The Liberal Arts Program in Economics and History

for Fall 2017

An alternative to typical university study

for more information, contact here.


Many young people and their parents, surveying the landscape of U.S. higher education today, are dissatisfied by even the top tier of U.S. colleges and universities. A few are ready to do something about it.

A better alternative: study economics and history with one of today’s leading thinkers in the Classical economic tradition, in the original method of higher education in the West–a small group of students led by a single mentor, committed to excellence together.

The Vega Institute of Political Economy offers a four-year, full-time residential undergraduate-level Liberal Arts Program in Political Economy and History, for Fall 2017. The program embraces the best traditions of American liberal arts education, and serves as a strong foundation for careers in business, finance, law and government.

The program is led by Nathan Lewis, one of the leading thinkers in the Classical economics tradition today. He is the author of three books on economics, plus hundreds of short-form items and columns (available at He has fifteen years of experience in the asset-management industry, as a macro analyst for institutional investors and as a money manager. He has participated in major television documentaries on economic topics in China, Russia and South Korea; has been a speaker at events hosted by the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Principles Project, and other organizations; has testified in U.S. Congress on economic topics; has helped craft bills for U.S. Congresspeople; and has served as an advisor to foreign governments. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

The Classical tradition in economics stretches from Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, to the mid-twentieth century advances of the “Austrians” including Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. The “supply side” school that began in the 1970s further added many new concepts that were previously neglected, and continued to refine earlier insights. Many of the best minds of recent decades have been closely involved in the asset management industry, which informed their work with experience in the real world of global markets and economies, and refreshed a tradition that had become somewhat stagnant, abstract and academic. Today, almost all economics taught in universities is neo-Mercantilist or “Keynesian” in nature. It is the economics of government manipulation and distortion, and became popular during the 1930s. Despite the continued failure of such approaches, and their general disparagement among financial professionals and others with real-world experience, the Classical tradition–the original study of economics–remains hard-to-find within the walls of the common university. The Vega Institute may be, at this time, the only place for young people to formally study the most sophisticated, contemporary approach to the Classical tradition, informed by real-world experience.

Study the most sophisticated, contemporary expression of Classical economics.

The program is intensive and demanding. The materials are challenging and not dumbed-down. In general, the program is appropriate for the top 10% of typical high-school graduates. Any deficiencies in prior preparation, as are unfortunately common today, should be remedied beforehand. The right-minded student should find the process enjoyable, exciting and satisfying – especially as they will achieve far more than their peers elsewhere.

The program focuses on reading, regular discussion and writing, with no formal lectures and no formal classes. There is only one course of study. Discussion is in small groups of seven or less. A substantial portion of time is dedicated for students to follow their own interests in study, guided by the mentor. The framework is based on the “leadership education” model described by Oliver and Rachel DeMille, developed and tested at the undergraduate level for over two decades. This itself is a contemporary extension of the classic mentor-student model, which served as a primary model of higher education before the rise of the large university, modeled after the Prussian example, in the latter nineteenth century. The format of a small number of students gathered around a single mentor–rather than multiple specialist lecturers–goes back at least to Plato’s Academy, founded in Athens ca. 387 B.C. and in operation for over three hundred years. In 1800, most American colleges had less than a hundred students, clustered around a team of mentors (Harvard had thirteen, Yale less than ten), and all following the same course of study. The level of education their graduates exhibited was extraordinary.

President James Garfield said in 1879: “Take a log cabin in the West, put a wooden bench in it, with Mark Hopkins at one end and a student on the other, and you have a college.” Hopkins was the president of Williams College. Garfield had been his student.

One mentor. A small group of students. Serious commitment.

The princes of Europe were not educated in universities–they had private mentors. John Milton, the English poet who also held high office in the government of Oliver Cromwell, had several students that he mentored directly from his home. Thomas Jefferson–one of the greatest minds in American history–spent five years under the mentorship of George Wythe, a practicing lawyer who guided many influential leaders of the Founding generation. After retiring from the presidency, Jefferson himself mentored students from his home. Yale University was founded by Abraham Pierson; for the first six months, he had one student. Adam Smith, the early economist, served as a private mentor for the son of a wealthy family.

Students get close personal attention and guidance appropriate to their individual needs, interests, development and character. The student/mentor ratio will not exceed 12:1.

