Roofs or Ceilings: the San Francisco earthquake of 1906

SanFranHouses1906On this day in 1906, a great earthquake struck San Francisco and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m.

One of the worst natural disasters in US history — and the single greatest loss of life in California’s history — the quake and the resulting fires killed at least 3,000 people and destroyed over 80 percent of San Francisco.

More than half the city’s survivors were left homeless.

Why is this natural disaster part of our tradition, the tradition of liberty?

Because 40 years later, in 1946, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) published 500,000 copies of a pamphlet arguing against continuation of wartime rent-control laws, using the great earthquake as historical evidence for how a homeless population can quickly find shelter in a free market.

MisesLastKnightOfLiberalismThis pamphlet — called “Roofs or Ceilings,” and written by two young Chicago economists named Milton Friedman and George Stigler — was 20-year-old Murray Rothbard‘s introduction to FEE. It drew him into the movement, such as it was. He continued to read FEE’s publications and began attending their conferences, but a year and a half later Rothbard had still never heard of Austrian economics.

FEE only became Austrian later in the decade, and only because of Ludwig von Mises.

What was the pre-Misesian movement like? Friedman and Stigler’s pamphlet is a good indication.

Read more in “The Tepid Movement before Mises.”

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