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Meet Gale Pooley, Grassroot Scholar

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The BYU-Hawaii professor and economist has pioneered the study of “time price” valuation and found we owe much to individual liberty and economic freedom

Since 2017, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has had the pleasure of working with economist Gale Pooley. Just as the institute has challenged the public to think beyond conventional wisdom, the Grassroot Scholar’s highly regarded work has shifted dominant economic paradigms. 

The Idaho native discovered his passion for economics as an undergraduate at Boise State University. He earned a graduate degree in economics at Montana State University, then worked as an adjunct faculty member at Boise State University. In 1986, he began his own real estate valuation and economic consulting firm, Analytix Group. He earned a Ph.D. in economics education from the University of Idaho, then taught at the College of Idaho, Brigham Young University-Idaho and Alfaisal University in Saudi Arabia. 

One of his achievements has been to develop with Marian L. Tupy the Simon Abundance Index, which uses the “time prices” of 50 basic commodities to estimate the relationship between global population and the abundance of natural resources. Updated annually by the Cato Institute, it shows that humans worldwide have been able to overcome shortages through innovation.

Pooley said he was excited to move to the islands three years ago to teach at BYU-Hawaii. He and his wife, DeAnna, live in Laie, where he is within walking distance of the 3,000-student campus. 

In addition to being a Grassroot Scholar, Pooley is a board member of HumanProgress.org, a Discovery Institute fellow and a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.

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Q: How did you become involved with the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii? 

A: I’ve always been involved with state policy organizations. In Idaho, I was involved with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. When I came here, I did some research and found the Grassroot Institute. I reached out and talked to them about what we could do in terms of sponsoring some activities and giving my students opportunities for internships.

Q: What factors have been the most instrumental in shaping your worldview? 

A: Being a Latter Day Saint has laid the foundation for my worldview. But as an accounting major at Boise State, I had to take an economics course as part of the requirement. It was fascinating and got me more and more interested in economics. 

Economics provides the opportunity for us to create capital and participate in a market where we are free to experiment. The moral element is: Should people be free to associate and trade with one another? The reason we trade as human beings is that it allows us to be happier. So the fundamental moral argument is: Why would we prevent people from doing that? I can’t make myself happy in a market unless I figure out how to make you happy. That’s a very fundamental moral argument for free markets. 

Q: As a college student, I’ve witnessed firsthand how college campuses are often echo-chambers for leftist ideas. Is that something you’ve observed in your academic career? 

A: I’ve had kind of an odd experience because I taught at Boise State and the College of Idaho, but that was many years ago. My most recent experience has been at BYU, so I’ve been teaching at a university that is sponsored by the church. We teach all of the courses that are offered at a public university. But generally, there is a worldview that is explicit in the coursework. I feel like teaching at an LDS university has actually allowed me to have much more academic freedom because I’m able to bring moral perspectives and religious views to the table that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In other words, public universities tend to discourage bringing so-called religious views into the classroom. So in that sense, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy academic freedom at BYU Idaho and Hawaii. 

The political correctness that we are facing today comes as a challenge from critical theory. So much of the faculty approach is based on critical theory. They look at the world from that perspective and it can be very difficult to think about how we can have peace and prosperity in society when people are very obsessed with hierarchies, power, oppression and past problems in our society. 

If you look at surveys of faculty, the overwhelming majority are progressives. That is unfortunate because you don’t have the competition of ideas and the opportunity to pursue scholarship by bringing different perspectives to the table. You get one story, and that story becomes more and more ideological. You move away from an educational experience to an indoctrination experience. We have professors who want to become activists instead of academics. 

Q: What is your take on the policy responses to COVID-19? 

A: The thing that we emphasize in economics is consequence thinking. We ask, “If I do A, then what happens?” But politicians are reactive and typically fail to ask deeper questions to assess whether minimizing risk in one area will raise the risk in another. 

We see the result of this in Hawaii where these policies have caused massive unemployment and suffering. In an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, we’ve actually created lots of different problems. And those problems may actually be worse than the virus. 

Our GDP is down by $10 billion, and how many life years were saved because of these policies? I just did a study on mortality in Hawaii over the last four years and our total death rate this year is not going to be much different than what it has been over the last few years. 

I think the policy reaction to this virus is going to go down as one of the greatest blunders that we’ve committed on ourselves. But we are learning a lot of things and we are going to come out of this smarter and better equipped moving forward.

Q: What are some of your favorite books, new sites, podcasts or radio shows that you recommend?

A: Listen to everything you can from Jordan Peterson. He’s a great thinker and has thought deeply about some big questions and has come up with some profound answers. 

Another person I encourage people to learn about is Thomas Sowell. He’s written extensively, and everything he writes is very clear and concise. 

Another author that I enjoy is Deirdre McCloskey. She’s an economic writer. Great economic works are where someone can put facts on the table and put those facts together in a way that is understandable. 

Q: How has being in the business world given you a different kind of perspective into teaching?

A: What I tell people is, there are two kinds of people in the world. There are the people that sign the front of the paycheck and people that sign the back. I’ve had the opportunity to do both of those things. 

I’ve been able to experience running a business, creating value and dealing with all the complexities associated with it. 

At the same time, I’ve been able to be an employee of the university and teach those principles and bring my experience to the classroom. 

It’s great to be able to bring something beyond theory into the classroom when you’ve had the opportunity to apply those theories in the real world.

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