My research says I am differentRozhovory, Zprávy ze školy
Thanks to a grant from Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, it is possible to attend lectures by professor Bruce L. Benson from Florida State University that are held at UEP (VŠE) in May. As a libertarian he represents a little bit different point of view on economics. Professor Benson should return next year as well. We have asked him several questions in order to present him as a man, not a scientist.
Thanks to a grant from Fulbright Senior Scholar Program, it is possible to attend lectures by professor Bruce L. Benson from Florida State University that are held at UEP (VŠE) in May (DET 455, DET 460). As a libertarian he represents a little bit different point of view on economics. Professor Benson should return next year as well. We have asked him several questions in order to present him as a man, not a scientist.
You concentrate on Economics and Law. What is so amazing about it for you? How would you convince students that it is an interesting area they should study?
The main interest for me is the realization that law has so much impact on the economics which most economists ignore. For students, especially students who study economics, it could be interesting, because it is new, and because it is different from what they have heard in other classes. And it is real to them. It is about the relation of law and behavior of people in economy; they do not look at in other classes.
According to your CV, it looks like you had never taken your studies seriously until you started your Ph.D. program in Texas. You really did not want to study before?
That is probably true. I started out in a college as a very indifferent student. I did not like the college, so I dropped out and was drafted by the army. In the army I learned to get up in the morning even though I had a hangover. So I went back to the college and did better, but I was not a serious student. When I graduated from the college I got married. At that point I decided that I had to start to think about things seriously and I did not find jobs that were attractive. So I decided to go to the graduate school. So I attribute it to my wife, and the realization that I had to take care of somebody besides myself.
You do not like arbitrary users of power and discretionary authority, but you had to cope with it after you were drafted, trained and sent to Infantry Division in Vietnam. How did this experience change your view of the world?
It opened my eyes to the fact that there is a big world out there; that there is a lot going on. It convinced me that what my government does is often wrong. Being in the army and in Vietnam particularly showed me that the government does not do good things all the time. This war was a big mistake, with the loss of 56 000 young American lives. I think it was the beginning of my movement towards becoming a libertarian, someone who questions the state rather than simply accepting what the state does.
After all you became an academician and professor. But you do not like necktie. To be frank a suit and a tie is, in my mind, a “uniform” for professors. How do you cope with that?
Well, it is less a uniform in the United States than in Europe. And certainly when I was a young professor I was likely to wear a tie, but now I guess I am old enough to be obviously not a student. I have sufficient prestige in my academic world so I do not feel like I have to put on the uniform, because I can be recognized without the uniform.
You are a libertarian and admire individualists. Are you one of them?
Probably, at least in many ways. Certainly many of the things I write about are unique, they are out of the mainstream. The mainstream academic economists in the US would not think about writing about Commercial arbitration as an alternative to public courts or writing about private police as an alternative to the public police. In that sense I am an individualist. On the other hand I try to get along with my colleagues even though I do not agree with them. I am a social person, I am not a hermit. So I am not an individualist in that sense. So I feel my individualism in what I am doing.
But an individualist is, in my point of view, supposed to be a little egoistic. Nevertheless, you downgrade everything you ever achieved, i.e. Ph.D. degree, books published etc., by saying it was only due to your tutors or people around you… I do not think it is a real individualism…
Maybe our perceptions of individualism are different. To me a person who is confident in his individualism does not have to brag about it and try to demonstrate his difference, his degree of individualism. My feeling is that people can accept me or reject me, as they know me and that I do not feel like I want to push myself on them. My research I think says I am different.
You came in the Czech Republic and one of the hottest topics of today is the accession to the European Union. What do you as a libertarian think about the European integration and the forthcoming widening?
The initial motivation, the initial justification for the European common market I think is a very good idea. A free trade zone, lowering the barriers to trade that individual states created in Europe, is an excellent thing by itself. The trouble is that the EU is simply more than a free market. It is becoming a giant government, and that can create more problems perhaps than good results. It is interesting, whenever we perceive a problem we naturally tend to think of a solution as “let’s create a bigger government”, but there is an alternative and that is the devolution of small governments, to take away the power of the state governments so there is a competitive environment instead of monopoly government.
And what about the Czech Republic and the EU? Is there any other possibility for us, or how would you judge this problem?
I can certainly see why the Czech Republic would want to affiliate with the European Union. It is a common market and if you want to engage in trade you have to be able to enter this market. The world was actually divided into trading groups and a country is forced to join one of them. The obvious one for the Czech Republic is the EU. The downside is that the Czech Republic will give up some of its sovereignty. It will be governed at least to degree by the EU-bureaucracy.
Thanks to a grant you have now lectures at UEP. Why have you chosen it?
It was motivated by Radovan (ing. Kačín – pozn. red.). I met him five years ago at a conference in France. He asked me and invited me to come. Then we corresponded and finally I agreed if we could find some funding to do it. This new Fulbright Scholar program was what we were looking for. I did not want to spend several months abroad, I could be homesick, and they offered a three weeks program, which was really suitable.
You already had some lectures. What do you think about our students
So far my impression is that the students are quiet, they are reluctant to have questions. Maybe they do not understand my English very well, maybe do not understand what I am talking about or maybe it is only their reluctance to speak to a foreign professor. On the other hand they are certainly attentive and they are attending the lectures. That is unusual compared to my own students who often miss classes. I think I will have a better picture next week during the formal class lectures.
More information about B. L. Benson you find at http://garnet.acns.fsu.edu/~bbenson/.