Monday, January 27, 2014

In Defense of the Mises Institute

This weekend, NYT was out with a profile on Rand Paul. The piece linked Rand to the Mises Institute and did a nice job of distorting the views and purpose of the Mises Institute.

Here are the key snippets:
That worldview, often called “paleolibertarianism,” emerges from the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama, started with money raised by the senior Mr. Paul. It is named for the Austrian √©migr√© who became an intellectual godfather of modern libertarian economic thinking, devoted to an unrestricted free market.

Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have championed the Confederacy. One economist, while faulting slavery because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the daily life of the enslaved was “not so bad — you pick cotton and sing songs.”[...]

The institute sponsored lectures, seminars and conferences to promote the teachings of Mises and other “Austrian School” economists. But its offerings also range further afield. A conference this month in Houston — with Ron Paul as a speaker — included lecture topics like “Do We Live in a Police State?” and “American Fascism.”

Mr. Rockwell and Mr. Rothbard, both Northerners, became sympathetic to the Old South and its politics of states’ rights. Mr. Rockwell continues to praise the South’s resistance to civil rights legislation, while Mr. Rothbard, who died in 1995, promoted writings of Lysander Spooner — the anarchist mentioned in Rand Paul’s filibuster speech — that he said accurately assessed Lincoln’s war policy of “militarism, mass murder and centralized statism.”[...]

Several current Mises fellows and associates are regulars on the Ron Paul speaking circuit and affiliated with his home-schooling curriculum or foreign policy institute. Thomas E. Woods Jr. was a co-author of “Who Killed the Constitution?,” which denounced the Supreme Court decision desegregating schools, Brown v. Board of Education, as “a dizzying display of judicial imperialism.”

Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.
First, let's tackle this link of the Institute to "dark biblical prophecy." Anyone taking a serious look at the Mises Institute web site would know that it does not promote any type of religious view. My columns have appeared at Mises.org and at LewRocwkell.com, and I was invited to deliver the 2013 Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture at the Institute, yet, no one at the Institute knows my religous background or views. No one has ever asked. 

From his writings, it is obvious that Mises regular contributor Tom Woods is a Catholic and that frequent contributor Laurence Vance is Christian, but not Catholic. Walter Block, who is affiliated with the Institute is Jewish, although I have no idea whether he is religious or not. The Institute was named after Ludwig von Mises, a non-religious Jew. There is no "dark biblical prophecy" agenda at the Mises Institute.

But, further, why is the NYT delving into the religious background and moral thinking of one specific scholar the Institute publishes? Who, by the way, happens to be a superior economic thinker. Shouldn't an analysis be conducted of his economic thinking, when it is being discussed in the context of an economics institution?


Delving into the background of economic theorists is not a practice NYT does on a regular basis.

Indeed, I find this cheap shot by NYT to be filled with chutzpah in that the newspaper's chief economic commentator Paul Krugman is a Keynesian. Keynes was anti-semitic, most likely a pedophile and had nice things to say about the Nazi-type totalitarian economic system.  

But ignoring these facts is typical of NYT and the rest of the establishment. James J. Martin writes:
One can read whole reams of economic literature written by both fervent followers of John Maynard Keynes and his attackers as well and never know that there was a German language edition of his profoundly influential General Theory late in 1936, for which Keynes wrote a special foreword addressed solely to German readers. By that time the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler was four months short of four years in power in Germany.
Even the perfumed and sanctified Life of John Maynard Keynes by R.H. Harrod, a book going on to almost 700 pages, never even faintly alludes to the fact that Keynes had a German publisher, nor that the General Theory appeared in Hitler Germany a few months after it was published by Macmillan in England in 1936. (Keynes's foreword to the English edition was dated December 13, 1935.) Perhaps it would have thrown readers off stride for Harrod to discuss such a matter since his book was published in the heat of the immediate post-World War Two years, appearing in 1951. But incongruous and ill-fitting matters such as this are almost always left out of romantic and poetic essays passing as biography.
Two prestigious English economic periodicals, the Economic Journal and The Economist, with meticulous coverage of European and world economic affairs, failed to make any reference to a German edition when they reviewed Keynes's tour de force, nor did subsequent issues in the immediately following years, as far as I have been able to determine. In recent years only Henry Hazlitt has called attention to this important matter.
Some economic scribblers hostile to Keynes want too much to attack him personally as if he created the modern state, but appear to be most hesitant about challenging the state themselves. Keynes did not create the modern state. He found it the way it is, and, obviously, from the context of his German foreword, prepared a scheme or system to work within its confines; the greater and more total the state employment of his General Theory, the better. The core of Keynes is found in two consecutive sentences in the German foreword:
The theory of aggregate production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire. This is one of the reasons that justifies the fact that I call my theory a general theory.

