Despite rhetorical differences, the most important market oriented thinkers of the 20th century were Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman. During their respective careers they witnessed the rise of socialism, the hegemony of Keynesianism, and the reversal of the laissez faire principle to one that favored state intervention in the economy. Each of these towering intellectual figures tackled the theoretical and empirical arguments that were responsible for this ascendency of economic statism. They were forceful minds and articulate spokesman in written and spoken word for the position they put forth to counter the cultural and scientific transformation they were witnessing.
Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung back since 2001 and with the current financial crisis timed with a Presidential election we hear of the instability of unregulated markets and the need for regulation and control once again. Statism is on the rise again in rhetoric, and this rhetoric will soon be followed by policy action. With the consequences that we very well may destroy the US economy --- and I am not using the world "destroy" lightly and just for rhetorical flare.
We academics who see our purpose as including not just scientific truth-tracking and quality teaching, but also as being engaged in the policy discourse of our age, believe in the proposition that ideas do indeed have consequences. A change in ideas, will change the language we use; a change in language, will change the rhetoric; a change in the rhetoric, will change the actions taken; and the change in actions, will result in policy consequnces. So we who toil in academics invest primarily in the first and perhaps second stage, while journalists and policy makers more or less engage in the third and fourth stages.
Right now the economics profession has not had a clear intellectual leader step forward to challenge the emerging statist hegemony in the wake of our current financial situation. We are in a state of desparately seeking the next Ludwig, F. A., and Milton. No disrespect to the great economists amongst us, e.g., Andrei Shleifer, or my colleagues at GMU, e.g., Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts, but the arguments emerging from these talented men do not have the 'force' of those presented by Mises, Hayek and Friedman. And without that intellectual force, our future in the US is potentially very bleak as statism will crowd out market creativity, and wealth creation. Where is the next intellectual figure that will explain the impossibility of socialism, why the worst get on top, and why government policies are counter-productive?
How do we find these type of economists and how do we cultivate them? And without them can we survive the statist onslaught on our economic freedom?