History and Timeline

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is a university-based research center dedicated to bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems, and it has been a source of innovative scholarship ever since its founding 40 years ago. 

As part of Virginia’s largest university, the Mercatus Center supports students in George Mason University’s world-renowned department of economics. Former students who have benefited from Mercatus support are among the most creative scholars working in the social sciences today.

Mercatus research draws from a distinctive tradition of political economy, blending ideas developed by Nobel laureates F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan, Elinor Ostrom, Vernon Smith, and Douglass North and applying them to address society’s most pressing problems.

Over forty years in the making 

In 1980, Richard Fink, then a professor at Rutgers University, brought the Center for the Study of Market Processes to George Mason University. Mason was in the midst of a rise fueled by a growing Northern Virginia community and an entrepreneurial university president, George Johnson. The university was a natural fit for the Mercatus Center given the growing reputation of its economics department and the school’s proximity to Washington, DC. Shortly after the center moved to Mason, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock joined Mason’s economics department, cementing its place among the most intellectually vibrant and important sources of economic ideas.

Fink relocated to Mason as a member of the faculty in the department of economics. The Center for the Study of Market Processes originally supported a class consisting of four of Fink’s undergraduate students, one of whom was Tyler Cowen. In 1999, the center was renamed the Mercatus Center under the new leadership of Tyler Cowen. Today, Cowen is the Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University and faculty director of the Mercatus Center. 

Rising to the challenge

After nearly two decades at Mason, the Mercatus Center was poised for growth, as was the university as a whole. In a bold move, Mason President Alan Merten in 2001 recruited Professor Vernon Smith and five of his colleagues from the University of Arizona’s prestigious Economics Science Laboratory to Mason’s department of economics. Smith joined the Mercatus Center’s board of directors, adding his innovative “experimental economics” methodology to the list of economic schools of thought in the Mercatus toolbox. One year later, in 2002, Smith—and, by extension, the field of economics he helped to pioneer—was recognized with a Nobel Prize. 

By this time, the Mercatus Center was supporting research on the institutions that underpin a free and prosperous society conducted by more than two dozen Mason faculty members, primarily in the department of economics. These scholars were extremely prolific, publishing books and scores of academic articles. Each year, 12 of the top graduate students at Mason received fully supported fellowships from the Mercatus Center so they could focus on their studies and prepare for careers as faculty members and researchers. 

Mason’s growing reputation and the addition of accomplished faculty members meant that the number of students interested in enrolling in graduate studies at Mason skyrocketed. The Mercatus Center responded with a commitment to increase the number of students it supports each year—a commitment that reflects the goals of its founders. Today, the Mercatus Center supports more than 200 students in five fellowships from the undergraduate through the PhD level, including Mason students and students attending universities all over the world.

The Mercatus Center is committed to persuasively communicating the ideas of economics and the findings of our scholars’ research. Through books, journal articles, academic association meetings, blogs, the media, policy publications, congressional testimony, and classroom instruction, Mercatus faculty and students are working to advance knowledge about the institutions that underpin a free and prosperous society, and to bring that knowledge to bear on important public conversations. 

And though the world has changed over the past four decades, the Mercatus Center’s commitment to innovative, problem-solving economic scholarship rooted in a robust tradition of economic thought and world-class education has not. With 40 years of tradition, the Mercatus Center remains a steady source of innovative ideas, as we bridge the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.


1980Richard Fink brings the Center for the Study of Market Processes to George Mason University.
1986Mason economics professor James Buchanan is awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
1998Tyler Cowen is named the center’s general director.
1999The Center for the Study of Market Processes becomes the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
2002Mason economics professor Vernon Smith is awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
2007Mercatus supports 40 students at Mason and brings eight new professors to the economics department.
 Mercatus creates the MA Fellowship Program to train Mason students in applying economic research to public policy.
2012Mercatus establishes the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics under the direction of Peter Boettke and Christopher Coyne.
 Mercatus creates the Adam Smith Fellowship to educate graduate students at other universities (and in any discipline) who are interested in learning about Austrian, Virginia, and Bloomington schools of political economy. This increases the number of graduate students Mercatus supports to more than 60 students.
 Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok create the online education platform Marginal Revolution University to teach economics to millions around the world.
2014The Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship is established to provide public policy training to graduate students from any university or discipline.
 The Joseph Schumpeter Fellowship is established for undergraduates at Mason, increasing the number of students Mercatus supports to 125.
2015Tyler Cowen creates the “Conversations with Tyler” series, bringing high-profile thought leaders to Mason.
Today  Mercatus supports more than 200 students, and there are nearly 400 alumni of its programs.