I read a lot of economics and finance blogs and one of my favorites is Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution.
Cowen, a voracious reader, recently listed the books that have influenced him most.
Second on the list was The Incredible Bread Machine (available online) “This was the first book I ever read on economics and it got me excited about the topic,” Cowen wrote.
I had never heard of it before, so I ordered a copy online. It’s a libertarian manifesto of sorts, and while I don’t agree with everything in it — I don’t think that free markets are a panacea for everything, for one — the book is well-written and I can see how thought provoking it might be for a young reader.
Surprisingly, the book was published in 1974 right here in San Diego by the Campus Studies Institute of an organization with the vaguely cult-like name of World Research, Inc.
I had never heard of World Research before, so I tracked down Susan Love Brown, one of the authors of The Incredible Bread Machine, who is now an anthropology professor in Florida.
Brown told me that World Research was a non-profit educational foundation that promoted libertarian principles to high school and college students. It was founded by the late Ted Loeffler in San Diego’s Sorrento Valley.
Loeffler was an interesting character. The New York Times visited him in 1966 at the offices of his organization, then named Constructive Action, which the newspaper called “one of nation’s most aggressive, if little-known, conservative groups.” Loeffler was in the midst of a push on college campuses, distributing anti-Communist books like None Dare Call It Treason. He was convinced that America was headed for totalitarianism.
The Times noted that Loeffler was a private man, who preferred to let the ideas and books he was promoting do the talking for him.
Loeffler founded World Research Inc. in 1969. Susan Love Brown went to work there in 1974, the year The Incredible Bread Machine came out. World Research acquired the rights to the original book by Richard Grant and updated it and shortened it. It was Grant who suggested that Brown and her five co-authors put their names on the book.
Brown was 26 at the time, which made her the oldest of the group (the youngest was 23). The goal was to engage young people on their own terms:
At the time that we wrote the book, I would say that two of us were libertarians, two conservatives, and two liberals, so we represented the spectrum. We were found by Mr. Loeffler in various ways and all came together to work in this very creative place. Since then, we have all gone our own ways, although some of us are still in touch. At the time that the book was written, I was a member of the Libertarian Party of California. I had founded the Libertarian Party of Kentucky back in 1972 and then moved to California. I don’t belong to any political party at the moment and haven’t for years. I still believe in freedom, both civil liberties and economic freedom, and I am a political and psychological anthropologist. But I didn’t become an anthropologist until many years after I worked at World Research, Inc.
In the preface, the authors said they were motivated by “global economic insecurity, a widespread decline in personal freedom and our own desire for job security.” Resumes were available on request.
The Incredible Bread Machine doesn’t condescend to its young target audience. It assumes they can understand concepts like taxes, monetary policy, and bank reserves if these things are clearly explained.
After the book came out, they also made a film. It’s available on YouTube and stars a young Susan Love Brown and her co-authors. She said the film was a success, and the money was plowed back into the foundation.
World Research no longer exists. It folded in the 1980s. Brown said her years there were a kind “golden age” in her life. She hated to leave work because it was so much fun to work there.
Among the other authors, one is engaged in property management, one is a writer of books on gardening, one became a lawyer, and the other two I have lost track of. I am the only one who became an academic. I don’t think any of us majored in economics; however, we learned a lot about economics from reading and hanging out with some of the best economists in the world. (At one point, we actually made a film with [Austrian economist] F. A. Hayek.)
No economists among them, but their lucid explanation of the “dismal science” inspired at least one future economics professor in a young Tyler Cowen, and probably others as well.
How many future anythings will the modern “defenders of freedom” like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, or the rest inspire?
Loeffler saw that books, clear writing and ideas will have a much bigger impact on a young mind. Especially if it’s young people communicating with young people.
What a novel idea.