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Promoting Relevant Economic Research, Teaching, and Public Understanding

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To Cafe Hayek’s very much appreciated patrons:

images-1Each year at this time I – like many others – impose on your generosity. I do so 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 [2] – helps not only to maintain, but to strengthen, the great bastion of sound economic thinking, teaching, research, scholarship, and public engagement that is uniquely GMU Econ in close and fruitful partnership with the Mercatus Center at GMU.

We rely heavily, and gratefully, upon your generosity.

More than 90 percent of all funding for our graduate-student scholarships and stipends – and almost 100 percent of the funding for faculty and grad-student research expenses – comes not from the state but instead from annual private donations. Mercatus now supports a total of 252 students – five more than last academic year (which itself was 22 more than the previous year). Forty-five of these students are enrolled in GMU’s graduate economics program.

Among the activities that are privately funded are:

– our weekly Philosophy, Politics, & Economics Workshop [3] 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 2018 in this Workshop are David Schmidtz, Terence Kealey, and Nathan Nunn.

– the Adam Smith Fellows Program [4], 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 founded by the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom [5]. Because student interest in this program continues to grown impressively, in 2018 we maintained the expansion started in 2016 of this Program to sites other than GMU: in addition to multiple weekend seminars near our Fairfax campus, we also now do 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 [6], include MRUniversity [7], Learn Liberty [8], outreach efforts to policymakers in government, and of course our blogging – blogging not only at Café Hayek, but also at Alt-M [9], Coordination Problem [10], EconLog [11], Marginal Revolution [12], and Overcoming Bias [13]. (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.

On the program side, of particular interest to me is Mercatus’s Trade and Immigration Project [14] (TIP). In June of 2016 we lured Dan Griswold, whom some of you will remember from his productive days as a trade scholar at the Cato Institute, back into the policy world so that he and I can co-direct TIP. 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.

Joining us in our efforts is Christine McDaniel [15], who came to Mercatus in November of last year, as well as our intrepid colleague, Veronique de Rugy [16].

Dan, Christine, and Vero are near-daily voices and faces in the media – radio, t.v., podcasts, you name it –  defending free trade and economic openness with intelligence and clarity against the economic nationalism that now looms so frighteningly on the Potomac. (I must brag about Vero: In 2018 alone she had four op-ed in the New York Times vigorously defending free trade. Here’s the first [17]; the second [18]; the third [19], and the fourth [20].)

Oh, and this past summer this year we published Pierre Lemieux’s brilliant – and brilliantly written – What’s Wrong with Protectionism? [21]


GMU Econ is decidedly outside of the mainstream of modern economics, despite the fact that two of our faculty members won Nobel Prizes since 1986 – the late Jim Buchanan [22] in 1986 and Vernon Smith [23], 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 engineers. 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 Rosolino Candela [24], who just joined Mercatus after doing post-doctoral research at Brown University – 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.

images-2A 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 [25] 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 small part – that larger effort is better and more widespread economic education. You can do so by making a tax-deductible contribution to GMU Econ through the Mercatus Center [26]. (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)

I thank you all for honoring me by reading this blog. And I wish you the happiest of holidays and a 2019 that is filled with prosperity, peace, freedom, and a reinvigorated invisible hand.

Many thanks!