Austrian Economics and Social Media in China

In many places around the world we hear about the use of social media and mobile apps to help people communicate with each other in opposition to the state or against mainstream standards. From Egypt to Venezuela, social media has played an instrumental role in the organisation of protests. Fearing the same, the Chinese government has long sought to block the use of social media sites, thus Facebook and Twitter have a very minor presence in the country. Nonetheless, here in Shanghai I’ve learned about some of the innovative ways that local mobile apps are being used to spread ideas of liberty. While it is risky to talk about politics or to openly criticize the government in China, the field of economics provides somewhat safe ground to discuss ideas of liberty. Even then, one still must be mindful of one’s wording, because the terms ‘free-market’ or ‘capitalism’ are still blacklisted, whereas the phrase ‘market economy’ is perfectly acceptable. This past month a group of professors of Austrian Economics (a number of whom spoke at our 2012 Shanghai Austrian Economic Summit) got together and decided to create an online course entirely based on Hayek’s works. What’s exceptional about their approach is that the whole course is hosted on Weixin (known as WeChat for English users), which is like a Chinese version of Whatsapp. The lectures are given live, enabling students to tune in and respond in real time, while those who can’t make it at the time can still catch up later. The professor gives his lecture by leaving voice messages for the group. Each clip is limited by the app to being just a minute long, though they can be played consecutively. All the while, students can type in their questions, to which the professor can reply instantly. This style …