One of the many unique and excellent features of George Mason University Economics – of what Arnold Kling calls “Masonomics” as practiced at GMU – is that the first semester Microeconomic Theory course for our PhD students is taught by Walter Williams. Walter’s emphasis in this course is on learning and mastering the substance of economic theory – learning how to reason like an economist, learning how to ask questions like an economist, learning how to use economic analysis to make better sense of reality (rather than to ponder simply what appears in the latest academic journals). This emphasis is very different from typical first-year economic-theory courses, in which the emphasis is on mastering mathematical techniques that are assumed (too-often mistakenly) to be useful for describing economic reality. While GMU Econ students learn all the math, statistics, and static theories that are, for better or worse, central to modern economics, they learn something more and far better: they learn how to go about achieving an ever-better understanding of market processes and other spontaneous-ordering forces.
Last night Walter – as he always does after his first-semester PhD students complete their final exams – holds a party in Fairfax for his students, their significant others, and for select faculty and staff. I would be falsely modest if I didn’t admit to being pleased and proud that Walter always invites me to attend – which I always do. Here’s a photo taken at last-evening’s party. From left to right are Walter, first-year GMU Econ PhD student (and familiar Cafe commenter) Jon Murphy, and me.
GMU Econ is indeed unique. But we’re working hard to make it less unique – not by us changing what we do, but by us persuading others, through word and example, to change what they do. Our goal is to make economics relevant again. It is to return economics to being again the kind of scientific inquiry that would make Adam Smith truly proud to be recognized as its father.
The best tradition of economics, tracing back to Smith and David Hume – and running through Hayek and Alchian and Buchanan and Gordon Tullock and Harold Demsetz and Julian Simon and Walter Williams and Deirdre McCloskey – makes the invisible visible, the unseen seen, the unexpected expected. Those who work in this grand tradition of economics understand that the economy isn’t a machine to be engineered with diktats; it is, instead, a spontaneous order to be understood and explained and, if it is to be improved, it is to be improved only with better rules. Those who work in the grand tradition that we carry on proudly and skillfully at GMU Economics routinely inform economically uninformed, if well-meaning, non-economists that their notions about the economy are often flawed. We inform the economically uninformed, for example, that widespread prosperity is not the result of goosed-up spending by government, or the product of tariffs or other government privileges bestowed on this or that producer group, or the consequence of seizing resources from the rich for ‘distribution’ to the non-rich.
Those who work in the Masonomics manner are trained always to ask “As compared to what?” – a question that almost always reveals popular get-rich-quick schemes such as tariffs and other ‘buy-local’ manias, minimum wages, income ‘redistribution,’ and government takeover of the supply of this or that good or service to be doomed to fail. While so much of modern economics today is a mathematically advanced and jargon-laden effort to assure the man-in-the-street (and his elected representatives) that ancient man-in-the-street economic superstitions are really not superstitions at all but, instead, economically valid notions, Masonomists continue in the tradition of Adam Smith to correct the economic fallacies that are prevalent when people do not understand basic economics.
A few weeks ago I ran this post here at Cafe Hayek, asking for your support of our efforts. As 2016 fast comes to its close, I run this post again, below the fold. Thanks for your support, in whatever form and in whatever amounts, it may come.
To patrons of Cafe Hayek:
Every year as the holidays and the New Year approach I impose on your generosity by asking you to consider including George Mason University Economics in your end-of-year giving plans. A financial contribution to GMU Economics – through the Mercatus Center at GMU – helps not only to maintain, but to strengthen, the great bastion of sound economic thinking, teaching, research, scholarship, and public outreach that is uniquely GMU Econ in close partnership with the Mercatus Center at GMU.
We rely heavily, and with gratitude, upon your generosity.
More than 90 percent of all the funding for our graduate-student scholarships and stipends – and almost 100 percent of the funding for faculty and grad-student research expenses – comes from annual private donations rather than from the state. Mercatus now supports a total of 225 students, 85 of whom are GMU Econ students (69 graduate students and 16 undergraduates).
And I’m thrilled to report that among the 2016 of first-year GMU Econ PhD students is long-time Cafe Hayek commenter Jon Murphy (who blogs at A Force for Good).
Also funded privately are:
– our weekly Philosophy, Politics, & Economics Workshop which brings scholars from other institutions to visit GMU throughout the academic year to mix with our faculty and students. Among the scholars who participated in 2016 in this Workshop are Israel Kirzner, Deirdre McCloskey, David Schmidtz, Barry Weingast, Arjo Klamer, Claudia Williamson, and Anton Howes.
– the Adam Smith Fellows Program, in which students from institutions other than George Mason University meet regularly over extended weekends with GMU Econ and Mercatus Center faculty in order to discuss Austrian economics, public-choice economics, and the Bloomington School of economics funded by the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom. Because student interest in this program has grow so promisingly, 2016 saw the expansion of this Program to sites other than GMU: in addition to multiple weekend seminars near our Fairfax campus, we also now do some of these seminars in Arizona and in London.
