by Peter Lewin
On the occasion of his 70th birthday I would like to pay tribute to Mario Rizzo. I beat him to this milestone by a few months and welcome him to the septuagenarian Austrian economist club.
My tribute to him is intensely personal. We have known each other for almost four decades and our paths have run together in a way that was particularly significant for me. So in addition to honoring him as an economist of rare talent – an economists’ economist – I would like some indulgence to express my appreciation for matters more personal.
At the end of the Spring semester in 1976 I left the University of Chicago, having completed all of my course work and qualifying exams, to return to South Africa – subsequently completing the thesis for my Ph.D. I never met Mario Rizzo, who was still at U of C and left soon after I did. I found out later that he was another “Chicago Austrian”. But, whereas he came to Chicago with a foundation in Austrian economics by way of the usual suspects, from Menger to Kirzner, my foundation in Austrian economics started with Lachmann and proceeded to Hayek and Böhm-Bawerk and Menger. I had read little of Mises and I don’t think I knew of the existence of Rothbard. Mario, by contrast, learned about Lachmann when he went to NYU in 1976.
So, in a significant way, our journeys went in exactly the opposite direction. I was surprised to find the “other Austrian” views. But although we started from different ends of the spectrum as it were, it is to me quite amazing the extent to which we ended up in the same place. In fact, it was Mario who more than anyone helped me reconnect with my early Lachmannian education and put it into perspective – the same perspective I have today. It was in 1979, when, then in Dallas, I picked up a book edited by Mario, a collection of essays, including by some luminaries like John Hicks, Harold Demsetz and Leland Yeager. Reading Mario’s introduction was the pivotal moment of my re-entry into modern Austrian economics after Chicago, and the beginning of the broadening of my knowledge in that field. The essays in that book showed how the Austrian approach could shed light on the traditional economic topics (monopoly, law, property rights, etc.) in a way I had not realized. I immediately wrote to Mario and he replied inviting me to give a paper at the NYU seminar, which I did a few months later. Lachmann, Jerry O’Driscoll, and Murray Rothbard were there. And the rest is (almost forty years of) history.
As things stand today I would be hard-pressed to find anything to disagree with in Mario’s work over the years extending Lachmann’s insights, together with Jerry O’Driscoll in the their 1985 classic, or in his work on law and economics or in his work (together with Glen Whitman) on the new behavioral economics which I believe is the best assessment of that literature available.
The Austrian revival and subsequent development would not have been the same without Mario Rizzo, a scholar of impeccable integrity, good humor, always ready to sincerely engage with others students and colleagues alike.
Happy birthday Mario. I hope we have many years of productive interaction ahead of us.