However, the Mises Institute publishes the economic views of one scholar, who has a specific interpretation on the Bible that is never published at the Institute, and it is worthy news for NYT's front page!

As for Walter Block's comment on picking cotton. Here is the full context of what he wrote:
Free association is a very important aspect of liberty. It is crucial. Indeed, its lack was the major problem with slavery. The slaves could not quit. They were forced to "associate" with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn't so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory. It violated the law of free association, and that of the slaves' private property rights in their own persons.
I'm not sure where Walter gets the idea that picking cotton is a fun life. I am a city boy and don't think it's such a great life. Further I don't like to sing songs, so planation life wouldn't be for me. That said, what Walter emphasises before and after his cotton comment is that he is against slavery.

What he is really saying is very subtle but very important, that even if the cotton picking life is a great life, you shouldn't force anyone into that life. He is really setting up a defense here against anyone who wants to coerce others "for their own good" into directions that an individual doesn't want to go.

Moving on. Opinions published at the Institute on Confederacy have never gone beyond suggesting that the war between the North and South was about Lincoln forcibly attempting to hold the Union together and that every region and state has a right to secede. Indeed, the Mises Institute view is that every person has the right to secede, so the pro-secession stand is about as anti-slavery as you can get. In other words, it is a consistent pro-freedom position that the Institute does not fear to take, despite how politically incorrect it may be at a given time.

As for Tom Woods and his book, Who Killed the Constitution? Tom emails me that even Publishers Weekly liked it.

 The NYT comments on the Mises Institute are a serious string of distortions. I have noted some other "libertarian" web sites that instead of coming to the defense of the Mises Institute are subtly advancing the NYT attack. They know better and thus have to be viewed with suspicion. At a time like this, the libertarian movement will see who its friends are and who will carry water for the elitist, power hungry, establishment.

Bottom line, for NYT to go out of its way to publish these distortions on the front page tells you that Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute are getting into their head. This is a great and important moment.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

37 comments:

  1. Obviously Block is being saracastic. "You were a slave, but besides that, things weren't so bad."

    The cretin at the NYT obviously twisted his words, and those of all the others associated with LvMI, to make them sound as retarded as possible. Did you see the frothing at the mouth in the article's comments?

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    1. Walter Block writes:

      I reject religion, all religion, since, as an atheist, I am unconvinced of the existence of God. Indeed, I go further. I am no agnostic: I am convinced of His non-existence. However, as a political animal, I warmly embrace this institution. It is a bulwark against totalitarianism. He who wishes to oppose statist depredations cannot do so without the support of religion. Opposition to religion, even if based on intellectual grounds and not intended as a political statement, nevertheless amounts to de facto support of government........

      Here is a list of devoutly religious people I have known personally, who have made great contributions to liberty; perhaps this will help establish the contribution to our goals made by our religious colleagues: William Anderson, Doug Bandow, William Barnett II, Peter Boettke, Steve Call, Art Carden, Stephen W. Carson, Alejandro Chafuen, Paul Cwik, Ken Elzinga, Marshall Fritz, Stephen Grabill, Gary Galles, Jeff Herbener, Paul Heyne, PJ Hill, Guido Hulsmann, Rabbi Israel Kirzner, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Leonard Liggio, Bill Luckey, Jennifer Roback Morse, Robert Murphy, Gary North, Rev. Edmund Opitz, Ron Paul, Joe Peden, Duane and Morgan Poliquin, Shawn Rittenour, Lew Rockwell, Joann Rothbard, Fr. James Sadowsky, S.J., Fr. James Schall, S.J., Hans Sennholz, Fr. Robert Sirico, Monsignor Gregory Smith, Edward Stringham, Timothy Terrell, David Theroux, Jeff Tucker, Laurence Vance, Jim Viator, Fr. Kevin Wildes, S.J., Tom Woods, Steven Yates (probably, I have left out of this list friends of mine who will be hurt by my omission of their names; if so, please send me a gentle reminder, and I will make good this unintentional error in a revision of this publication. I will say in my own defense that as a non religious person, I am only marginally, or accidently, acquainted with the religious practices of many of my colleagues in the Austro libertarian community.)


      http://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block103.html

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    2. Not just "before" and "after." Even the line itself is sarcastic and anti-slavery. "Gruel" is not exactly a word that comes out of the Marketing Dept. of Slavery, Inc.

