Larry Reed’s recent post about the life and work of Leonard Read, long the head of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) caused me to reminisce a bit. I owe a lot to Read and FEE, particularly to one of the editors who worked there for many years.
I first became acquainted with the work of FEE as a freshman or sophomore in high school. In response to an inquiry, FEE put me on its mailing list to receive The Freeman journal and its newsletter “Notes from FEE.” Some of the articles were over my head, but many of them were quite understandable even by me at my young age. I remember especially enjoying the down-to-earth, common-sense articles by Leonard Read and Paul Poirot. They both “put the cookies on the bottom shelf” where even I could reach them. I ended up reading practically all of Read’s little books and was introduced to the writings of free market economic giants, including Ludwig von Mises.
In my sophomore year of college, I was elated to learn that the textbook for my economics course was Human Action by Mises. I studied with Human Action in one hand and a dictionary in the other, but while other students were struggling to understand Mises, I sailed through the class because I had already become acquainted with him and his philosophy, thanks to FEE.
Upon graduation, I became a teacher, and I found myself disseminating the freedom philosophy that had by then become a part of who I was. But I found myself getting frustrated at the apparent lack of interest and initiative of many students. I wrote about my frustrations for the therapeutic benefit I derived, adding to the piece every time I was particularly frustrated. And I read it to my wife every time.
After having heard it too many times, each time longer and more passionately written, my wife exclaimed, “Don’t read that to me again! Either submit it somewhere for publication or throw it away, but don’t read it to me again!”
With my pride hurt, I had to do something. I couldn’t bear to throw it away, so I polished it a bit and submitted it on February 21, 1981–to The Freeman. A week later, I received a letter from Paul Poirot, editor of The Freeman. It read, “Thanks for your letter of February 21 and the opportunity to consider your article, ‘Help Wanted: Laborers.’ We’ll be pleased to schedule it in our next open issue of The Freeman, probably May.”
Elation does not begin to describe my feelings at that moment–or when the May issue reached my mailbox. On the encouragement of Paul Poirot, I went on to write several more articles for The Freeman, some of which are periodically referenced in FEE e-zine articles even today, more than thirty years later.
Regretfully, I never had the privilege of meeting either Leonard Read or Paul Poirot, who was the man who inspired and encouraged my writing career more than any other. Both men have since passed, but their influence continues to reach thousands of people through the work of FEE. As teacher-author Jesse Stuart wrote, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”
Read and Poirot certainly fit that description. As I continue my own career, offering my feeble attempts to share that same free market philosophy, I only hope that I can influence someone in the same way that those men and that organization influenced me.