I meant to have this message to you appear with the other tributes Kurt posted on Saturday. But thanks to a busy week in Madrid followed by a trip to Manhattan to tape a Stossel show segment, I sent it in a day late. As it still hasn't been added to the others,* and I hate for you to think that I forgot your birthday, I'm posting it myself.
As I reflected upon how I first came to know you, I realized that had it not been for that encounter, my life would have been utterly different than it has been. And I don’t merely mean that you changed my life in the sort of way that a Brazilian butterfly might change the weather in Texas. Your influence was as certain as it was decisive.
It must have been in the late spring of 1981 that I came across that tiny ad in Reason. It was from this place I’d never heard of called the Institute for Humane Studies, and it offered summer research grants. I’d just begun working on a paper inspired by Hayek’s Denationalisation of Money, which I’d read earlier that spring, so I decided to apply. I got the money, which was great. But I also got to know you, which was far better.
You gave me all sorts of advice on the project, in letters and occasionally on the phone (of course we didn't have email back then). It was all good, but I’m especially grateful for your having alerted me to the work of a UCLA grad student on the Scottish free banking episode. His name was Larry White. You sent me drafts of Larry’s chapters, and I instantly became a Larry White fan. Soon I was corresponding with him, asking all sorts of questions. I remember one in particular. It was, “Where do you plan to teach?” I’d already decided to be his student. That’s how I ended up at NYU.
Of course you and I stayed in touch, eventually meeting at the old IHS headquarters in Menlo Park—I think that was when Hans Eicholz showed up on his motorcycle, in full leather kit; he made me wonder whether I was tough enough to be a classical liberal! When I’d finished my NYU coursework, you invited me to come back as an intern. I leapt at the opportunity, thinking it would be a great one for writing my dissertation.
As it happened, from 9 to 5 you guys mostly had me slaving away on IHS stuff—planning seminars and organizing the contact list, among other things. But from 7 until 9 every morning, and again from 6PM til midnight, I worked on “The Theory of Free Banking,” half the time at the (late, lamented) Printer’s Ink at Stanford, and half at the Prolific Oven in Palo Alto. (Do you remember those half-moon cookies they had? Mmm!)
Despite the hours the writing went better than I could have hoped. And that was also mainly your doing, because every morning around 10:30 we walked over to Pete’s for coffee (Major Dickason’s—I still have the mug I bought there, white ceramic with red-brim), and then sat on a nearby park bench to discuss my progress over it. So every idea I put into the dissertation—and plenty that, thank goodness, I didn’t put in—got a dry run. If every doctoral student had someone like you to talk to, there’d be a lot fewer ABDs hanging around.
IHS and I moved to George Mason at the same time—I even got you guys to transport my little Honda Passport for me, only to end up ditching it after an Alexandria policeman politely informed me that Virginia, unlike California back then, insisted on my insuring it, acquiring a special motorcycle license, and wearing a helmet. Miserable tyrants! But at least I had a teaching job, which meant that, instead of just serving as a factotum at them, you actually let me lecture at IHS seminars. I did that until 1995, when, along with all the old-guard faculty, I quit in protest over your leaving the Institute. I know you didn’t want us to do that–the Institute always came first with you–but you shouldn’t blame us: so far as we were concerned, you were the Institute! And though the place now has oodles more $$$ to toss around, I don’t imagine that it will ever replicate the unique brand of intellectual inspiration and encouragement that you were able to give to students like me. If classical liberal scholarship is thriving now, that’s in no small way thanks to you.
Happy Birthday, ol’ buddy. And many more.
*It has since been added, minus the picture (October 15, 2013).