This month brought the deaths of two people to whom I owe large debts. One was my first economics teacher, Michelle Bailliet, or Michelle Francois as she was known in 1977 when I took her introductory economics course at Nicholls State University. The second was Leonard Liggio, a scholar of wide-ranging erudition who, as president of the Institute for Humane Studies back in the 1980s, generously helped me to make professional connections that proved essential for whatever success I've enjoyed in my career.
Without either of these two wonderful people, my life would have been much less rewarding.
Dr. Francois — or Michelle (as I much later came to call her) — taught Econ 252, Principles of Microeconomics, at my alma mater. I took the class only because it fit my freshman schedule; when I enrolled in it, I neither knew nor cared what economics is. I was then in college only to keep a promise made to my mother that I'd finish at least my freshman year. My plan was to drop out of college at the end of that year so that I could begin work full-time in the shipyard where my father was employed as a pipefitter.
But Michelle literally changed my life. I still vividly recall how she used a supply-and-demand graph to explain that shortages are caused by government-imposed price ceilings — price ceilings of the sort that Uncle Sam used throughout the 1970s to cap the price of energy. My eyes were opened! I finally encountered a sensible explanation for the gasoline shortages that were frequent in the disco decade.
Economics became my obsession. Hungry to talk about economics, I visited Michelle's office during every spare moment I had. Looking back today on my near-constant presence in her office, I'm sure that I was a pest. (Not only did Michelle carry a heavy teaching load, she was then also chairman of the Department of Economics and Finance.) Yet Michelle unfailingly and graciously gave her time to me.
As with all wonderful teachers, Michelle taught me much outside of the classroom. I'm especially grateful to her for introducing me to the works of Frederic Bastiat, the great 19th-century French economist who wrote with a combination of insight and humor that has never since been equaled.
Michelle was a great teacher and a lovely person.
Also great was Leonard Liggio, a man who did more than any other individual over the past half-century to build the libertarian intellectual movement. A lifelong bachelor, Leonard attended seemingly every significant conference, anywhere on Earth, at which ideas related to free markets and limited government were discussed. Not only did Leonard speak at these conferences, he networked brilliantly. He met everyone in the libertarian movement and tirelessly introduced to each other people he suspected would work together productively. Leonard's goal was never to affect the outcome of the next election. He correctly understood that society is made more free or less free by the ideas that prevail in society. Electoral outcomes are consequences of ideas, not causes. So, what matters most is getting the ideas right.
Demanding sound and rigorous scholarship, Leonard made today's classical-liberal (or libertarian) movement stronger and much better intellectually grounded than it would have been without the guiding influence of this wise, gentle and generous soul.