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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Those Who Shape Us, the Lives We Touch

Reflections on My Sister in the Wake of Her Passing

Earlier this month, my 67-year-old sister, Virginia Ikeda, “Ginger” to me and my family, died peacefully after a long illness. I rarely write here about my personal life, let alone family matters. But I feel moved to share some thoughts on Ginger’s passing with you because of the impact she had on my beliefs and my career.

Those Who Shape Us

As far as economic lineages go, my pedigree is solid. The founder of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger, is my intellectual great-great grandfather. One of Menger’s most important students, Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk, taught Ludwig von Mises, who, after coming to the United States, had Israel Kirzner and Hans Sennholz as two of his most outstanding students. (The third is Murray Rothbard.) And I had the privilege of having both Kirzner and Sennholz as my teachers — who then are my intellectual fathers. (You might say that I had two Austrian daddies!) But I’m almost certain that none of this heritage would be mine were it not for my sister.

More than anyone in my life, she opened my eyes to unseen worlds and to some radical ideas.

Ginger was not only the oldest of five kids; she was also the most upbeat and adventuresome of us, even as we grew older. I’m pretty sure that without her love for music and performance, for instance, neither I nor my siblings would have pursued music as far as we did, or even at all. It was Ginger who first went off to university — neither of our parents had a chance to do so — and it was Ginger who exposed us firsthand to the counterculture of the 1960s and to some of the stranger lifestyles then emerging.

She rode across country alone on a motorcycle, joined a progressive-rock band, ran a candle business, played percussion in the Phoenix Symphony, and worked as a paralegal in a prestigious law office in Los Angeles. She wrote poetry and music, became a savvy computer programmer, and hosted her own radio talk show on technology. (No doubt she also did some “interesting” things that I’ll never know about.) She made friends easily with her openness, cleverness, and dry humor.

You Got What for Graduation?

And it was Ginger who, when I was 14 or so, nurtured my deepening interest in Buddhism, my family’s religion. She introduced me to her Buddhist friends, some of whom, remarkably, remained with her until her final hour.

In short, she exposed me to possibilities outside the provincial world of my hometown and to “big ideas.” That included politics, economics, and social issues.

In my sophomore year of high school (I think, though I can’t be sure), she gave me Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, which I read and studied closely. I can’t say that I appreciated its full importance immediately, but its central message — that actions should be evaluated based on both immediate and long-term consequences, not only for some people but for all — has stayed with me. She gave me Percy Greaves’s Understanding the Dollar Crisis, the book that introduced me to price theory, monetary theory, and Austrian business-cycle theory. Because of her influence, by my junior year in high school, I had decided to study either economics or political science in college.

Buddhism and Austrian economics have set the internal and external parameters of my life. And when I began writing this column for FEE more than five years ago, they merged in the name I chose for it: Wabi-sabi. We don’t use that name any more, but “wabi-sabi,” as I interpret it, nicely reflects what are for me the common elements of those two world views: that nothing is complete, nothing lasts, and nothing is perfect — and that’s okay.

I was thrilled when, as a high school graduation gift, Ginger presented me with a copy of Mises’s Human Action. Its green binding and gold lettering still adorn the bookshelf of my study, but like any much-loved text, it has become worn and marked up in the 40 summers since she gave it to me. On the endpapers, she had written:

For Sandy,

On your graduation from high school into manhood: I hope that you become and remain a strong, responsible and right-thinking man.

With love and best wishes,

Your sister,


I don’t know how close I’ve come to fulfilling those hopes, but I do know that her gift has helped guide me on my way.

Mainly because of Ginger, I did major in economics when the time came, which in turn opened doors to graduate study that neither of us had foreseen, and that led eventually to the career I’ve found myself growing into these past 30 years or so.

The Lives We Touch

Gradually, our interests began to diverge, as those of, if I may say, reasonably smart people naturally do. As she delved ever more deeply into Buddhism, her interest in politics and social theory waned, and as my study of economics and social theory deepened, I spent less time studying Buddhism (although I do practice my faith daily). And as I gained knowledge of and confidence in the wide world she opened to me, our conversations would sometimes turn into disagreements and some of those into arguments — as often happens between people who care about ideas and principles. But the love we had for each other as brother and sister was always strong.

I moved to New York City, got married, and started a family and a career; she moved around a bit but settled some time ago in New Mexico, living, as she sometimes did, slightly off the grid. We would spend time together back home in Mesa, Arizona, over many Christmas holidays and at occasional family gatherings in between, until her health made that hard to do. The last time I saw her was shortly after Christmas last year, for two days and a night, at her home near Silver City. Though she was seriously ill, we managed to have delicious meals together, hugs, laughs, and conversations, including one fierce, hour-long argument. It was like old times, and I’ll always cherish that last visit.

I’m so grateful to have had Ginger in my life. I wish more of my friends and colleagues could have known her and felt her wit and charm. But then, it’s comforting to know that anyone whom I might touch will also be touched by her.

  • Sanford Ikeda is a Professor and the Coordinator of the Economics Program at Purchase College of the State University of New York and a Visiting Scholar and Research Associate at New York University. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.