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George H. Smith, RIP

I’ve held off writing an obituary for George Smith because I wasn’t sure that the obituary friends pointed to was truly of him. But David Boaz has…

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This article was originally published by EconLog

I’ve held off writing an obituary for George Smith because I wasn’t sure that the obituary friends pointed to was truly of him. But David Boaz has convinced me that it was. I had lost touch with George and so I didn’t know that he had moved to Bloomington, Illinois.

David Boaz’s obituary of George is an excellent summing up of George’s many contributions to liberty and to good thinking. So I won’t try to replicate it.

Instead I’ll tell a few fun stories.

I first met George in the fall of 1973, my second year at UCLA and my second year in the United States. I met him through his good friend Roy Childs, with whom I was becoming friends.

George’s Entrepreneurial Ventures

At age 23 or 24, if I recall correctly, George had already finished a book, Atheism: The Case Against God. Not only that, but it was a good book. I bought it when it came out in 1974 and read it quickly. George was a good writer early.

George had dropped out of the University of Arizona and was determined to make it as an intellectual without a college degree. He did, although his income was spotty at times.

One of his first ventures to make income came in the winter of 1974 when he rented a conference room at a hotel and advertised that he would be giving a talk. I assume the topic was his book’s topic. I remember Roy and me talking to him beforehand, with me encouraging him and Roy, surprisingly, telling him it would likely flop and he wouldn’t even make the room rent and mailing expenses back. (I say “surprisingly” because Roy was always the kind of person who encouraged people to take those kinds of relatively small risks.) Neither Roy nor I went to the event. I would have but didn’t have a car in L.A., which made transportation challenging.

I still remember, though, George coming back from the talk with a bag of money. I have this vague recall that it was $262 net of hotel charges. He was gleeful as he counted it out, and I was relieved. Remember that this was 1974. So $262, adjusted for inflation, would be over $1,500 today.

Austrian Economics Study Group

The main way I got to know George was through our Austrian economics study group. My roommate, Harry Watson, and I were in our second year at UCLA and we wanted to study works by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, people who were not covered in any of our courses. (We did have Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” which we covered in at least 3 of our first-year courses at UCLA.) So Harry, Roy, George, his girlfriend Dyanne Peterson, Tom Palmer, John McCarthy, and I formed an Austrian study group that met every Sunday night at George and Dianne’s place. We started with Mises’s Theory of Money and Credit, published in 1912, which was, I think, Mises’s Ph.D. dissertation. Each participant took a turn preparing and presenting a chapter and everyone was presumed to have read–and actually did read–each chapter. That’s when my respect for Mises as an economist grew. Mises’s book, by the way, was a monetary theory textbook for many courses in Germany and Austria.

George Smith, Walter Cronkite, and King George VI

David Boaz writes:

One attendee at the seminar in those years, Nashville entrepreneur Crom Carmichael, told us, “These lectures are great, but you’re only reaching 75 people. You need to scale up.” Not long afterward he created Knowledge Products and hired George to conceive, write, and edit what ended up being dozens of professionally produced audio lectures on philosophy, history, economics, and current affairs. Some of the tapes were read by professional readers, but the narrators also included Charlton Heston, George C. Scott, Louis Rukeyser, Lynn Redgrave, and Walter Cronkite.

I remember one amusing story George told me about Walter Cronkite. In one of the scripts George wrote, he referred to George VI as, wait for it, “George VI.” When Cronkite got to that part, he said “George vee eye.”  So George had to write it out as “George the sixth.”

Hitler and JFK

George was always a curious person. Growing up in Arizona, he had a friend whose mother had been a teenager or young adult in the early 1930s in Germany. George, like many of us, wondered how apparently normal people could go along with what Hitler stood for. He thought his friend’s mother was reasonably smart and fairly normal, and didn’t seem at all anti-Semitic. So in the early 1960s, George asked his friend’s mother how she and those around her had thought about Hitler. She answered that most of his speeches weren’t about Jews but were, rather, about the need to have a vital, dynamic Germany that would get back on track. She told George that when she saw JFK speak, she was reminded of how she and her friends had thought of Hitler back in the early 1930s.

Tell Roy

One last reminiscence, which I shared in my tribute to Roy Childs, after he died in 1992. I quoted George Smith’s affectionate humor about Roy. You have to remember that George said this in the early 1970s:

The three fastest means of communication are telephone, telegraph, and tell Roy.

 

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