June 19, 2006
Back from IHS

I spent the past week teaching an IHS seminar at Princeton. It was the fourth year I've taught for IHS. Although previous seminars went well, I think this year was the best of the four I've done. Some thoughts on the week:

1. We had a great group of students, including at least one DOL reader. One is a writer for capitalistchicks.com. Another is co-blogger Brad Smith's daughter; she posed some great questions and, not surprisingly, advocated for freedom of political speech. There were two Swedish students who are strong advocates of liberty and strong critics of their country's social welfare nanny state. Their country needs more people like them because it is now running a 15% unemployment rate and "rotting from within."

2. In one of my lectures, I discussed the work of Hernando de Soto and other thinkers on the importance of favorable institutions for economic growth. Here's a bit about de Soto on NPR (HT Wilson Mixon); a great example of the kind of growth killing regulations I included in my talk is this story about it taking nearly 20 years of legal wrangling for a firm in India to fire a worker who slept on the job.

3. In one of his lectures, historian Rob McDonald had an example of bootleggers and Baptists. He argued that the early 19th century ban on slave importation was supported by both northern abolitionists (Baptists) and southern slaveholders (bootleggers b/c they thought their existing slaves would become more valuable). Here's another example of bootleggers and Baptists (scroll down to the section labeled "Suffer the Little Children"; HT Wilson Mixon).

4. In our closing session on Friday, there was a question about income inequality. The Economist has an article on the topic; I've only skimmed it so I may not agree with all of it. (HT: Wilson, of course.)

5. In the Q&A after one of my lectures, I was asked which "Monopoly" piece I would be. I still don't have a good answer--I think I was often the horse with rider when I played the game as a child, but there was no good reason such as Adam Smith used to like riding horses. Russ Roberts has a fun post on the lousy economics of the game (thanks to Bryan Caplan for the reminder).

6. One question I didn't have time to answer after one of my talks is whether I think prosperity equals happiness. I don't (at least not once one gets above some sort of subsistence level of prosperity), but I think prosperity and happiness both arise from human freedom. More details here.

7. It was good to see my former students Sam Bulow, who now lives in Princeton, and Mini-Me, who has recently received a nifty promotion.

Thanks again to the students and IHS staffers who made last week a great experience. As always, I'm honored to work alongside great instructors like Rob McDonald, Elizabeth Hull, Howie Baetjer, and Aeon Skoble.

Posted by E. Frank Stephenson at 10:53 AM in Economics

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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