Tea Party Economist
by Gary North: Identify
In my previous
Your Legacy," I discussed why you should be thinking about your
posthumous legacy. It is not easy to plan a legacy, especially if
you do not have several operational models of people who have left
significant legacies. I have known perhaps two dozen people who
left legacies that I regard as significant. The general public did
not know of their existence. But this is true of virtually everyone
who leaves a legacy. The general public never hears of them. The
designer of a legacy should not attempt to impress the general public.
If the legacy does impress the general public, it is likely to produce
more harm than good. There are exceptions. Mother Teresa's legacy
is one. But there are not many.
I am going
to discuss several examples of people I have known personally who
have left legacies that shaped the lives of people who came in contact
with them. In some cases, the person leaving the legacy was self-conscious
in his attempt to transform the lives of other people. I think this
is basic to leaving a legacy. The goal is to improve the lives of
other people, who may or may not be paying customers.
A person who
systematically disciplines his life so as to improve the lives of
those around him is going to leave a legacy. This legacy may or
may not be positive. There are power seekers in life who attempt
to influence the lives of other people by means of power or even
deception. Their goal is to change the hearts, minds, and behavior
of those around them. Their legacy may be negative.
I am speaking
about people who do their best to transform the lives of others
in a positive way. They invariably have a specific way of life that
governs their thinking and their behavior. They systematically attempt
to structure their own lives in such a way that they become testimonies
to whatever worldview they proclaim. This is sometimes called word-and-deed
evangelism. I think this is a characteristic feature of the majority
of those people I have worked with who have left positive legacies.
Part of leaving
a legacy is to meet the standards of a phrase that is common in
the United States: "Put your money where your mouth is." Another
phrase comparable to it is this one: "Walk the talk."
The most important
person I ever met at a young age was my physician, Francis
Pottenger. Dr. Pottenger was a specialist in nutrition. He was
one of the earliest physicians in the United States to devote his
career to a study of the relationship between diet and health. He
was the son of a famous specialist in tuberculosis, who was also
a distinguished researcher in physiology. He followed in his father's
was a kind of iconoclast in the medical profession in the 1940s.
He did a series of experiments on cats, which demonstrated that
the cats which had been fed raw foods were healthier than cats that
were fed cooked food. By emphasizing nutrition as the primary means
of restoring people to health, he gained the hostility of the medical
establishment. This did not bother him at all. His commitment was
to his patients, and this led him to do extensive research on what
would restore his patients to health.
took me to his clinic when I was seven years old in 1949. I was
suffering from bronchitis. I was generally unhealthy. He put me
on a rigorous diet, and I stuck with it. My mother told me years
later the following story. He asked me if I would do what he told
me to do. I told him that I would. He said, "Let's shake on it."
I agreed. And for the next 18 months, I did what he told me to do.
More important, I did not do what he told me not to do. He told
me not to eat anything made with refined sugar. I was allowed one
scoop of ice cream a week. That was it. My mother told me later
that I went to someone's birthday party, and I had one scoop of
ice cream. I refused to eat a piece of cake. The mother of the little
boy called my mother, and she told her that I had said that I was
not allowed to eat a piece of cake. She was amazed, because I did
not eat the piece of cake.
months, I got over my bronchitis. The diet that he prescribed, which
was high in protein, low in refined sugar, high in steamed and raw
vegetables, and which eliminated all processed flour, succeeded
in restoring my health. I have never been unhealthy since that time.
I have only been seriously sick a few times. The main exception
was in 1961: salmonella poisoning. That was not a nutritional issue.
So, it was my good fortune that my mother heard about Dr. Pottenger,
and that she took what little money the family had to take me to
I learned from Dr. Pottenger that it is wise to stick to your principles.
It is also wise to conduct careful research into the outcome of
the application of your principles. I suppose we could call them
ideological, but he was ideological with the methodology. He attempted
to test the results of his theories. Once he had done so, and the
results were consistent with his theories, he could not be moved
by criticism of the medical establishment.
He left a
legacy of improved health to his patients, and he also left a legacy
of improved health to those people who had not been his patients,
but who learned of his research years later. Part of his legacy
When I was
16 years old, I took a year-long class in what was euphemistically
called senior problems. The first half of the class was on the Constitution,
state government, and local government. In other school districts,
this would have been called civics. The second half of the class
was devoted to issues related to starting a family. I suppose these
were the problems that the district thought that seniors should
be concerned with.
