Bill Allen RIP

Last week, Don Boudreaux over at CafeHayek did a nice appreciation of William R. Allen, co-author, with Armen Alchian, of the excellent University Economics textbook. Allen died last week, only a few months before his 97th birthday.

Fortunately, Liberty Fund has published Universal Economics, edited by Jerry Jordan, an update of University Economics.

I knew Bill Allen slightly while I was a graduate student at UCLA (from 1972 to 1975), and my not getting to know him better was my failing, not his. I sat in on one of his classes and I noticed how resentful he was of the UCLA administration. I think that made me wary of dealing with him. Not that I favored the administration, but I didn’t know what the big deal was.

Bill Allen had a beautiful way with words. I highly recommend his thoughts about the economics profession and about UCLA’s distinctive brand on economics. Having read it, I now know what his big deal with the administration was. I’ve had enough experiences, and observed enough other people’s experiences, to know that when you take an unpopular stand on principle, you’ll find that people you expected to support you often don’t or, worse, even join the mob. Fortunately, my own experiences in that area have been relatively unscathing. But Bill Allen experienced it big-time, even to the point of having a bomb set up outside his office. He talks about it all, plus much else, in “A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA,” Econ Journal Watch, September 2010.

An excerpt  from the EJW article about his rocky experience as department chairman:

Shortly later, in October, the Black Student Union uprising hit the department. Five BSU representatives visited me and demanded that I hire some black faculty, although they had no candidate in mind or intention of helping to find candidates with credentials other than the desired skin pigmentation. I made it forcefully explicit that the department would not recruit on the basis of race. The confrontation immediately spilled into the campus newspaper and the Los Angeles print and broadcast media. After a threatening telephone call at home, I bought a shotgun, and strung fine wire around the lawn to trip anyone storming the house. The Scovilles invited the Allens to move temporarily into the furnished apartment above their garage, but my stalwart wife, Fran, refused to be “run out of my home.” I was interviewed and discussed in various forums. The Academic Senate twice nearly censored me, and Chancellor Charles Young, who had succeeded Murphy, referred to me in supercilious manner in public. Soon after the war began, a bomb was placed at an entrance leading to the departmental offices, but it did not explode. I remarked in a television interview that the most conspicuous difference between my enemies and the Nazi hooligans of the 1930s was that the latter could make a usable bomb. Perhaps I came to appreciate in some small degree how Churchill felt in May 1940.

I remember in class his referring to the idea that “you can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, whether that horse be an old one or a young one.” I later learned that this was his reference to Charles Young.


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