Last summer, former Mackinac Center for Public Policy
research intern Peter T. Leeson — now a Center adjunct scholar — earned his
Ph.D. in economics at George Mason University in Virginia. Dr. Leeson’s story
and his association with the Mackinac Center are worth sharing with our friends.
In 1997, Center President Lawrence W. Reed read an
articulate letter to the editor in the Midland Daily News that scolded a
previous writer for poor economic analysis of a public policy issue. Reed
contacted the writer, assuming that he was a professor of some sort. In fact,
the author was a 17-year-old Dow High School student, Peter Leeson. A friendship
ensued, and the Mackinac Center offered Leeson a summer internship.
Every year, the Mackinac Center brings college students to
our headquarters to conduct research and contribute to scholarly papers in
various policy arenas. Leeson was such a productive and intelligent addition to
the Center staff that he was invited back in the summers of 1998, 1999 and 2000.
During the school year, Leeson was an undergraduate economics major at Hillsdale
College in Michigan.
Within economic science, Leeson had a particular interest
in the Austrian school of economics. In fact, before graduating from high
school, Leeson had read Ludwig von Mises' well-known Austrian tome "Human Action" three times. Intern Leeson was so skilled in this area of economics
that the Center asked him to provide a lecture on the subject to his fellow
interns at the Mackinac Center's annual "Haywood Internship University"
The Haywood seminars are lectures to each summer’s intern
class on economic, historical, political and legal issues. The seminar series is
named after Center scholar and Northwood University professor Dale Haywood. In
the Mackinac Center’s 18-year history, no other intern has been accorded the
privilege of lecturing to other interns. Haywood twice invited Leeson, still at
the tender age of 18, to lecture his economics students. In 1997, at an
Indianapolis event sponsored by Hillsdale College, Reed even predicted Leeson
would some day win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
Leeson authored nine articles while an intern with the
Center, including the influential "Opposing Judicial Philosophies Court Michigan
Voters," and "What Indianapolis Can Teach Michigan." He also contributed to
scores of other pieces. While doing field research in Romania as a graduate
student, Leeson co-authored the Mackinac Center paper "Draculand: Romanian
Central Planners to Subsidize Dracula Theme Park." The article cleverly compared
the Romanian government’s attempts to stimulate economic growth by subsidizing
entertainment with the state of Michigan’s attempts to do likewise.
* * *
In 2001, Leeson graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale
College and moved to Virginia to begin his doctoral work. George Mason
University’s economics department is home to two Nobel Laureates in economic
science: James Buchanan (1986) and Vernon Smith (2002). The school is widely
recognized as one of the world’s top programs in classical liberal political
economy. At GMU, Leeson studied under Peter Boettke, the leading advocate of the
Austrian school of economics; Tyler Cowen, a prominent figure in the debate
surrounding globalization; and Richard Wagner, who, along with GMU’s James
Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, helped pioneer the field of public choice
In 2003, Leeson spent a year conducting research as a
Visiting Fellow at Harvard University before moving to London, where he was the
F.A. Hayek Fellow at the London School of Economics. Leeson completed his
doctoral work in the spring of 2005.
The third chapter of his doctoral thesis, "Trading with
Bandits," won the Israel M. Kirzner Award for outstanding doctoral dissertation
in economics at George Mason University (Kirzner is a renowned economist from
New York University). "Trading with Bandits" was an analysis of the ability of
merchants to engage in free exchange for mutual benefit without government’s
presence as an enforcer of contracts. Leeson found that mutually beneficial
trade could result even between a stronger and weaker party without government
Since 2001, Leeson has authored or co-authored more than 21
scholarly articles, edited one book, and published three book reviews and 10
public policy papers, most of them through the Mackinac Center. Dr. Leeson has
also served as a "referee" with five scholarly journals, including the Journal
of Institutional Economics and Southern Economic Journal. In that role, he has
helped determine which papers will be accepted for inclusion in the journals.
Many universities interviewed Dr. Leeson for employment,
but he chose to work at West Virginia University, where he is now teaching both
undergraduate and doctoral students as an assistant professor of economics.
* * *
At the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, we have been
collecting "farm team" members for years. As we develop young talent, we believe
we leave a stamp on society as a whole. These young people take the knowledge
and experience they gain at the Center and share it with others, creating a
stronger and freer world for us all.
Today, Oct. 10, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize
in Economic Sciences is scheduled to be announced. It is probably too soon for
Dr. Leeson to be named a winner — but knowing Peter, I’ll be listening
Michael D. LaFaive is director of fiscal policy at the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute
headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is
hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.