14 Oct 2009

Thoughts on Ostrom’s Nobel Prize

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Steve Horwitz looks at the reactions to Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel posted by job-seeking economics PhDs at this site, and says:

Warning: sexist, foul-mouthed, arrogant, ignorant little boys at their worst. Thank God for GMU. I weep for the future of the rest of my discipline.

This prompts several reflections:

(1) Steve has apparently not gone drinking with the PhD econ students at GMU. You can throw out “ignorant” and “little” (in some cases), but otherwise…

(2) I have nothing to hide; I will admit that I didn’t know who Ostrom was when the announcement came. I think I’ve seen her work referenced in the past, especially regarding elephants in Africa, but if a reporter asked me to describe “Ostrom’s work” right after the announcement, I probably would have said, “Well I haven’t read him in a while, but most economists would agree that he has made important contributions to the field with several key insights regarding resource allocation and issues of equity.”

(3) It’s not like people at NYU (where I got my degree) sat around playing Tecmo Bowl. The first year there was a stretch of several months where I literally stayed in the library working until midnight or later, 5 nights a week, because I thought I was going to flunk out. But rather than reading different theories of macro, or (say) reading the work of Ostrom, we had to learn a bunch of math. (I took a master’s level class in Law & Economics with David Harper, and there we did read a bunch of Williamson’s stuff.) I remember once helping Dan D’Amico prepare for his macro qualifier (or whatever it was) for GMU, and I was really impressed with how much they studied different schools of thought, as in, “This is what the Real Business Cycle people think. This is what the New Keynesians think.” On the other hand–and this part isn’t a joke–if I hadn’t gone through NYU, I wouldn’t have been able to write my Journal of the History of Economic Thought papers on Samuelson and capital theory. And if I may speak for the 8 Earthlings who read and understood those two papers–they were pretty important.

(4) The “Economists Do It With Models” girl (if she has a blog title like that then yes I am calling her a girl and she can’t take offense) showed up at Steve’s post and possibly didn’t get that I was kidding. I had said to him: “Steve, I am offended that you just assumed the posters were boys. Are you saying women can’t swear, or theorize about affirmative action for female Nobelists? Shame on you.” So Free Advice readers surely detect the joking, but innocent newcomers may have thought I was serious. Just to clarify, I thought it was funny that Steve was making “sexist” assumptions in his finger-wagging about others’ sexism. It reminded me of when Richard Feynman had angry feminists protesting during one of his talks, because somewhere he had written a funny dialog between a woman driver and a traffic cop. (The woman is arguing about her ticket by bringing up relativistic questions about velocity etc.) So the feminists are all mad and have signs saying “Feynman Sexist Pig” and so forth. But Feynman tells them, “You just assumed the cop in the story was a man. I never said that.”

(5) Last and most important, fully 90% of the sentences in this post are intended to be humorous. In particular, I agree with Steve that those guys were idiots, and no I would not have bluffed like that to a reporter.

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