On Monday, my first economics teacher – Michelle Bailliet (or as she was known in 1977, Michelle Francois) – died. And yesterday, Leonard Liggio passed away.
My life would today be very different, and in a bad way, were it not for the influence and generosity of these two people.
I took Michelle’s ECON 252 class (Principles of Microeconomics) at Nicholls State University during the second (Spring 1977) semester of my freshman year. I took it only because it met on Mondays and Wednesdays. I was working at Avondale Shipyards near New Orleans on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so this class fit my schedule. When I signed up for it I had no earthly idea what economics is, and I didn’t care. My plan was to quit college at the end of that semester and start working at the shipyard full time.
I stayed in school because of Michelle’s class. She was a great teacher. On January 17, 1977, Michelle explained, clearly and cogently, that government-imposed price ceilings cause shortages. Eureka! I finally had a sensible explanation for why I’d waited so many times in long lines to buy gasoline – a product that was frequently in short supply during the disco decade. Encountering Michelle’s expert explanation was the closest thing I’ve ever had, or ever will have, to a born-again moment. I fell in love with economics immediately and completely; it’s a love affair that still burns bright.
Had Michelle taught that class with lots of equations, I’d likely today be an unemployed welder or pipe fitter. I’ve often joked that Michelle saved my life. That’s something of an overstatement, of course, but it’s only because of her great skills as a classroom instructor, and her generosity with her time outside of class, that I am an economist – a profession that I cherish.
Michelle – or Dr. Francois, as I called her back then – graciously tolerated my constant presence in her office to discuss this amazing subject called “economics.” (She eventually introduced me to another Nicholls State faculty member, Bill Field, who remains to this day my greatest mentor.) Michelle is also the person who introduced me to the works of Frederic Bastiat.
Leonard Liggio touched the lives of so many modern classical liberals. I first met him when I was a summer fellow for the Institute for Humane Studies in 1984. IHS was then still in Menlo Park, CA. (I first met the other great IHS leader, Walter Grinder, earlier that summer at an Austrian Economics seminar in Milwaukee.) Remembrances of Leonard are starting to come on line. They will be many; they will be heartfelt. I will link to some of them here at the Cafe. I content myself now to say that his positive influence on the modern liberty movement, not just in the U.S. but around the world, is so huge that it is impossible to imagine what that movement would be like had Leonard never existed – save to say that it would be smaller, less significant, and much more weakly grounded intellectually.