Todd J. Zywicki is a George Mason University Foundation Professor of Law at the Scalia Law School at George Mason University and a former Director of the Office of Policy Planning at the FTC.
I was saddened to read of the passing of my dear friend Fred McChesney. An amazing scholar and an even more amazing friend and perhaps the greatest storyteller I’ve ever met. He is largely responsible for me going into law & economics and eventually the academic profession.
When I was deciding whether to pursue my Masters Degree in Economics at Clemson, Roger Meiners connected me with Fred. Fred was by then at Emory and already an established titan of law & economics. Fred had never taught at Clemson, but knew many of the Clemson professors through the Manne law & economics network. I cold-called him at Roger’s suggestion and much to my delight and (now) surprise, we must’ve talked for 30 minutes as he told me all about Clemson and law & economics. That seeming digression changed my life, leading me to UVA as an Olin Fellow and eventually to GMU. If Henry Manne is my intellectual grandfather then Fred McChesney and the crew at Clemson who passed that tradition on to me are my intellectual fathers.
My initial conversation with Fred embodies the spirit of the man — he was already an academic star with an immensely high opportunity cost. And here I was asking him for advice about seeking an MA at a completely different school. Yet rather than brush me off or rush through a hurried conversation, he was eminently patient and helpful. Only when I later became a professor did I realize how rare it was to find a man of his humility and friendliness in the academic profession. Every encounter with Freed from then on had the same spirit.
As for Fred’s intellectual influence on me, that is hard to overstate. Several years ago I published a co-authored book on “Public Choice Concepts and Applications in Law.” The book, of course, discusses Fred’s profound work on “rent-extraction,” one of the most important refinements of public choice theory since its origins. Even better, many years later, when I became Executive Director of the Law & Economics Center, I had the opportunity to organize Law Professor Workshops on Public Choice, at which Fred was one of our star speakers. The professors in attendance invariably left informed — and amused — by Fred’s lectures. As did I!
I always looked forward with anticipation to my meetings with Fred — I’m going to miss him greatly.