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    3. Ok. It's fairly clear that his comment did NOT indicate advocacy of slavery. It's also fairly clear that it DID indicate idiocy.

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  2. I'm hoping Walter was being sardonic in his comment about singing and such.

    If that's the case, he should immediately clarify it-just so we don't all get lumped in with what was still a boneheaded comment by Block as he should know as a leader in the movement that the media will take every opportunity to seize every little controversial snippet and label us as "lunatics" as a result.

    A simple statement by Block as to his intent on the statement should suffice, as IRONY is always difficult to perceive in writing.

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    1. Why should Block apologize, he makes clear in his writing, as Wenzel points out, before and after his statement that he is anti-slavery? Further, as Wenzel also points out, Block's comment is very insightful and can be used against any coercion, even when the coercer claims it is for our own good.

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    2. Well, you conviced me, you have a point.

      My opinion is though if he formally addressed it that it would be easier to stop the out of context bullshit.

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    3. Slavery wasn't just about denying freedom of association. It was about characterizing a race as property under the law. Even if blacks were free to associate with whoever they wanted, laws which characterize blacks as property are immoral. He obviously does not know a whole lot about slavery in the South or he is simply a racist.

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    4. So your suggesting that slavery for anyone else apart from blacks is ok? and why just in the South?

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    5. Jerry Wolfgang is a horrible racist and no one should read his comments. And he obviously is a (paid) troll, or a schizophrenic.

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    6. Btw Stanley, one note, I didn't ask Block to "apologize" as you put it, I said he should "clarify" which is entirely different.

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    7. I'm old enough to remember being appalled by the "white men", "white women" and "colored" bathrooms in Alabama on the way to Florida in 1960. Our opponents have no response to the clarity and morality of the non-aggression principle except to muddy the water and to demonize us and our arguments for peaceful resolution of inevitable disputes. Here is a wonderful poster made for me by a "progressive" MMTer in response to my proposal for people to disassociate in lieu of slaughtering each other:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/bob_roddis/8413813679/sizes/l/

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    8. lol...Roddis...you should wear that as a badge of honor. Think about how much Time that MMTer put into making a funny poster because of you! You really got into his head no doubt.

      And it is funny! Yea, it's intellectually 5 year old stuff that has no basis in reality, but much to my wife's dismay I'm the first guy to laugh out loud at fart jokes-and that link is yet another example!

      The serfs on your plantation has me laughing out loud at my desk. Thanks for the post!

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    9. Bob, that's awesome. I agree- it is a badge of honor, just like the FRONT PAGE ATTACK BY THE freakin' NYTimes on Lew and Murray and Ron. I hope Lew releases the stats for LRC before and after.

      First they laugh at you...

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    10. @"Slavery wasn't just about denying freedom of association. It was about characterizing a race as property under the law. Even if blacks were free to associate with whoever they wanted, laws which characterize blacks as property are immoral. He obviously does not know a whole lot about slavery in the South or he is simply a racist."

      What a clueless asshole. Well suited to a job at NYT, though. Did you even read what was said?

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  3. Instead of suggesting that life "wasn't so bad" as a slave, he should be saying that if the slave was free to leave, the plantation owner would have incentive to make the slave's life comfortable.

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    1. You're missing the point. It's none of your business to judge the relationship between two people in the non-aggression principle. Maybe someone likes picking cotton and eating gruel. That's between the land-owner and the worker. And if you didn't like it and you weren't a slave, you obviously wouldn't work there for those sort of conditions.

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  4. I was hoping you would write something to this affect. I saw many comment threads on facebook with the opinion that the Mises Institute should be left behind for the good of the movement. I will spread this around.

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  5. The "dark biblical prophecy" reference probably had to do with so-called "Scary Gary" North and his previous Y2K predictions about the fall of modern civilzation and beginning of the end.

