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Economics Professor Receives 2020 Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties

December 21, 2020

The Thomas S. Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties for 2020 has been presented to Radley Balko, Mario J. Rizzo and Glen Whitman, and Edward Snowden.
The general award for civil liberties goes to Radley Balko, a columnist for the Washington Post who writes about criminal justice, the drug war, and civil liberties. His work on paramilitary raids and the overuse of SWAT teams has been featured in the New York Times and cited by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent in the case Hudson v. Michigan. Politico dubbed him “the police state’s grand inquisitor.” Balko is also credited with bringing national attention to the case of Cory Maye, a black man who prior to Balko’s work was on death row in Mississippi for shooting and killing a white police officer during a raid on Maye’s home. After Balko raised public awareness of the case, Mississippi courts examined it again, and Maye was freed. Balko is the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, and The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist.
The professional Szasz award goes to Mario J. Rizzo, a professor of economics at New York University, and Glen Whitman, a professor of economics at California State University, Northridge. Their book Escaping Paternalism: Rationality, Behavioral Economics, and Public Policy was described by economist-blogger Bryan Caplan as “an unbelievably learned, thoughtful, fair, wise, and inspired critique of applied behavioral economics in general and libertarian paternalism (a.k.a. “nudge") in particular.”

A Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to Edward Snowden, a former U.S. Intelligence Community employee and whistleblower who in 2013 released, through journalists, documents that revealed warrantless mass surveillance of Americans’ telephone records, the government’s extraordinary level of access to the data of nine giant internet companies including Google and Facebook, and U.S. surveillance of phone calls by world leaders. The revelations led to widespread public concern, accusations of treason, congressional investigations, demands for more transparency, and eventually the enactment of at least some reforms, via the USA Freedom Act of 2015. Snowden received numerous international awards for his work. He has been the subject of a documentary, Citizenfour, and Snowden, a biographical film written and directed by Oliver Stone. His autobiography Permanent Record was published in 2019.

On September 2 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the warrantless telephone dragnet revealed by Snowden violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and may well have been unconstitutional.

Past winners of Szasz awards include First Amendment journalist Nat Hentoff, Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, computer-privacy champion Phil Zimmermann, television journalist John Stossel, William Mellor and Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, law professor Richard Epstein, development economist Peter Bauer, libertarian feminist Joan Kennedy Taylor, Cato Institute founder Ed Crane, Families Against Mandatory Minimums founder Julie Stewart, legal scholar and Szasz coauthor George J. Alexander, anti-affirmative-action activist Ward Connerly, psychotherapist Phil Barker, counselor Poppy Buchanan-Barker, economists Bryan Caplan and Donald Boudreaux, and journalist Brian Doherty.

For more than five decades, until his death in 2012, Szasz distinguished himself as the preeminent defender of individual rights in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. He remained a steadfast champion of the classical-liberal values of voluntary interaction, the rule of law, and an open society. His struggle on behalf of civil liberties was indefatigable, sustained by a lifetime of brilliant intellectual accomplishment. Long a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Health Science Center/Syracuse, Szasz was the author of some 25 books, including The Myth of Mental Illness and The Therapeutic State, and hundreds of scholarly articles. Born in Budapest in 1920, he died in Syracuse in 2012. Among Szasz’s other books are Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared; The Medicalization of Everyday Life; Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts and Pushers; Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences; and Cruel Compassion: Psychiatric Control of Society’s Unwanted.

The Thomas S. Szasz Award is a project of the Center for Independent Thought. After 30 years, this will be the last presentation of the award.