The woman who made Mason econ what it is

Here is a 1983 video of Friedrich Hayek that I came across somewhere on the internet lately:

Friedrich Hayek’s genius is so broad and deep—and his accent so thick, and his English so interwar-academic—that the video may be hard to watch in one sitting. That’s fine. Here I want to point out something else: the woman who introduces him.

Her name is Karen Vaughn. I had the pleasure of hearing her as a guest lecturer for four classes in Pete Boettke’s History of Economic Thought class. Among her many impressive accomplishments, she was the chair of the economics department at George Mason University from 1982–1989. In this capacity she brought James M. Buchanan’s Center for the Study of Public Choice to George Mason University in 1983 after its difficulties at Virginia Tech. She had previously initiated a deal to locate the Center for the Study of Market Processes, later to be renamed the Mercatus Center, to GMU in 1980. (Some of the story here and some here.)

Basically, GMU’s economics department at the time was nothing special. Its overall rankings have been slowly but steadily getting better, but in its areas of specialty it is near or at the top. I did not field in Experimental Economics and don’t know much history there, but I did field in Austrian Economics and Public Choice, the specialties represented by those very organizations, and the opportunity to study both in the same program from their leading scholars is due to Karen Vaughn. In short, it was Vaughn who made Mason Mason. We often think of the battle of ideas as being only about the ideas, but it’s things like this that work behind the scenes as well.

Her work may be a little inside baseball for most people, but for its target audience it is eminently worth reading. The anecdotes in class were great too. Her guest spots were in preparation for her to resume teaching at least a few classes on the history of economic thought, so I hope this project is well underway. She has of course continued writing, so I hope this too is bearing fruit.

Update: I wrote this last night, and today I see that the QJAE has another chapter in the history of Austrian economics here. You’ll notice it features, among others, Karen Vaughn.

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Author: rfmcelroyiii

Student and instructor of economics.

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