Five Americans Inducted Into Free Market Hall of Fame

Las Vegas, Nevada (July 11, 2009): Five American prominent writers and economists –Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Rose Wilder Lane, H. L. Mencken, and Booker T. Washington — were inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame at the Saturday night banquet at FreedomFest. This year’s conference attracted over 1,700 attendees.

Each year FreedomFest honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to the cause of economic liberty. The first induction ceremony was held last year, and the recipients were Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith; French writers J.-B. Say and Frederic Bastiat; Austrian economists Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek; American writer Ayn Rand; and American economist Milton Friedman.

Mark Skousen, producer of FreedomFest, announced this year’s inductees, followed by comments by Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine.

Five Inductees into Free Market Hall of Fame in 2009

Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was the premier libertarian journalist and popularizer of Austrian economics in the 20th century. He used his position as financial editor of the New York Times and columnist for Newsweek to editorialize against Keynesian economics, the New Deal, and the imperial powers of government. His book, Economics in One Lesson, has sold over a million copies and become a classic. He was a founding vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education, and early editor of The Freeman.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” — Henry Hazlitt

Murray N. Rothbard (1826-1995) was the dean of Austrian school of economics during the latter half of the 20th century, and a scholar who made major contributions to economic theory, history, and philosophy. He was the author of numerous books, including Man, Economy and State (1962), America’s Great Depression (1963), and The Ethics of Liberty (1982). His pamphlet, “What Has the Government Done to Our Money?” inspired a new generation of libertarians and the hard-money movement. Rothbard was a vociferous critic of Keynesianism and all forms of government intervention.

By Murray Rothbard:

“The establishment of Central Banking removes the checks of bank credit expansion, and puts the inflationary engine into operation.”

“It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost.”

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) is the author of Discovery of Freedom, a classic in libertarian literature. She is best known for her laissez faire political writings and the many stories she and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote about growing up on the prairies of America, where she learned the difference between individual initiative and government welfare. As a newspaper reporter and freelance writer she traveled throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, and Russia. In her travels she experienced firsthand the effects of communism, socialism, and fascism, and observed that rigid organization and central planning have a stifling and stultifying effect, to the point that “very few men have ever known that men are free.”

“Individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit.” — rose Wilder Lane

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was America’s favorite libertarian journalist, essaying, satirist and bon vivant of the the 20th century. He wrote the classic work, The American Language, and is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of his age. Known as the “Sage of Baltimore,” he was a skeptic and critic of all forms of government mischief.

By H.L Mencken:

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Booker T. Washington (1856 – 1915) was an American educator and the dominant leader of the African-American community in the early 20th century. Author of a classic autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” he supported education, self-help, and economic independence in the private enterprise system as the best way to escape poverty and achieve political equality. Born to slavery and freed by the Civil War in 1865, Washington became head of the new Tuskegee Institute, and built a personal organization that gained the support of wealthy industrialists as well as middle class blacks in pursuit of equality through “patience, industry, thrift, and usefulness.”

“The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race.” — Booker T. Washington

Vote for your favorite free market supporter at www.freemarkethalloffame.com.

FreedomFest is an independent conference held annual in Las Vegas and billed as “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” Next year’s conference will be held July 7-11, 2010, at Bally’s Events Center in Las Vegas. For more information, go to www.freedomfest.com.

Announcing the Free Market Hall of Fame!

Dear friends of liberty,

Here’s my latest idea:  The Free Market Hall of Fame is now up and running, and it’s creating a lot of debate!  We’re getting hundreds of new voters every day.  Lots of blogs are picking it up…..

Vote for your favorite free-market advocate (both living and dead) by going to www.freedomfest.com/halloffame.
Choose among five categories:
1.  Favorite free-market economists
2.  Writers and journalists
3.  Business leaders and entrepreneurs
4.  Government leaders
5.  Think tanks and freedom organizations
The survey also includes a Free Market Hall of Shame, people who have done the most damage to the cause of liberty.  Look where George W. Bush appears on the voting list.
Then after voting, you can find out the current rankings of the nominees.  It’s fun.
We are going to have our first Induction Ceremony of the Top Five vote getters at the next FreedomFest, July 9-12, 2008, at Bally’s/Paris Resort in Las Vegas.  Plus an “award” to the winner of the Free Market Hall of Shame.  (For details, go to http://www.freedomfest.com/).
Please pass this announcement along to all your friends and colleagues.
It’s time we honored all the great all the great teachers, writers, business leaders, legislators, and think tanks that have advanced the cause of liberty.
In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark
Mark Skousen
Producer, FreedomFest 2008
The World’s Largest Gathering of Free Minds
July 10-12, 2008: 7-11 in Las Vegas
http://www.freedomfest.com/


Ludwig von Mises started out ahead as favorite free market economist, but now Milton Friedman has surpassed him…..Ronald Reagan is neck and neck with Thomas Jefferson as favorite political leader…….Steve Forbes is leading in the business leaders category, but Charles Koch (Koch Industries, the world’s largest private company) and John Mackey (Whole Foods Market) are moving up (with lots of write-ins for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs)……We’ve had to add several “write in” candidates, such as Greg Mankiw from Harvard, who is advancing (Walter Williams is in the early lead as favorite living free-market economist)……and when we added Ben Franklin (in business leaders category) he immediately went to first place!
And now Ed Crane (Cato Institute) has moved ahead of Lew Rockwell (Mises Institute)–and Ed Feulner (Heritage Foundation) and Bob Poole (Reason) are not far behind.
Voting does count after all!

Franklin and His Critics

Was Benjamin Franklin an indispensable public servant, or a cunning chameleon? A believer, or a heretic? A hard-headed entrepreneur, or an opportunistic privateer? A devoted family man, or a salacious womanizer? An important scientist and inventor, or a hoaxer and self-promoter? The first civilized American, or the most dangerous man in America? Read the article below.

History of Freedom
Liberty Magazine
December 2006

Franklin and His Critics
by Mark Skousen

“Let all men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly.” — Poor Richard’s Almanac

Was Benjamin Franklin an indispensable public servant, or a cunning chameleon? A believer, or a heretic? A hard-headed entrepreneur, or an opportunistic privateer? A devoted family man, or a sala­cious womanizer? An important scientist and inventor, or a hoaxer and self-promoter? The first civilized American, or the most dangerous man in America?

Probably, he was all of the above. But no matter where you come down on this debate, one thing is clear: Franklin’s stature has increased dramatically since his death in 1790.

A recent AOL poll ranked him after Washington as America’s most admired founder. None of the others (Jefferson, Adams, Madison) even came close. This year, the nation celebrates Franklin’s 300th birthday with fanfare: two commemorative coins by the U.S. Mint, four stamps by the U.S. Postal Service, and a national exhibit that is making its way around the country. A bevy of biographies has been published, and most of the books are laudatory. H.W. Brands identifies Franklin as “the first American . . . who is perhaps the most beloved and celebrated American of his age, or indeed of any age.”

Michael Hart ranks him as “the most versatile genius in all of history” — the most multi-dimensional of the founders as businessman, scientist, writer, and politician.

Joyce Chaplin identifies Franklin as one of only two scientists in the world who have achieved “international icon” status (the other is Einstein).

Many consider Franklin the cultural father of American capitalism, because of his emphasis on self-education, industry, and thrift. And Gordon Wood argues that Franklin was second only to Washington as America’s “necessary man,” the man who single-handedly raised 34 million livres (equivalent to $14 billion in today’s money) to finance the war of the revolution. Washington won the war at home, but Franklin won the war abroad: “He was the greatest diplomat America has ever had.”

I was privileged to be part of the Franklin celebration when, last April, I was invited to speak at the First Day Issue Ceremony in Philadelphia for the four commemorative stamps honoring Franklin as a printer, scientist, postmaster, and statesman. I’ve been an admirer of this versatile genius since reading his “Autobiography,” which is rightly regarded as America’s first “how to” self-improvement book, championing the virtues of industry, thrift, and prudence. Over the years I’ve collected dozens of other books on him, including the voluminous edition of his “Papers” compiled and edited by Yale University Press. It was while reading through the “Papers,” now approaching 38 volumes, that I came up with the idea of completing the “Autobiography.” These memoirs end abruptly in 1757, just as Franklin is about to embark on his career as an international political figure. He lived another 33 years as colonial agent, revolutionary, signer of the Declaration of Independence, America’s first ambassador, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In going over the “Papers,” I realized that it might be possible to gather together the autobiographical passages from his letters, journals, and essays, and complete his story, all in his own words. The result was “The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin,” published this year by Regnery.

Yet I have sometimes wondered whether my admiration of Franklin was misplaced, and how, if at all, his ideas could be defended.

Among libertarians, there is a great deal of animosity toward wise ol’ Dr. Franklin. Just last month, for example, I came across an article called “Benjamin Franklin Was All Wet on Economics,” written by a college student for the Mises Institute website. The author focused on Franklin’s labor theory of value and his support of paper money.

No doubt the philosopher was seriously misguided on a number of important issues. Yet, if we are willing to take a broad view of his economics, a case can be made that even in this area he was a sound thinker. Actively involved in the creation of the three major documents of American government (the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution), Franklin was an advocate of a limited central government. “A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed,” he declared. He was a disciple of Adam Smith and free trade, and was enamored of the laissez-faire policies recommended by the French physiocrats (Turgot, Condorcet, et al.). His are the admirable sayings: “Laissez nous faire: Let us alone. . . . Pas trop gouverner: Not to govern too strictly.”

Franklin was certainly no Keynesian. He defended the rich and worried about how incentives for the poor would be affected if the state adopted a welfare system. He was no Malthusian, either. He opposed a minimum wage law and wrote in favor of free immigration and fast population growth. He rejected any form of state religion or mandatory religious oaths and demanded that slavery be abolished in the new nation — in 1789. And he learned by sad experience (through the careers of his son and grandson) that public service is less rewarding than private business. His ideas on foreign policy anticipated George Washington’s farewell address by nearly 20 years. In 1778 he stipulated that “the system of America is to have commerce with all, and war with none.”

Granted, he was no anarchist. In economics, he did favor paper money and a “real bills” doctrine of expanding the money supply beyond specie, though “no more than commerce requires.”

He believed that easy money would facilitate trade. During the American revolution he justified the runaway inflation of paper “Continentals” as an indirect way for all Americans to pay for the war, although he begged Congress to improve the creditworthiness of the United States by 2006 paying interest in hard currency. He was a strong supporter of Hamiltonian-style central banking and an investor in the Bank of North America. His likeness on the $100 bill — the highest denomination of an irredeemable American paper currency — would greatly please his vanity.

He argued that the state should be actively engaged in the free education of youth and other public services, and in dispelling the ignorance represented by public fads and superstitions. From several sources, it appears that he was in league with Jefferson in emphasizing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the goal of government, downplaying John Locke’s inalienable right to property. Property, he wrote, is purely a “creature of society” and can be legitimately taxed to pay for civil society. He was quite critical of Americans who were unwilling to pay their share of society’s “dues.”

None of this is likely to endear Franklin to libertarian theorists, and it hasn’t. Among them, the leading detractor has been Murray Rothbard, who in his four-volume history “Conceived in Liberty” describes Franklin as “perhaps the most over inflated [leader] of the entire colonial period in America.” At every turn in the history of the American revolution, Rothbard deprecates Franklin’s achievements and accentuates his peccadilloes. He finds in the sly Dr. Franklin “a sinister, subversive devil . . . an opportunist par excellence . . . cunning . . . fawning . . . meddling . . . opportunistic hedonist . . . ”

According to Rothbard, Franklin was a warmonger, a Tory imperialist, and a speculator with his “cronies” who engaged in a “pattern of plunder of the American taxpayer” during the war. His Albany Plan was far more than an innocent way to unify the nation; it was a deliberate attempt to create a “central super government.” Franklin comes off almost as badly as the “deep-dyed conservative” Washington, who is characterized as a fumbling, inept general who sought to “crush liberty and individualism” among his soldiers and impose a “statist” army.

