Amherst Magazine
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JACK WENDERS (1935-2006)

Jack Wenders brought to Amherst a love of outdoor activities like hunting, hiking and trapping, forged from a small-town boyhood in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. He took from Amherst a love of economics and a dawning realization that economics could be integrated with the values he associated with the outdoors and
become a lifelong vocation.

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His son, John III, says that economics explained human nature in a way profound enough to change his father’s life. “For him economics was the greatest advocate of freedom, and he dedicated himself to explaining that advocacy in a way he thought everyone could understand.”

Jack married days after graduation, taught school briefly in Hawaii and received an MA in economics at the University of Hawaii, and then a PhD from Northwestern. He taught economics at Middlebury from 1963-1970, at the University of Arizona from 1970-1981 (where he became a full professor in 1976) and at the University of Idaho after 1981.

A prolific writer of more than 100 published articles and books, Jack was an expert on the economics of telecommunications and regulated industries and a highly respected witness in regulatory and antitrust hearings and litigation.

He published seminal articles on industrial organization and regulatory economics. He was a frequent contributor on popular topics in economics, natural resources and wildlife in local newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. In retirement, he focused on improving public education.

Even a brief perusal of this large body of work reveals a withering yet graceful humor, the total absence of political correctness and opposition to almost all of what moderates of whatever political persuasion regard as sensible. He was focused on the problems and dangers of government and the importance of individual freedom.

My own view of democracy is that of Milton Friedman: one person, plus the truth, equals a majority.”

Jack wrote in 2001, for example, of his “evolving disenchantment with democracy as both a logical and practical institution. From my viewpoint, democracy merely means you get to vote on who steals from you… I saw a history professor on television argue that the primary benefit of the abolition of slavery was that it gave blacks the right to vote. My own view of democracy is that of Milton Friedman: one person, plus the truth, equals a majority.”

Jack retired from Idaho in 1998 to pursue his three passions – trapping, hunting and writing about economics and economic policy. He had a hunting cabin (most thought it was a house) in Alpine, Arizona and he now planned trips with guides to hunt caribou, sheep and exotic game in the Northwest Territories and Argentina.

R. Ashley Lyman was Jack’s economist colleague at Arizona and Idaho, constant hunting companion and closest friend for 33 years. Lyman remembers him as complex. “He was an introvert, he was gruff and, in defense, he would pull up his drawbridge. He was one of the most caring and generous people I have ever known or met. He went out of his way to help – but without letting others in on the secret. He was easy to hurt – but you would never know it. He was loyal and would do anything for a friend. At the same time, his wit was entertaining, and he wrote with the same passion and energy that he applied in trapping and hunting. He was larger than life.”

One letter to the editor Jack wrote in the 1990s concerned a requirement that hunters wear glowing orange jackets to protect themselves from other hunters. He was outraged: “No thank you. One of the reasons I hunt is to get away from the trappings of civilization, and I will accept all the risks. I’ll do others the favor of presuming that they know what’s best for them. I will support their right to wear macho hunter orange. I only ask in return that they support my right to accept the risks of not doing so.”

Jack’s first wife died during the Arizona years. His second marriage ended in divorce.

John Thomas Wenders Jr. died in Moscow, Idaho, Nov. 28, 2006, of complications from esophageal cancer.

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Jack, where he most liked to beAn earlier Jack, heading where he wanted to be
John Thomas Wenders, Jr. '58

Jack Wenders, one of our class’s most productive and remarkable academic figures, died in Moscow, Idaho on November 28, 2006 of complications from esophageal cancer. He was 71 and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Idaho.

Jack grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, where, even as a small boy, he showed the strong attraction to outdoor activities—hunting, hiking, trapping—that was a defining feature of his life. He attended the Hill School, and later at Amherst won his freshman numerals in baseball and joined Delta Kappa Epsilon. Jack’s Amherst career is a bit elusive. He was a private, independent person with a strong personality who made lasting impressions on a chosen few.

Dave Koff, who grew up in the same part of the country, remembers Jack’s vigor and exuberance as a freshman. Although they did not stay in touch after college, Dave misses him dearly to this day. Fraternity brother George Willis recalls a long winter weekend at the Wenders’ home. “We hunted… and quit hunting and went to a bar where it was safer.” George and Jack also lost touch over the years. What Jack took most from Amherst, perhaps, was the subject of economics. His sister Clare recalls him saying “I had no idea what economics was until I got to Amherst.” But when he graduated he had begun to figure out how that discipline could become integrated with his deepest-held values and give him a life-long vocation. His son, John III, now a senior at the University of Chicago, told me that when Jack discovered economics, “it explained human nature in a way that was profound enough to change his life. For him economics was the greatest advocate of freedom, and he dedicated himself to explaining that advocacy in a way he thought everyone could understand.”

The liberating personal freedom Jack originally found in the outdoors became as well the central libertarian value in his professional life. He married days after graduation, taught school briefly in Hawaii and received an MA in economics at the University of Hawaii, and then a Ph.D. from Northwestern. He taught economics at Middlebury from 1963-1970, at the University of Arizona from 1970-1981 (where he became a full professor in 1976), and at the University of Idaho from 1981 until his retirement in 1998. Jack’s first wife died during the Arizona years. His second marriage ended in divorce. Jack’s close friend and economist colleague at both Arizona and Idaho, R. Ashley Lyman, has written that Jack was “larger than life, an excellent teacher and an excellent economist.” If you google Jack’s name, you will indeed come upon more than a hundred published articles and books. He was, in Lyman’s words, an expert in the economics of telecommunications and regulated industries, and a highly respected witness in regulatory and antitrust hearings and litigation. He published seminal articles on industrial organization and regulatory economics, and was a frequent contributor on popular topics in economics, natural resources, and wildlife in local newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. In retirement, he focused on improving public education. Even a brief perusal of this vast body of work reveals a withering yet graceful humor, the total antithesis of political correctness, and opposition to almost all of what moderates of whatever political persuasion regard as sensible (e.g. a minimum wage). Ashley Lyman and Jack Wenders spent much time together not only as colleagues but as mutual lovers of hunting, trapping, and the outdoors. He concludes that “Jack was enormously introverted with a protective and rough exterior. If you treated him unethically and burnt his fingers, that was the end. On the other hand, his loyalty knew no limits.” One letter-to-the editor Jack wrote in the 1990s concerned a requirement that hunters wear glowing orange jackets to protect themselves from other hunters. He was outraged: “No thank you. One of the reasons I hunt is to get away from the trappings of civilization, and I will accept all the risks. I’ll do others the favor of presuming that they know what’s best for them. I will support their right to wear macho hunter orange. I only ask in return that they support my right to accept the risks of not doing so.” How poignant that more of us did not stay in touch with such a provocative and lively voice, and how much we will miss that voice at reunion. Contributions in Jack’s memory can be made to the Cato Institute.

-- Arthur G. Powell '58

 

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