Monday, February 20, 2006

Dr. Paul L. Poirot (7/23/1915-2/17/06)

The only security any person can have lies within himself. Unless he is free to act as an individual, free to be productive in his own behalf, free to determine what part of that production he will consume now and what part he will save, and free to protect his savings, there is no chance that he can find security anywhere.--Paul L. Poirot. The Pension Idea
Dr. Paul L. Poirot (graduated, U. of Illinois, 1936, Ph.D., Agricultural Economics, Cornell University, 1940) was recruited by Dr. F.A. Harper, his former professor at Cornell University and W. M. "Charlie" Curtiss to join the staff of FEE in 1949. He would write, serve as Secretary of FEE's Board and indefatigable managing editor of The Freeman from 1956 until his retirement in 1987. Poirot's work, quietly managing, crafting and expertly editing FEE's periodical was his gift to the libertarian movement and our treasure. Poirot served as Editor Emeritus of The Freeman until his recent death. Poirot was author/editor of The Farm Problem, The Freedom Philosophy, The Morality of Capitalism and many of the earliest FEE booklets: "Agrarian Reform", "Property Rights and Human Rights ", "Bargaining", "Public Housing", "Social Security" and "The Pension Idea". A feschrift was published in 1987 by FEE: Ideas on Liberty: Essays in Honor of Paul L. Poirot (edited by Beth A. Hoffman).As Poirot stated in 1996:
In more recent years, especially at the nudging of Dr. Sennholz, FEE has published a regular series of Freeman “classic” books. Each volume is devoted to a given subject and draws from the wealth of knowledge contained in some forty years of The Freeman. Having started with The Freedom Philosophy, the series contains books covering a wide range of ideas, including: the moral foundations of capitalism, political interventionism, individual spirit, free trade and world peace, the formation and function of market pricing, money, inflation, banking, private property rights, taxation, conservation of resources, education, medical care, agriculture, unionism, crime, and more.

The Freeman since 1950 consistently and continuously has stood against the fallacies and clichés of politics, not by bitter denunciation, but by reasoned and attractive explanations of the better way of limited government, private ownership, voluntary exchange, moral behavior, and self-improvement. The golden rule of the marketplace is that the person who gains most is one who best serves others.Over the last fifteen years, editorial and opinion pages have played an increasingly important role in the discourse of the national political culture. Therefore, FEE has sought to influence public opinion through the placement of shortened Freeman articles as opinion pieces in newspapers in the United States and throughout the world. The articles are chosen to make a principled case for a free society.
Prior to joining Leonard Read at FEE (called "National Foundation for Economic Education" during its inception in 1946, but the "National" portion was dropped early on), Poirot learned the vagaries of government control first-hand. As he said in 1955:
From 1941 to 1945 I was an economist in the Agricultural Chemicals Section of the Office of Price Administration [and for the Grange League Federation in Ithaca, N.Y. from 1945 to 1949--Ken]. Among my duties was the task of determining what the newly developed insecticide, DDT, was worth in dollars and cents to the community at large. Price control presumes many things; but as I now see it, the most important presumption is that the market or subjective theory of value is unworkable—that there is a better method of determining price than through bargaining between willing buyers and willing sellers. Congress had, in effect, outlawed the market method of price determination. In the case of DDT pricing, we tried to substitute a “cost-plus” formula which is a variation of the labor theory of value. According to that theory, the value of a product depends upon how much time and effort the producer puts into it. What could be more reasonable—from a price fixer’s point of view?

At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with that pricing formula. Of course, there wasn’t enough DDT to begin to satisfy the demand at the official maximum price. But I then believed that it was the responsibility of the War Production Board, or some other agency, to allocate the available supply.I have since learned that there is no substitute for the market method of finding the proper price for anything. The market price serves as an adjustor to bring supply and demand toward a balance, encouraging production or encouraging consumption, whichever is necessary. Occasionally, quite by accident, some other pricing formula such as the “cost-plus” device may result in a price which is the same as the free market price might have been, in which case there would be neither burdensome surplus nor shortage of the goods or services so priced. But what is the sense of a system which cannot work except by accident?...I have a great deal of faith that the market method of price determination will bring forth the optimum supply of any commodity or service. No matter how it is determined, any price other than the free market price is bound to result either in an unmarketable surplus of the item or in an unsatisfied demand for it...

Poirot was one of the premier standard-bearers of FEE's vision of a free, laissez-faire society, protected by a constitutionally-limited government. During the lone years when FEE's future was less than certain, Leonard E. Read, Paul L. Poirot and Edmund Opitz kept their eyes clear and directed by the bright polestar of the freedom philosophy. There were times when FEE could have lost its direction, but with the quiet strength of Paul L. Poirot and the others, FEE continued further than any other libertarian organization of its generation. As his obituary states:
"The sharp wit and lucid prose which characterized his professional writings on the virtues of a free society were also treasured by the many dozens of personal friends with whom he maintained an ongoing letter correspondence."

Just a thought (and hat tip to Lew Rockwell).
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism


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