Leland Yeager, R.I.P.Tags History of the Austrian School of Economics
I am sorry to report that Leland Yeager passed away on April 23, at the venerable age of 93. Although he described himself as a “fellow traveler” rather than a full member of the Austrian School, he greatly admired Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard and made important contributions to Austrian theory.
In his essay, “Tautologies in Economics and the Natural Sciences,” he defended the deductive method of praxeology:
Tautologies are analytic or logically necessary propositions.… Analytic propositions can give us new knowledge (or aid us in its pursuit).… Logic and mathematics, although apodictically certain, can sometimes yield surprising results”. Mises would not have put it any differently.
Yeager ranged widely in his contributions to economic theory. He early established a reputation in international trade theory and was a strong critic of protectionist and restrictionist schemes of all sorts. He was a master of the difficult field of capital theory, and here the mistaken approach of Frank Knight could excite him to fury. In monetary theory, he wrote in the tradition of Clark Warburton. He translated Mises’s Nation. State, and Economy.
He was a great scholar, and in all of his work it is evident that for each topic he considered, he had read all the relevant literature in several languages. (He was a gifted linguist able to read a vast number of languages, who had worked during World War II as a Japanese cryptanalyst translator, and was one of the foremost proponents of Interlingua, an artificial language.) He analyzed each article he read in minute detail, and if authors failed to meet his exacting standards, he could be a mordant critic.
Yeager’s mastery of the sources extended to philosophy. His most important work in this area, Ethics As Social Science, is an outstanding defense of a modified form of utilitarian ethics, in the tradition of Mises and Henry Hazlitt, whose Foundations of Morality he rated highly.
Yeager was a Professor at the University of Virginia for thirty years, where he was a mentor to a number of Austrian economists including Roger Garrison. After his retirement there, he taught for another ten years at Auburn University as Ludwig von Mises Distinguished Professor of Economics, retiring again in 1995. The Mises institute played a key role in bringing Yeager to Auburn, where he was a renowned and rigorous teacher. His students at Auburn included Mark Thornton and many of the early Mises Fellows.
He regularly attended conferences and programs at the Mises Institute. In a seminar I attended several years ago when he was in his late 80s, he delivered a perfectly organized lecture, standing for nearly one hour.
He was a shy person, rather formal in manner; but once one got to know him, it was evident he liked people and wanted to go over arguments with them. His high scholarly standards are an inspiration to us, though few can hope fully to meet them.