All Commentary
Monday, July 1, 2002

An Honor Deserved, A Champion of Freedom Mourned

Peter Bauer Dies at 86

With great sadness we at FEE received the news that Peter Bauer, 86, had died on May 2. Perhaps we took it harder because we were still rejoicing over his winning the Cato Institute’s first Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. So many meaningless awards are given out; it was a pleasure to see a significant honor bestowed on a worthy recipient. No one deserved it more. (See James Dorn, “P.T. Bauer’s Market-Liberal Vision,” Ideas on Liberty, October 2000.)

Part of the emotional appeal of the freedom philosophy lies in the image of the courageous individualist who stands alone against the multitude to struggle for what he believes is right. That describes Peter Bauer. Beginning after World War II, he stood against the economics establishment and insisted that the undeveloped world needed free markets and private property. That may not sound terribly radical in 2002, but in 1946 and for decades afterwards, to favor laissez faire for the poor was to risk professional ostracism. Those were years when nearly everyone believed that countries could develop only with Soviet-style central planning. Peter Bauer would have none of it. Through empirical studies in West Africa and Malaysia and impeccable economic reasoning, he showed that free-market principles are universal.

The development establishment had a thousand reasons why markets wouldn’t work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The likes of Gunnar Myrdal and John Kenneth Galbraith “knew” that poor people don’t respond to market incentives, that they can’t afford to save and invest, and that only foreign aid can offer hope. To which, Peter Bauer replied: how, then, did the West get rich? After all, poverty is the natural state and there was no one to ask for foreign aid.

Through books and articles (his last is From Subsistence to Exchange and Other Essays) Bauer patiently showed that markets work and that government-to-government transfers only fatten the intrusive political class. Among the myths he shattered are the beliefs that the undeveloped world is overpopulated and that the West caused its poverty.

Bauer’s work, in contrast to the condescension of the mainstream development economists, brims with respect for the people of the developing countries. Such is the result of his embrace of the universal values embodied in the freedom philosophy.

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When two buddies get together to talk taxes over beers, you never know where the conversation will end up. Ted Roberts’s experience was typically atypical.

If the Constitution protects freedom of association, why does the government violate it so egregiously? Charles Baird compares the guarantee with the sorry record.

Is Social Security or private investment the better way to provide retirement income? Roger Clites relates his own experience with both methods.

When regulators decide they know better than businessmen how to serve customers, it is the customers who ultimately suffer. Joseph Fulda, recently victimized, explains.

A young leftish Danish statistician has dared to dissent from the Official Environmental Truths, and the green priesthood has all but reconvened the Inquisition. Jim Peron details the rough treatment accorded Bjørn Lomborg.

What is one to do when one’s mother decides not to farm in order to get a government agricultural subsidy? Gardner Goldsmith faces this age-old problem.

He was a contemporary of Kipling, Shaw, and Wells; a writer and social commentator—and a little-known classical liberal. Frank Laffitte has the story of Lafcadio Hearn.

One of the dogmas of our time is that virtually everyone should go to college and the taxpayers should pay for it. But George Leef says this dogma should be put to sleep.

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Barbara Ehrenreich set out to show that you can’t make it in America on a minimum-wage job. But Larry Schweikart shows that the baggage she took with her held some bad premises.

It’s well appreciated that too much of anything can be lethal. William Peterson says that it’s about time that principle was applied to government.

Some big-league political philosophers believe that government precedes rights and not vice versa. Tibor Machan has a challenge for them.

We inaugurate a new column this month: “Our Economic Past.” Rotating contributors will be Robert Higgs, editor of The Independent Review; Burton Folsom, historian in residence at the Center for the American Idea; and Stephen Davies, senior lecturer in history at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. Higgs begins by exploring the reasons for Western economic progress.

In other columns: FEE President Mark Skousen considers Singapore’s dramatic economic growth. Lawrence Reed reports on the tyranny of historical preservation. Doug Bandow takes a look at Cuba from the inside. Thomas Szasz points out that a really tolerant society wouldn’t tolerate coercive psychiatry. Donald Boudreaux pays tribute to his parents. Walter Williams identifies the true protector of consumers and workers. And David Henderson, subjected to claims that Enron shows the need for more regulation, responds, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Reviews this month focus on Julian Simon’s last book and volumes on America’s prisons, the family, the public schools, the income tax, and the effects of world trade.

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.