Bushy-Mushy Talk About Pay, More Curves From the Labor Department, A Free-Market and Other Matters. The Case of the Popular Economist

(FORTUNE Magazine) – We found several absorbing details in the latest issue of Reason Report, a quarterly publication about various goings on at the libertarian Reason Foundation. For example, we had not previously known that tennis star Eliot Teltscher (world professional ranking: No. 49) was a libertarian. Yet there Eliot was on the banquet committee, along with the likes of William E. Simon, preparing a reception for public-choice economist and Nobel laureate James Buchanan. ) Even more startling was a highly counterintuitive reference in the report to ''popular economist-entertainer Rob Kolson,'' said to be composing a new song in Buchanan's honor. Eager to learn more about this line of work, we have been talking to Kolson and can now testify that (a) he actually does exist in the corporeal sense but (b) alas, is ''still working on'' the Buchanan song and has no lyrics that can be mentioned yet. Kolson, 35, has performed not only for the Reason Foundation but also for Bear Stearns, the Arizona Cash Management Association, the National Association of Business Economists, and a bunch of carpet salesmen. Rob was vague about the exact name of the rug organization, possibly because ''It was the only bad show I ever had.'' His fee is $4,000 to $10,000. (''Wait -- you're going to put this in FORTUNE? Make that $6,000 to $10,000.'')

Kolson is a former student of Milton Friedman and taught at the University of Chicago for four years. Then he went on to work for Harris Bank in Chicago (three boring years on tax-exempts, another on foreign exchange). His first public performance was at a 1976 reception honoring Friedman, who had just received his own Nobel. However, it took Rob a while to realize that the act was marketable, and he has been performing regularly only since 1981. The act is basically Kolson at the piano, or sometimes with a guitar, singing and clowning around about economic issues. His own favorite bits include the Ballad of St. Paul (about Volcker), an Ode to Milton, and the April 15 Lament. Firmly committed to a free-market perspective, the act also offers sound advice along the way, e.g., Forecast the Past and Don't Make Loans to Argentina (''They'll break their promise / So keep your distance''), a haunting sentiment that he has wedded to the familiar refrain from Evita. ''I wanted to be an economist ever since I was a kid,'' Kolson recalled the other day. ''All the other kids on the block hated liver. I hated price controls.'' How many popular entertainers could make that statement?