When George Mason University last week named buildings after its two famed Nobel Prize-winning economists—Vernon L. Smith and the late James M. Buchanan—it cemented their legacies at Mason in glass and stone.
But Smith and Buchanan had already fashioned for themselves a legacy likely to outlast any campus building.
Through the power of their ideas, the pair have influenced scholars, public policy, and the field of economics—things less tangible, yet far more important, than bricks and mortar.
Buchanan, who won his Nobel in 1986, and Smith, a recipient in 2002, each came to Mason already well-known as influential thinkers and practitioners. Along with a number of notable colleagues, they helped establish a distinct approach for the department of economics and an international reputation such that Mason is routinely ranked among the top 50 universities for economics anywhere in the world.
Often referred to as Masonomics, this approach is known for its emphasis on public choice, public finance, constitutional political economy, institutional economics, Austrian economics, and experimental economics. Politically neither left nor right, Masonomics emphasizes the value of free markets, trusting that respect for liberty and human rights will foster a political-economic system characterized by economic growth, stability, and the rule of law.
Mason economists not only produce work of the highest scholarly quality, they engage vigorously with popular culture and influence the public dialogue. “We don’t just speak to the academy,” former Mason professor Russ Roberts once explained on Café Hayek, one of several popular faculty blogs. “We blog. We write novels. We write letters to the editor. Op-ed columns. We write books for a general audience. … It isn’t just tolerated, it’s honored. … We actually think economics is good for the world.”
As the university honors its history in the persons of Buchanan and Smith, it also looks to the future. The department, which over four decades has educated 4,000 undergraduate majors, 1,000 masters students, and 400 PhDs, has launched a fundraising effort, the Buchanan-Smith Legacy Campaign for the Future of Masonomics, as part of the university’s comprehensive Faster Farther campaign.
The goal is to advance the economics department among the world’s best by raising $15 million over three years, with funds focused on three priorities:
- faculty: retaining and attracting top scholars to the faculty;
- students: funding graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships; and
- facilities: transforming the department’s library, which houses the James M. Buchanan Collection.
Given the university’s growing prominence, promoting Masonomics seems more timely now than ever, and a successful campaign will help Mason continue to attract future stars in the field. “What I most value about Masonomics,” says economics department chair Dan Houser, “is its tolerance and respect for alternative views, as well as a willingness to thoughtfully and sincerely engage people who might hold perspectives that differ from our own. We are interested in creating and discussing ideas. That forms the foundation for all that we do.”
RR / November 21, 2016