A Wise Old Uncle Whose Three Words Changed My Life

Mark Skousen

Named one of the "Top 20 Living Economists," Dr. Skousen is a professional economist, investment expert, university professor, and author of more than 25 books.

“Out of small things proceeds that which is great.”

When you struggle with a personal problem or challenge, whom do you turn to?

You may confide in a friend, a colleague, a parent or perhaps even a wise old uncle or aunt.

Here’s my story. In the late 1990s, I started writing a history of the great economic thinkers, including Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

My first chapter was entitled “It All Started With Adam” (Adam Smith, that is).  He is considered the father of economics and favored free trade and a “system of natural liberty.”

In writing in this first chapter, I was under the influence of libertarian economist Murray N. Rothbard.

Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995). 

Courtesy of the Mises Institute

Murray was the leader of the “Austrian” school of economics in America.  We had become good friends over the years.  I even took his tome, “Man, Economy and State” on my honeymoon!

In the early 1980s, I commissioned him to write the definitive alternative to Robert Heilbroner’s bestseller, “The Worldly Philosophers.” The work is a classic, but unfortunately, Heilbroner’s favorite economists were Marx, Keynes and Veblen.

The world desperately needed an alternative history that highlighted the great free-market economists Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.  So, Rothbard began writing, and writing and writing.

Alas, by 1995, Rothbard had completed only half the book — and then he suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 69.  A giant had died, and all of us in the Austrian camp deeply sorrowed his passing.

But what could we do about his half-finished book? Finally, after years of reading and researching, I decided it was time to write my own version.

Telling the Story of the Great Economic Thinkers

As I started writing the book, I was still heavily under the influence of Murray Rothbard, who turned out to be highly critical of Adam Smith.

Rothbard held the unconventional view that Smith’s contributions were “dubious” at best, that “he originated nothing that was true, and that whatever he originated was wrong,” and that “The Wealth of Nations” was “rife with vagueness, ambiguity and deep inner contradictions.”

At the time, my assessment of Adam Smith followed similar lines. I was critical of the founder of economics. However, I didn’t feel completely comfortable with this disagreeable chapter. Even so, I was on my way.

‘Inspired of God’

I printed out the chapter, took it with me on a trip to Utah and asked my favorite uncle Cleon to review it.

Cleon Skousen was a former FBI agent under J. Edgar Hoover, was former chief of police of Salt Lake City and had written over 25 books on communism, the Constitution and the Bible. He was like a father figure to me, since my own father passed away when I was only 16 years old.

Uncle Cleon and me in the late 1980s.

I considered him as a wise old man I respected as a towering figure in law, politics and religion.

When I handed him the first chapter, he did something that changed my life.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and, without looking at the pages, said with considerable feeling, “You know, Mark, the Adam Smith doctrine of the invisible hand is inspired of God.”

Those three words “inspired of God” shocked me.  I thought to myself, “If my uncle is right, I may need to rewrite this chapter and start over.”

‘Who’s Right, Murray Rothbard or Cleon Skousen?’

So, I struggled with the question, “Who’s right?  Murray Rothbard, the professional economist and my mentor, or my wise old Uncle Cleon, who is not an economist by training but is somebody I admire?”

There was only one way to find out. I decided to read Adam Smith’s magnum opus, “The Wealth of Nations”, cover to cover, and decide for myself. Day after day, I read all 975 pages of “The Wealth of Nations”.  (I still have that well-marked Modern Library Edition on my bookshelf.)

Two months later, I finished the book and had made up my mind:  Murray Rothbard was wrong and my Uncle Cleon was right!

Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty,” despite his occasional significant errors, is an inspiring and profound classic that deserves to be the central message of the book.

That decision changed my entire outlook regarding the book.

For the first time, the history of economics could be told as a bona fide story, a bold plot with Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” as the heroic figure, and all economists could be judged as either for or against the invisible hand doctrine of Adam Smith.  Smith was often attacked viciously by the Marxists, Keynesians and socialists, and sometimes left for dead… Only to be resuscitated by his followers, the French Laissez-Faire School, the Austrians and the Chicagoans.

It even had a good ending, with the collapse of the socialist central planning model in the early 1990s and the triumph of free-market capitalism.

The Rest of the Story

The first edition turned out to be published on March 9, 2001 — the exact anniversary of the date (March 9, 1776) that Adam Smith’s first edition of “The Wealth of Nations” was published in London!

It was with pleasure that I dedicated the book, “The Making of Modern Economics,” to W. Cleon Skousen.

I sent him a copy of the first edition with the inscription, “You changed my mind on Adam Smith, and that made all the difference. Lux in tenebris!”

