My Class Autobiography

by Don Boudreaux on June 5, 2006

in Weblogs

Bryan Caplan encourages each of us to write our class autobiography.  Here’s mine.

For
as far back as I can see, both sides of my family were (and remain)
working class.  My paternal grandfather was the youngest of (I think) a
dozen kids; he was born, in 1900, to a Cajun family in Louisiana’s
swampy Cajun country.  He ran away from home at 15 to New Orleans,
where he met and later married Teresa Flanagan.  Neither of these
grandparents went to high school.  My grandfather drove a street-car,
and later a bus, until he retired in 1965.

One of my fondest memories
as a boy is of riding on “Pa’s” lap as he drove his bus down Elysian
Fields Avenue in New Orleans, past the house where I first lived.  (I didn’t learn until a few months ago that this house is in the lower Ninth Ward.)  I remember Pa’s wrinkled hands on the almond-colored,
gigantic steering wheel.  I was very proud of him.  He lived with us after my grandmother died in 1967 and until his death in 1975.  The only time I
heard him speak his native language – French – was when he cussed.

My
dad dropped out of school in sixth grade, but he later earned his GED.
He served a short stint in the Air Force (happily, just after the
Korean war ended).  He then drove a bus in New Orleans for a few years (which was his
job when I was born in 1958), but he soon took a job as a
pipefitter/welder/crane-operator at Avondale Shipyards, where he worked
until he retired in January 2001.

My maternal grandparents each
were from families that had been in New Orleans for a few generations.
My maternal grandfather was full-bred German (and looked it); my
maternal grandmother (like my paternal grandmother) was of Irish
descent.  My educated guess is that the families of both of my
grandmothers emigrated from Ireland to New Orleans in the 1850s.  Both
of my maternal grandparents completed high school, but received no
further formal education.  My mom’s dad worked all of his life at
Avondale Shipyard, as a pipefitter and, later, as a foreman in the
pipe department.

Neither of my grandmothers ever worked out of the home, as far as know.

My
mom graduated from high school and, until 1973 when she took a job in
the secretarial pool at Avondale Shipyards, kept house and raised me
and my three siblings.  When the shipyard laid her off in 1989, she
became a clerk in a hardware store, where she worked until 2001.

I’m
the only of my siblings to attend college for more than a semester.
That wasn’t my plan.  To please my mom, I decided to go to college for
one year and chase women.  (Alas, my chases were futile — until, that is, many years later in law school I chased and finally caught the love of my life.)  After this one, fun year of chasing women I
planned to marry my high-school sweetheart and work full-time at Avondale Shipyards
(where I’d worked in high school during the summers).  But I found
economics during my second semester of college at Nicholls State
University
.  It blew me away!  Never before had I encountered anything
intellectually stimulating – and supply-and-demand curves were (and
remain) for me analytically sublime.  I believe that I took so eagerly
to supply and demand because I grew up in the 1970s and saw all around
me the consequences of price ceilings – which I didn’t understand until
my first economics professor (Dr. Michelle Francois) explained the
economics of price controls.

It didn’t take me long to long for a PhD in economics.

Growing
up, my siblings and I were aware that we weren’t wealthy, but we
thought of ourselves as middle-class.  Our home was comfortable
(despite having only one bathroom!) and our family life (dare I say
it?!) normal and loving.

As I look back on my childhood, I
appreciate my parents’ values.  Never, not once, did I ever hear my
parents complain of not being rich; never was there any expressed or
felt despair about driving mostly used and often rather decrepit
automobiles; never was there any hints that the economic deck is
stacked against us.  Never did I suppose that I was cheated, robbed, or
even unlucky.  I know that my parents, and each of my siblings, feels
the same way.

My parents were, and remain, largely apolitical.
I suspect that they vote mostly GOP because they really dislike the
welfare state.  They don’t, however, share my deep hatred of
centralized power.  My father worries about “too many immigrants”
coming to America.  And my mom, although I’m pretty sure that she’d not
endorse a government effort to correct the problem, believes that
professional athletes are paid “way too much money.”

One final
note: even though both of my parents are deeply religious Roman
Catholics, and even though my mom reminds me a great deal of Edith
Bunker, my parents have always had a libertarian streak, of which I’m
sure they aren’t really aware.  I’ve often heard my mom say that “it’s
silly to outlaw prostitution; it’s going to happen anyway; and no one’s
really hurt by it.”  Ditto for most illegal drugs.  Even on abortion my
mom’s views are surprisingly liberal.  (Don’t know about my dad, I just
realized.)  My mom truly believes abortion to be highly immoral, but she
does not think that government should prohibit it.

A few years ago I wrote this open letter of thanks to my parents.

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