the hotel phone and from a public phone across the street and found the lines dead. Also, there seemed to be barking dogs on the edges of the town. Rothbard hypothesized that this was a Keynesian-Chicago School conspiracy to isolate this remnant of the Austrian School from the outside world, maybe even to wipe it out. The next morning at breakfast one of the attendees, property rights theorist Svetozar Pejovich, who was originally from Yugoslavia, said that he had lived under the Nazis during World War II and experienced communism under the Tito regime in his home country. But after hearing Rothbard’s explanation that we were all going to be wiped out by the mainstream of the economics profession, for the first time in his life, he slept with the light on!
To describe South Royalton as “rustic,” would be a gross understatement. One day while walking with Ludwig Lachmann around that town square with the statue of the Civil War Union soldier, I asked him what he thought of South Royalton. He replied in his slow, gravely, German-accented voice, “Well, Mr. Ebeling, it has been very interesting to find out what life was like in nineteenth century America.”
Geoffrey Lea observed that I had failed to explain the conference proceedings itself. I only did not in my opening essay due to the limitations of space. But I might mention that I wrote a piece detailing what had gone on at the conference in an article, “Austrian Economics on the Rise,” which appeared in Libertarian Forum (October 1974), a bimonthly newsletter edited and mostly written by Murray Rothbard. My article is conveniently accessible on the Mises Institute website (Ebeling, 1974).
The Human Element Binding Austrian Economists Together
Finally, one of the most valuable and enjoyable consequences of my attending that Austrian conference in South Royalton were friendships that have continued for, now, half a century, among those friends are David Henderson and Mario Rizzo. Alas, some of the attendees have now left us. One of them that I especially miss is Don Lavoie, with whom I attended graduate classes at New York University that were taught by Ludwig Lachmann and Oskar Morgenstern. And also, the many late night conversations with Don at his Brooklyn apartment, made even more stimulating after we had smoked a joint or two. (I know, “shocking,” but this is the twenty-first century, and I think I’m beyond the statute of limitations in confessing this.)
Another that I would be most remiss in not mentioning is Sudha Shenoy. Her father B. R. Shenoy heard F. A. Hayek deliver his famous Prices and Production lectures at the London School of Economics in January 1931. He went on to become one of the leading free market economists in India in the postwar period. Sudha, with her Brahmin dot on her forehead and wearing her beautiful Sari dresses, spoke with a most upper class British accent. Warm and charming, she was a walking encyclopedia on all things Hayek. Sudha and Gerald O’Driscoll had co-authored a paper on Hayek’s business cycle theory that was delivered at the South Royalton conference in an extra session during the week. It was included as a chapter in the South Royalton proceedings volume, The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics (Dolan, 1976, 185-211). Sudha was constantly seeing the logic and relevancy of Austrian capital theory in numerous episodes of economic history. I always made a point of taking advantage of delightful conversations with her whenever I could over the years before she passed away in 2008.
In the decades ahead, if anyone writes a new history of the Austrian School the South Royalton conference, no doubt, will be marked as a milestone in the School’s history. But as Geoffrey Lea said, crucial to the continuity of a set of ideas across time are the human connections and the memories of shared experiences and bonds of beliefs. This has been an inseparable part of this reborn Austrian School of Economics.
Dolan, Edwin G., ed. (1976). The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics. Kansas City: Sheed & Ward.
Ebeling, Richard M. (1974). “Austrian Economics on the Rise,” Libertarian Forum, October.
Ebeling, Richard M. (2023). “My Life as an Austrian Economist and Classical Liberal: The Starting Point and Early Years,” in Jo Ann Cavallo and Walter Block, eds., Libertarian Autobiographies: Moving Toward Freedom in Today’s World. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.