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Advancing Austrian Economics, Liberty, and Peace

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Making Economic Sense by Murray Rothbard
(Contents by Publication Date)
Chapter 109
V. Orval Watts: 1898-1993

V. Orval Watts, one of the leading free-market economists of the World War II and post-war eras, died on March 30 this year. When I first met him, in the winter of 1947, he was a leading economist at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), the only free-market organization and think-tank of that era. He was a pleasantly sardonic man in his late forties. Born in 1898 in Manitoba, Vernon Orval Willard Watts was graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1918, and went on to earn a master's and a doctor's degree in economics from Harvard University in its nobler, pre-Keynesian era.

After teaching economics at various colleges, Orval was hired by Leonard Read in 1939 to be the economist for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, of which Leonard was executive director. Watts thereby became the first full-time economist to be employed by a chamber of commerce in the United States.

Leonard Read had built up the Los Angeles Chamber into the largest municipal business organization in the world, and Read himself had been converted to the libertarian, free-market creed by a remarkable constituent of the Chamber: William C. Mullendore, head of the Southern California Edison Corporation.

During World War II, Read, assisted by Watts, lent his remarkable organizing talents to making the Los Angeles Chamber a beacon of freedom in an increasingly collectivist world. When Read took the bold step of moving to Irvington-on-Hudson in New York to set up FEE in 1946, he took Orval with him as his economic adviser.

During World War II, Orval published his book Do We Want Free Enterprise? (1944). In his FEE years, he published several books, as well as writing numerous articles for free-market publications. His books included Away From Freedom (1952), a critique of Keynesianism; his pungent critique of unions, Union Monopoly (1954), and his perceptive attack on the United Nations, United Nations: Planned Tyranny (1955). He also served as economic counsel to Southern California Edison and several other companies in the Los Angeles area.

In 1963, at an age (65) where most men are thinking seriously of retirement, Orval resumed his teaching career, moving to the recently established Northwood University (then Northwood Institute), a free-market center of learning in Midland, Michigan.

Orval, bless him, served as director of economic education and chairman of the Division of Social Studies at Northwood for twenty-one years, until he retired in 1984 at the age of 86. While at Northwood, he published an excellent anthology of free market vs. government intervention articles, Free Markets or Famine? (1967), as well as his final book Politics vs. Prosperity (1976).

Orval Watts died in Palm Springs, California, this March, having just turned 95. He is survived by his wife Carolyn, a son, three daughters, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

We can see in the present world how vitally important history is for the values and self-definition of a family, a movement, or a nation. As a result, history has become a veritable cockpit of contending factions. Any movement that has no sense of its own history, that fails to acknowledge its own leaders and heroes, is not going to amount to very much, nor does it deserve a better fate.

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