“I picked Hayek up from the airport in my VW Beetle and drove him to the Mills campus. I tried to talk with him about his work, but he seemed much more interested in learning about me.”
From the Berkeley econ department to Virginia, UCLA, & Austrian economics, how Charles Baird discovered economics can be fun:
“I received both a Fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in economics at the University of California, Berkeley beginning in September 1964. At that time the dominant view among the Berkeley economics faculty was that economics was simply applied mathematics and statistics. However, one of my professors in microeconomic theory took a brief holiday from mathematics and, for one hour, discussed Austrian economics as an example of an alternative paradigm in the sense of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. That was the most interesting lecture of the course, but I didn’t pursue it because it was clearly intended as an aside. I remained focused on the real stuff — mathematics. I received my Ph.D. in June 1968 (the famous market socialist, [Hayek’s student] Abba Lerner , was a member of my dissertation committee) having received much instruction on market failures and magical government remedies and knowing a lot of mathematics and statistics, but very little economics. As I said to John Baden several years later, as a new Ph.D. I knew how to border a Hessian and invert a matrix, but I had no idea why vendors gave out coupons and green stamps.
Then I got the most important break in my professional life. I was hired as an assistant professor of economics at UCLA to commence in September 1968. Before moving south I taught summer school at Berkeley, and met William Breit, now at Trinity University, who was a guest professor at Berkeley for the summer. Bill was astonished to learn that although I was going to UCLA I knew nothing about Armen Alchian, Bill Allen, Jack Hirshleifer, George Hilton, et al. Moreover, Jim Buchanan was joining the UCLA faculty at the same time I was, and I had never heard of him. The reading lists at Berkeley didn’t include any of these guys (although they did include Friedman on macro issues). Bill soon put that right, launching me into reading University Economics, and Calculus of Consent. It was a wonderful summer of discovery of free market economics. Bill was a great tutor, and he taught me something else, too—economics could be fun.
I often say that I have the best of both worlds — a Berkeley degree and a UCLA education. Bill Breit whetted my appetite for free market economics. During my first two years at UCLA I sat in on courses taught by Alchian, Hirshleifer, Buchanan, Demsetz, Clower, and Leijonhufvud. I was more a postdoctoral student than a faculty member. In my third year I was misdiagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. That greatly shortened my planning horizon, and I turned my attention to writing textbooks to make as much money as possible in a short time. In my fourth year I was turned down for tenure but was permitted to stay on for a fifth year. During those last two years I got to know Jerry O’Driscoll who was writing his dissertation on Hayek under the supervision of Axel Leijonhufvud. Jerry introduced me to Austrian economics through the work of Hayek.
After I moved to Hayward in 1973, I read Israel Kirzner’s Competition and Entrepreneurship and then Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. I became a convinced minimal state libertarian and acquired a deepening interest in Austrian economics. In 1977 Jerry O’Driscoll arranged for me to be the administrator of a two-week Liberty Fund conference on Austrian economics at Mills College in Oakland, California. That was a wonderful experience. I picked Hayek up from the airport in my VW Beetle and drove him to the Mills campus. I tried to talk with him about his work, but he seemed much more interested in learning about me. I met Murray Rothbard, Israel Kirzner, Roger Garrison and several other Austrians. I learned a lot from all of them. Following that conference I finally read Mises’s Human Action and began reading more of Kirzner and other Austrians. Notwithstanding several years of friendship and active communication with Rothbard, I have always been more a Hayekian or a Kirznerian than a Misesian. Murray never held it against me, but he always tried to enlighten me.
I never became a pure Austrian (whatever that means) of any type. I have always thought of free market neoclassical economics (at least in its Chicago-UCLA-Virginia expression) and Austrian economics as complements. I wrote two articles, one on James Buchanan and the other on Armen Alchian, making that case.”