Click-a-ty-clack, click-a-ty-clack . . ., click-a-ty-clack.   

Those were the sounds that regularly echoed down the second-floor hallway of Clemson University’s Sirrine Hall in the 1980s and before. Those sounds of metal-on-metal could be expected by the economists on the floor at 10:00 in the morning, carrying a clear message: “Time for coffee!” 

The sounds came unmistakably from Professor Hugh Macaulay’s steel leg brace that he had worn since he suffered a bullet wound in France in World War II. He had proudly volunteered for service. 

The “clickities,” combined with Hugh’s knocks on office doors, would roust eight or more economists in the department for the treat of the day, a lively policy debate at the campus coffee shop over the latest market-control pronouncement coming out of Washington. Our debates would usually begin as we left Sirrine to make the three-hundred-yard hike to the “Canteen,” so named when the University’s students were all male and all cadets.

The life of Professor Hugh H. Macaulay, Clemson University Alumni Professor of Economics would have celebrated his Centennial today. Those of us who were his colleagues and friends celebrate his life as an economist and moral force in the lives of us all, as well as the lives of his students. Hugh remains one of    the most “unforgettable characters we’ve ever met,” to paraphrase one of Reader’s Digest’s most popular series. He is also remembered as one of the profession’s staunchest defenders of markets, always ready to find fault with proposals to constrain the market process.. 

Professor Macaulay died on October 5, 2005 at the age of 81 from kidney cancer. 

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Hugh always wore a bowtie… Always! And they were made by his wife Frances—or, rather, “Pinky” to all who knew the Macaulay’s. She was the love of Hugh’s life, his partner, colleague, and soul mate. She made the bowties from old neckties. In the Macaulay household, nothing was wasted. 

Hugh had his own dress code. A while back it might have been called “Sunday-go-to-meeting” attire. His hair was cut close. His face, lively. His dark eyes danced as he talked and laughed with others. If one did not know the meaning of Victorian manners of speech and conduct before, they would after spending time with Hugh. 

The style of the day meant nothing to him. Presenting a proper model to his students meant everything. In 35 years of observing him up close, including occasions that might have tested the patience of Job, I can tell you that Hugh never uttered a word that would not have passed muster for My Weekly Reader. 

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Hugh Macaulay knew well and followed the words of Adam Smith found in his Theory of Moral Sentiments: “One should think much of others and little of oneself.” He told me early in my career when I still hadn’t gotten over having a PhD., “Bruce,” he said, “everyone you will ever meet, even the janitor, will know things you do not know. We must treat them all with great respect.” 

Hugh had a keen intellect, a never satisfied hunger for knowledge and for opportunities to engage in conversation about ideas. But there was one set of ideas that mattered above all others: Economics. On this, Hugh had, in the words of J. M. Clark, “an irrational passion for dispassionate rationality.” 

Hugh was an economist to the core. Economics was in his DNA. And Hugh’s economics was not just any old economics, either. It was the Adam Smith economics of markets, price theory, trade, and monetary policy. It was what we in the business call the Old Time Religion. Hugh was an unabashed lover of market competition and individual freedom. No, more than a lover, he was an evangelist. 

And was he ever good. Any time I had trouble with an international finance problem, which was fairly often, I would go to Hugh. He would start laying out principles, then go to application, and before you knew, the answer would be clearly revealed, sprinkled with the well-known Macaulay wit.

Going for coffee with Hugh was great fun and could be hilarious—but the coffee discussions were serious business. Always, always, Hugh brought pen and pad with him. If no one else jumped in with a question, Hugh would pose his own, followed by drawing supply and demand curves. Our discussions could be boisterous but were always good-natured, and peppered with laughter. We all learned from the master and tried to emulate him.

Those who enjoyed Hugh’s company in our book club discussions knew what to expect if anyone even suggested that a government solution to an economic problem would be more effective that markets. Hugh would ask with a disappointed tone, “Haven’t you been listening?” And to make sure we remembered, he would hold forth, often citing his favorite authorities, beginning with Adam Smith, moving on to Milton Friedman, then to Ronald Coase, and finally ending with Will and Arial Durant—incorporating their works into a fully integrated classical liberal thought. 

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Hugh was an economist, but not just an economist. At heart, Hugh was a teacher. A teacher of research. A teacher of life. He was born to be in the classroom… and he knew that. 

His students? They were the joy of his life. His door was always open…, as was his home. The number of times Hugh and Pinky had students in their home was legion, and even though he was a demanding grader, he left his students enthralled with his lectures and his thoughtfulness on allowing them to come to understand why and how he thought as he did. Understandably, any number of his students left his classes to say with conviction, “I would rather take another Macaulay course and make a D than a course from someone else and get an A.” 

For many, Hugh was the one who set them on a new path, writing personal and detailed letters nominating them for graduate school or a job, and who, later, dropped notes of congratulations when they were honored in their work. Long after Hugh’s retirement in 1980, his Clemson colleagues would often be asked, “And how is Professor Macaulay”?

In the words of one of Hugh’s former students, “You know, it really isn’t necessary now to say good things about Professor Hugh Macaulay to those who walked in his footsteps and were aided by the time he gave to them and to their papers. His goodness was self-evident in the way he conducted his life and in the way he treated others with respect and courtesy.” At the same time, those of us who knew him feel compelled to announce with force on this celebratory day that every economics department needs a Hugh Macaulay, someone who is committed with words and deeds to the essential wisdom that Adam Smith laid out in both of his interdependent masterpieces, The Wealth of Nations, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. 

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I dropped by to see Hugh when in the hospital and in his final days, if not hours. Still sedated from the surgery, Hugh did not seem to be fully awake. Even so, Pinky insisted that I come in and speak to him. 

“Hugh,” I said, “I’ve come to tell you that markets work.” This roused him fully. “Thank you for telling me, Bruce,” he responded. “I thought that might be so. Now that I know for certain I can just go ahead and die in peace.” With that, he burst out with that famous Macaulay laugh. Pinky and I laughed, too. 

Hugh Macaulay was one wonderful human being.


Bruce Yandle is  Co-Founder of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism
and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics and distinguished Mercatus Center adjunct professor of economics at George Mason University. He specializes in public choice, regulation and free-market environmentalism.