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  6. Front page? Nice! Mises Institute traffic spike on the way. Idiots.

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  7. Y'all need to understand that the NYT has to publish some Southern hate commentary to feed some red meat to their readers. Notice the words Alabama and Old South.

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  8. OK, who are the "libertarian" websites that are doing the subtle attacking?

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  9. The whole point of political correctness is to have people walking on eggshells, afraid to take a stand for what is true out of fear that their words will be (deliberately) misconstrued and themselves ostracized. It is to make the individual his own Thought Policeman. It is a nasty weed that should be pulled out at the roots, the sooner the better. Thank goodness that Lew, Walter, Bob and company do not apologize or throw friends under the bus in hopes of getting in the good graces of the New York Times.

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  10. Here's a comment left by Anand Venigalla in the comments to LR's response:

    Steve Horwitz said this on his Facebook:

    "This piece isn't a lie. The way it connects libertarianism and Austrian economics to racism and conspiracy theories and biblical nonsense is a reflection of the very real and deep and lasting damage that the Mises Institute has done to the memory of one of the 20th century's greatest social thinkers and to the classical liberalism that he and many of the rest of us believe is the best way to improve the lives of billions of humans.

    "Anyone who thinks the MI strategy was smart should consider what it means to libertarianism and Austrian economics to be tarred in this way all over the New York Times. It's a freakin' disaster and I have no hesitation laying the blame exactly at the door of a brick building in Auburn, AL and those there who have soiled Mises's name and turned an open, tolerant, cosmopolitan intellectual and political tradition into its exact opposite, making it fodder for a piece like this. If you're pissed off at this piece, act accordingly.

    And later on, Horwitz whines:

    "Look folks, I'm NOT letting the NYT off the hook for lazy reporting, disingenuity, and/or a smear job. Yes, haters gonna hate us. BUT... thanks to the Mises Institute, "we" have served them up that article on a silver platter and given them the evidence that a half-lazy (or smear desiring) reporter needs to connect the dots and distort libertarianism and Austrian economics beyond recognition.

    "This is BLOWBACK. You play with racist, homophobic, neo-confederate fire, you're gonna get burned. That's all I'm saying. You can always try to smear libertarians by saying we hate the poor etc, but at least we can engage that as a policy debate. Here? They have actual, factual connections on their side, no matter how distorted of the reality of libertarianism they might be. That makes smear jobs and lazy reporting easier.

    "If you want to make the NYT's job harder, stop supporting and start calling out the people and institutions that serve it up on that silver platter.


    While I may take issue with some things Mises Institute does from time to time, I see the institute as a truly magnificent and marvelous group that is fighting for liberty and rights over the power of the government and State.

    http://www.mises.org/daily/6648/We-Win-the-NY-Times-Prize#IDComment789167239

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    1. With friends like Steve wHorwitz who needs enemy's?

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    2. Thanks, Bod. I appreciate the mention there. I think the "thick" libertarians are a dangerous group of people that will tally to the mainstream-media line just enough to make themselves look respectable, even flirting with warmongers and statists, but when a pure libertarian argues something politically incorrect, the "thick" libertarians demonize him or her very quickly.

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  11. Jonathan Finegold Catalan (who wrote the excellent article “Government Spending Is Bad Economics”)

    http://mises.org/daily/5123/Government-Spending-Is-Bad-Economics

    has joined in with the piling on by Horwitz writing:

    Mises, especially, argued that capitalism inevitably promotes cosmopolitanism, peace, and harmony; he didn’t stress things like disassociation with others’, based on whatever prejudice......

    The most well-known libertarian political candidates associate with and directly communicate “Auburn libertarianism.” The “bleeding heart” libertarians are restricted mostly to blogs and academic scholarship; while they’ve been successful in promoting their brand by these means, they don’t have much political influence. Unfortunately, the libertarianism that gets sold to voters by their preferred politicians is closer to the one that promotes discrimination, disassociation, and purposeful sabotage of the existing order.
    [emphasis added]

    http://www.economicthought.net/blog/?p=5610

    Yes, of course. In fact, just the other day on his podcast, Tom Woods said that if someone tried to open a racist restaurant that their reputation would be destroyed within minutes by social media. Indeed, Woods discussed this very topic twice last week on his podcast, Wednesday with Jacob Hornberger and Friday with Walter Williams.

