Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Larry and the Feds

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Larry and the Feds

Article excerpt

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Larry Moss began a 20-year association with federal training facilities known collectively as the Executive Seminar Centers (later the Management Development Centers), teaching market economics to federal managers attending economics and executive development seminars. He was recommended to me when I was searching for someone who could represent a free-market approach in a two-week-long economic policy seminar whose faculty was composed primarily of government economists, none particularly libertarian in outlook. The colleague who recommended him commented that Larry punctuated his lectures with magic tricks.

Even with that caveat I was unprepared for Larry's first appearance, carrying multiple pieces of luggage literally containing his assorted bags of tricks. From the moment Larry began his series of lectures, his audience was captivated. Having become inured to speakers who were expert but dry, these serious federal managers found themselves delighted by Larry's clever intertwining of economic theory and magic. Granted, most of the tricks were only loosely connected to the theories under discussion, but the audience waited expectantly for each new piece of magic. In some respects the legerdemain was unnecessary because Larry was an accomplished lecturer, able to explain economic theory with verve while maintaining intellectual rigor. In any event, no one fell asleep in Larry's classes.

In one classic bit of business, Larry pulled white and black rags out of the same box as an illustration of environmental economics. It was during that lecture that he proposed substituting a market in pollution rights for the heavy hand of regulation. In the 1970s, this was a revolutionary (as well as prescient) suggestion, and one vigorously opposed, especially by EPA participants. They challenged Larry on the basis of his having no standing to discuss environmental law since he was not a lawyer. Larry's response over the next several years was to earn a law degree and thereafter to practice law with the same enthusiasm he taught economics.

Larry used many devices other than magic to engage his audience. He held auctions simulating market mechanics, allowing seminar participants to directly experience the excitement of a market as well as the reality of market principles. It was during a simulation concerning the difficulty of maintaining a cartel, however, that Larry provided his most memorable lesson. …

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