Other Brushes with Official Greatness

19 October 2009 at 3:23 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

In the spirit of Lasse’s post, here are stories about some of my other direct and indirect contacts with academic royalty, people whose achievements have nothing to do with anything I’ve ever said or done.

  • As regular O&M readers know, there is a history of disagreement between Ronald Coase and Benjamin Klein over the GM-Fisher case, among other issues. A few years ago I spent some time with Coase during his visit to Missouri for the CORI Distinguished Lecture. He concluded one conversation by announcing, with evident satisfaction: “I see all Kleins are not alike.”
  • One of the funniest, and most unusual, people I knew at Berkeley was Matthew Rabin, then a new assistant professor and now a chaired professor, John Bates Clark medalist, and probable future Nobel laureate in economics. He had a little construction-paper clock on his office wall with one hand tracking years until the tenure decision and another, going the opposite direction, counting publications. I was later his TA for the second PhD micro theory course. Sample test question: “I have the opportunity to lock you up. If I lock you up, you will scream for help with probability p, which gives me a benefit of minus 30. . . .” I laughed often.
  • My Dad had this remarkable distinction: there were two future Nobel laureates in his high school class. (It was an unusual school.) Herbert Hauptman got the prize in chemistry and Julian Schwinger in physics. Ken Arrow went to the same school, which also produced six Pulitzer Prize winners.
  • George Akerlof was one of my teachers and the grad-student placement adviser while I was working on my dissertation. Discussing my thesis one day he told me that of course, I needed to have plenty of econometric evidence to back up my claims, partly to demonstrate competence in quantitative methods. But “if you really want to convince economists that something is true, use examples and case studies.” My guess is that many mainstream economists consume small-n research papers and reports as a sort of guilty pleasure. In seminars they talk only about statistical significance, identification, and the like but secretly, back in their offices with the doors closed, they look for anecdotes, narratives, and even research cases to back up their core beliefs.
  • One of the first academic conferences I attended was a meeting in Edinburgh in 1990 to celebrate the bicentenary of Adam Smith’s death. The place was chock full of Laureates: Franco Modigliani, Lawrence Klein, Maurice Allais, James Buchanan, Theodore Schultz, James Tobin, Wassily Leontief, and James Meade. As a doctoral student, not knowing any better, I went up to several of them and started conversations. I remember Klein and his wife telling me about a young fellow named Olly Williamson who had been their colleague at Penn, what a delightful young man he was, etc.
  • I remember a new-grad-student orientation at Berkeley at which faculty and students mixed over wine and cheese. I found myself standing with Gerard Debreu, along with a young woman who dropped out of the program after the first or second week and whose name I forget. (Nicolai, I think she was blonde.) “I am Debreu,” he announced. “What do you do?” asked the young woman. Debreu looked puzzled (he already had his Nobel for general equilibrium theory), then answered: “mathematical economics.” “Oh,” said my companion. “Do you enjoy that?”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, People.

Secret to Writing Student Essays Penrose (1959) Golden Anniversary

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. prof prem raj p (@drpremrajp)  |  24 November 2017 at 10:54 pm

    prof premraj pushpakaran writes — 2017 marks the centenary year of Herbert A. Hauptman!!!

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