Rothbard would have preferred as American commander “the forgotten hero,” the “brilliant, gifted” Charles Lee, champion of “liberty and guerrilla war.” And instead of Franklin as envoy to France, Rothbard would have selected the “estimable liberal” Dr. Arthur Lee.

Never mind the fact that other historians uniformly describe Arthur Lee as a “bilious” and “cantankerous” patriot who hated America’s French allies and accomplished little himself. Rothbard also likes Thomas Paine, promoter extraordinaire of the American cause — while ignoring the fact that Paine’s mentor was none other than Benjamin Franklin, and that Franklin was a lifelong supporter of Paine’s ideas. What did Paine see that Rothbard couldn’t?

Rothbard never explains the way in which somehow, by July 1776, the “Tory imperialist” suddenly became the “radical revolutionary” and co-conspirator of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, Franklin was one of the first of the founders to call for independence. As early as 1771, he observed that the “seeds are sown of total disunion” between England and her colonies. In 1775, he drafted a resolution to Congress to dissolve “all ties of allegiance” with a country that had failed to “protect the lives and property of [its] subjects,” adding: “It has always been my opinion that it is the natural right of men to quit, when they please, the society or state, and the country in which they were born, and either join with another or form a new one as they think proper.”

Furthermore, Franklin (like Rothbard) appears to have been an advocate of natural rights: “I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very zealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil.”

No modern libertarian could have said it better. It is surprising that modern libertarians should fail to give Franklin credit for the “radical” and “libertarian” Pennsylvania Constitution written in 1776 and endorsed by him throughout his lifetime. And what about his critical role in raising military and financial aid in France? This is what we receive from Rothbard’s witty but poisoned pen: “The wily old tactician Franklin proved to be a master at the intricacies of lying, bamboozling, and intriguing that form the warp and woof of diplomacy. Moreover, the old rogue was a huge hit with the French, who saw him as the embodiment of reason, the natural man, and bonhomie.”

Rothbard is deadly silent about Franklin’s thrill of victory and Arthur Lee’s agony of defeat when it came to fundraising for the American cause.

Unfortunately, the only biography that Rothbard recommends is Cecil B. Currey’s “Code Number 72: Ben Franklin: Patriot or Spy?”, which accuses Franklin of being a double agent for the British. (Carl Van Doren’s “Benjamin Franklin” [1938] is the most comprehensive work in the field, and quite different in its conclusions from Currey.) Currey is a tough-minded researcher but ignores the evidence that doesn’t fit his agenda. “I have not . . . pretended to write a ‘balanced’ picture of Franklin (for I have focused on his shadows).”

Currey put together a sizeable amount of circumstantial evidence that while Franklin was ambassador to France he played both sides of the conflict. “The story involved treason, breaches of security, lackadaisical administration, privateering, misplaced truth, war profiteering, clandestine operations, spy apparatus, intrigue, double-dealing.” Today we know that Franklin and Adams were surrounded by spies, including one of their secretaries, Edward Bancroft. “A cell of British Intelligence was located at Franklin’s headquarters in France, and Benjamin Franklin — covertly perhaps, tacitly at least, and possibly deliberately — cooperated with and protected this spy cell operating out of his home in France from shortly after his arrival in that country until the end of the war.”

It is true that Franklin loved England before he loved France. He lived in London for nearly 20 years and considered it home, more even than Philadelphia. His son William was so enamored with the British Empire that he remained a loyalist throughout the war, thus giving rise to the rumor that his father was a double agent. In France, Franklin met with British agents and listened to their offers of honors, emoluments, and bribes. He did little to hide his activities and papers from alleged spies, whether French or British. And, yes, he was identified clandestinely as “Number 72.”

But it is also clear that Franklin broke with his son and was so bitter about being deserted “in a cause where my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake” that they never reconciled. Currey is correct that the British had a code number for Franklin, but the French also had a code for him (“Prométhée,” the Greek god who brought fire from heaven). The British had code numbers for almost everyone, including Washington (“Number 206”). And British and French spies were so common that Franklin simply ignored them.

Again, it’s important to look at the big picture. If indeed Franklin was playing both sides of the war, would he have worked so enthusiastically to obtain essential aid from France? If you buy Currey’s argument, you could just as easily make the argument that Arthur Lee and even John Adams were traitors, because both seemed to make every effort to insult the French and sabotage Franklin and his fundraising efforts. Practically every historian today agrees that without Franklin, the French would not have given the financial and military support necessary to win the war at Yorktown.

Nevertheless — and this demonstrates the influence of Rothbard in libertarian circles — when Gary North devoted the 1976 bicentennial edition of his “Reconstructionist” journal to a symposium on Christianity and the American Revolution, he chose only one historian to write “The Franklin Legend,” Cecil Currey. Today Currey’s book is out of print, and for good reason. Franklin clearly switched from loving the British Isles to hating the Crown and its ministers. He considered the War for Independence “the greatest revolution the world has ever seen” and a “miracle in human affairs.”

But let’s consider some other historians’ attacks on Franklin. Tom Tucker wrote an entire book (“Bolt of Fate” [2003]) contending that Franklin’s famous kite experiment was faked, that it was one of Franklin’s hoaxes. His evidence? Franklin didn’t write about the kite story for years, and the only detailed account was written by his friend Joseph Priestley, some 15 years after the event. Yet according to Priestley, Franklin dreaded the ridicule of performing an unsuccessful experiment in public, so he used his son William as his only witness — and William never denied the kite test, even after he and his father had become estranged.

Another assault on Franklin is embodied in “Runaway America” (2004), by David Waldstreicher, who argues that Franklin masked his true feelings about slavery, and that he was a slave trader and slave owner in an age of supposed freedom and equality. Here again the author ignores or downplays contrary evidence, such as the fact that in 1763 Franklin visited the Negro School of Philadelphia, which he helped establish, examined the students, and discovered “a higher opinion of the natural capacities of the black race . . . Their apprehension seems as quick, their memory as strong, and their docility in every respect equal to that of white children.”

Franklin was never much of a slaveholder — compared, for example, to Washington or Jefferson — and the few slaves he held as servants were freed in London before he returned to America in 1775. Two years before he died, he became president of the Philadelphia Society for the Abolition of Slavery and helped introduce legislation in Congress to abolish slavery once and for all.

Franklin has been blamed for abandoning his devoted wife, Deborah, and becoming a lecher in London and France. There is plenty of evidence to support a charge like this. He wrote several risqué bagatelles, such as “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress,” and “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” which defends a single mother who was prosecuted for the fifth time for having an illegitimate child. Franklin himself had a “natural” son, William. In his “Autobiography” he confessed that, as a young man, his “hard-to-govern’d passion of youth” led him into “intrigues with low women.” (This paragraph was censored in grade schools until the early 20th century, when, presumably, it was realized that children no longer understood what this usage of “intrigues” might mean.) Carl Van Doren says that “he went to women hungrily, secretly, and briefly.”

In 1730, Franklin entered into a common-law marriage with Deborah Read, whose husband abandoned her without a divorce. Together they raised William and had two children of their own: Franky, who died of smallpox at age four, and Sally, who cared for Franklin in his final years. Despite all the rumors, there is no hard evidence that Franklin sired any other illegitimate children. He settled into a faithful relationship with his wife in Philadelphia and focused on his printing business.

The relationship changed in the last 18 years of their marriage, when they lived separate lives. But he did not by any means abandon her. When he was made a colonial agent in 1757 and moved to London, he begged her to come with him, but she had a mortal fear of crossing the ocean and repeatedly refused. “I have a thousand times wished my wife with me, and my little Sally,” he wrote from London. Over time, they drifted apart emotionally, corresponding largely about mundane household matters and local gossip. Claude-Anne Lopez, a Franklin expert, notes that “it strains credulity to imagine that so vigorous a man was never unfaithful in all that time.”

Deborah died in late 1774, when Franklin was still in London. Two years later, as a widower, he was back in Europe. The French lionized the American ambassador, who developed a considerable friendship and correspondence with several beautiful French women, including Madame Brillon, who was an artist and musician, and the wife of a diplomat. Their relationship supposedly never went beyond friendship, although Franklin admitted to a friend, “I sometimes suspected my heart of wanting to go further.”

Their letters are intimate and flirtatious, and fun to read. (See chapter 6 of “The Compleated Autobiography.”) He considered flirtation a legitimate “amusement” and refuge from a grueling schedule of diplomacy. Gossip spread about him and Madame Brillon. Her husband once found them kissing; they played a game of chess in her bathroom; she sat on his lap at a dinner party attended by John and Abigail Adams, puritans who were “disgusted” by Franklin’s behavior. Jefferson observed that “in the company of women . . . he loses all power over himself and becomes almost frenzied.”

One of his critics wrote this ditty:
Franklin, though plagued with fumbling age,
Needs nothing to excite him,
But is too ready to engage,
When younger arms invite him.

The old doctor was 70 years of age when he arrived in France in 1776. During his long stay he suffered severely from gout and kidney stones. Sometimes he could hardly walk. It is doubtful that he fulfilled his sexual fantasies in any meaningful way. As historian Robert Middlekauff suggests, “Reading his correspondence of this period and remembering what we know of his physical condition, we might conclude that Franklin’s sex life was very much like Jane Austen’s novels — all talk and no action.”

Franklin was often criticized by contemporary Christians for his heretical religious views. He was not a churchgoer, and had doubts about the divinity of Jesus. But he believed in God. A deist for most of his life, he supported a pragmatic religion that favored good works and charity more than simple faith and hope. And by “good works,” he said, “I mean real good works, works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.”

Franklin is justly famous for engaging in innumerable civic and charitable causes throughout his adult life — and into the afterlife, by means of his perpetual fund, established in his will, for the benefit of young tradesmen in Boston.

But to return to the heart of libertarian concerns about Franklin, it can be said that, in many ways, he was America’s first champion of free enterprise. Economists of the “Austrian” school, who have been so influential on modern libertarian thought, would be pleased with his emphasis on entrepreneurship, industry, and thrift. Eugen Böhm-Bawerk and Max Weber recognized his genius, and so did American capitalists Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Mellon, who were deeply influenced by the “Autobiography.” Franklin anticipated the incredible material and technological progress that America has made in the centuries since its founding. An incurable optimist, he was always bullish on America, and life in general. At the end of the War for Independence, he predicted, “America will, with God’s blessing, become a great and happy country.” The United States, he said, is “an immense territory, favored by nature with all advantages of climate, soil, great navigable rivers and lakes . . . [and] destined to become a great country, populous and mighty.” More importantly, he told potential immigrants that the country “affords to strangers . . . good laws, just and cheap government, with all the liberties, civil and religious, that reasonable men can wish for.” (He underlined the word “cheap.”)

What were his politics? Franklin was opposed to a strong central executive. In his original draft of the Articles of Confederation, he proposed twelve members of the executive instead of one president, to disperse political power. He opposed public “offices of profit.” As Bernard Fay concludes, “They [Congress] were directly opposed to Franklin’s philosophical tendency, which might be summed up in this formula: the least government possible is the greatest possible good.”

Certainly he was no social libertarian, despite his image as a libertine and free thinker. While he is famous for reading books in the nude, frequenting the salacious Hell-Fire Club in London, and flirting with French ladies in Paris, he wrote stern letters to his daughter Sally chastising her for wanting to wear the latest fashions while a war was going on, and he refused to buy his grandson Benny a gold watch while in France. He dressed plainly and constantly preached economy. He always promoted frugality and industry in both public and private life. Readers might be surprised by his attack on the growth of taverns in Philadelphia upon his return from England in 1762. Though a defender of free speech, he railed against scurrilous newspaper reports.

There is nothing special about this side of Franklin. His distinctive contribution is not found in his lectures on the more conventional virtues but in his openness to the new, entrepreneurial, can-do spirit. He lambasted privileged public offices and aristocracies of birth, and told European immigrants that “in America, people do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? but What can he do?”

He illustrated what an individual could do by doing it himself, helping to finance good causes with his own business profits. He was civil-minded early in his career, involving himself with the nation’s first fire company; the nation’s oldest property insurance company; and Philadelphia’s own hospital, library, and militia. All were created with mostly private funds. “America’s first entrepreneur may well be our finest one,” concludes John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard family of mutual funds.

