Spotlight: Roger Leroy Miller


In 1970 an outspoken paperback book appeared in college bookstores across the country. Using the language of the counterculture, A Radical's Guide to Economic Reality explained how large corporations in league with the State keep prices high by avoiding competition; how government welfare, rent control, and housing programs victimize the poor; and how the "public sector" generally works against individuals who wish to live their lives in peace. The author of this cleverly-written volume was a mysterious "Angus Black." Only when later editions included a photograph did students at the University of Washington recognize the author as Roger LeRoy Miller, one of the school's most popular young economics professors.

A Radical's Guide was merely a prelude to what must rank as one of the most prolific publishing careers in the history of economics. Since 1970 Roger Miller has averaged nearly five books per year, in addition to articles, reviews, teacher's manuals, monographs, and pamphlets. This massive output includes other contributions from Angus Black, such as A Radical's Guide to Self-Destruction (on the economics of victimless crimes) and "Ripping Off the Land" in Business and Society Review. Since 1972, though, the pseudonyms have disappeared as the name Roger LeRoy Miller has become increasingly well-known. In addition to frequent appearances in professional journals, Miller's articles have also graced national- circulation periodicals such as National Review and Harper's.

Perhaps the chief source of Miller's growing renown, however, is his role as author of college textbooks. This aspect of his career began with the 1971 publication of The Economics of Public Issues, coauthored with D.C. North. This book, together with its instructor's manual, is now in its third edition and is used in courses across the country. Its.message is much the same as that of A Radical's Guide, though couched in more academic language: the economic system works best when the State refrains from intervening. 1971 also saw publication of two other texts: Applied Econometrics (with P. Rao) and The Economics of National Issues (with R.M. Williams).

But Miller was not content to rest on his initial publishing laurels. While dashing off several additional books on current issues (including The New Economics of Richard Nixon: Freezes, Floats, and Fiscal Policy), Miller was preparing his most successful textbook to date: Economics Today (Harper & Row, Canfield Press, 1973). The book has already become a standard introductory text, and is the most likely contender to eventually displace Paul Samuelson's Economics as the leading introductory college economics text. Since Miller's book, in contrast to Samuelson's, is markedly anti-interventionist and post-Keynesian, such a development would be welcome news to all who value economic freedom. The book and its instructor's manual and student workbook are already in their second editions. Miller has also expanded the book into two separately-published volumes, one on microeconomics and the other on macro. Along the way he has published such other texts as Economic Issues for Consumers (for junior colleges), The Economics of Energy: What Went Wrong?, and Abortion, Baseball, and Weed: Economic Issues of Our Time (with D.C. North).

All of which marks Roger Miller as an unusual economist—a free marketer with an unusual ability to communicate economic issues in a way that average people can understand. Perhaps this ability grows out of Miller's working-class background. As a child he began work at age five, picking cotton, grapes, olives, strawberries, and raspberries in the fields around Fresno and Visalia, California. At age 11 his family moved to Los Angeles, where he worked five years in a pizza parlor. In high school and college he was a member of the Teamster's Union and worked for Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. Thus, in contrast to many academics, Miller has a very good feel for the world faced by everyday working people.

Miller's quick mind and drive to understand led to rapid academic success, despite his nonacademic origins. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of California at Berkeley, earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, and studied for his University of Chicago Ph.D. on a variety of fellowships. He is a member of four professional associations and serves as a referee for four academic journals, including the American Economic Review and the Journal of Political Economy. After six years of teaching at the University of Washington, he was asked in 1974 by Henry Manne to help establish the Law and Economics Center at the University of Miami (see "Spotlight," May 1976). He now serves as Associate Director of the Center and holds a full professorship in economics at Miami.

Miller's recent activities typify his busy and diverse schedule. He is at work on a book on the law and economics of Social Security and a textbook on intermediate micro theory for McGraw-Hill. Fluent in Spanish, he is now lecturing periodically at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala City; last fall he gave a graduate course in monetary theory there. He is also a principal speaker at the L&EC's economics institutes for law professors and Congressional staff aides, and helped to draft the recently-enacted Florida Economic Impact Disclosure Act.

Roger Miller's works provide important ammunition in the ongoing fight to establish the optimality of the free market. And he knows it. "My goal," he says, "is to change things little by little; this can only be done by selling lots of books." Judging from his success to date, Miller is well on the way to accomplishing that goal.