He was politically
conservative. I also was politically conservative. I requested that
I be allowed to take his class. I was a good enough student so that
the counselor abided by my wishes.
He was a very
effective teacher. He was a rigorous teacher. I did very well in
it academically. I wrote term papers on the origins of Communism,
on Roosevelt's maneuvering of the country into World War II, and
on the issue of compulsory water fluoridation. I became a conspiracy
theorist at a young age.
In a public
school, he taught a form of biblical creationism. That was made
illegal in the early 1960s by Supreme Court decisions. He kept teaching
creationism until his retirement in the late 1980s. He was so controversial
in this regard that anti-creationist teachers organized a campaign
to get him fired. These teachers were not even in his school district.
The district was in Los Angeles County, but it had nothing to do
with the city schools of Los Angeles. Yet teachers in Los Angeles
organized the campaign to cross the city's borders and get him fired.
They failed. He was something of a legend.
He also taught
his students that the Social Security system was actuarially unsound,
and it would go bankrupt in our lifetimes. He was correct. The program
began running red ink two years ago. Technically, it is bankrupt.
It is being funded by the general fund, and the general fund is
being funded by an annual deficit of $1.2 trillion. By any standard
in 1959, the Social Security system is bankrupt.
Social Security system sent out a propagandist for the program.
He spoke every year in every high school in the district, and in
every senior problems class. He also spoke in schools outside the
district. Just before he retired, he told Mr. Roy that the only
students he ever encountered who asked penetrating questions regarding
the statistical vulnerability of the system were the classes that
Mr. Roy taught. We had been prompted to ask those questions.
He made a decision
early in his career that he was going to do what he wanted to do
in the classroom, and if somebody wanted to stop him from doing
it, that critic would have to fire him. In the weeks just before
my high school graduation in 1959, the high school administration
succeeded in getting the district to transfer him to another high
school. It demoted him to teaching freshman problems. I organized
a resistance movement, and it did get publicity in the local newspaper,
but they transferred him anyway. He didn't change at all. He taught
the same way at the other high school, and within a few years was
one of the most popular teachers at the other high school.
from him what I have learned from all of the ones who have left
a successful legacy: stick to your knitting, and stick to your guns.
I learned that it does not pay to back down from what you regard
as your first principles of life.
He was the
most effective teacher that I had in high school. He was among the
most effective teachers I ever had. In terms of his personal influence
over the students in his classes, I would say that it was exceptional.
Not many teachers have an influence on their students which perseveres
three years after graduation. There were not many classes like that
in Southern California in the Eisenhower era. I doubt that there
are any today.
Like so many
people who came to an understanding of the free market in the 1950s
and 1960s, Henry Hazlitt was an influential figure. He had been
an influential figure for at least 30 years. He is most famous for
his book, Economics
in One Lesson, which he wrote in 1946. But he was a New
York Times columnist at the time he wrote that book. H. L. Mencken
once said that Hazlitt was the only economist who knew how to write.
went to college. He wrote his first book, Thinking
as a Science, when he was 20 years old. That was the same
year that he went to work for the Wall Street Journal. That
was in 1915. To say that Hazlitt had a long writing career does
not begin to convey just how long it was. His final article was
published in 1988. He died in 1993 at the age of 98.
I did not
meet him until I went to work for the Foundation for Economic Education
in 1971. But I had been reading his materials ever since the late
1950s. I was a latecomer in this process. It is safe to say that
anyone who called himself a libertarian in 1960 had been influenced,
directly or indirectly, by Hazlitt. I suspect that this is still
one of the early American promoters of the writings of Ludwig von
Mises. He was convinced in the late 1930s that Mises was right,
and that the New Deal was wrong. He wrote a positive review of Mises's
for the New York Times Book Review in 1938. This book had
been published in South Africa in 1936, although it had been available
in German since 1922. I think it is safe to call him an early adopter.
He understood the magnitude of what Mises had been teaching long
before most American economists had read Mises's books.
critique of John Maynard Keynes, published in 1959, The
Failure of the 'New Economics,'
is a comprehensive and thoroughly readable critique of Keynes's
Theory. It was ignored by the academic profession, possibly
because it was so thorough in its criticisms, but probably because
Hazlitt was noted as a financial journalist, not as a professor
of economics somewhere. He did not have the right credentials, so
the academic community ignored him. I don't think this bothered
him in the slightest.