Like all the founders, he had his share of foibles. How should one weigh his mammoth achievements against his inscrutable flaws? Before you make up your mind, I suggest you spend a few days reading Franklin’s own accounts of his life. You may see a different Franklin from the man his critics and I have described.

Libertarians are not used to winning. They prefer being in the minority. They figure that if they are victorious, they must be compromising their principles. That may be what galled Murray Rothbard: Franklin was so damned successful as a scientist, businessman, and diplomat. To libertarians, it may help to know that he wasn’t always successful. He had his share — and perhaps more than his share — of enemies. Here’s his philosophy about his critics: “As to the abuses I have met with, I number them among my honors. . . . The best men have always had their share of this treatment . . . and a man has therefore some reason to be ashamed when he meets with none of it. Enemies do a man some good by fortifying his character. I call to mind what my friend good Rev. Whitefield [the famous evangelist] said to me once: ‘I read the libels writ against you, when I was in a remote province, where I could not be informed of the truth of the facts; but they rather gave me this good opinion of you, that you continued to be useful to the public: for when I am on the road, and see boys in a field at a distance, pelting a tree, though I am too far off to know what tree it is, I conclude it has fruit on it.”

Now that’s a saying that all libertarians can appreciate.

1. H.W. Brands, “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” (Doubleday, 2000), jacket.

2. Michael H. Hart, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History,” 2nd ed. (Kensington, 1992) 516–17.

3. Joyce E. Chaplin, “The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius” (Basic Books, 2006) 1.

4. Gordon Wood, “The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin” (Penguin, 2004) 196.

5. “The Compleated Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin,” compiled and edited by Mark Skousen (Regnery, 2006) 189, 300.

6. “Compleated Autobiography” 148.

7. “Compleated Autobiography” 357.

8. “Compleated Autobiography” 298–99.

9. Murray N. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” (Arlington House, 1975) 2.64, 67, 172; 3.273; 4.358. My disagreement with Murray Rothbard on his assessment of Franklin, as well as Adam Smith, does not diminish my admiration of Rothbard’s tremendous contributions to economics, including “America’s Great Depression,” “Man, Economy, and State,” “Power and Market,” and “What Has the Government Done to Our Money?”

10. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 4.359, 4.43–44.

11. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 3.218, 4.34–35

12. “Compleated Autobiography” 65, 120.

13. “Compleated Autobiography” 80.

14. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 4.232–33.

15. Cecil B. Currey, “The Franklin Legend,” Journal of Christian Recon­struction (Summer 1976) 143.

16. Cecil B. Currey, “Code Number 72: Ben Franklin, Patriot or Spy?” (Prentice Hall, 1972) 12, 266.

17. “Compleated Autobiography” 130–32.

18. “Compleated Autobiography” 26. Waldstreicher ignores this passage.

19. Carl Van Doren, “Benjamin Franklin” (Viking Press, 1938) 91.

20. Claude-Anne Lopez and Eugenia W. Herbert, “The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family” (Norton, 1975) 26–27.

21. “Compleated Autobiography” 162.

22. Quoted in “Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and Other Writ­ings,” ed. Kenneth Silverman (Penguin, 1986) 206.

23. Hugh Williamson, “What Is Sauce for a Goose Is Also Sauce for a Gan­der” (1764).

24. Robert Middlekauff, “Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies” (University of California Press, 1996) 115–16.

25. “Compleated Autobiography” 387.

26. “Compleated Autobiography” 290.

27. Bernard Fay, “Franklin, Apostle of Modern Times” (Little, Brown, 1929) 504.

28. Some libertarians are critical of Franklin for opposing the notorious “outlaw” John Wilkes, a defender of free speech who was imprisoned for libeling the king of England in 1768, and the “drunken mad mobs” supporting “Wilkes and Liberty.” This is another case of Franklin’s so­cial conservatism before the American Revolution. Interestingly, after the war, Wilkes’ sister and mother came over to America and stayed at Franklin’s home in Philadelphia. See “The Compleated Autobiogra­phy” 59–62, 349.

29. “Compleated Autobiography” 292.

30. John Bogle, Introduction, “Benjamin Franklin: America’s First Entrepre­neur,” by Blaine McCormick (Dallas: Entrepreneurial Press, 2005).

31. “Compleated Autobiography” 44–45.

A Tribute to Milton Friedman

Mark Skousen and Milton Friedman at lunch

Mark Skousen and Milton Friedman at lunch

I was at the New Orleans Investment Conference when I learned that free-market economist extraordinaire Milton Friedman, died on November 16. He was a dear friend. I was probably the last person to go out to lunch with Milton. We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” Milton was so pleased with the photo and caption that he sent it to all his friends only two weeks before his passing.

“All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” –George J. Stigler

George Stigler, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Gailbraith -- "All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman." --George J. Stigler

George Stigler, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith

(Left to right: George Stigler, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith.
Creation of Mark Skousen. Technical assistance by James Durham.)

Milton had just turned 94, yet his mind was sharp. We discussed the latest Nobel Prize in economics. He said, “We’re running out of good names.” What about the new field of behavior economics that Richard Thaler (Chicago), Robert Shiller (Yale), and Jeremy Siegel (Wharton)? “Yes,” he agreed. “They are making an important contribution. Siegel worked with me at Chicago in the 1970s and is doing brilliant work.”

I asked Milton if he wouldn’t mind giving me a blurb for my next book, “The Big Three in Economics.” He loved my previous history, “The Making of Modern Economics,” and agreed to give me a quote. It saddens me to know he never got to it.

For the past few years, he walked with a cane. He suffered from pain in his legs, a weak heart (after two heart surgeries in the 1980s), and was losing his eye sight. As we left, I asked him, “Do you think you’ll live to be 100?” He answered quickly, “I hope not!”

A few days later he fell and was taken to the hospital. He died a couple weeks later of a heart attack.

Friedman was not only a great economist, but a memorable quotesmith. Besides the standard bearers, such as “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” here are some others less well known:

“Competition is a tough weed, but freedom is a rare and delicate flower.” — (with George J. Stigler)

“If a tax cut increases government revenues, you haven’t cut taxes enough.”

“I favor tax reductions under any circumstances, for any excuse, for any reason, at any time.”

“A society that puts equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality or freedom.”

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

“Inflation is taxation without legislation.”

“The economy and the stock market are two different things.”

“If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington.”

“The great advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science or in literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.”

“The minimum wage law is one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”

“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”

I will miss our lunches and dinners together. He was one of the most unforgettable people I ever met.

In liberty, AEIOU, Mark

P. S.  At our luncheon last month, Milton Friedman and I also talked about the upcoming FreedomFest.  He was a big fan and was looking forward to it. He wrote me this statement to all freedom lovers:  “FreedomFest is a great place to talk, argue, listen, celebrate the triumphs of liberty, assess the dangers to liberty, and provide that eternal vigilance that is the price of liberty. We have so much to celebrate but also much to be concerned about.”  We are going to have a special tribute to Milton Friedman at FreedomFest 2007, set for July 5-7, 2007, at Bally’s in Las Vegas.  For more information, go to www.freedomfest.com.

It All Started with Adam

Ideas On Liberty
Economics on Trial
May 2001

by Mark Skousen

Adam Smith, that is. Having just completed writing a history of economics,1 I have concluded that, despite the protestations of Murray Rothbard and other detractors, the eighteenth-century moral philosopher and celebrated author of The Wealth of Nations deserves to be named the founding father of modern economics.

The reason: Adam Smith is the first major figure to articulate in a profound way what has become known as the first fundamental theorem of welfare economics: that the invisible hand of competition automatically transforms self-interest into the common good. George Stigler rightly labels Smith’s model of laissez-faire capitalism (Smith never used the phrase) the “crown jewel” of The Wealth of Nations and “the most important substantive proposition in all of economics.” He states, “Smith had one overwhelmingly important triumph: he put into the center of economics the systematic analysis of the behavior of individuals pursuing their self-interests under conditions of competition.”2

In short, Smith’s thesis is that a “system of natural liberty,” an economic system that allows individuals to pursue their own self-interest under conditions of competition and common law, would be a self-regulating and highly prosperous economy. Eliminating restrictions on prices, labor, and trade meant that universal prosperity could be maximized through lower prices, higher wages, and better products. Smith assured the reader that his model would result in “universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”3

Indeed it has. Published in 1776, The Wealth of Nations was the intellectual shot heard around the world, a declaration of economic independence to go along with Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of political independence. It was no accident that the industrial revolution and sharply higher economic growth began in earnest shortly after its publication. As Ludwig von Mises declares, “It paved the way for the unprecedented achievements of laissez-faire capitalism.”4

For or Against Smith

The most amazing discovery I made in researching and writing over the past three years is that every major economic figure—whether Marx, Mises, Keynes, or Friedman—could be judged by his support of or opposition to Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine. Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes, and even British disciples Thomas Robert Malthus and David Ricardo denigrated Adam Smith’s classical model of capitalism, while Alfred Marshall, Irving Fisher, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, among others, remodeled and improved on Smithian economics.

For example, Keynes is unsympathetic to Adam Smith’s worldview. “It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive ‘natural liberty’ in their economic activities. . . . Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightening. . . . Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.”5 The basic thesis of Keynes’s magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), is that laissez-faire capitalism is inherently unstable and requires heavy state intervention to survive. Keynesian disciple Paul Samuelson correctly understood the true meaning of Keynes: “With respect to the level of total purchasing power and employment, Keynes denies that there is an invisible hand channeling the self-centered action of each individual to the social optimum.”6 Thus, I conclude that Keynesian economics, rather than its savior, is an enemy of Adam Smith’s system of natural liberty.

Karl Marx went even further. Instead of creating a system of natural liberty, Marx set out to destroy it. Modern-day Marxist John Roemer agrees. The “main difference” between Smith and Marx is: “Smith argues that the individual’s pursuit of self-interest would lead to an outcome beneficial to all, whereas Marx argued that the pursuit of self-interest would lead to anarchy, crisis, and the dissolution of the private property-based system itself. . . . Smith spoke of the invisible hand guiding individual, self-interested agents to perform those actions that would be, despite their lack of concern for such an outcome, socially optimal; for Marxism the simile is the iron fist of competition, pulverizing the workers and making them worse off than they would be in another feasible system, namely, one based on the social or public ownership of property.”7

Adam Smith as a Heroic Figure

By measuring economists against a single standard, Adam Smith’s invisible-hand doctrine, I found a fresh way to unite the history of economic thought. Virtually all previous histories of economics, including Robert Heilbroner’s popular work, The Worldly Philosophers, present the story of economics as one conflicting idea after another without resolution or a running thread of truth. This hodgepodge approach to history leaves the reader confused and unable to separate the wheat from the chaff.

My approach places Adam Smith and his system of natural liberty at the center of the discipline. Think of it as a story of high drama with a singular heroic figure. Adam Smith and his classical model face one battle after another against the mercantilists, socialists, and other enemies of liberty. Sometimes even his “dismal” disciples (Malthus, Ricardo, and Mill) wound him. Marx and the radical socialists attack him with a vengeance and leave him for dead, only to have him resuscitated by the leaders of the marginalist revolution (Menger, Jevons, and Walras) and raised up to become the inspiration of a whole new science.

But the “neo-classical” model of capitalism faced its greatest threat from the Keynesian revolution during the Great Depression and the postwar era. Fortunately, the story has a good ending. Through the untiring efforts of free-market advocates, especially Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek, Adam Smith’s model of capitalism is re-established and in the end triumphs. As Milton Friedman proclaims, “To judge from the climate of opinion, we have won the war of ideas. Everyone-left or right-talks about the virtues of markets, private property, competition, and limited government.”8

Long live Adam Smith!

