Thomas Sowell on Ben Rogge as Teacher

The classic small liberal arts college is more than a pleasant place where other people know you, though that is not a small consideration for a student living away from home for the first time—especially a shy student.  Academically, the learning process can be far more manageable where professors are teachers first and foremost.  One of the best taught introductory economics classes I ever saw was taught by the late Ben Rogge at Wabash College in Indiana.  Few students at Harvard would ever get such a good foundation in the subject.  Ben, rest his soul, had obviously thought through all the pitfalls of the subject and led the student safely around them.

Source: online version of Thomas Sowell. Choosing a College: A Guide for Students & Parents. 1989.

Do-Nothing Leaders Are Not Always Wrong

The source of the above image is:&nbsp

Edward Tufte says that the graph/map above is the best graphic ever drawn.   His criterion is how much information is communicated per unit of ink.  (Sort of a signal to noise ratio?)
The tan line that starts thick on the left, and gets thinner toward the right, represents Napoleon’s army as it enters and crosses Russia.  The width of the line is scaled to the remaining size of the army.   On the right hand side, the tan line ends in Moscow, where the army disastrously wintered.   The black line moving left shows the diminishing size of the army as Napoleon retreated.
When I was a student at Wabash College, I was a determined and vocal advocate of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.   My economics professor Ben Rogge, was not so enthused.  He thought there were better Russian novels to read, and on several occasions, suggested:&nbsp ‘Diamond, you should read War and Peace.’
I often did not take Rogge’s advice quickly, but usually I took it eventually.&nbsp After leaving Wabash, I read War and Peace.   Parts of it, I found too much like a soap opera for my taste.  But I did find a part that resonated.
Part of Tolstoy’s story is about the Russian general facing Napoleon, who would not fight, but who continued to retreat into the heart of Russia.  He was widely castigated as a do-nothing leader.   But as a result of the Russian general doing nothing, Napoleon ordered his army further and further into Russia.
It is very hard for leaders in government to do nothing.  They will be castigated.  But sometimes nothing is exactly the right thing for them to do.

Edward Tufte’s wonderful book is:
Tufte, Edward R. &nbsp The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed. &nbsp Cheshire, CT: &nbsp Graphics Press, 2001.

Ben Rogge on Bread, Capitalism and Free Choice

‘I believe that capitalism is the system that produces the wholesome bread, and socialism is the system that produces the moldy bread,’ Ben Rogge used to tell us. ‘But,’ he would continue, ‘even if I was wrong, and if it was the other way around, and it was capitalism that produced the moldy bread, and socialism that produced the wholesome bread, I would still choose capitalism. I would choose it because capitalism is the system of free choice.’
But most of us are not like Ben Rogge. Most of us are more like Deng Xiaoping, whose most famous saying is ‘It does not matter whether a cat is black, or white, as long as it catches mice.’ Contra Rogge, he cared only about which economic system produces the goods.
Personally, I believe Rogge was right. But I also believe that if capitalism is to survive, it will only be by continuing to convince the far more numerous Deng Xiaopings of the world.

Ben Rogge on Consistency, Smith and Ricardo

Some would argue that consistency is not always a good thing. Ben Rogge’s favorite quote from Emerson was:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.

Rogge used to mention this quote when he defended Adam Smith against the charge of inconsistency. He would say that Smith’s errors on one page would not keep him from writing an important (albeit inconsistent) truth on the next page. In this regard, he contrasted Smith with Ricardo. Ricardo was consistent, and since he was wrong at the start, he was consistently wrong throughout.
Source for the Emerson quote:
Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955, p. 501, column b. Bartlett gives the source as Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.”