The tuition is $12,000 per year. Students are encouraged to seek third-party scholarships to partially or fully cover this amount. The location is in New Berlin, NY, a beautiful country setting close to three other universities. Students are assisted in finding rental housing in the area. They cook their own food, do their own laundry, vacuum their own floors, and in general learn to be capable young adults. The school year follows the standard September-June schedule, separated into three terms.

A beautiful country setting, near three other universities.

The principle of a “liberal arts” education derives from the ancient Greek liber, which refers to the tree bark from which books and contracts were made. It serves as the root of “liberty” and also “library,” and describes the education necessary for a person to serve an active role in a self-governing democratic society. It is thus a combination of history, philosophy, government, literature and arts, and stands distinct from vocational training. While training in a vocation – including science, engineering, law, medicine or business – is necessary and important, it cannot be considered an education in the liberal arts tradition.

You have been wishing to know my views with regard to liberal studies. My answer is this: I respect no study, and deem no study good, which results in money-making … they are our apprenticeship, not our real work. Hence you see why ‘liberal studies’ are so called; it is because they are studies worthy of a free-born gentleman. But there is only one really liberal study – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled.
Roman philosopher Seneca (4 B.C.–65 A.D.)

[L]iberal education…is the education that prepares us to be free men. You have to have this education if you … are going to be an effective citizen of a democracy; for citizenship requires that…you do not leave your duties to be performed by others … A free society is composed of freemen. To be free you have to be educated for freedom.
Robert M. Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago (1929-1945)

Today the “liberal arts” have been degraded to such an extent that they are perceived to have little value at all. As they are taught today–dumbed down, hollowed out, reduced to a disorganized grab-bag, subject to extreme moral relativism, eroded by gender/race politics, little more than an archaic label useful for marketing purposes but whose meaning has been forgotten–this assessment has merit.

This deterioration in the tradition of higher education has driven a focus on professional training. For university majors such as engineering, most math and science, pre-med, computer science and so forth, the professional focus is overt. Other courses of study are seen as stepping-stones to careers in business, finance or law, in which the ceremony of education is more important than any actual content.

Today, graduates of top universities are well-trained and (perhaps following graduate studies) professionally competent, but largely uneducated. Many graduates feel this lack keenly, perhaps later in life. Others, whose imagination does not extend beyond indoctrination and conditioning, have no idea what they missed. The deterioration we see today, in government, politics, business ethics and culture, is an inevitable consequence.

I graduated with highest honors … I was great at working the system but I was not educated. I could see my daughter doing the exact same thing, and I wanted more for her.
Ashley Slaten, 2017

This program returns to the original goals of liberal-arts education in the West: to provide a foundation of knowledge, insight, morality, virtue and wisdom that can be drawn upon throughout one’s life, which allows one to play a productive leadership role in a free society, and which forms a core of culture and civilization that can later be transmitted to a younger generation.

The program concentrates on the principles and practical application of Classical economics at a high level; the broader historical perspective in which economic or business concerns take place; and the founding principles of the American democratic republic. An ambitious survey of classic works of Western Civilization forms a cornerstone of the course during the first two years–an immersion in the philosophical and literary achievements of the centuries, cultivating the ability to read, write, speak and discuss at an elevated standard. This is centered on the Harvard Classics, a fifty-one-volume compilation created by Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University, in 1909. It represents the essence of cultural achievement during the noblest era of the American university, and remains a celebrated resource over a century later.

In the last year, the focus moves from principles to practice, with a study of current issues, financial analysis, business and investment. While these studies certainly have immediate practical value, and serve as a transition to the world of career, they are also a necessary foundation to understand real economics and real business in the real world. Our current state of affairs certainly reflects the fact that many people involved in politics and policy – even some economists that promote “free markets” – have little idea of how business is practiced.

These values are generally considered “conservative” today. Earnest spirituality and morality, from any tradition, are welcomed. Good diet and exercise are encouraged; debauchery and dissolution are not.

The program is wholly unaccredited, and any work done may not be recognized by other institutions. No degrees or diplomas are granted. In practice, students at existing high-quality unaccredited institutions have not had difficulty in gaining recognition by graduate schools or employers, for work well done and adequately documented. Guidance, planning and preparation for the time following graduation, including internships or other early involvement in careers of interest, are an intrinsic part of the program.