1. The Making of Modern Economics (Annonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe Publishers, 2001).
2. George Stigler, “The Successes and Failures of Professor Smith,” Journal of Political Economy, December 1976, p. 1201.
3. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Modern Library, 1965 [1776]), p. 11.
4. Ludwig von Mises, “Why Read Adam Smith Today,” in The Wealth of Nations Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1998), p. xi.
5. John Maynard Keynes, “The End of Laissez-Faire,” Essays in Persuasion (New York: Norton, 1963 [1931]), p. 312. Keynes’s speech was given in 1926, a full decade before The General Theory came out.
6. Paul A. Samuelson, “Lord Keynes and the General Theory,” The New Economics, ed. Seymour Harris (New York: Knopf, 1947), p.151.
7. John E. Roemer, Free to Lose (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 2-3. Note the title, imitative, albeit negatively, of Milton and Rose Friedman’s popular Free to Choose (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980).
8. Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 582.

The Troubled Economics of Ayn Rand

Published in January, 2001, issue of Liberty Magazine:

THE TROUBLED ECONOMICS OF AYN RAND
by Mark Skousen

“No creator was prompted by a desire to serve his brothers…”

–Howard Roark, The Fountainhead (1994:710)

Ayn Rand, author of the celebrated Capitalism: The Unknown Idea, is honored almost universally as the fountainhead of market capitalism, an impassioned proponent of reason, individualism, and rational self-interest.

There is much to praise in Ayn Rand’s novels and writings, especially her uncompromising defense of freedom and her unrelenting denunciations of collectivism. No one has written more persuasively about property rights, the right of an individual to safeguard his wealth and property from the agents of coercion. Her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have probably done more than any other works of fiction to vindicate and honor the glories of “making money.”

Yet in reading her novels and writings, I was surprised to learn that her work often portrays a strange, distorted view of the money-making process. In a perverse way, her model of business may even give aid to the cause of the enemies of liberty–by giving capitalism a bad name.

Consumer Sovereign in The Fountainhead

Take, for example, Howard Roark’s philosophy toward his architectural work in The Fountainhead. In the beginning, Roark indicates that he chose architecture as a profession because he loves his work. He seeks to set the highest standards of excellence. He tries to be creative. All of these traits are to be admired.

But then Roark denies a basic tenet of sound economics–the principle of consumer sovereignty. When the dean of the architectural school tells Roark, “Your only purpose is to serve him [the client],” Roark objects. “I don’t intend to build in order to serve or help anyone. I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.” (1994:14) This bizarre, almost anti-social, attitude sounds like a perverse rending of Say’s Law, “supply creates its own demand,” or the statement made in the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” But supply only creates demand if the supply can be sold to customers; and people come to a new baseball field only if they want to play or watch. Supply must satisfy demand, or it becomes a wasted resource.

Now I have no problem with an architect who tries to set new standards of design, just as I would applaud entrepreneurs who seek to invent a new product or design a new process. Such actions are often highly risky and financially dangerous, and are often met with derision at first. Ayn Rand rightly points out that they are a major cause of economic progress. History is full of examples of “men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” (Rand 1994:710)

But the goal of all rational entrepreneurship must be to satisfy the needs of consumers, not to ignore them! Discovering and fulfilling the needs of customers is the essence of market capitalism. Imagine how far a TV manufacturer would get if he decides to build TVs that only tune into his five favorite channels, the consumer be damned. It wouldn’t be long before he would be on the road to bankruptcy.

Rand Denies the Essence of Business Enterprise

In short, Howard Roark’s conviction is irrational and contradicts a basic premise of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. For Roark, A is not A. He wants A to be B–his B, not his customer’s A. Thus, Ayn Rand’s ideal man misconceives the very nature and logic of capitalism–to fulfill the needs of customers and thereby advance the general welfare. As Ludwig von Mises writes in his book, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, “The profit system makes those men prosper who have succeeded in filling the wants of the people in the best possible and cheapest way. Wealth can be acquired only by serving the consumers.” (1972:2) Apparently Howard Roark doesn’t believe in consumer sovereignty. As he states in his final court defense, “An architect needs clients, but he dos not subordinate his work to their wishes.” (1994:714) Really?

Talk to any architects about The Fountainhead. Yes, they will tell you that there are a few self-centered, highly-egotistical, elitist Howard-Roark types in architecture who can get away with making monuments to their egos at their client’s expense. Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect Rand deeply admired, may be one of them. But the book’s thesis is entirely unrealistic in the everyday world of commercial building. Occasionally a client values more the notoriety of living in a home built by a signature designer than getting what he really wants, but not many. Almost all of Rand’s scenarios are extreme and idealistic, a strategy that works to sell novels, but does violence to all sense of reality. Normally architects work closely with the client and make numerous changes in order to fit the client’s needs.

Compromise is a necessary element to a successful completion of a project. And this consumer-oriented approach is true in all areas of capitalistic production. An architect or producer of any product who acts like Roark in The Fountainhead is likely to be out of work. Roark’s fate is even worse–he is guilty of his crime, blowing up a much-needed housing project rather than permit the slightest alteration in his designs. The jury may have exonerated him, but the market punishes his kind of behavior.

Ironically, Ayn Rand herself compromised in the making of the movie “The Fountainhead.” She insisted that only Frank Lloyd Wright would design the models for the film, but her demand was later rejected due to Wright’s outrageous fee. In the end, the models were done by a studio set designer. Rand called them “horrible” and “embarrassingly bad.” But the film was made and released. (Branden 1986:209) Oh, the agonies of dealing with other people!

The fact that Howard Roark represents the ideal man in Ayn Rand’s novel and the fact that she denigrates other characters in The Fountainhead who “compromise” with client’s demands suggest that Ayn Rand is philosophically in denial when it comes to comprehending the nature of business. She denies the very raison d’etre of capitalism–consumer sovereignty.

Assault on the Common Man

In this sense, Ayn Rand is not much different from other artists and intellectuals. Artists often bash the capitalist system. They hate the idea of subjecting their talents to crass commercialism and the crude tastes of the common man. Yet Ludwig von Mises chastised this snobbish attitude in The Anti-Capitalist Mentality: “The judgment about the merits of a work of art is entirely subjective. Some people praise what others disdain. There is no yardstick to measure the aesthetic worth of a poem or of a building.” (1972:75) Mises adds that only through economic progress — the creation of surplus wealth — has the level of taste and art been raised to meet the criteria of the more sophisticated artist. “When modern industry began to provide the masses with the paraphernalia of a better life, their main concern was to produce as cheaply as possible without any regard to aesthetic values. Later, when the progress of capitalism had raised the masses’ standard of living, they turned step by step to the fabrication of things which do not lack refinement and beauty.” (1972:80)

The Flaw in Atlas Shrugged

This brings us to the fatal flaw in Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s basic plot violates the whole rationale of business’s existence–constantly working within the system to find ways to make money. There will never be a Galt’s Gulch, where the world’s greatest entrepreneurs isolated themselves from the rest of the world. There will never be enough principled business leaders to fight the system. The business world does not typically attract ideologues and true believers; it attracts people primarily interested in money making by whatever means. They wouldn’t give John Galt the time of day. As Mises states, “There is little social intercourse between the successful businessmen and the nation’s eminent authors, artists and scientists…Most of the ‘socialites’ are not interested in books and ideas.” (Mises 1972:19) Ayn Rand admired Mises, but apparently she didn’t learn much from his writings. Pity.

Altruism Vs. Selfishness

Howard Roark’s diatribe against consumer sovereignty is undoubtedly a way to introduce Rand’s philosophy of selfishness. There are two extremes here: The philosophy of those who serve and satisfy themselves only, and the philosophy of those who believe that they should strive at all times to serve and sacrifice for others. Rand labels the latter “altruism.” In The Virtue of Selfishness, she opines, “Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil.” (Rand 1999:80) Obviously, Rand protests against altruism and espouses the opposite extreme. As Francisco d’Anconias tells Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged: “Don’t consider our interests or our desires. You have no duty to anyone but yourself.” (Rand 1992:802) No sacrifice, no altruism, just pure egotistical selfishness.

The Adam Smith Solution

The founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, takes a different approach by trying to incorporate both concepts in his “system of natural liberty.” Smith and Rand are in agreement about the universal benefits of a free capitalistic society. But Smith rejects Rand’s vision of selfish independence. He teaches that there are two driving forces behind man’s actions–in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he identifies the first as “sympathy” or “benevolence” toward others in society, while in his Wealth of Nations, he focuses on the second, “self interest,” the right to pursue one’s own business. Smith believes that as the market economy develops and individuals move away from their community, “self interest” becomes a more dominant force than “sympathy.” But both are essential to achieve “universal opulence.” (Smith 1965:11)

Adam Smith is famous for making a statement that sounds Randian in tone: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” (Smith 1965:14) But this statement is often taken out of context. Smith’s self-interest never reaches the Randian selfishness that ignores the interest of others. On the contrary, in Smith’s mind, an individual’s goals cannot be fully achieved in business unless he appeals to the self-interest of others. Smith says so in the very next sentence: “We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” (Ibid.) Moreover, he writes earlier on the same page, “He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour….Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the mean of every such offer.” (Ibid.) Smith’s theme echoes his Christian heritage, particularly the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (See Matthew 7:12)

Perhaps a true capitalist spirit can best be summed up in the Christian commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39) Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises would undoubtedly agree with this creed, but apparently Howard Roark and John Galt — and their creator — would agree with only half. And that’s a great tragedy for the greatest novelist of the 20th century.

References

* Branden, Barbara. 1986. The Passion of Ayn Rand. Doubleday.
* Mises, Ludwig von. 1972 [1956]. The Anti-Capitalist Mentality. Libertarian Press.
* Rand, Ayn. 1992 [1957]. Atlas Shrugged. Dutton Books.
* Rand, Ayn. 1994 [1943]. The Fountainhead. Penguin Books.
* Rand, Ayn. 1999. The Ayn Rand Reader, ed. by Gary Hull and Leonard Peikoff. Penguin Books.
* Smith, Adam. 1965 [1776]. The Wealth of Nations. Modern Library.

Economics for the 21st Century

Economics on Trial
IDEAS ON LIBERTY
January 2000

Economics for the 21st Century
by Mark Skousen

“Nature has set no limit to the realization of our hopes.” — Marquis De Condorcet

Recently I came across the extraordinary writings of the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94), a mathematician with an amazing gift of prophecy in l`age des lumieres. Robert Malthus (1766-1834) ridiculed Condorcet’s optimism in his famous Essay on Population (1798). Today Malthus is well known and Condorcet is forgotten. Yet it is Condorcet who has proven to be far more prescient.

In an essay written over 200 years ago, translated as “The Future Progress of the Mind,” Condorcet foresaw the agricultural revolution, gigantic leaps in labor productivity, a reduced work week, the consumer society, a dramatic rise in the average life span, medical breakthroughs, cures for common diseases, and an explosion in the world’s population.

Condorcet concluded his essay with a statement that accurately describes the two major forces of the twentieth century — the destructive force of war and crimes against humanity, and the creative force of global free-market capitalism. He wrote eloquently of “the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth,” while at the same time celebrating our being “emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue and happiness!”(1)

As we enter the year 2000, the public has focused on the history of the twentieth century. Condorcet’s essay reflects two characteristics of this incredible period. First, the misery and vicious injustices of the past hundred years, and second, the incredible economic and technological advances during the same time.

The Crimes of the Twentieth Century

Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, by far the best twentieth-century history of the world, demonstrates powerfully that this century has been the bloodiest of all world history.* Here is a breakdown of the carnage:

Civilians Killed by Governments (in millions) Years
Soviet Union 62 (1917-91)
China (communist) 35 (1949- )
Germany 21 (1933-45)
China (Kuomintang) 10 (1928-49)
Japan 6 (1936-45)
Other 36 (1900- )
Total 170 million
Deaths in War (in millions)
International wars 30
Civil wars 7
Total 37 million

Economists use a statistic to measure what national output could exist under conditions of full employment, called Potential GDP Imagine the Potential GDP if the communists, Nazis, and other despots hadn’t used government power to commit those hateful crimes against humanity.

Another great French writer, Frederic Bastiat (1801-50), wrote an essay in 1850 on “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.”(3) We do not see the art, literature, inventions, music, books, charity, and good works of the millions who lost their lives in the Soviet gulags, Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot’s killing fields.

