I can recall the first time I saw Leland, though I did not meet him then. It was September 21st, 1981. I was a second-year graduate student in NYU’s “Austrian” program. Along with Don Boudreaux, Sandy Ikeda, George Selgin and the other Austrian students, I was allowed to attend the Mises centenary conference being held at NYU. We were specifically forbidden to comment, ask questions, or make noise. We all found it hard to honor this last prohibition when, at a certain point, Leland exclaimed forcefully, “What’s all this about ‘You can’t predict’? Mises spent his whole life predicting!” We wanted to cheer. Later I came to Auburn University to study under Leland. By the time I came under his influence I had learned some economics at NYU, and much of it was supposed to be “fancy.” I did not know that economics is not “fancy,” certainly not the core of it. The best economics is simple, but not simplistic, as Pete Boettke constantly reminds us. I learned lots of economics from Leland Yeager. Looking back, though, I think the greatest lesson I learned was the value of fancy-free economics. The core of the enterprise is price theory, verbal price theory that pays attention to who does what and whether your model makes human sense. That’s fancy-free economics. And in the hands of a master like Leland, it is deep and sophisticated economics. It is what Bruce Caldwell calls “basic economic reasoning,” which he defines as “the sort of reasoning that economists utilize all the time in the classroom.”
Leland also taught me how to pronounce Italian words. He knew I would soon be getting married in Rome and wanted to help me prepare. It seemed a dubious skill to properly pronounce words I could not understand. How would that help me with my Italian in-laws? I worked on it, though, out of love and respect for my teacher. Later, I was able to pick up enough Italian to talk to those in-laws. I think Leland realized that if you can discriminate among the sounds, you can pick up the language even without formal training.
I am a poor student. My economics is still too fancy and I still speak a rather poor and broken Italian. But if I have made some progress on either front, the credit goes to Leland Yeager.
Roger Koppl is Professor of Finance in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University and a faculty fellow at SU's Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute