July 30, 2013

Foundations of Liberty: Mercatus Center

By: Michael LaCroix

Started in 1980 as the Center for the Study of Market Process, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is a market-oriented research, education, and outreach think tank dedicated to bridging the gap between academic ideas and real world problems. Since its founding the Mercatus Center has been a source of innovative ideas and scholarship seeking to further the true nature of free markets.

The Mercatus Center supports graduate students at George Mason’s school of economics many of whom are now among the most creative scholars in their fields working at the intersection of economics and problems solving to advance liberty. They strive to develop and produce knowledge and an understanding of the institutions that affect the liberty to prosper and to find sustainable solutions that overcome the barriers preventing individuals from living free, prosperous, peaceful, liberty-driven lives. Their research draws from a distinct tradition in political economy and from a rich body of ideas developed by names very familiar to the liberty movement, such as Hayek, Buchanan, Ostrom, and more recently Vernon Smith.

Early on the Center recognized both the theoretical and philosophical insights of the Austrian School and also saw immense value and potential in the Chicago School, which emphasized empirical rigor and case studies. Working to blend these two schools has been a core mission of the Center for decades. Shortly after making a major move the Center took on the task of applying that blend of economics to bridge the gap between academic research and public policy problems by offering seminars on economics and public policy for congressional staff. These occasional seminars revealed a growing demand for economic education in DC and in 1999 it formally launched its “Capitol Hill Campus” to recreate the college classroom experience on Capitol Hill by bringing faculty and academic research to congressional staff and to make academics aware of the need for relevant economic analysis of pressing public policy issues.

As the Center learned more about the type of research and education that was needed to help public policy makers work through challenges, Mercatus added even more leading scholars and to its ranks. As Mercatus recognizes a gap in the world of public policy that can be filled by economic scholarship, new research programs are added, whether they be on the economics of regulation, entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa, government transparency, policymaking after crises like Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the financial sector, or the role of government spending in the economy.

As decision makers increasingly turn to economics to understand and address public policy challenges, the Mercatus Center is committed to making sure well trained economists are there to answer the questions or even ask the questions that no one is asking and help search for the answer. Whether through books, journal articles, association meetings, blogs, the media, policy publications, congressional testimony, or classroom instruction Mercatus faculty and students are working to advance knowledge about the institutions that underpin a free and prosperous society, and bring that knowledge to the public policy makers charged with maintaining those institutions for future generations.

Michael LaCroix is an intern with America’s Future Foundation and a student at Grand Valley State University