The Economic Miracle of the Twentieth Century

Yet the twentieth century was also the best of times, for those who survived the wars and repression. Millions of Americans, Europeans, and Asians were emancipated from the drudgery of all-day work by miraculous technological advances in telecommunications, agriculture, transportation, energy, and medicine. The best book describing this economic miracle is Stanley Lebergott’s Pursuing Happiness: American Consumers in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press, 1993). Focusing on trends in food, tobacco and alcohol, clothing, housing, fuel, housework, health, transportation, recreation, and religion, he demonstrates powerfully how “consumers have sought to make an uncertain and often cruel world into a pleasanter and more convenient place.” As a result, Americans have increased their standard of living at least tenfold in the past 100 years.

What should be the goal of the economist in the new millennium? Certainly not to repeat the blunders of the past. In the halls of Congress, the White House, and academia, we need to reject the brutality of Marxism, the weight of Keynesian big government, and the debauchery of sound currency by interventionist central banks. Most important, ivory-tower economists need to concentrate more on applied economics (like the work of Lebergott) instead of high mathematical modeling.

As far as a positive program is concerned, the right direction can be found in an essay on the “next economics” written by the great Austrian-born management guru Peter F. Drucker almost 20 years ago: “Capital is the future . . . the Next Economics will have to be again micro-economic and centered on supply.” Drucker demanded an economic theory aiming at “optimizing productivity” that would benefit all workers and consumers.(4) Interestingly, Drucker cited approvingly from the work of Robert Mundell, the newest Nobel Prize winner in economics, who is famed for his advocacy of supply-side economics and a gold-backed international currency.

Beware the Enemy

Market forces are on the march. The collapse of Soviet communism has, in the words of Milton Friedman, turned “creeping socialism” into “crumbling socialism.” But let us not be deluded. Bad policies, socialistic thinking, and class hatred die slowly. Unless we are vigilant, natural liberty and universal prosperity will be on the defensive once again.

We need to deregulate, privatize, cut taxes, open borders, stop inflating, balance the budget, and limit government to its proper constitutional authority. We need to teach, write, and speak out for economic liberalization as never before. Let our goal for the coming era be: freedom in our time for all peoples!

1. Marquis de Condorcet, “The Future Progress of the Human Mind,” The Portable Enlightenment Reader, ed. Isaac Kramnick (Penguin Books, 1995), p. 38. Several of Condorcet’s writings can be found in this excellent anthology.
2. Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1992). The best survey of the horrors of communism is The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), written by six French scholars, some of whom are former communists.
3. Frederic Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995 [1964]).
4. Peter F. Drucker, Toward the Next Economics, and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1981), pp. 1-21.

GUESS WHO?

Forecasts & Strategies Personal Snapshots

by Mark Skousen

Which famous economist endorses the deficit-spending actions the federal government took during the Great Depression, prefers John Maynard Keynes over Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises, recommends printing more money as a short-term solution to Japan’s problems, and is strongly opposed to the gold standard? Paul Samuelson? John Kenneth Galbraith? Paul Krugman?

No, believe it or not, it’s Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning “free-market” economist!

Now, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Milton Friedman, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976. For the most part, he is a tireless and eloquent advocate of economic and political liberty. I consider him a good friend.

His magnificent Monetary History of the United States demonstrated conclusively that government bungling, not free enterprise, caused the Great Depression. I highly recommend his books, Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose (available through Laissez Faire Books, 800/326-0996).

However, most of us were pretty shocked at the New Orleans conference when Friedman answered my question, “Who is the greater economist, Ludwig von Mises or John Maynard Keynes?” He did not hesitate: “Keynes!”

Friedman has written elsewhere that he regards Keynes as a brilliant economist who contributed much to the profession. He even defends deficit spending, Keynes’s cure for the Great Depression, while attacking Mises’s and Friedrich Hayek’s “non interventionist” approach during the 1930s. Friedman is a critic of the Austrian theory of the business cycle and personally considers Mises “intolerant” and “fanatic” (though he does not feel that way about Hayek).

Does this mean that Friedman, the famed free-market economist, is a closet Keynesian? Frankly, I’m mystified by Friedman’s favorable comments about John Maynard Keynes. The British economist was the prime mover behind the thesis that the free market is inherently unstable and that big government is necessary to stabilize the economy. Keynes was a sharp critic of classical economics–balanced budgets, laissez faire government, the gold standard and the virtue of thrift—and advocated deficit spending, progressive taxation, fiat money and the “socialization of investment.” Lately Friedman, like Keynes, has advocated an activist monetary policy, that Japan should “print more money” as a short-term solution to its problems. Say again? Printing more money is what caused the economic crisis in Japan and Southeast Asia in the first place. What about tax cuts, deregulation of the banking industry, and other “supply side” solutions? He advocates them too, but not as forcefully.

Like Keynes, Friedman is also anti-gold. He prefers paper money without any backing. I’ve had numerous discussions with Friedman on this vital issue. At New Orleans, he told me he can’t understand the ideology of gold and why gold bugs are so passionate about the gold standard.

“Because it’s honest money,” I explained. I pointed out that under the classic gold standard, the U.S. Treasury backed up every U.S. $20 gold certificate with a $20 gold coin. Hence, if the government wanted to issue another $20 banknote, it had to mint another gold coin–at considerable expense. But today there is no backing and the government can print all the currency it wishes for only 3 cents per banknote. As a result, Washington can depreciate the value of its currency at will.

That’s where Ludwig von Mises comes in. The great Austrian economist demonstrated that monetary inflation is beneficial only in the short run, and that it causes a boom/bust cycle that eventually destroys the assets and savings of its citizens.

Near the end of his talk in New Orleans, Milton Friedman said that despite the academic victory of liberty, “government has become larger and more intrusive since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.” And who is the father of big government? Keynes! Who favors smaller government? Mises. In my judgment, a hundred years from now, Mises will be a major figure in all the economics textbooks, and Keynes will be a mere foot-note.

For an introduction to Mises and Austrian economics, get a copy of Planning for Freedom, 4th edition, which contains “The Essential Von Mises,” by Murray Rothbard (available for $9.95 from Laissez Faire Books, 800/326-0996). You might also find my booklet, Austrian Economics for Investors: Ludwig von Mises Goes to Wall Street, ($9.95 from Laissez Faire Books, 800/326-0996 to be helpful.

$16 BILLION DOWN THE DRAIN

Is the drug war worth it? More than 11,000 American inspectors, agents and other officials are deployed along the Mexican border. In 1996 (latest figures) there were 254 million crossings by people, including 75 million cars and 3.5 million trucks and railway cars entering the U.S. Last year the U.S. border inspectors searched slightly more than a million trucks and cars, and guess how many cocaine busts they made? Six! Gen. McCaffrey, the White House director of drug control policy, called the figure “dispiriting.” I’d call it a “bust.” Clearly the benefit doesn’t meet the cost ($16 billion a year in budget funds). (Source: New York Times Sept. 20, 1998)

The Perseverance of Paul Samuelson’s “Economics”

Journal of Economic Perspectives

By Mark Skousen

Paul Samuelson’s Economics ranks with the most successful textbooks ever published in the field, including the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill and Alfred Marshall. His 15 editions have sold over four million copies and have been translated into 41 languages (see Table 1). My own Econ 101 class at Brigham Young University used the 1967 (7th) edition, which turned out to be near the high water mark in annual sales (Elzinga, 1992, p. 874). Since its first edition in 1948, Samuelson’s Economics has stood the test of time. It has survived nearly half a century of dramatic changes in the world economy and the economics profession: peace and war, boom and bust, inflation and deflation, Republicans and Democrats, and an array of new economic theories. The fiftieth anniversary edition is expected to be published in 1998.

His textbook has so dominated the college classrooms for two generations that when publishers look for new authors for a principles of economics text, they say that they are searching for the “next Samuelson” (Nasar, 1995). Its legacy goes beyond sales figures; in fact, the textbook may no longer be in the top 10 sellers in the U.S. market. However, most of the existing popular textbooks borrow heavily from Samuelson’s pedagogy, both in matters of tone and in the use and exposition of diagrams, like supply and demand, cost curves, the multiplier and the Keynesian cross.

This article does not attempt an encyclopedic review of the 15 editions of Samuelson’s text. Instead, it uses the succeeding generations of Samuelson’s text as a basis for reflecting on what lessons have been emphasized in introductory economics courses over the last 50 years. In doing so, it draws upon a notion suggested by Samuelson in his introduction to the fourteenth edition (p. xi): “A historian of mainstream-economic doctrines, like a paleontologist who studies the bones and fossils in different layers of earth, could date the ebb and flow of ideas by analyzing how Edition I was revised to Edition 2 and, eventually, to Edition 14.” The discussion here will spend little time on pure microeconomics and will focus instead on macroeconomics and policy advice. The reason for de-emphasizing basic microeconomics is that this is the area where the victory of Samuelson’s early pedagogy has been most complete and where the beliefs of economists have changed least. All references to Samuelson’s 15 editions of Economics, including the 12th and subsequent editions co-authored by William D. Nordhaus, are listed according to edition followed by page number.

Table I
The Publishing History of Paul A. Samuelson’s Economics

Edition Year Author(s) Sales
1 1948 Samuelson 121,453
2 1951 Samuelson 137,256
3 1955 Samuelson 191,706
4 1958 Samuelson 273,036
5 1961 Samuelson 331,163
6 1964 Samuelson 441,941
7 1967 Samuelson 389,678
8 1970 Samuelson 328,123
9 1973 Samuelson 303,705
10 1976 Samuelson 317,188
11 1980 Samuelson 196,185
12 1985 Samuelson & Nordhaus N/A
13 1989 Samuelson & Nordhaus N/A
14 1992 Samuelson & Nordhaus N/A
15 1995 Samuelson & Nordhaus N/A

Source: Elzinga (1992, p. 874)
N/A–Not available

For members of the economics profession, looking back at Samuelson’s text is like looking into a mirror that reflects many of our past beliefs. If we are uncomfortable with some of what we see in that mirror, then we must also feel uncomfortable with the version of economics that was taught, and perhaps also uncomfortable with the impact that the teaching of economics may have had on the economy.

The Keynesian Motif

In the introduction to an early edition, Samuelson denied that his primary purpose in writing Economics was to convey any “single Great Message” (3:v). But it is clear that Samuelson intended to introduce the “New Economics” of Keynes to students. The multiplier, the propensity to consume, the paradox of thrift, countercyclical fiscal policy, and C + I + G were all incorporated into the language of Econ 101. The now-familiar Keynesian cross income-expenditure diagram was printed on the cover of the first three editions. Macro preceded micro sections of the book, a novel approach at the lime. Moreover, only John Maynard Keynes was honored with a biographical sketch in early editions, and only Keynes, not Adam Smith nor Karl Marx, was labeled “a many-sided genius” (1:253n).

In the first edition, Samuelson claimed that the Keynesian “theory of income determination” was “increasingly accepted by economists of all schools of thought,” and that its policy implications were “neutral” (1:253). For example, “it can be used as well to defend private enterprise as to limit it, as well to attack as to defend government fiscal interventions.” However, his explanation of the model emphasized that “private enterprise” is afflicted with periodic “acute and chronic cycles” in unemployment, output and prices, which government had a responsibility to “alleviate” (1:41). “The private economy is not unlike a machine without an effective steering wheel or governor,” Samuelson wrote. “Compensatory fiscal policy tries to introduce such a governor or thermostatic control device” (1:412).

In the editions that followed, Samuelson’s rhetorical strategy seemed designed to give students the impression that the economics profession had achieved a monolithic belief structure. By the fourth edition (1958), he declared that “90 percent of American economists have stopped being ‘Keynesian economists’ or- ‘anti-Keynesian economists.’ Instead they have worked toward a synthesis of whatever is valuable in older economics and in modern theories of income determination.” He labeled this new economics a “neo-classical synthesis” (4:209-10), although “demand management” model might be more accurate.

