Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Armen Alchian

There are many reasons why one becomes what one becomes. For me, it was honors principles of economics taken my sophomore year at Georgia. It was a small class taught by a legendary tough professor, Prof. William Miller. The regular sections of economics used Paul Samuelson’s now famous text. We, however, used Alchian and Allen’s University Economics. Prof. Miller was a free trade laissez-faire thinker and scoffed at Samuelson’s Keynesian economics. Alchian and Allen was the perfect text for teaching economic principles. Its free market approach applied basic supply and demand concepts to everyday problems, the political theater and international politics. It was humorous yet rigorous. It asked questions such as “what is the impact of minimum wages on poor wage earners?” While the popular knee jerk reaction – which still exists today – is raise them. Employing supply and demand yields the answer that an increase in minimum wages creates unemployment for those who work for the minimum. That example and countless others led us to apply basic economic principles and come up with answers that were definitely out of the mainstream. However, it gave us a logical basis for making decisions based on rational thought rather than raw emotions. Moreover, Dr. Miller added works by Thomas Sowell when I turned up in his class. Basically he was illustrating that free market thinking was not the sole province of whites and that its use would make us all better off. Alchian and Allen spoke to me and I became an economics major. I then when to Ohio State because one of their free market UCLA colleagues Karl Brunner had taken an endowed professorship there. I had decided I wanted to study monetary economics and wanted to write under Brunner, considered by many as the father of modern monetarism. I was fortunate enough to write under Brunner and spent my career teaching and practicing free market economics – yes even as a federal regulator. Fifty years later, I still have my copy of University Economics. It is on my list of favorite books. I owe a deep intellectual debt to Drs. Miller and Brunner but especially to Professor Armen Alchian who died on February 19th.

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