The thinkers discussed in this volume are a remarkably diverse group. They were born in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, and their work extends into the twenty-first. Some are economists primarily addressing other scholars, others popular writers aiming at the general public. Their educational backgrounds range from entirely informal schooling to PhDs from major universities. They include a former telegraph operator, a onetime Hollywood wardrobe department manager, and a graduate of secretarial school. Some were shaped by the frontier, others by the city. They are storytellers and data collectors, committed Christians and confirmed atheists, devoted to family life and resolutely single. Two are recognized here as the intellectual partners of their illustrious spouses.
The work introduced in these essays exemplifies numerous strands of thought within the classical liberal tradition, from feminism and abolitionism to the Chicago School of economics. These thinkers include some of the most significant figures in the development of mid-twentieth-century American libertarianism, with its emphasis on the autonomous individual, alongside some of the most influential analysts of how social interaction brings forth order without top-down design.
Some of these writers emphasize empiricism, others theory. Addressing why the West grew rich, one has written a three-volume history informed by literature, culture, and massive amounts of data. Another developed the metaphor of mechanical energy to argue for the freedom of creative individuals. One blamed the Great Depression on contractionary monetary policy, another on Americans “declining resilience” in the face of hardship.