By the seventh edition, although Samuelson was no longer using the “machine minus the steering wheel” metaphor, he continued to emphasize that “a laissez faire economy cannot guarantee that there will be exactly the required amount of investment to ensure full employment.” If full employment did occur, it would be: pure “luck” (7:197-8). He argued that “neo-classical synthesis” was “accepted in its broad outlines by all but a few extreme left-wing and right-wing writers” (7.197-8), a claim that appeared in similar language in all editions until the twelfth (1985), the first co-authored by Nordhaus. When the aggregate supply and aggregate demand framework was introduced in the twelfth (1985) and subsequent editions, they also were shown intersecting at less-than-fu11-ernployment equilibrium (12:91, 186). To the question, “Is there any automatic mechanism that guarantees that saving and investment balance at full employment?” Samuelson and Nordhaus answered “No” (12:139).

In reading Samuelson’s earlier editions, a student might reasonably conclude that there are no other schools of thought, at least in the mainstream. In fact, cf course, Keynesian thought was the subject of furious debate in economics departments across the country through the 1940s and into the 1950s, as young economists steeped in Keynesian thinking entered professorial jobs and collided with the old guard. In the late 1950s and 1960s, as economists explored how certain modeling structures could express either Keynesian or monetarist insights, it was fair to claim broad acceptance of the “neo-classical synthesis” as a modeling strategy. But Samuelson often seemed to imply that widespread acceptance of the formal models also implied an equally widespread belief that there was no mechanism to lead the macro-economy toward full employment, that consumption was too low and saving too high, that macroeconomic stability should be emphasized more than economic growth, and that government intervention was the only hope, points on which the degree of consensus was markedly lower.

This slide from Keynesian theory to particular policies was well illustrated in his seventh edition (1967),when Samuelson cited a statement by Milton Friedman, “We are all Keynesians now.” However, at the end of chapter 11, Samuelson (7:210) then referenced the full quotation from a 1966 interview of Friedman in Time magazine: “As best I can recall it, the context was: ‘In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another nobody is any longer a Keynesian.'” Friedman (1968, p. 15) would later put it this way: “We all use the Keynesian language and apparatus, none of us any longer accepts the initial Keynesian conclusions.”

Anti-saving Views

One way to see how nonpartisan Keynesian modeling shaded into explicit policy conclusions is to follow the anti-saving bias that appeared until the: most recent editions of Samuelson’s text. At less than full employment, there existed a “paradox of thrift,” when “everything goes into reverse” (1:271). In this case, a higher savings rate shrinks the economy, and one is left with the paradoxical result that a higher savings rate may not even increase the quantity of savings. Thus, Samuelson expressed the fear that an increased propensity to save may cause money to “leak” out of the system and “become a social vice” (1:253). To be sure, Samuelson would be pro saving when the economy was at full employment. “But full employment and inflationary conditions have occurred only occasionally in our recent history,” he wrote. “Much of the time there is some wastage of resources, some unemployment, some insufficiency of demand, investment, and purchasing power” (1:271). This paragraph remained virtually the same throughout the first eleven editions (for example, 11:226).1

These anti-thrift leanings extended to Samuelson’s discussion of progressive taxation and the “balanced-budget multiplier.” One “favorable” effect of progressive taxation was: “To the extent that dollars are taken from frugal wealthy people rather than from poor ready spenders, progressive taxes tend to keep purchasing power and jobs at a high level–perhaps at too high a level if inflation is threatening” (1:174; 7:162; 11:161). In his discussion of the “balanced-budget multiplier,” Samuelson stated, “Hence, dollars of tax reduction are-almost as powerful a weapon against mass unemployment as are increases in dollars of government expenditure” (7:234; 11:232). Why “almost”? Because only a portion of the tax cut would be “spent” (the rest would be saved) by the public, wherein all of government expenditures would be spent. In both cases, the implication is that greater consumption, not saving, is the key to prosperity.

Samuelson’s views on saving evolved over the years, with the major changes appearing in the thirteenth edition (1989). In this edition, the diagram showing savings leaking out of the economic system disappeared. The “paradox of thrift” doctrine, which had been a principal feature in all the editions until then, was made optional in the thirteenth edition (13:183-5) and removed in the fourteenth. However, it returned in 1995 in the fifteenth edition (15:455-7). Samuelson wrote:, “Disappearing to zero was, in my reconsidered judgment, an overshoot.” He argued that Japan in 1992-94 could be viewed as a modern-day example of the paradox of thrift. Nordhaus has pointed to Europe in the early 1990s and America in the early 1980s as other potential examples of the perversity of saving.2 Then, in the thirteenth edition, the authors added a major section bemoaning the gradual decline in the U.S. savings rate (13:142-4). Samuelson and Nordhaus list several potential causes of low savings: federal budget deficits, Social Security high inflation and high taxes. They also assert a strong correlation between the race of savings and economic growth: “[V]irtually all [macroeconomists] believe: that the savings rate is too low to guarantee a vital and healthy rate of investment in the 1990s” (13:144).

Samuelson’s evolving view on saving is also reflected in his discussion of government budget deficits. In the first edition, Samuelson pointed out: “According to the countercyclical view, the government budget need not be in balance in each and every month or year…. Only over the whole business cycle need the budget be in balance” (1:410-1). But remember that Samuelson argued (until the twelfth edition) that unemployed resources almost always existed; thus, this countercyclical view justified very common federal deficits (1:271; 7:228; 11:226), with less guidance as to when or how the offsetting surpluses were likely to occur.

Although Samuelson issued a series of warnings and caveats regarding the burgeoning national debt, the prevailing sense of the first 10 or so editions was that deficit spending was not a significant problem. The first edition favors the “we owe it to ourselves” argument: “The interest on an internal debt is paid by Americans to Americans; there is no direct loss of goods and services” (1:427). In the seventh edition (1967),  after  raising  the  specter  of  “crowding  out”  of private investment, he went on to say: “On the other hand, incurring debt when there is no other feasible way to move the C + I + G equilibrium intersection up toward full employment actually represents a negative burden on the intermediate future to the degree that it induces more current capital formation than would otherwise take place!” (7:346). At the end of an appendix on the national debt, Samuelson compared federal deficit financing to private debt financing, such as AT&T’s “never-ending” growth in debt (7:358; 11:347). By implication, government debt could also grow continually, rather than necessarily being balanced over the business cycle.

In this spirit, Samuelson offered a favorable reaction to the burgeoning deficits in the early 80s: “As federal budget deficits grew sharply over the 1982-1984 period, consumer spending grew rapidly, increasing aggregate demand, raising GNP and leading to a sharp decline in unemployment. The torrential pace of economic activity in 1983-1984 was an expansion, fueled by demand-side growth, in the name of supply-side economics” (12:192). But in that same edition, The AT&T comparison disappeared, the Reagan deficits were labeled as “skyrocketing” (12:349-50), and the crowding out of capital became “the most serious consequence of a large public debt” (12:361). By the fifteenth edition, Samuelson and Nordhaus were declaring “a large public debt can clearly be detrimental to long run economic growth. … Few economists today have words of praise for America’s large and growing debt” (15:638-9).

Evolving: Views on Monetary Policy

Samuelson used to emphasize fiscal policy over monetary policy as a tool for stabilization; now the reverse is true. The transition is unmistakable. In 1955 he wrote, “Today few economists regard federal reserve monetary policy as a panacea for controlling the business cycle” (3:316). In 1975, after labeling monetarism as “an extreme view,” he declared, “both fiscal and monetary policies mactc:r rrlrcc:h” (9:329). In 1995, Samuelson and Nordhaus reversed this traditional view, observing, “Fiscal policy is no longer a major tool of stabilization policy in the United States. Over the foreseeable future, stabilization policy will be performed by Federal Reserve monetary policy” (15:645).

This evolution of the perceived role of monetary policy can also be seen in the treatment of money. Early editions spent considerable space, more than most other textbooks, on the classical gold standard and the origin of money and banking. Samuelson’s preference in the earlier editions seemed to be for a government-managed monetary system, but not one based on gold. While recognizing gold’s role as a rein on monetary authorities’ ability to inflate the money supply, Samuelson was sharply critical of gold as a monetary standard. A strict gold standard was historically deflationary, Samuelson argued, because “The long term supply of gold cannot possibly keep up with the liquidity needs of growing international trade”(8:697). Deflation was dangerous because “falling price levels tend to lead to labor unrest, strikes, unemployment and radical movements generally” (8:629). Gold was an “anachronism” (8:700).

But after the United States officially left the gold standard in August 1971, Samuelson warned that the world was “in uneasy limbo” (9:652). He gradually warmed to the idea of flexible exchange rates, especially as futures markets developed (9:724-5). By 1995, Samuelson and Nordhaus were no longer deeply concerned about an international monetary crisis or breakdown in trade under a pure fiat money system. They declared that international currency management and central bank coordination in the last half-century was “one of unparalleled success” (15:736). Gold’s role had become so moribund that by the fifteenth edition, only two pages were devoted to the yellow metal.

The quantity theory of money was discussed in the first edition, although Irving Fisher, frequently cited as the modern founder of the quantity theory, was not mentioned (1:290-7). (Fisher was cited in earlier editions regarding capital theory, but not for his quantity equation.) No one expected Samuelson to cite Milton Friedman in the early editions–after all, Friedman’s studies in monetary theory and history did not gain wide credence until the early 1960s–but Samuelson soon made up for lost time. Friedman began to be quoted in 1961 (5:315), and Irving Fisher was given some credit by 1970 (8:264).

Defender of an Activist Government

Through 15 editions, Samuelson has appeared to favor a substantial role for the state. In an early edition, he forecast that while the growth in government was not “inevitable,” there was no end in sight (4:112). In a later edition, he observed, “No longer does modern man seem to act as if he believed ‘That government governs best which governs least'” (8:140). In keeping with the Keynesian motif, a large government provided “built-in stabilizers” to the economy, such as taxes, unemployment compensation, farm aid and welfare payments that tend to rise during a recession (8:332-4).

In discussing the overall U.S. tax burden, Samuelson has argued that to a large extent, higher taxes are a byproduct of economic and social development. Several editions displayed a chart showing that “poor, underdeveloped countries show a persistent tendency to tax less, relative to national product, than do more advanced countries” (4:113). In a later edition, Samuelson added, “With affluence come greater interdependence and the desire to meet social needs, along with less need to meet urgent private necessities” (14:300). Samuelson also pointed out with international comparisons that the United States lags behind most Western nations in terms of tax burden. Thus, “our government share is a modest one” (8:140n; 12:698; 15:278).

On the subject of cutting taxes, Samuelson has supported Keynesian oriented tax cuts, though not supply-side tax cuts. In the seventh edition, he argued in terms reminiscent of the Laffer curve thesis that a tax cut may pay for itself in increased government revenues: “To the extent that a tax cut succeeds in stimulating business, our progressive tax system will collect extra revenues out of the higher income levels. Hence a tax cut may in the long run imply little (or even no) loss in federal revenues, and hence no substantial increase in the long run public debt” (7:343). However, after marginal tax rates were reduced in the 1980s during the Reagan administration, Samuelson and Nordhaus wrote: “Laffer-curve prediction that revenues would rise following the tax cuts has proven false” (14:332).

What about the supply-side argument that high tax rates discourage work, saving and risk taking! The answer was “unclear.” Samuelson suggested that progressive taxes might actually make some people “work harder in order to make their million” (10:171). He argued, “Many doctors, scientists, artists, and businessmen, who enjoy their jobs, and the sense of power or accomplishment that they bring, will work as hard for $30,000 as for $100,000″ (10:171), a sentiment repeated in later editions (15:310).

In keeping with this sentiment, Samuelson has been a strong supporter of the welfare state and antipoverty programs as a response to inequality. “Our social conscience and humanitarian standards have completely changed, so that today we insist upon providing certain minimum standards of existence for those who are unable to provide for themselves,” he wrote early on (1:158).  He  denied  that welfare expenditures were “anti-capitalistic” (7:146). Moreover, “Contrary to the ‘law’ enunciated by Australia’s Colin Clark–that taking more than 25 per cent of GNP is a guarantee of quick disaster–the modern welfare state has been both humane and solvent” (8:140). Although welfare assistance was “indeed costly” and “often inefficient” (11:761), there was little choice, since private charity has always been inadequate” (11:760). His discussion of welfare reform focused on an endorsement of Milton Friedman’s proposed “negative income tax” (11:761 -3). But by the 1995 edition, Samuelson and Nordhaus seem less certain and are asking: “Have antipoverty programs helped…[or] produced counterproductive responses?” (15:372).

