A Dynamite Economics Department

Reporting their findings in Applied Economics Letters (2/2001), a British professional journal, Professors Franklin G. Mixon, Jr. and Kamal P. Upadhyaya rank economics departments in the U.S. South. The rankings are based upon faculty research productivity. As former chairman of George Mason University's Economics Department, for the last six years, I am pleased and proud to report that our department heads the list of some 69 southern university Ph.D. granting economics departments.

You say, "How did we achieve that status? What kind of economists are you people anyway?" Everybody's heard of Keynesian economists, Austrian, neoclassical, and free market economists. I'd like to think that we're none of those. My friend and colleague Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman always reminds us there are only two kinds of economists - good economists and bad economists. We're good economists.

You say, "Nobody's going to admit that they're a bad economist so how can we tell the difference?" See if the economist suggests the possibility of a free lunch. We all know that there's no free lunch but free-lunch economists will tell you things such as: WWII got us out of the Depression; building sports arenas will stimulate employment; monopolies can charge any price they wish; government spending is good for the economy; and trade surpluses are good and trade deficits are bad. Since my colleagues are good economists, you'll hear no such nonsense from them.

George Mason University economists are leaders in economic thinking. They include scholars such as Nobel Laureate James Buchanan who, along with his colleague Gordon Tullock, pioneered the field in economics known as public choice. At the heart of their contribution is the idea that when people become politicians or bureaucrats they don't suddenly become selfless servants imbued with the public interest. Instead, they remain self-interested just as any other person but simply face a different set of restraints.

Towards the end of my tenure as department chairman, we acquired all seven members of the University of Arizona's distinguished Economic Science Laboratory. Professor Vernon Smith, its director, is widely mentioned as a likely prospect for the Nobel Prize in economics for his path-breaking work in the field of experimental economics. Along with Professor Gordon Tullock, also mentioned as a likely prospect for the Nobel Prize in Economics, it is not inconceivable that GMU's Economics Department will not only rank number one in the South but will be home to every single Nobel Laureate in the South. In addition to these three stars on our faculty, there are a number of junior and senior faculty who are also on the frontiers of the pursuit of economic knowledge.

You say, "Okay, Williams, there are good economists and bad economists but can't you give a better description of your department?" If asked to generalize, I'd say that GMU's economics department is probably the nation's, if not the world's, only completely free market department, although there's one of my colleagues whom I hold under suspicion. In other words, we accept the evidence that peaceable, voluntary exchange is not only morally superior to other forms of social organization, such as those involving force, intimidation and threats, it also provides for the highest standard of living for the ordinary man.

Some readers might accuse me of immodestly bragging. I accept the accusation and I don't mind. It was my beloved grandmother who used to say, "It's a poor dog that won't wag his own tail."

Walter E. Williams
November 30, 2001
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