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The Midnight Economist and the Art of Economic Communication

Summary:
Don Boudreaux reports the sad news of the passing of William R. Allen.  Bill Allen was best known for his co-authorship with Armen Alchian of University Economics.  And that is a great accomplishment to be known for. Allen was a force in the great UCLA tradition of economic education that challenged the Keynesian hegemony in the 1960s-1970s.  His retrospective on UCLA is one of my favorite and most informative retrospectives on the trials and tribulations of maintaining greatness over time in an academic setting. Allen had a radio show -- The Midnight Economist -- and you can purchase the transcripts as a book.  Milton Friedman wrote the foreword for the book, and it emphasizes Allen's genius at presenting the basic principles of economics in an easily understood manner and the

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Don Boudreaux reports the sad news of the passing of William R. Allen.  Bill Allen was best known for his co-authorship with Armen Alchian of University Economics.  And that is a great accomplishment to be known for. Allen was a force in the great UCLA tradition of economic education that challenged the Keynesian hegemony in the 1960s-1970s.  His retrospective on UCLA is one of my favorite and most informative retrospectives on the trials and tribulations of maintaining greatness over time in an academic setting.

Allen had a radio show -- The Midnight Economist -- and you can purchase the transcripts as a book.  Milton Friedman wrote the foreword for the book, and it emphasizes Allen's genius at presenting the basic principles of economics in an easily understood manner and the versatility he displayed in the art of applying those principles to make sense of the world we occupy -- both historically and in the contemporary moment.  Allen was a master communicator of those principles.

He lived a long and productive life as an educator.  We mourn his passing, but celebrate his achievement as an economic communicator.  In so doing, I actually long for economic communicators like Bill Allen, or Milton Friedman, or, of course, my late great colleague Walter Williams.  These individuals were able to take the principles of the science of economics, forged and tested in the scientific give and take over centuries in Europe and North America, and communicate them with clarity and demonstrate their relevance.  Scarcity, trade-offs, multiple margins of adjustment, role of property, prices and profit-and-loss, competitive processes, and the marshaling of incentives, and the discovery, dissemination and utilization of knowledge -- all played out within a variety of institutional settings and interpreted with skill and relayed with clarity and conviction to the everyday reader, watcher and listener in popular forums. Bill Allen, as was Milton Friedman and Walter Williams, was a master craftsman of the art of economic communication. 

These individuals didn't choose teams in the political game to cheer for, they stood for the economic way of thinking universally and unflinchingly applied.  They understood that situations vary, and economic interpretation must account for that, and they understood the moral judgments could differ, and they accounted for that in any discussion of advocacy.  But their primary goal in their efforts was not advocacy, but understanding of the workings of the world.  This is what they were attempting to persuade their audience of, as opposed to particular policy steps to be taken in this or that context.   But understanding the governing mechanics that would explain  what happened, was in fact happening.

Econ 101, in their hands, was not a tool of ideological indoctrination anymore than the law of gravity is a tool for such a purpose.  Econ 101 is an introduction to the basic principles of the discipline established over centuries of debate and discussion and observation and experimental testing.  No doubt some folks misunderstand the basic principles, other are allergic to them, and still others misuse them. But not the individuals I am discussing here.  We need more Bill Allen's and we need them in our classrooms, in the print media, on TV and radio, and throughout the modern media world of the World Wide Web.  Econ 101 needs champions.  

With the passing of Bill Allen we lost another of the great ones, who will rise to the challenge to be the next Midnight Economist?

Peter Boettke
Peter Joseph Boettke (January 3, 1960) is an American economist of the Austrian School. He is currently a University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University; the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism, Vice President for Research, and Director of the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at GMU.

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