Cut Loose at Fifty: Chapter Fourteen – A journey within a journey
By Chris Clancy
Late June 2006. I had a few free days between the end of teaching and marking exam papers.
Much as I hated travelling long distances, I needed a break from Wuhan.
I headed for a place called Gulangyu Island. It's in Fujian province, southwest of Xiamin City.
So many students had recommended it – and I wasn't disappointed – truly beautiful. I only had time for one full day. I remember being struck by the romantic old-world European architecture - so out of place yet fitting - by the clean air and the sunshine, by the scenery and the greenary. I remember thinking that if I stayed in China this would be a lovely place to retire.
But time passed and it passed and was forgotten until now.
Maybe again one day.
From there I travelled to Macau for a quick look and an overnight stop. This place is famous for a number of things, but is known in particular for its casinos. Much of the dirty money from the mainland, which could not be cleaned, was gambled away here.
I then spent a couple of days with my son and his wife.
Back to Wuhan.
That was my travelling done for the Summer – and good riddance to it!
After the marking was done I signed a new twelve month contract. My salary went up by 1,000 RMB per month and all class hours in the department were reduced from four hours to three hours per week. Also, the semester was cut from seventeen to sixteen weeks.
I expected that I would now teach four classes. But no. I would still only have three classes. Obviously, I wasn't going to complain. Less hours and more money
Nobody knew for sure why the changes were made and , as far as I knew, nobody asked – including me.
Mid-July I moved from the hotel into a brand new seven story building. It's difficult to express how happy I was to leave the hotel. To call it a year-long lesson in claustrophobia doesn't begin to describe it.
My new appartment was marvellous. Brand new, fully furnished and fully air conditioned. The only problem was that it was too big – huge lounge, large kitchen, two bathrooms, four bedrooms and two balconies– but I could live with it.
I was the first to move in. The plan was to fill the rest of it with foreigners. I remember telling the new FAO at the time that this was a mistake. Not too different from sticking rats together in a cage. They fight. And so it was over the course of the next five years. Not open conflict, but an atmosphere so bad, that at times you could almost cut it with a knife.
So there I was. All alone in a new seven story building. Six weeks to kill.
My first two years in China had been busy years – especially the second – the learning curve had been very steep. It now began to flatten.
One of the problems which faces many foreigners in China is dealing with the downtime. Especially if you decide to stay – as I did.
Filling that time can easily become a problem. Indeed, I would have been a prime candidate for drinking too much bootleg beer, smoking too many fake brand cigarettes and watching far too many pirated DVDs.
Which is what I started doing.
Fortunately, at this point, someone from Foreign Affairs asked me if I would do some editing work. It was for a professor in the law department. He was applying for a scholarship with the Fullbright Institute in the USA. His research would be to examine the resolution of legal disputes over something called "securitization"; specifically, with regard to "remoteness of damage".
The research proposal ran to five pages. It was very well planned and laid out. His written English was good – it just needed a bit of polish here and there.
Before I could do anything I had to first make sure I understood what he meant by "securitization" and legal disputes in this context.
As ever, I went to the internet.
If my time in China can be described as a seven year journey, then that single word, "securitization", set me off on a journey within a journey.
Early in my reading I read an essay by a guy called Lew Rockwell. I'd never heard of him before.
In this essay he wrote:
On the face of it this quote seems quite innocuous – one that you could easily pass over – but this didn't happen. It stopped me in my tracks.
I felt as if two hands had reached out of my screen, grabbed me by my shirt and given me a good shake.
I read it again and again. He was actually saying something which went against everything I thought I understood about economics. I kept going back to it.
Quite by chance I had stumbled across something called "Austrian Economics".
I'd never heard of it before.
On an intellectual level things would never be the same again. A whole new world opened up and I very quickly got sucked into it.
A paper chase had begun.
I quickly edited the research proposal and then dived headlong into the chase.
Over the next two years my reading would become almost obsessive.
The more I read the more I realized that I had been looking at many things the wrong way around. The biggest problem was having to unlearn so much – and not just about economics - and then there was the wealth of new knowledge to be acquired.
Whatever site I went to I was led to more and more. At the beginning it was almost impossible to read any article without looking things up, which led to other things to look up and so on. It took a very long time to get to the point where I could just read articles without having to do extra reading in order to understand what the hell they were going on about.
Throughout all this one question kept coming to mind. How come I'd never heard of people like Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt and Murray Rothbard - to name just three?
I mean, after all, my degree was in economics?
The answer is that when I studied Economics in the 1970's Austrian economics was simply never mentioned. Even though everything in our economy was going wrong at the same time, we were still being taught Keynesian economics - even after the problem of stagflation emerged – supposedly impossible in the Keynesian model.
The Austrian School had cracked the problem of the business cycle decades before – but they were ignored.
The upshot was that I, and my contemporaries, left university with ideas about economics which were deeply flawed. Had it not been for China, the downtime and the internet, I would never have known just how flawed they were.
After university I spent a number of years in accountancy before going into education to teach, amongst other things, economics. Looking back, I realize now, I was mostly just passing on the same rubbish I had learned at university – it was still all Keynesian with a bit of Monetarism thrown in.
After nearly three years I changed jobs and began teaching Accounting and Finance.
In the years that followed I had neither the time nor the inclination to pay any real attention to Economics.
One final thought about this second journey.
In my initial burst of enthusiasm I thought I'd go right back to the beginning. Vienna in the 1870s and a man called Carl Menger and then his followers, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk and Friedrich von Wieser.
In terms of time spent this was costly. I found the stuff very difficult – more philosophy than economics – and not much benefit at the end of it. It was all about the subjective theory of value mixed up with time preference and diminishing marginal uilityt and how costs, prices and interest rates were determined – I think?
By the time I got to Mises it got worse – methodological individualism, praxeology, catallactics and of course I must not forget everyone's old friend and favourite, the a priori action axiom!
Before I got going on all this mental self-abuse, it's a pity some kindly old professor didn't lay a friendly hand on my shoulder and say:
"Listen son, the fact that you don't know your ass from you're a priori, doesn't matter at this stage. There's only one place to start this subject – Henry Hazlitt's classic - Economics in one Lesson. Forget about the philosophical BS to begin with - you can always come back to it later – if at all!"
Words of wisdom. Sorry it didn't really happen at the time
After reading Hazlitt a door is unlocked and entry is free.
All you have to do is turn that handle and push.
Stick with it and you'll find you're no longer in a goldfish bowl swimming around with everyone else. Stick with it and you'll start to rise. Stick with it and you'll eventually find yourself floating above the goldfish bowl looking down.
Then you'll begin to see clearly the monstrous scam which has been going on for almost one hundred years.
It had its inception in 1907, was developed by 1910, and was put in place as the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
Teaching began again in September 2006.
Three semesters later I would discover that extra "something" I had been looking for. This "discovery" had little to do with any great flash of inspiration. It had more to do with survival and self-preservation.
In the meantime my teaching went onto auto-pilot. I did a bit of tweaking and refining here and there but no major changes were made. This was OK. It meant I could devote more and more time to reading about all things Austrian coupled with another discovery – "libertarianism".
December 2006 was my third Christmas in China. It would also be the last one I would spend alone in China.
Totally unplanned, like so much that happened to me in China, events would lead me to Thailand.
It all started with a NewYear's Resolution …
Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.