August 2, 2018 | by Dr. Tom G. Palmer Print

The cause of liberty has lost a dear friend and a wise counsel, but her spirit remains active through every person she convinced of the value of liberty and through every person she inspired to stand against violence and tyranny; they are far, far more than they know. Andrea Rich (1939-2018) was a businesswoman, publisher, TV producer, philanthropist, Atlas Network board member, enthusiastic lover of life, and an always dependable friend. 

Andrea Rich’s contribution to the movement for liberty is incalculable. She founded a number of projects and organizations, including the Center for Independent Thought, the parent organization of Stossel in the Classroom, which has introduced the ideas of liberty to tens of millions of high school students. All of her projects benefited from her experience as a businesswoman, a manager, a diplomat, and a genuine deal-maker. (She taught me a valuable lesson about bargaining years ago; make your best offer and then shut up.) Among various business ventures, she made money running used bookstores in New York state and she reasoned that if she could make money selling mass market paperback romances, she could sell libertarian books, too. In 1982 she and her husband Howie bought the assets (and the more substantial debts) of Laissez Faire Books, a cozy and hip bookstore in Greenwich Village that had been set up in 1971 by Sharon Presley and John Muller, and Andrea turned it into a mail order success.  

Andrea and Howie were normally profit-maximizers, but for Laissez Faire Books they were attentive loss-minimizers; they put substantial sums into LFB, but always with an eye to maximizing their Return on Investment. As she explained, every square inch of the catalogue had to bring in sales; nothing went to waste. Very many books that otherwise would have reached very narrow academic audiences were able to reach thousands more because she convinced publishers to expand their press runs and lower their prices by committing to buying copies before they went to press; she knew the economics of publishing and put it to work to generate positive sum exchanges. In the process of sponsoring, promoting, and marketing books on liberty, she became friends with an array of libertarian thinkers, from Milton and Rose Friedman to Barbara Branden to Robert Nozick to Richard Epstein to Margit von Mises and many, many more. Her reach was global; during my work in the Soviet Union and Communist Bloc states she helped me to get books to take over and, after the Wall fell, she made deals to send containers of books about liberty in English to book stores in newly liberated countries. 

By 2005, it became clear that a mail order catalogue could not effectively compete with Amazon.com’s online catalogue of every book she could carry plus thousands of other books and millions of other products, and she turned Laissez Faire Books over to others and shifted her energy, business skills, and love of liberty to other ventures.

Andrea brought her experience to other organizations as an activist and a trustee, including serving on the boards of the Foundation for Economic Education, the Institute for Humane Studies, and Atlas Network; she retired from Atlas Network’s board earlier this year due to declining health. Andrea was responsible for my moving with a collection of projects from the Cato Institute to Atlas Network. As a libertarian power couple, Andrea was on the board of Atlas Network and Howie was on the board of the Cato Institute; when he discussed with her Cato’s international programs in Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and other languages, she remarked to him “Wouldn’t they be more effective at Atlas?” That started a conversation that led to me and my colleagues and our programs migrating to Atlas Network and to strengthened partnerships for the liberty movement globally.

Thank you, Andrea. Thank you for everything you have done for so many, including your devoted friends, the many writers you helped, the countless readers whose eyes were opened by books and videos you made possible, the millions of high schoolers who learned to think through hard policy questions through Stossel in the Classroom, and the hundreds of millions – billions – who have benefited from the libertarian policies you tirelessly promoted for so long.  The world is better because of you, Andrea. Freedom is your contribution and your monument.

— Tom G. Palmer

Dr. Tom G. Palmer portrait
Dr. Tom G. Palmer is the executive vice president for international programs and George M. Yeager chair for advancing liberty at Atlas Network. He is responsible for establishing operating programs in 14 languages and managing programs for a worldwide network of think tanks. Learn More about Dr. Tom G. Palmer >