Wednesday, June 29, 2022

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The Power of the Ten Pillars


I thought of you recently and I just typed the phrase “Though I had only one class with him and he was my thesis advisor, I learned more from him than [from] any man I know.” The context was instruction for my niece, who is graduating with a Master of Science in Applied Nutrition, and is entering the world without a single course in any type of economics. In addition to a lot of other nuggets, examples, and calculators, I have included your Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom, as I use the first seven almost every day in one way or another. (Honestly, I had to look the others up!) Though I was your student for a relatively small portion of my life, it remains true that what you taught me has so many applications that it is likely the most valuable knowledge I possess. And I am getting old enough to drop people a note whenever I think of them! Best, Gill

I received this note as a private message on Facebook yesterday from a former student whom I taught at the Naval Postgraduate School. He gave me permission to give his name: Miguel O’Hara.

Here are the 10 Pillars of Economic Wisdom, with which I opened each course I taught at NPS for about the last 20 to 25 years of my teaching there:

1. TANSTAAFL: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
2. Incentives matter; incentives affect behavior.
3. Economic thinking is thinking on the margin.
4. The only way to create wealth is to move resources from a lower-valued to a higher-valued use. Corollary: Both sides gain from exchange.
5. Information is valuable and costly, and most information that’s valuable is inherently decentralized.
6. Every action has unintended consequences; you can never do only one thing.
7. The value of a good or a service is subjective.
8. Creating jobs is not the same as creating wealth.
9. The only way to increase a nation’s real income is to increase its real output.
10. Competition is a hardy weed, not a delicate flower.

It’s heartening to receive appreciative notes from students I had taught between 5 and 20 years ago. It’s even more heartening to see that they’re applying some of the most important things I taught.

Note on picture above: Liberty Fund encourages bloggers to include pictures or illustrations with each post. I couldn’t find a good picture of a pillar and I couldn’t find a picture of me teaching. So I used the cover of my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey because Chapter 2 of that book contains an early version of the 10 Pillars of Economic Wisdom.

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