For society’s retirement programs, Samuelson has been a strong supporter of a pay-as-you-go Social Security system. Earlier editions contained a chapter on “Personal Finance and Social Security,” which called the pay-as-you-go system “a cheap, and sensible way” to provide retirement benefits to individuals.” Samuelson argued “It is one of the great advantages of a pay-as-you-go social security system that it rests on the general tax capacity of the nation; if hyperinflation wiped out all private: insurance and savings, social security could nonetheless start all over again, little the poorer” (4:179). But this statement–along with the chapter on personal finance and Social Security–was dropped after the fifth edition. His recommendation to buy U.S. savings bonds earning 3 percent, which were “a very great bargain,” was removed after the third edition.’

Samuelson has spent little space on Social Security since then, other than reporting higher payroll taxes with each edition. For example, in the 1985, edition, Samuelson and Nordhaus noted, “The payroll tax has been the fastest growing part of federal revenues, rising from nothing in 1929, to 18 percent of` revenues in 1960, to 36 percent in 1985″ (12:732). The 1995 edition mentions in one paragraph that Social Security taxes may contribute to a decline in thrift (15:432-5). There are several reasons why Social Security may deserve more attention. More than half of American workers pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. Social Security is in the center of an argument about intergenerational equity. And there are a number of interesting proposals revising the system, including privatization.

The role of government extends into a debate between market anti-government failure. Mainstream economic wisdom, as embodied by the Samuelson text, has tended to emphasize numerous examples of “market failure” (15:30-5, 164-l77, 272-3, 280-2, 291-2, 329, 347-52), including imperfect competition, externalities, inequities, monopoly power and public goods. Samuelson pointed out that the government could take of “an almost infinite variety of roles in response to the flaws in the market mechanism” (15:30-1). At one level, this is all fair enough. But for several decades, there has also been a line of thought, perhaps best embodied in the work of Ronald Cease, that points out that actors in markets may be quite creative in finding ways to address market failures.

Consider the example of lighthouses as a public good. Since 1961, Samuelson has used the lighthouse as an example of a public good, one that private enterprise could not run profitably because of the non-excludable, non-depletable nature of the service. But Cease (1974) wrote an article pointing out that numerous lighthouses in England were built and owned by private individuals and companies prior to the nineteenth century, who earned profits by charging tolls on ships docking at nearby ports.5 To be sure, some of these lighthouse organizations had more the flavor of private voluntary organizations than of perfectly competitive markets; nonetheless, an introductory economics class might well be interested in the fact that free economic actors can work out practical ways of building and paying for certain public goods without explicit government provision.

Explanations of market failure often deserve a counterbalancing discussion of government failure, lest the unwary student assume that economists believe in imperfect markets but perfect government. Various editions of the text do argue that governments should follow market-oriented policies when addressing a market failure. In the most recent edition, for example, the U.S. health-care debate was analyzed in terms of a list of “market failures” in the health-care industry, together with a market-oriented criticism of Clinton’s proposed price controls and nationalized health services in foreign countries (15:289-96). Similarly, market failures and market-oriented solutions also are stressed in the environmental arena (15:351-3).

The argument that certain types of government action are preferable to others would seem to open the door to a discussion of whether government can be counted on to enact appropriate policies. Some textbooks now have substantial sections on “government failure,” but the broad possibility of such failures has been downplayed in the Samuelson texts. In the 1955 edition, he cited a Herbert Hoover study indicating “very little” waste in federal spending, only $3 billion (3:119). Since the twelfth edition, the subject index has numerous listings under “market failure,” but none under “government failure.” Surely Samuelson’s criticism of price controls would fall under this category (1:463-6; 8:370-3; 15:66-71). Apart from price fixing, Samuelson and Nordhaus offered only two brief mentions of government failure in the fifteenth (1995) edition, a question at the end of chapter 2 on “Markets and Government in a Modern Economy” (15:37) and a mention in their discussion of “public choice theory,” which claims that “harmful” government policies are “probably rare” (15:285).

The Family Tree of Economics: The Mainstream and Marxism

Samuelson’s desire to homogenize mainstream economics into one grand “neo-classical synthesis” is evident in his “family tree of economics.” Beginning with the fourth edition (1958, flap), the author created a genealogical diagram of economic thought from the Greeks to the present. By the time the twentieth century was reached, only two schools of thought remained-followers of Marxist-Leninist socialism and those of the Marshall-Keynes “neo-classical synthesis.” In this chart, Adam Smith and the classical school were claimed as ancestors of the neoclassical synthesis by way of Alfred Marshall. The Chicago monetarists and the Austrians do not appear on the chart until the twelfth edition (1985), when “Chicago Libertarianism” and “Rational-Expectations Macroeconomics” surface alongside “Modern Mainstream Economics.” Samuelson and Nordhaus include the Austrians, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, in the “Chicago Libertarianism” category (13:828). This categorization is questionable. The Austrians, with their emphasis on subjectivism and microeconomics, consider themselves neither followers of the Chicago school nor philosophical descendants of Walras and Marshall. Then, in the fourteenth and fifteenth editions, the other schools again disappear from the family tree, apparently subsumed by the single category of “Modern Mainstream Economics.”

Over the years, Samuelson has gradually given more space in his textbook to non-Keynesian schools. By the eighth edition (1970), Milton Friedman was cited a half dozen times. In the ninth edition (1973), he recommended Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom as a “rigorously logical, careful, often persuasive elucidation of an important point of view” (9:848). The ninth edition also adds a significant chapter, “Winds of Change: Evolution of Economic Doctrines,” which summarizes the spectrum of warring schools, including institutionalists (Veblen and Galbraith), the New Left and radical economics.

References to Marx and international socialism are scarce and random in the early editions. In the first edition, Marx was declared “quite wrong” in his prediction that the “poor are becoming poorer” (1:67). Samuelson expressed suspicion of Soviet central planning, and he considered the U.S. brand of “mixed-enterprise superior (1:603). Attacks on Marxism expanded with each edition. Marx’s prediction of falling real wages had been proven “dead wrong” (4:757). Lenin had been wrong in his charge that Western nations practiced imperialism for economic gain (4:756-7). The profit rate had “stubbornly refused to follow” the Marxist law of decline (7:707).

But starting with the ninth edition, references to the ideas and followers of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels expanded dramatically, including a biography of Marx and a nine-page appendix on Marxian economics. In the preface to that edition, Samuelson wrote: “It is a scandal that, until recently, even majors in economics were taught nothing of Karl Marx except he was an unsound fellow” (9:ix). Samuelson added in the tenth edition that “at least a tenth of U. S. economists” fell into the “radical” category (10:849). However, this expanded coverage did not mute his criticism of Marxist beliefs. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the discussion of Marx shrank from 12 pages in the fourteenth edition to three pages in the fifteenth (1995) edition, including a two-paragraph biography of Marx, and no appendix on Marxian economics.” Typical of the tone: “Marx was wrong about many things–notably the superiority of socialism as an economic system–but that does not diminish his stature as an important economist” (15:7)

Central Planning and Soviet Growth

In very early editions, Samuelson expressed skepticism of socialist entral planning: “Our mixed free enterprise system … with all its faults, has given the world a century of progress such as an actual socialized order–might find it impossible to equal” (1:604; 4:782). But with the fifth edition (1961), although expressing some skepticism statistics, he stated that economists “seem to agree that her recent growth rates have been considerably greater than ours as a percentage per year,” though less than West Germany, Japan, Italy and France. (5:829). The fifth through eleventh editions showed a graph indicating the gap between the United States and the USSR narrowing and possibly even disappearing (for example, 5:830). The twelfth edition replaced the graph with a table declaring that between 1928 and 1983, the Soviet Union had grown at a remarkable 4.9 percent annual growth rate, higher than did the United States, the United Kingdom, or even Germany and Japan (12:776). By the thirteenth edition (1989), Samuelson and Nordhaus declared, “the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive” (13:837). Samuelson and Nordhaus were riot alone in their optimistic: views about Soviet central planning; other popular textbooks were also generous in their descriptions of economic life under communism prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.7

By the next edition, the fourteenth, published during the demise of the Soviet Union, Samuelson and Nordhaus dropped the word “thrive” and placed question marks next to the Soviet statistics, adding “the Soviet data are questioned by many experts” (14:389). The fifteenth edition (1995) has no chart at all, declaring Soviet Communism “the failed model” (15:714-8). To their credit, Samuelson and Nordhaus (15:737) were willing to admit that they and other textbook writers failed to anticipate the collapse of communism: “In the 1980s and 1990s, country after country threw off the shackles of communism and stifling central planning–not because the textbooks convinced them to do so but because they used their own eyes and saw how the market-oriented countries of the West prospered while the command economies of the East collapsed.”

Where are the Economic Success Stories?

While Samuelson overplayed the economy of the Soviet Union, he underplayed the successful postwar economies of Germany and Japan, and the newly developing countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. From the second to the fourteenth edition, Samuelson briefly mentioned the dramatic story of West Germany’s post war recovery to elucidate the benefits of currency reform and price freedom (2:36; 14:36). Various editions also discuss Germany’s bout with hyperinflation in the early 1920s. But his one-paragraph account offers little space to convey the magnitude of the subsequent German economic recovery from a devastating world war. The same could be said of Japan’s postwar economic miracle. In 1945, Japan was desperate, starving, shattered; half a century later, it was an economic superpower. Yet Samuelson barely mentioned Japan. In 1970, he offered a sentence in his chapter on economic growth, with no further comment: “Japan’s recent sprint has been astounding” (8:796). In the 1980s and 1990s, even as many textbooks offered a more global approach, Samuelson and Nordhaus still practically ignored Japan. In the twelfth edition, they asked, “For example, many people have wondered why countries like Japan or the Soviet Union have grown so much more rapidly than the United States over recent decades” (12:798). They spent many pages discussing the Soviet Union, but except for a brief reference to “rapid technical change,” they were silent on Japan. The same pattern holds for the fifteenth (1995) edition.

What about the other high-performing economies in East Asia? They were not mentioned until the thirteenth edition (1089), at which point Samuelson and Nordhaus devoted two paragraphs to Hong Kong and other East Asian miracles (13:832, 886). In the fifteenth edition, they touched briefly on the causes of East Asian development, including the newly industrialized countries of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand (15:712-3).The economic success stories of Latin America (Chile, Mexico, and so on) receive no mention at ail. Privatization, a rapidly growing phenomenon around the world, is virtually ignored in Samuelson’s and most other American textbooks.

Why such a dearth of economic success stories? Space limitations must have played a role. Another reason is that Samuelson’s rhetorical approach, like that of many textbooks, is to paint with a broad brush, to discuss concepts and problems in general, but seldom to focus on specific examples. Free-market economists might point out that some policies adopted by many of these high-growth countries–high savings rates, a general reliance on free markets, relatively low government spending and budgets often in surplus, little or no taxation on savings and investment–do not mix well with Keynesian biases. On the other hand, other policies–public education, land reform, import protection and export promotion, targeted government investment subsidies and close government/industry ties–favor Samuelson’s approach.

The Impact of Samuelson’s Textbook

It is hard to gauge the influence of Samuelson’s textbook, or in general the impact of introductory courses in economics, on U.S. policymakers or corporate executives. Samuelson has been willing to claim, with tongue only slightly in check, a considerable impact. He has made a well-known comment: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws–or crafts its advanced treaties–if I can write its economics textbooks” (Nasar, 199,5, C1). He has also expressed hope that his textbook would be a reference guide for former students. “Where the election of 1984 rolls around,” he wrote in 1967,”all the hours that the artists and editors and I have spent in making the pages as informative and authentic as possible will seem to me well spent if somewhere a voter turns to the old book from which he learned economics for a rereasoning of the economic principle involved” (7:vii).