After my uncle passed away in January 2006, his family returned Cleon’s copy to me. My uncle had marked up the entire book in red.

Cleon’s marked-up copy of “Making of Modern Economics”

The New, Fourth Edition of ‘Making of Modern Economics’ is Out!

I’m happy to announce that the brand-new fourth edition of “The Making of Modern Economics” has just been published by the prestigious publisher Routledge (the same publisher of the works of Friedrich Hayek).

It is now one of the most popular textbooks of the great economic thinkers used in the classroom. Move over, Heilbroner!

As Roger Garrison, a professor at Auburn University, states, “My students love it. Skousen makes the history of economics come alive like no other textbook.”

I wrote the book to be both entertaining and educational.

It includes over 100 illustrations, portraits, photographs and “tell all” biographies.

Highlights include:

–  Does capitalism encourage or moderate greed?  The surprising answer from Adam Smith.

– How Keynes saved capitalism — from Marxism!

– A devastating critique of Karl Marx’s theories of capitalism, labor, imperialism and exploitation.  (This chapter alone has converted many Marxists into free-market advocates.)

– Two chapters on Keynes and Keynesian economics and what one reviewer called “the most devastating critique of Keynesian economics ever written.”

– Five chapters on the Austrian and Chicago schools of free-market economics.

The fourth edition updates the dramatic story with the challenges of modern monetary theory, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, minimum wage debates, the new socialists and more.

The book is award-winning. It has won the Choice Book Award for Academic Excellence, and it was ranked #2 Best Libertarian Books in Economics by the Ayn Rand Institute (behind Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”).

‘Single Best Book in Economics’

Over the years, I’ve received numerous testimonials of the book.  Here’s the latest by columnist Richard Rahn in the Washington Times:

“Mark Skousen has produced the single best book on virtually all of those who have had a significant impact in economics — for good or bad — regardless of their political leanings. Despite being an economist with a definite political viewpoint, he treats the many figures he covers with considerable fairness — even the bad actors.  It’s a delight to read cover-to-cover.”

Of course, not everyone agrees. My book has been banned, censored and blacklisted by Marxists, Keynesians and even some Austrians. It was also called “both fascinating and infuriating” by Foreign Affairs magazine.

Order the book and decide for yourself.

Get 50% Off by Ordering it from the Author

Routledge charges $54.95, plus shipping, but you can buy it directly from the author for only $35. Each copy is autographed, dated and mailed for no extra charge if mailed inside the United States.

To buy your copy, go to www.skousenbooks.com.

Good investing, AEIOU,

Mark Skousen

A Good Read Spoiled:  I Give the Author a Double Bogey!

“Who cared about the score

when the club swung with the ease of air

and I glided from shot to shot

over the mown and rolling ground.”

Billy Collins (Poet Laureate)

As I get older, playing basketball, softball and other social sports can cause injuries. So, I’ve lately turned to golf.  Admittedly, I’m no scratch golfer, but I do enjoy playing nine holes (18 seems a bit much) from time to time. I don’t keep score, but I do yell “fore”!

Recently I was intrigued by a new book called “A Course Called America.” The author, Tom Coyne, traveled all around America. During this time, he played and wrote about his favorite golf courses.

But the book is extremely frustrating. The writer refused to include a table of contents or an index so I can look up where he talks about the nine-hole Winter Park Golf Course in Florida, or any of the other golf courses I’ve played on.  I’m sure he has thousands of fans who read his golf sojourns, but in my case, I wasn’t particularly interested in reading a 400-page book about all the unknown courses that he played on.

I wrote the author, and he responded that he purposely left out an index because he did not want the reader to just look up their own favorite golf courses and ignore the rest of the book. It should be read like a novel, he insisted.

He suggested that I read the entire book to find the few pages where he talked about Winter Park. I give him a double boogie for that suggestion.

But in the end, I claimed victory. I typed in the words “Tom Coyne on Winter Park Golf Course” on the internet and Google Books had it on p. 198 of his book “A Course Called America.”  I didn’t need an index after all!

Wouldn’t you know it, the story is told in a chapter on “St. Michael, Minnesota,” not his Florida chapters. Sneaky guy.

What’s fascinating is that his golfing buddy at Winter Park was none other than Billy Collins, America’s Poet Laureate!  Collins drives a Porsche, lives in Winter Park and is a long-time golfer. Coyne notes that his office is disorganized and that he is “a master at work amid piled books and manuscript pages and inky journals.” My wife would not approve!

Coyne cites the one poem that Billy Collins wrote about golf. I liked these lines the best:

“Who cared about the score

when the club swung with the ease of air

and I glided from shot to shot

over the mown and rolling ground.”

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