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Chancellor of England

An outline of the course of study is as follows:

Year 1:
40%: Classics of Western Civilization
20%: History of Civilization, Economics
40%: Free study

Year 2:
60%: Classics of Western Civilization
20%: History, Government and Economics
20%: Free study

Year 3:
30%: History and Government
40%: Economics
30%: Free study

Year 4:
20%: History and Economics
20%: Current issues in government and economics
30%: Financial analysis, business and investment
30%: Free study


Immersion in the Classics of Western Civilization.

Texts may include (but are not limited to):

A History of the World, by J.M Roberts
Civilisation, BBC television series by Kenneth Clark
selected works of Plato
Ethics, by Aristotle
Politics, by Aristotle
History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thyucidides
The Odyssey, by Homer
The Aeneid, by Virgil
The Lives, by Plutarch
Politics, by Cicero
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Essays, by Michel de Montaigne
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
The Confessions, by St. Augustine
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin
Major plays and sonnets, of William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, by John Milton
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond
The Penguin History of Latin America, by Edwin Williamson
A History of Chinese Civilization, by Jacques Gernet
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon
The Analects, by Confucius
Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
On War, by Carl von Clausewitz
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles Mann
The Way the World Works, by Jude Wanniski
Gold: the Once and Future Money, by Nathan Lewis
The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith
Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, by David Ricardo
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey
The 5000-Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen
The Real George Washington, by Jay Parry
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis
The Gospels of the Bible
The Dhammapada, by the Buddha
What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Ruhala
The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda
selections from the Koran
Principles of Political Economy, by John Stuart Mill
Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt
The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich Hayek
Good Money (collected works on money) by Friedrich Hayek
Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises
The Theory of Money and Credit, by Ludwig von Mises
Wealth and Poverty (revised 2012 edition), by George Gilder
The Seven Fat Years, by Robert Bartley
The Spirit of the Laws, by Charles de Montesquieu
The Law, by Frederic Bastiat
Leviathan, Part I and II, by Thomas Hobbes
For Good and Evil: the Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization, by Charles Adams
Gold: the Monetary Polaris, by Nathan Lewis
The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
The Making of America, by W. Cleon Skousen
The Real Thomas Jefferson, by Andrew Allison
The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx
Witness, by Whittaker Chambers
The Naked Communist, by W. Cleon Skousen
Rousseau and Revolution, by Will and Ariel Durant
The Age of Napoleon, by Will and Ariel Durant
The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald
How the South Could Have Won the Civil War, by Bevin Alexander
The First World War, by John Keegan
A course in statistics
A course in logic and rhetoric
Financial Statement Analysis, by Martin Fridson
The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham
Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor, by Seth Klarman
Pioneering Portfolio Management, by David Swensen
Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, by Edwin Lefevre
The Alchemy of Finance, by George Soros
Cashflow Quadrant, by Robert Kiyosaki
Knowledge and Power, by George Gilder
The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself, by James Grant
JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity, by Brian Domitrovic and Lawrence Kudlow
The Forgotten Man: a New History of Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes
Econoclasts, by Brian Domitrovic
The Real Benjamin Franklin, by Andrew Allison
The Art of the Deal, by Donald Trump
Sam Walton: Made In America, by Sam Walton and John Huey
Am I Being Too Subtle? Straight Talk from a Business Mogul, by Sam Zell
Winning, by Jack Welch
Gold: the Final Standard, by Nathan Lewis
The Second World War, by Antony Beevor
The Tempting of America, by Robert Bork
Our Lost Constitution, by Mike Lee
The Rise and Decline of the State, by Martin van Creveld
Jimmy Stewart is Dead: Ending the World’s Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited Purpose Banking, by Laurence Kotlikoff
Bailout Nation, by Barry Ritholz
The Great Deformation, by David Stockman
The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins
The Scandal of Money, by George Gilder
Debt: the First 5000 Years, by David Graeber
The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, by John Allison

But here the main skill and groundwork will be, to temper them such lectures and explanations upon every opportunity as may lead and draw them in willing obedience, inflamed with the study of learning, and the admiration of virtue; stirred up with high hopes of living to be brave men, and worthy patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages. That they may despise and scorn all their childish, and ill-taught qualities, to delight in manly, and liberal exercises: which he who hath the art, and proper eloquence to catch them with, what with mild and effectual persuasions, and what with the intimation of some fear, if need be, but chiefly by his own example, might in a short space gain them to an incredible diligence and courage: infusing into their young breasts such an ingenuous and noble ardor, as would not fail to make many of them renowned and matchless men.

John Milton (1608-1674), “Tractate on Education”