A strong dollar suppresses gold prices. A weak one can’t buy as much stuff. Inflation makes things cost more — and raise your hand if, you, too, struggled through Econ 101. Well, join the party or, better yet, the club that makes the “dismal science” a monthly soiree.
“A Rotary Club for nerds, with a happy hour,” as Camp Wynn, principal at Colonial Trust Co., refers to the Piedmont Economics Club, which marks its 50th anniversary this year.
Billed as “South Carolina’s oldest civic organization dedicated to the promotion and discussion of economic ideas and thought,” the club kicks off its new season in September. The series of six dinner meetings at the Poinsett Club features a marquee economist, analyst, policymaker, or journalist.
The organization started in 1969, just before one of its founders, Arthur Magill, donated $750,000 to open the Greenville County Museum of Art.
“They were interested in what’s going on, what’s driving the price of gold, inflation, that sort of thing,” recalls Bruce Yandle, dean emeritus of Clemson’s business school who joined the club in 1970. “The thinking was, ‘Let’s find out more about it, and let’s see if we can make some good investments.’”
But the club’s no investment group. Rather, its 40 to 50 members — businesspeople, financiers, academicians, retirees, and undergraduate and grad students from throughout the Upstate — harbor a passion for a discipline the 19th-century essayist Thomas Carlyle called the “dismal science.”
“It’s not a group of people who agree on everything, which is one of the things that makes the club fun and interesting,” says Wynn, who’s listed as program director, though Yandle has been booking guests for the last 15 years.
The season’s first speaker generally addresses macroeconomic trends, while subsequent talks focus on micro-issues such as the Santee-Cooper nuclear power plant’s demise or environmental economics. And Wynn, whose family’s company has been in business more than a century, opens the meetings with a roundup of capital markets. A forecasting contest nets the winner a framed $2 bill.
Wynn says Yandle’s clout attracts big names, including the likes of economist Walter Heller, an influential adviser to President John F. Kennedy; Alice Rivlin, who founded the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in the 1970s; Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council; and, more recently, John Tamny, senior political economy editor at Forbes.
“His Rolodex is extensive,” Wynn says of Yandle. “When he calls people, they answer.”
That’s also how Katie Holba remembers the meeting she attended as a graduate student at Clemson, where she earned her master’s in economics in 2015.
“Dr. Yandle invited me to go to the event, and when Dr. Yandle gives advice to go to an event, you go to an event,” says Holba, calling the experience influential. Now 27, she works in Volvo’s Commercial Sales Division in Charleston.
“It kind of puts you back in your shoes, to step back and hear how smart and intelligent people are,” she says of the white-tablecloth dinner, speech, and networking get-together.
Hui Zhou, another Clemson economics grad and now a commercial banker in Dallas, also recalls his invitation from Yandle.
“It’s a great way to connect what we learn from school to the real stuff in society right now — trade wars, capital markets, stocks,” says Zhou, 32.
Yandle credits the club’s longevity to:
“Colleagues, friends, associates, and a region on the rise, a reputation for good fellowship and warm hospitality, and a rather interesting venue at the Poinsett Club — all of these things fold in to help us attract speakers,” he says. “Now we have to think about the next 50 years.”
For more information about the club, visit http://piedmonteconomics.club/w2/, email [email protected], or call 864-657-1867. A range of memberships is available, up to $500 for all six meetings, including dinner.