Karen Vaughn: Building an Austrian Approach to Public Choice

Originally published in The Independent Review

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Karen Vaughn is an academic entrepreneur and market process theorist whose contributions were formative in the building of the Austrian economics and public choice programs at George Mason University. This essay could easily be about her academic entrepreneurship alone, which is well appreciated by some, unknown to others, and absolutely critical to both the Austrian revival and the development of the Virginia school of public choice (Caldwell 2021). However, I intend to focus instead on the great merits of Vaughn’s scholarly contributions and the benefits of including them more explicitly in the canon of important market process theorists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Vaughn developed her academic research under strict constraints relative to many of her peers. Not only did she invest enormous energies in building the Department of Economics at George Mason University; she was also a mother during a time when there was not much institutional understanding of how to structure an academic position to enable women to raise children and still do their best work.