Some of us recently received the sad news that the classical liberal, free market Irish economist, David O’Mahony passed away on March 10, 2019. Many may have never heard of him. From 1964 to 1988, David taught at University College Cork in Ireland, and for part of that time he served as economics department head.
For more than 20 years, David introduced his students in the various courses he taught to the ideas of thinkers like Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, and F.A. Hayek.
Long after it was the custom, he would always come into his classes in his black academic gown. Sitting in the front of the classroom — in, say, a history of economics thought course — he would introduce his students to the wonders of the “invisible hand”, and the power of self-interest within a “system of natural liberty” to harness “self-love” for the wider wealth of nations.
He would read out with emphasis and affect the famous passages in The Wealth of Nations, so the students could have a direct sense of the power and wisdom of Smith’s insights concerning the possibilities of social order without human design.
David had devoted some of his student years in the late 1950s at the Graduate Institute for International Relations in Geneva, Switzerland, with the purpose of studying with the German free market economist, Wilhelm Röpke. The power of Röpke’s personality, his almost ‘fire and brimstone’ lecturing on the free society versus the dangers of all forms of collectivism, made David say that when Röpke entered the seminar room, “it was as if electricity was in the air.”
I had the good fortune of being a visiting lecturer at University College Cork at David’s invitation during 1981-1983. I cannot count the delightful conversations, and the joyful car rides around Ireland that David would take me on over many weekends. He was a bottomless well of stories about Irish history and its leading figures, especially those that in any way captured in their ideas and actions the spirit of political, economic, or social liberalism.
David’s writings were not numerous and were, for the most part, concerned with Irish economic policy and social affairs. But he knew far more than merely the concerns of his own country off the coast of Europe. One indication and aspect of this was his happy — though only infrequent — participation in the meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society, of which he was a member.
In his article on “Richard Cantillon, A Man of His Time”, which was published in 1985, it was only appropriate that David would write about a fellow Irishman — one who left his mark based on his insights about the workings of market order and the dynamic effects of money in the economy.
May you rest in peace with the great minds of the past that so greatly inspired you as teacher, writer, and friend.