David Boaz (1953-2024)

by | Jun 7, 2024

With great sadness I note the passing of David Boaz today, June 7, 2024, at age 70. He had been ill for some time.

He was a good man and a giant of the libertarian movement. Very much because of David’s influence and example, libertarian organizations not only embraced a rigorous dedication to individual liberty, private property, free markets, and peace, but also a commitment to professionalism. He is one big reason libertarianism moved from amateur status to the big league. The value of his multifaceted work, predominantly for the Cato Institute for over 40 years, can not be overstated. Whether they know it or not, libertarians owe much to David Boaz.

I knew David as both a friend and a colleague all that time. For better or worse, I turned pro as a libertarian in part, maybe even principally,  because of him. I had been a newspaper reporter in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s and then a writing teacher for a corporate consulting firm. I had left reporting because I wanted to be a full-time liberty advocate. On a trip to San Francisco in 1978, I briefly met David while visiting the barely-year-old Cato Institute. I had no idea it would be so consequential a meeting.

In the spring of 1979 I received a phone call from a very wealthy libertarian businessman, who asked if I’d be the research director of a brand-new libertarian business organization in Washington, D.C., the Council for a Competitive Economy. Its executive director was David Boaz. I can’t help but believe he recommended me for the job. At that point David was the sole staff member. A president would be hired later. (That would be Richard Wilcke, a good friend who died last year.) I proposed testing out the job in the summer (when I would be off work) before deciding whether to move permanently from my home in Delaware. My suggestion was accepted, and I moved to D.C. I loved the work. In the fall my job became permanent. For more than a year I worked day in and day out with David Boaz. Thanks to him, I learned a lot about organizations, publications, etc. We were also part of the same libertarian social circle. What a great time! We were living liberty!

And we were on a mission—promoting individual liberty and capitalism. We had fun despite our lack of success in swaying opinion in our direction. These were heady days for libertarians. Milton Friedman’s PBS television series, Free to Choose, was being broadcast. Other good signs had been evident since F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974 and 1976 respectively. Things were happening. We knew our task wouldn’t be easy, but we were energized and optimistic. David personified much of the libertarian movement.

When Cato moved to D.C. in 1981, David became the vice president for public policy. I eventually went on to several other movement organizations. (CCE closed shop long ago.) Now David could add foreign policy and civil liberties to his portfolio.

We became co-workers again in 1991 when I joined the Cato Institute as its senior editor. In that job I also produced Cato’s first cable-TV series, The Cato Forum, which David often hosted. I recall long conversations in his office about political philosophy, economics, day-to-day politics, and how Cato could address the most important issues of the time. In those early days we had lunch together regularly, during which our libertarian conversation continued uninterrupted. I’ll never forget those days.

I can attest that David was involved in every aspect of Cato’s work. Content and appearance had to be of the highest quality. He saw to it. This ethic was instilled in the staff and countless interns. It was obvious in Cato’s product.

The libertarian movement was much richer for his presence. It will be much poorer without it.

David’s final speech from just a few months ago is here.

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.

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