Classical liberals rank individual liberty – political as well as economic – above other values, including efficiency and fairness. For the most part, they emphasize process – minimal government, private property and the rule of law – as the mechanisms for providing and preserving individual liberty in a world where mean, sensual man is here to stay. Classical political economy, as professed by such great scholars as Adam Smith and the young John Stuart Mill, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and Richard Epstein has provided generation after generation of freedom-loving economists with places to call their home.
As such a freedom-loving scholar, I found an intellectual home during the early part of my career at Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman’s University of Chicago. I only visited that great institution twice – in 1979 and in 1984 – when both Hayek and Friedman had departed. But the powerful embrace of liberty still permeated its corridors in the personification of Ronald Coase, Sam Peltzman, Bill Landes, and the young Richard Posner. I felt at home there during both my visits.
By 1970, my growing interest in the political aspects of political economy shifted my commitment from Chicago to Virginia, and from Hayek and Friedman to Buchanan and Tullock. Following my first visit to Blacksburg in the summer of 1974, my heart was beating strongly for that courageous classical liberal retreat in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. And my heart and intellect has continued to adhere to Virginia Political Economy throughout the 38 years that have followed.
For a time, during the Reagan years, Chicago and Virginia gained ground within the economics profession, and hopes ran high in classically liberal economic circles. Alas! Those hopes largely would be dashed as the progressive movement devoured younger economists and as the temptation to pursue remunerative careers on the taxpayers’ dollar overwhelmed the still small candle.
Now, Chicago economics is all but indistinguishable from Harvard economics. And Virginia Political Economy has no physical location to call its own. The Remnants are scattered and dispersed across a largely hostile profession. What should those Remnants do?
As Remnants have always done through the course of history, now is the time to keep that small still candle of liberty burning for future generations. Through personal example, Remnants should demonstrate to others the meaning of liberty and the sacrifice that liberty demands. The Remnants should write and blog, speak about, explicate and defend those great principles upon which freedom depends.
For if we do not do so, that candle may lose its flame and a statist darkness may once again largely permeate a largely mercantilist economics profession.