Economists Are Strange People – Washington Times

Would you take a university seriously if some professors in the geography department argue that the world is flat, or a medical school where some professors argue that the way to cure “a fever” is to bleed the patient (as has been done for George Washington)?

Yet we have a world in which many colleges have so-called professors of economics who argue for socialism, price controls, or virtually unlimited government spending, government-created money, or the lack of it. limits on tax rates. If their ideas were simply contained in the academy, it wouldn’t be so bad; instead, they are taken seriously by the ignorant media and political establishment.

Before 1776, no one called themselves an economist, nor was there an academic field known as economics – even though it is now one of the most popular academic majors. Despite its recent vintage, the field of economics has a widely recognized founding father – Adam Smith (1723-1790) – who was professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Until the 1700s, per capita incomes had barely changed from the time of recorded history; and Thomas Hobbes correctly noted that the man’s life was “lonely, poor, brutal, and short”. The Industrial Revolution began in England with the invention of the steam engine, which would free mankind from physical drudgery. The evolution of private property rights in England had begun with the Magna Carta of 1215, allowing the widespread accumulation of capital and its productive investment. The Scottish Enlightenment was well advanced, emphasizing rational thought and personal and economic freedom.

Smith was a key figure in the Enlightenment who was influenced – and vice versa – by his close and older friend David Hume and by his American contemporary Benjamin Franklin, whom he met during Franklin’s stays in England and France. Despite the immense changes in the economic order, no seminal work had been published on this subject until Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” in March 1776 (246 years ago this month). What is amazing is that Smith was right in nearly all of his policy observations and recommendations, including the importance of free trade and free markets and competition in providing the common man with nearly limitless opportunities for ‘a better life.

In the two and a half centuries since “The Wealth of Nations” many others have made valuable contributions to the economy, while a sizable number have been erroneous but attractive, causing great misery. Fortunately, Mark Skousen has just published the 4th edition of his great book, “The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers”.

Mr. Skousen has produced the best book on virtually anyone who has had a significant impact on the field of economics – for better or for worse – regardless of their political leanings. Despite being an economist with a definite political point of view, he treats the many characters he covers with considerable fairness – even bad actors. Mr. Skousen presents the pros and cons of his subjects’ contributions to the field in clear, understandable language. He also describes many of their eccentricities, including sex scandals not usually associated with a profession considered boring by those who have only encountered the ordinary economist.

Several notable economists like Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), best known as the author of “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, were downright disagreeable people. Veblen despised both capitalists and Marxists, and almost everyone else, and was often careless or worse in appearance – but had the redeeming quality of being very provocative.

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French essayist and economist, best known for his clever parables destroying economic errors, such as the “Candle Makers’ Petition” and the “Broken Window Theory”. As Bastiat writes: “There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist limits himself to the visible effect, and the good economist takes into account the visible effect and the effects that ‘we need to predict. ”

Much of the struggle of economic thought in the 20th century can be understood in the rise of John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and his followers, notably Paul Samuelson (1915-2009), and their subsequent fall. This was reflected in the fall and subsequent rise of FA Hayek (1899-1992), an early contemporary of Keynes, and the rise of Milton Friedman (1912-2006), a contemporary of Mr. Samuelson.

Despite their genius, neither Keynes nor Samuelson had as good an understanding of the unexpected as Hayek and Friedman.

The new 4th edition of Mr. Skousen’s book takes the reader through the pandemic and the rise of cryptocurrencies. Mr. Skousen is best known as an economic entrepreneur (he is the creator of the annual FreedomFest attended by thousands in Las Vegas), then as an academic, although he has taught at several universities, and is now adjunct professor at Chapman University. He is also the author of many books, including several textbooks.

Few people know who the great economists were and what they contributed. Mr. Skousen has done the world a service by producing a book that is a pleasure to read cover to cover or as a reference given its detailed source notes.

• Richard W. Rahn is President of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and of MCon LLC.

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