He was always
enthusiastic. He was always extremely lively. In this sense, he
reminded me of Murray Rothbard and Burt Blumert, the co-founder
of the Center for Libertarian Studies. I never saw him dejected
in any way.
I suppose my
best recollection of him was late in his life, when he was in a
retirement home. At his age, there were not many men in the home.
He remarked, twinkle in his eye, that a lot of the ladies in the
home made a fuss over him. Then, coming to his senses, he added,
"but don't tell Frances." Frances was Mrs. Hazlitt. He was altogether
a sensible man.
lesson is clear: stick to your knitting, and stick to your guns.
deserves the title of the founder of libertarianism, it is Read.
He was a born promoter. He was the head of the Chamber of Commerce
in Los Angeles in the 1930s. He had never gone to college. He was
an effective speaker, and in later years, he proved to be an effective
writer. He was never a back-slapper, but he was never confrontational,
of how he was converted to a free market position made an impression
on me. He had gone to see the head of the Pacific Gas and Electric
Company, William Mullendore. He went there, as he said, "to straighten
out this fellow." By the time he had spent a couple hours being
taught the principles of voluntarism, he realized that the worldview
which he had held when he walked in the door was wrong.
day on, he was not really in alignment with the Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber was always ready to promote government intervention
in favor of business. From that fateful meeting onward, Leonard
Read was not.
A decade later,
he turned down a job heading the International Chamber of Commerce,
which would have paid him $100,000 a year, which in 1946 was a fortune.
Instead, he started the Foundation for Economic Education. He had
contacts with rich men because of his time spent in the Chamber,
but he always attempted to establish a broad-based support for the
organization. FEE was not a rich men's plaything. In 1956, he launched
the magazine which served as the major source of recruiting for
the libertarian movement for the next 20 years: The Freeman.
William F Buckley had wanted to buy it, but Read owned the name,
and a year after Buckley started National Review, FEE started
publishing The Freeman.
was not a trained economist, he had a very clear understanding of
how free markets operate. He wrote an article which I regard as
the finest statement of the principle of the division of labor that
has ever been written. It is called "I, Pencil." It is the story
of how nobody knows how to make a pencil. A simple pencil is such
a complex device that it takes coordination and cooperation beyond
anyone's ability to comprehend in order to produce a simple pencil.
has persuaded an untold number of people of the power and creativity
of the free market. What was also creative about the article is
that he wrote it as a narrative given by a pencil. He listed his
own name only with these introductory words: "as told to."
He also wrote
a classic little book, which is unfortunately out of print, Elements
of Libertarian Leadership. He wrote many other books, and
numerous collections of essays. He never stopped writing, almost
until the day he died at the age of 84.
Here is the
same lesson: stick to your knitting, and stick to your guns. He
turned down a lot of money in 1946 to do this.
was the best editor I have ever had. I would submit an article to
him, and he either accepted it or sent it back, usually without
comment. If I did not include subheads in the article, he would
add them. That taught me to add subheads. This affected my writing
style ever since. My first article was published in The Freeman
in February of 1967.
He was very
smart, and he had a very subtle sense of humor. He was able to penetrate
to the heart of the matter like a sniper.
from a physical defect. One side of his face sagged. This affected
the clarity of his speech. He did not like to speak in front of
a group. He had a doctorate in economics, but because of his handicap,
he was unable to go into the classroom. When he was hired as an
editor, he achieved something very important: a fusion of his job
and his calling. As an editor, he was doing the most important thing
he could do in which he was most difficult to replace. He shaped
the thinking of the generation of libertarians, and he oversaw the
magazine that served as the single most important recruiting tool
that the movement had. He got out that little magazine every month
for three decades.
stuck to his knitting, because he was unemployable in most other
positions available to an academic. He was in a position where he
could stick to his guns, because his employer was equally committed
to the position. He always oversaw the magazine carefully, and at
the end of Leonard Read's career, Poirot rejected most of the articles
that Read submitted to them. He had a high editorial standard, and
his boss no longer met that standard. Fortunately, it was Read's
philosophy to decentralize and to let the person manage whatever
it was that he had been assigned, up until such point as Read decided
to fire the person. He did not fire very many people.
wrote an obituary for him.
So far, I
have surveyed the contributions of five men who made a difference
in my life. All of them made the difference in the lives of many
others besides me. Each of them did so by adhering to two principles:
stick to your knitting and stick to your guns.
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2012 Gary North
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