Other privately funded ventures at GMU Econ, often in partnership with the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies, include MRUniversity, Learn Liberty, outreach efforts to policymakers in government, and of course our blogging – blogging not only at Café Hayek, but also at Alt-M, Coordination Problem, EconLog, Marginal Revolution, and Overcoming Bias. (Not all of these blogs, I point out, are housed at GMU or Mercatus, but each is one at which some of my colleagues are regular contributors.) Just FYI, almost all of the work that my colleagues and I do on these projects is uncompensated; we do this work as part of our way of contributing to the causes of sound economic education and a free society. And I hardly need add – but I will – that none of these efforts receives a cent of government aid.
Last year in this spot I mentioned Liya Palagashvili, a 2015 GMU Econ PhD who is now an assistant professor of economics at SUNY-Purchase. Liya is a great example of the kind of scholar who was helped by Mercatus Center funding during her time as a student and who continues to be helped now that she’s graduated. In addition to presenting her paper “Disrupting the Employee and Contractor Laws” at the University of Chicago, Liya and I wrote a paper, published by Mercatus earlier this year, on the many economic problems with the Obama administration’s new overtime-pay rule. With Mercatus’s help, we were also able this past April to publish this op-ed, drawn from the paper, in the Wall Street Journal. This op-ed led to Liya appearing on Stossel to discuss the overtime-pay regulation. (Happily, a federal judge recently put a hold on the implementation of his abominable regulation.)
Not surprisingly, in January 2016 Liya was named by Forbes as one among the “Top 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy.”
Many of our current students have both the potential and the drive to be as successful and as influential as Liya.
On the program side, of particular interest to me is Mercatus’s new Program on the American Economy and Globalization (PAEG – pronounced “page”). This past June we lured Dan Griswold, whom some of you will remember from his productive days at the Cato Institute, back into the policy world so that he and I can co-direct PAEG. Dan’s focuses on international trade and immigration; he brings to these topics wide learning, impressive attention to detail, a passion for research and for public outreach, and a principled commitment to freedom. With economic nationalism again on the rise, the work that we do through PAEG will be especially timely and important. (I urge you to check out Dan’s superb blog, Mad About Trade, which bears the title of his great 2009 book on trade.)
GMU Econ is decidedly outside of the mainstream of modern economics, despite the fact that two of our faculty members won the Nobel Prize over the past 30 years – the late Jim Buchanan in 1986 and Vernon Smith, now emeritus at George Mason (and currently teaching at Chapman University), in 2002. The reason we are outside of the mainstream is that we do not approach economics as if it is a branch of applied mathematics or a training ground for social engineering. We also reject the increasingly common claim (among economists) that the best economic knowledge is that which is gotten through empirical studies. While our students are trained in appropriate mathematical and econometric methods, we at GMU Econ understand that economics is much more than those techniques.
The typical GMU economist – Arnold Kling calls us “Masonomists” – is a student of society. He or she knows not only cutting-edge economic research, but also the full tradition of economics dating back to before the time of Adam Smith. (We even have an entire field of specialization in the economics of Adam Smith, in which students and faculty members – including me – study carefully and discuss critically large swathes of Smith’s writings.) The GMU economist – unlike the typical modern economist – is thoroughly steeped in history, jurisprudence, political science, and philosophy. This broader understanding of society promotes skepticism of the social-engineering schemes that are forever pouring out of towers of ivory and from buildings of marble. Simultaneously, it promotes also a great appreciation of – indeed, a sense of wonder at – the stupendous coordinating and creative powers of free markets and free people.
Economics at George Mason University is intellectually alive and exciting. The world’s finest students, such as Liya Palagashvili, who want to study economics in the rich tradition that is still honored at GMU Econ apply every year to our program; they apply either for entry into our PhD program or our Masters program. We accommodate many of them, but (resources being scarce!) we can’t accommodate all.
A contribution from you will increase our capacity to teach and mentor more students. It will also help us to better serve the cause of sound economic education in other ways, such as by enabling us to extend summer funding to more undergrad students who wish to work with our faculty between academic years, and by enabling us to more fruitfully experiment with alternative media as we search for ways to communicate both with other scholars and with the general public about economics.
This last point is especially important. No other economics program is as active in the public discussion and debate as is GMU Econ; certainly no other program is as staunch a champion of free and depoliticized markets as is GMU Econ. Our faculty includes some of the world’s top economics bloggers, such as Peter Boettke, Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, and Alex Tabarrok. These and other Masonomists – including, of course, the great Walter Williams – also frequently write in the pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other popular outlets. And we are also often interviewed on radio and television and in podcasts. It’s our passion not only to better understand the logic and the workings of the economy, but to explain to non-economists the countless unseen or underappreciated ways that free markets coordinate human activities peacefully and productively.
If you like what you read here at Cafe Hayek, please consider helping the larger effort of which this blog is a part – that larger effort is better economic education. You can do so by making a tax-deductible contribution to GMU Econ through the Mercatus Center. (Those of you who contribute by mailing in a check might mention Cafe Hayek in a cover note. That snailmail address is the one available at the link or: Donald J. Boudreaux, Department of Economics, 114 Mason Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030)
Russ and I thank you all for honoring us by reading our blog. We wish you the happiest of holidays and a 2017 that is filled to the brim with prosperity, peace, freedom, and a reinvigorated invisible hand.