Posted by: CJ | October 30, 2010

I want what he’s having…

I’ve spent some of the day thinking about this blog post:

The background for the post is that Tyler Cowen, named the economist Eric van den Steen as a very under-appreciated economist. The post above is a response by jeff, an economist/game theorist. He says, in brief, that Cowen is under-appreciated as a thoughtful economist. Particularly for his vast knowledge and use of it to sort, clarify, and popularize various ideas. Despite the “circle-jerk” nature of the post (as one commenter termed it), it’s interesting in how it interpret’s Cowen’s efforts at blogging.

The way I’m reading it, jeff (the post’s author) thinks that Cowen is innovating in the contributions an academic economist can make to the discipline in a way distinct but similar to public intellectuals of earlier generations. There are plenty of academic economists busy chipping away at various theoretical and applied questions. Both for their own merit and as status-seeking in their academic lives. But there’s apparently a relative paucity of serious economists absorbing as much of that material as possible, thinking deeply on it, and then trying to integrate it to give intuitions and ask new questions that relate to current political/social/economic problems. (Not a relative paucity of economists opening their mouths to yammer about their opinion, though. Just a relative paucity of thoughtful integration of material.) In other words, a vague lack of academic economists finding a way to seriously grapple with topics outside their normal academic lines of inquiry, and to think about things more broadly. Even at the cost of winning in the traditional academic status games.

This appeals to me for obvious reasons. Or at least it does once you realize I’d like to view myself as a serious academic without wanting to engage in traditional academic activities. (I.e., whatever research filters through to academia along with teaching of dubious long-term value. Students learn best when they learn it themselves, with a student-chosen topic and teacher.) But there aren’t particularly many role-models for that, or at least not particularly many recognized and valued within academia.

It’s also interesting because when I was growing up I never particularly wanted nor looked for inspiration from other people. I just wanted to do my own thing. It’s strange as I’m getting older to find people whose lives I find somewhat inspirational, even if I don’t want to exactly emulate them. It’s also surprising to me that I include two GMU economists in that set of people: both Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson.


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