Public Lectures
Steven Horwitz

All of these lectures can be modified to be anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes in length.  Many of them are available in one form or another online should you desire a preview.

Capitalism and the Family
In this lecture, I provide a history of the family as a social institution and argue that capitalism/classical liberalism and the wealth that it created were fundamental in transforming the family from an economic institution that was not good for women and kids to the predominantly emotion/affection-based institution we have today.  The talk focuses on how markets liberated women and changed childhood for the better.  It also includes brief discussions of divorce and same-sex marriage.

Classical Liberalism's Progressive Heritage
In this talk, I argue that modern libertarians need to stop thinking of themselves as "right wing" and begin to recognize their legitimate claim to the label of "progressives."  Classical liberals were the progressives of their day and I provide evidence from the 19th century by looking at their views on race, gender, and foreign policy.  After a brief discussion of why the Progressives of the early 20th century were not so progressive, I make the case for how markets have served the cause of human progress, especially for the poor.  The talk concludes with some thoughts about how libertarians ended up on the right and how this all links to bleeding heart libertarianism.

Constitutional Law and Same-Sex Marriage
Understanding the historic Obergefell decision in 2015 overturning state bans on same-sex marriage requires knowledge of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on several issues: the right to marry, sexual liberties, and equal protection. This lecture explores those three lines of legal thinking and shows how they all came together in the majority opinion in Obergefell. The focus is on the role of unenumerated rights and how the Courts approach to them has varied over the years, but seems to be much more positive recently, particularly in decisions from Anthony Kennedy. The talk concludes with a discussion of the role of the Ninth Amendment.

Do We Really Need a Central Bank?
Too many libertarians have views of the history and problems of central banking that are bound up in historical myths or, even worse, conspiracy theory stories.  This talk offers a history of the American banking system and creation of the Federal Reserve System that avoids those pitfalls and places it in the context of other Progressive Era legislation.  Many of the very real problems of the 19th century American banking system were due to other forms of regulation even though there was no central bank.  The lecture then looks at the terrible record of the Fed and finishes by discussing what an alternative competitive currency (or "free banking") system would look like.

House of Cards: Politics without Romance
The Netflix series House of Cards provides a variety of examples of the misbehavior of politicians. The show, particularly the first season, can be used as a launching pad for exploring "public choice economics" and its economic analysis of politics. This talk is primarily an introdution to public choice, covering the ideas of politics as exchange, rent-seeking, concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, and the failure of good intentions.

Inequality, Mobility, and Being Poor in America
The conventional narrative that the last generation has seen the rich get richer and the poor get poorer while the middle class gets hollowed out has serious flaws. In this talk, I look at the data on income mobility, the absolute incomes of the poor, the ability of both poor and rich to purchase various consumption items, as well as the movement of the middle class upward to higher wealth. I argue that the data strongly suggest that life for the average American has never been better and that the opportunity for those who start out poor to move up the income ladder is still strong. I conclude with a brief discussion of the role of health care, housing, and education in this argument.

The Great Depression:  Myths and Realities
This lecture is a broad overview of the Great Depression that focuses on answering three questions:  What caused it to start?  What caused it to get so bad so quickly?  What caused it to be so lengthy?  The answers to all three involve critically assessing various myths of the Great Depression, including the claim that it was caused by laissez-faire capitalism, that Hoover worsened it by doing nothing, that the New Deal saved us from disaster, and that World War II ended the depression. 

The Great Recession:  A Failure of Government not Markets
The boom and bust of the last decade is often blamed on "unregulated capitalism," "greed run amok" and/or "irrational investors."  With those presumed causes, it's no surprised that the cure is often seen as more government regulation.  In this talk, I argue that the Great Recession is a classic example of an unsustainable boom initiated by misguided government policies, by both the Federal Reserve System and Congress.  Once we see how government caused the crisis, it becomes clearer why more government is not the cure.  The talk concludes with a critique of stimulus spending and other activist proposals to speed recovery.

The US Constitution and Economic Rights
The US Constitution does not say a lot about economic rights, but a closer look at the history of constitutional jurisprudence can help us see how the Supreme Court has treated these issues over the years. This lecture looks at the importance of constitutional rules, then explores the places where economic rights are discussed, then takes a detailed look at the evolution of the Court's thinking about property rights and regulation. It includes discussions of the infamous Lochner case as well as the issues raised by Kelo in more recent years.

Three Economic Myths 
We live in a time of many economic myths, but three big ones are that the standard of living keeps falling, that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and that women make 77 cents for every dollar that men do.  Each of these myths, like all myths, has a kernel of truth but the way they are commonly understood is mistaken.  In this talk, I break down each of these myths by looking at a variety of data that suggest the truth is far more complicated.

Walmart to the Rescue:  The Role of the Private Sector in Hurricane Katrina Recovery
The failures of the federal government in rescuing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina are broadly understood.  What is far less understood is exactly where the resources for recovery came from.  Local community organizations and houses of worship played a big role, but big box stores, especially everyone's favorite villain Walmart, were central to the survival of many parts of the Gulf Coast in the immediate aftermath of the storm.  In this lecture, I detail Walmart's heroic contribution to that effort and offer an analysis of why the private sector will outperform government in disaster recovery.

Contact information:
Steven Horwitz
Charles A. Dana Professor and Chair
Department of Economics
Hepburn Hall
St. Lawrence University
Canton, NY 13617
Tel (315) 229 5731
Fax (315) 229 5819