Martha Steffy Browne (Braun) 1898-1990
From an economic point of view, anyone who has chosen a freelance profession is an entrepreneur.
Even if Martha Steffy Browne did not publish many books or lengthy scholarly essays, her book Theorie der staatlichen Wirtschaftspolitik (1929) was a pioneering work and is still considered a major milestone in the theory of state interventionism based on the target-means analysis. Following Mises, she distinguished between adjustment interventions (market compatible) and conserving interventions (incompatible). Browne, was born 125 years ago in fin-de-siecle Vienna and belonged to that long gone generation of exiled Austrian born social scientists whose work arose from the comprehensive view of interdependent academic disciplines.
Martha Stephanie Braun was born in 1898 as the only daughter of a well-known pediatrician in Vienna. After passing her final degree at the Gymnasium in 1917 she
enrolled at the University of Vienna as the fifth female student to read economics and political science, but also worked at the same time in the statistical department of k.u.k. War Grain Institute in Vienna. When the university had to close due to the lack of heating fuel during the cold winter months of 1919/20, Braun could spend the winter
semester at the University of Freiburg/Breisgau in Germany. In the spring of 1920, she returned to Vienna and finished her Ph.D. Thesis under the supervision of Ludwig von
Mises, with Friedrich von Wieser and Otmar Spann as observers. During the summer semester 1920 Braun also attended some of Max Weber’s guest lectures at the
University. As one of the first graduates, she was awarded the newly introduced Ph.D. in political science by the end of 1921. At the recommendation of Ludwig von Mises,
Martha St. Braun was offered a job at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce in 1922 where Mises conducted his famous ‘Private-Seminar’ in his office. This legendary colloquium soon became birthplace and center of the 4 th generation of the Austrian School. This accumulation of prolific talents included next to Braun, Friedrich A. von Hayek (Nobel Prize 1974), Gottfried von Haberler, Fritz Machlup, Lene Lieser, Oskar Morgenstern, Marianne von Herzfeld or Paul Rosenstein-Rodan and numerous other young scholars. Aside from her work at the Vienna Chamber, between 1921 and 1926 Braun also taught some evening courses in basic economics at one of Vienna’s ‘Volkshochschulen’.
In 1929 Martha Stephanie Braun published her Theorie der staatlichennWirtschaftspolitik (Theory of State Economic Policy) that established her scientific reputation. This book is still considered a pioneering achievement and deals with measures of process policy with the help of the target-means analysis. Firmly based on the value- and price theories of the Austrian School, Braun presents here the main forms of state interventions with regard to their characteristics and thus provided an overview of whether, how and under which conditions the state should or may intervene without jeopardizing the working of free markets. Following Mises, she distinguished between adjustment interventions (market compatible) and conserving interventions (incompatible).
Due to the growing political influence of the National Socialists in Austria and the despicable racist bias prevailing at the university, her book was soon not only forbidden. Like her mentor, L. von Mises and a number of others, Braun also was not permitted to accept a regular professorship in Vienna. Soon after Hitler and his party seized power in Austria in March 1938, she was forced to leave Vienna and escaped to England with her husband and two underage children. In 1940 she finally immigrated to the United
States and settled down in New York. With von Mises, von Haberler and Lene Lieser in Geneva, von Hayek and Rosenstein-Rodan in London, Machlup in Buffalo, Martha
Steffy Browne in New York, Schönfeldt-Illy in hiding, E. Schams or R von Strigl silenced by the Nazis and countless others dispersed all over the world, Vienna ceased to exist
as the academic center of the Austrian School of Economics. This catastrophic ‘brain drain’ from Austria eventually turned into a ‘brain gain’ primarily for the US, the UK and
Switzerland. After two difficult years in and around New York, she changed her name to Browne and acquired US citizenship. This necessary but painful move enabled her to find a minor position at Columbia and later as an assistant professor at Cincinnati University (Ohio), where she could at least teach a few classes.
In 1944 she was hired by the US State Department’s Office for Strategic Services as an Economic Analyst and worked in Washington, D.C. until 1947. In this capacity Browne soon gained a reputation as an expert in Japanese economic affairs and in questions of the US wartime energy supply. In late 1947 Browne finally was given a tenured lectureship at Brooklyn College in New York and was promoted to full professor some 6 years later. At the same time she also taught a few courses in economic geography with an emphasis on Japan’s economy at Cincinnati University. In 1969 she published another major work on The Future of U. S. Energy Supply, which served the newly founded E.P.A. (US Environmental Protection Agency) as a guidance for their energy policy. After Browne reached the status of professor emerita at Brooklyn College in 1969, she accepted an appointment as Guest Professor at New York University (NYU) and there she met again not only Fritz Machlup, one of her former colleagues at Mises’ Private Seminar in Vienna. Several students of Ludwig von Mises’s New York seminar, among them Leonard P. Liggio, Israel M. Kirzner, Muray N. Rothbard or Ralph Raico and Henry Hazlitt also attended NYU. Most of these young academics formed the Circle Bastiat, a scholarly discussion group which became the birthplace of the predominantly US based 5 th generation of the Austrian School.
Long overdue, in 1989 her old alma mater, the University of Vienna awarded Martha Steffy Browne an honorary doctorate in social and economic sciences. Even a small street in one of the outskirts of Vienna is named after her. She died on March 2, 1990 in New York.