January 28, 2023
My old friend Yuri Maltsev passed away on Thursday. As many LRC and Mises.org readers know, Yuri was part of Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika staff until he defected from the Soviet Union in 1989 and came to America. He earned a Ph.D. at Moscow State University during the Cold War and, lo and behold, became an Austrian School economist! I met Yuri soon after he arrived in the U.S. and asked him how he became familiar with the Austrian School. His answer was that part of his job for Gorbachev was to read and criticize the literature of the bourgeois capitalist exploiters. As such, he was given special permission to access that literature, some of which came with a long prison sentence to any ordinary Soviet citizen caught with it.
Yuri said that he read a contraband copy of Hayek's Road to Serfdom in mimeograph form, and passed it on to someone else immediately after he finished it. Everything in the book was absolutely true about collectivism and government planning, he said. Years later, in 2009, right after the crash of 2008, Yuri and our friend Tom Woods appeared on the Glenn Beck television program to discuss The Road to Serfdom. After that discussion the sales ranking of this 1943 book went to #1 on Amazon. I then put together a five-week online course on the book for the Mises Institute that attracted several hundred students from all over the world.
Having spent so much of his life in socialist hell, once he got a good-paying job in America Yuri reveled in consumerism. He would buy a $3,000 car, drive it for a while, then sell it back to the dealer he bought it from. He said he did that about thirty times. He also bought foreclosed real estate from HUD and rented or resold them, typically offering say, $5,000 for a house listed at say, $35-50,000 - and succeeding!
Yuri was associated with the Mises Institute for many years as a guest speaker at conferences and a lecturer at the annual Mises University. What an amazing time it was for me in the early days of Mises University to sit around at a place like Stanford University shortly after the worldwide collapse of socialism talking with such people as Murray Rothbard and Yuri Maltsev. He was always an extraordinarily popular speaker because of his wit and his unique knowledge of both Austrian economics and real-world experiences of having lived much of his life in the former Soviet Union. No one in the world was better able to explain in such vivid detail why Mises was right about socialism all along. If anything, Mises may have understated the barbarity of socialism which, in the Soviet case, was "all about mass murder," as Yuri said.
When I first met Yuri I asked him what he thought the biggest difference was between life in the Soviet Union and life in America. He said that in the Soviet Union no one believed anything the government said, but Americans believe everything the government says. The response of at least 90 percent of Americans to covid totalitarianism is the most recent example of this truism.
Yuri taught economics for many years at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, recently destroyed by Antifa and Black Lives Matter terrorists (Kenosha that is, not the college). He was very adept at avoiding the harsh Wisconsin winters by sponsoring January term trips to warmer places. (Some universities are on a 4-1-4 schedule where students take four courses in the fall, four in the spring, and one during "January term"). Yuri made several trips with several dozen of his students to Cuba, for example, reporting back that male and female prostitution was pervasive because impoverished Cubans had nothing to sell but their bodies. The $30/month from the government was not of much help to them. The only good healthcare advice in Cuba, said Yuri, was "swim to Miami." He said it was even very difficult for the average Cuban to find aspirin, let alone quality health care.
For years I taught a university economics course entitled "Capitalism and Its Critics" and used some of Yuri's excellent YouTube speeches, mostly delivered at the Mises Institute, along with some of his writings such as his edited Mises Institute book, Requiem on Marx. He spoke to several of my classes in person, and I was never prouder of him than when he spoke to a university audience at my invitation and caused the two Marxists on the economics faculty to make asses of themselves by turning their chairs around so that their backs faced Yuri as he spoke about the evils of Soviet socialism.
Yuri owned a timeshare in South Florida, and we had great fun meeting up with him and his wife Rita and his children Stanley and Laura during the summers when they would be there. Yuri once said that he went for an ocean swim "with the sharks" every morning as part of his weight loss regimen. South Florida libertarians will miss the nice get-togethers that Yuri sponsored at his timeshare condo.
Treat yourself to Yuri's wit and wisdom by watching some of his Mises Institute talks on YouTube. You will be educated and entertained. Rest in peace, old friend.