The hope is worth raising not only for Samuelson’s text, but for all those students who once took an introductory economics course. To the extent that Samuelson’s text has been a much-imitated leader among all principles textbooks, it is reasonable to ask how helpful these texts would have been in thinking about the issues of public debt, inflation, foreign competition, recession, unemployment and taxes that have challenged the public over the past 50 years.

On the positive side, Samuelson must be congratulated for his optimism about the future of the American economy. Although he anticipated a deep recession following World War II (Sobel, 1980, pp. 101-2), he did not succumb to the lure of fellow Keynesian Alvin Hansen’s stagnation thesis (1:418-23). He wisely rejected the doomsayers’ frequent calls for another Great Depression or imminent bankruptcy due to an excessive national debt. “Our mixed economy–wars aside–has a great future before it” (6:809), he wrote. To his credit, Samuelson has been willing to update his textbook in keeping with new events and new theories. The virtues of monetary policy, savings and markets have received more emphasis in recent issues.

Samuelson offered a balanced brand of economics that found mainstream support. While Samuelson (especially in the earlier editions) favored heavy involvement in “stabilizing” the economy as a whole, he appeared relatively laissez faire in the micro sphere, defending free trade, competition and free markets in agriculture. He was critical of Marx, weighed the burdens of the national debt, denied that war and price controls were good for the economy, wrote eloquently on the virtues of a “mixed” free-enterprise economy, suggested that big business may sometimes be benevolent (1:132; 15:172-4) and questioned whether labor unions could raise wages (2:606; 1.5:238). This advice could often be summarized as an injunction to rely broadly on markets, hut also to be aware that markets might fail in many cases, thus creating a situation where government intervention could be justified.

Samuelson was unable to foresee many of the major economic events and crises, but this is surely no criticism. After all, most mainstream economists failed to foresee the stagflations and dollar devaluations of the 1970s or the S&L crisis and trade deficits of the 1980s. To some extent, introductory textbooks will always play catch-up to events. For example, in writing about the effects of federal deposit insurance and central bank authority, Samuelson confidently predicted in 1980:

“In the 1980s, the only banks to fail will be those involving fraud or gross negligence” (11:282). By the 1992 edition, after the collapse of hundreds of saving and loans, Samuelson and Nordhaus wrote, “Many economists believe that the deposit insurance system must be drastically overhauled if this sad episode is not to be repeated in the future” (14:535).

But although it would be unfair to criticize anyone for not being clairvoyant about events, it is surely fair criticism of a principles of economics course to point out that some of its advice seems questionable in light of current knowledge. Indeed, Samuelson has hinted in later editions that he would no longer agree with some of his analysis in earlier editions. Today, he probably would be comfortable saying, as he did in the preface of the eighth edition, that his textbook contained “nothing essential being omitted” or “nothing that later will have to be unlearned as wrong.” By the fourteenth edition, he confessed, “What was great in Edition 1 is old hat by Edition 3; and maybe has ceased to be true: by Edition 14″ (14:xiv).

When faced with such rueful comments by an author of Samuelson’s stature, a certain degree of modesty seems warranted for the rest of the economics profession. The successive editions of Samuelson’s textbook illustrate that the profession’s view of both principles and facts can shift substantially with recent experience, whether the point is the Keynesian lessons that came out of the Great Depression or the speed of Soviet economic growth. An introductory course requires some natural simplification, but it should aim to avoid false certainty.

Samuelson’s textbook has delivered a great deal of economic wisdom. For many economists, the positive side of the balance sheet has outweighed the negative. Indeed, his defenders might ask: Might the United States and the West have suffered another Great Depression if Samuelson had not emphasized the need for “automatic stabilizers”? Did not Samuelson’s heralding of the “mixed” economy curb the appetite of third world countries for national socialism?

We will never know, of course, but it is humbling to speculate on whether alterations in principles textbooks might have led to a different U.S. economy. Might the United States have experienced higher rates of saving, investment and growth if Samuelson had moderated his anti-thrift tone sooner? Would the U.S. economy and financial system have been less volatile if textbook writers had given earlier credence to monetarism? Would the United States and developing countries be growing more rapidly if textbook writers had emphasized long-term growth (as characterized by West Germany, Japan and the East Asian economic miracles) over macroeconomic stabilization policies (inflation-unemployment tradeoffs)? Would attitudes toward the Soviet Union and markets have been different if principles texts had been more critical of central planning and Soviet growth statistics? In my judgment, it is difficult to sidestep the conclusion that as the teaching of introductory economics has followed in Samuelson’s footsteps, its advice has contributed to certain of the economic problems that the United States faces today.

Thanks to Paul Samuelson, William Nordhaus, Milton Friedman, Roger Garrison, Kenna C. Taylor, Larry Wimmer, Michael Betterman and Jo Ann Skousen for comments and background materials. Special appreciation to Paul Samuelson and Ken Elzinga for locating hard-to-find early editions of Economics. I would also like to thank the editors, Alan H. Krueger, J. Bradford De Long and especially Timothy Taylor, for their many helpful changes and suggestions.

References

Cease, R. H.,”The Lighthouse in Economics.” In The Firm, the Market, and the Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 3R7-215; originally published in Journal of Law and Economics, October 1974, 17:2, 35776.

Elzinga, Kenneth G., “The Eleven Principles of Economics,” Southern Economic Journal, April 1992, 58:4, 861-79.

Friedman, Milton, “Why Economists Disagree.” In Dollars and Deficits: Living with America’s Economic Problems. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968, pp. 1-16.

Lipsey, Richard G., Peter O. Steiner, and Douglas D. Purvis, Economics. 8th ed., New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Nasar, Silvia, “Hard Act to Follow?,” New York Times, March 14, l995, C1, C8.

Samuelson, Paul A., Economics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948 and various years.

Skousen, Mark, Economics on Trial. Homewood, Ill.. Irwin, 1991.

Sobel, Robert, The Worldly Economists New York: Free Press, 1980.

Footnotes

1 Here is all area in which contemporary Keynesians (Heller, Solow, Okun, Ackley, et al.) might not be so anti-saving as was Samuelson. The 1962 Economic Report to the President, issued at the high tide of  orthodox Keynesianism, reflected an implicit faith that the economy would always be running near full employment. The business cycle had been tamed and any downturns would he quickly countered. Such a belief meant that savings could then play a positive role. Apparently, Samuelson was not as optimistic about the government’s ability to maintain full employment equilibrium.

2 The Samuelson quotation is taken from personal correspondence dated January 20, 1995. The Nordhaus sentiment was also expresed in private correspondence, February 4, 1995.

3 Samuelson was prescient in his first edition about the prospects for programs along the lines of Medicare and Medicaid: “It is not unlikely that in the next generation payments for sickness and disability, and a comprehensive public health and hospital program, will have been introduced” (1:222).

4 Based on his Keynesian philosophy, Samuelson also tended to argue that people should avoid saving in difficult economic times.  “Never again can people be urged in times of depression to tighten their belts, to save more in order to restore prosperity. The result will be just the reverse–a worsening of the vicious deflationary spiral” (1:272; 6:238-9; 10:239). In the third edition, Samuelson denounced families who “hysterically cut down on consumption when economic clouds arise” (3:339) He echoed the advice of Harvard economist Frank W. Taussig, who during the Great Depression went on the radio “urge everyone to save less, to spend more on consumption” (7:226) Whatever the merits of this advice as macroeconomic wisdom, it would surely increase the financial risk for the individuals involved. ‘I wrote to Samuelson about this issue. His response was: “If you read carefully the Coase article on lighthouses, you will see that the historical examples he described are not about the ‘free rider’ problem. When scrambling devices become available to meet the problem, there still remains the deadweight inefficiency intrinsic to positive pricing for the marginal use of something that involves only zero or derisory marginal cost” (personal correspondence, August 9, 1995). Without disputing these points, one can continue to hold the conclusion expressed in the text, that rather than implying that governments are the only agencies that can provide lighthouses, it would be interesting to discuss the method of lighthouse provision that actually occurred.

6 The reduction in space allocated to Marxist economics has been accompanied by less discussion about the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who warned earlier that soviet central planning could not work and could not calculate prices and costs accurately. Samuelson and Nordhaus mention the role of Mises and Hayek in the socialist calculation debate from editions nine through 12 (9:620; 12:693), but have dropped them from the most recent editions.

7 For example, in their eighth edition, Lipsey, Steiner and Purvis (1987, pp.885-6) claimed, “The Soviet citizen’s standard of living is so much higher than it was even a decade ago, and is rising so rapidly, that it probably seems comfortable to them (cf. Skousen, 1991, pp.213-15).

Who is the Greatest Economist of the 20th Century?

WHO IS THE GREATEST ECONOMIST OF THE 20TH CENTURY?

“But half a century later, it is Keynes who has been toppled and (_________________), the fierce advocate of free markets, who is preeminent.” –Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights, p. 15.

Who deserves to be the greatest economist of the 20th century? This question was debated at my session of the annual American Economic Association meetings in New York City last month. We polled the audience of about 150 economists, and John Maynard Keynes won. Keynes revolutionized the economics profession by contending that the free-market economy is inherently unstable and requires government intervention (through deficit spending, progressive taxation and monetary inflation) to keep it on the path of full employment.

Of course, the audience may have been biased since the topic of the session was on Keynes’s most famous proponent, Paul A. Samuelson. Still, Keynesian economics–the economics of government interventionism at the macro level–is very much alive, and therefore, Keynes must be regarded as the most influential economist of the 20th century.

FRIEDMAN’S COUNTERREVOLUTION

However, influence is not the same as greatness. Milton Friedman came in second in the informal poll and in terms of greatness, he exceeds Keynes. Time magazine’s editor-in-chief, Norman Pearlstine, gives the nod to Friedman as the “economist of the century” (Time, December 7, 1998). And in a recent study of living economists most frequently cited in college textbooks, Milton Friedman came in #1 by a landslide. He was cited in all the textbooks. (Paul Samuelson came in a distant #12.) Friedman’s contributions are many: He demonstrated that government, not free enterprise, caused the Great Depression (through a disastrous monetary policy); he showed that monetary policy was more powerful than fiscal policy; he made the case against progressive taxation, deficit spending and monetary inflation. He won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for these efforts. His best books are Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose (both still in print, available through Laissez Faire Books, 800/326-0996).

Sharing the Prize

Milton Friedman should also share the prize of greatest economist with Friedrich A. Hayek, the Austrian who studied under Ludwig von Mises. As Yergin notes in The Commanding Heights (quoted above), Hayek made a convincing case against socialist central planning in The Road to Serfdom and other anti-socialist works. He developed a powerful tool for explaining business cycles, known as Austrian capital theory. His theory of knowledge and entrepreneurship is vital in today’s global economy. He rightly won the Nobel Prize in 1974.

So my vote goes to both Friedman and Hayek.

WHO DO YOU CONSIDER THE GREATEST INVESTOR?

As we approach the end of the 20th century, scholars are compiling lists of the greatest writers, politicians, entrepreneurs and scientists of this remarkable century.

I know who gets my vote for greatest investor: Warren Buffett. Not only has he consistently beaten the market, but his optimism about America has paid off handsomely. Too bad he doesn’t own any Internet stocks. He could have been the world’s first trillionaire!

R.I.P., THE SUPERBOWL INDICATOR

I bid a fond farewell to the Superbowl Indicator. Every so often, market players get caught up in an irrational indicator that allegedly makes it easy to predict the markets. In the 1970s it was the soybean-silver ratio. In the 1980s it was the Kondratieff Cycle. And in the 1990s it was the Superbowl Indicator. Supposedly, if the National Football Conference (NFC) won the Superbowl, stocks would rise; if the American Football Conference (AFC) won, stocks would fall. Amazingly, this indicator worked for decades. Throughout the 1990s, the NFC team won and the stock market rose. Then last year the Denver Broncos of the AFC won, and many stock market pundits exited the market or sold short. Big mistake–the S&P 500 rose 28% in 1998! And thus ended once and for all the Superbowl Indicator. Good riddance, and may it be replaced by sound strategies based on free-market economics!