    Actually, J-Cat approaches the defamatory tone of the NYT article. Who is or has ever been “pro-confederacy” at the Mises institute? The argument has always been that if the south had been allowed to secede that the northern states would no longer have been bound to return run-away slaves and could have offered them sanctuary. Further, the economically booming north would have been an example to the majority of southerners who were not slaveholders that slavery was impoverishing them.

    Even today, we have traditional types who hate the “progressives” and vice versa, each trying to attain that magical 50.01% of the vote so that they can cram their lifestyle visions down the throat of the other side. Is proposing that they just leave each other alone to live as they please really so horrible? Further, SINCE THAT IS THE ESSENCE OF THE NAP, how else might one explain the NAP??????

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    1. If you read the rest of his blog you will see that 'cosmopolitanism' is the most important thing in his world view. I haven't read any of his articles but he comes across as lightweight if he is supposed to be a libertarian (a libertarian should defend the undefendable). There is a good comment on that thread by an objector.

      ''Never mind the inaccurate representation of Rothbard's views, but for you to criticize libertarians for stressing their individual right to dissociate (which is an implication of the freedom of association, or basically, it's the same thing!) from any person or group, and especially as in this example that you brought up, from a coercive/violent institution, and yet to still claim that this is not an attack on the core of libertarianism, i.e., NAP, individual freedom, property rights, etc... but simply against some strand of it or faction that distorts things or misrepresents them shows that you are either very ignorant of libertarianism or disingenuous.

      You are also being unfair. Some libertarians have the courage to take on the "hard issues", after all, if you are not defending the undefended, but simply talking against the minimum wage all day, you are not defending NAP or property rights. Very quickly you will find that any debate/argument with a statist over minimum wage that also stresses property rights and voluntary exchange will quickly get derailed into the hard issues (The statist trying to catch you on an inconsistency or contradiction). This is why the hard issues come up. Rand was asked a couple of years ago about discremenation precisely becasue the interviewer wanted the soundbyte that he does not favor a ban against some private owners discriminating against on the basis of race or whatever... You think the interviewer was going to let Rand give the opportunity to give a lecturer on how the market would work to reduce such immoral behavior? This is why these issues keep coming up. If you don't protect property rights whenever they are assaulted against, then you are not a libertarian, not this strand or that strand. This isn't about strategy. No libertarian likes to start advocating for his views with hard issues such as "it's your right to be a racist, as long as....", but those issues are intentionally put on the spotlight in order to discredit you in the eyes of the ignorant public. So wake up and don't be so naive. Those "Auborn libertarians" are doing your "dirty work" which you cannot handle. Or libertariansim and free markets is just not your cup of tea. fine! just come out and say it.''

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  12. Gary North does not make "dark biblical prophecies" because he is not a Premillennialist. Moreover, Michele Bachman is no Christian Reconstructionist because she is a total statist.

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  13. "dark biblical prophecy."

    Are these idiots high?

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    1. They are like Pavlov's dogs - salivating with the right stimuli. Or in this case, frothing at the maw.

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  14. Art bell listeners remember him going ballistic every week for a year or two warning about y2k

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  15. @Wenzel

    Do you remember this Wall Street Journal piece about the Mises Institute from 2010 (see below)?

    I commented about it at the time and predicted that Mises would be revived in a manner more consonant with academia (which was my interest at the time).

    What has happened is exactly as I predicted below.

    By the way, I AM interested in dark Biblical prophecies (there are also very bright ones) and also in dark non-Biblical prophecy, of which the piece below is most assuredly an example (wink).

    The New York Times is a CIA-infested, war-mongering rag (except for its Book Review section) with many exceptionally gifted writers who are congenital liars and lap-dogs for power and prestige.

    That said, they are nice people and do not kill babies or blow-up buildings themselves.
    They are good on civil liberties and a few other things. Otherwise, they are just a mouthpiece for the liberal elites.

    On the other hand, the paper itself is nice and thick works well as compost if you tear it up fine and mix it with grass clippings and leaves.

    Comes out as dark, rich manure. But then, it started out that way too.

    http://theaustrianeconomists.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/lil-rajiva-on-the-wsj-austro-treatment/

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