Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Nobel for the Hatcher - Sort Of

I can remember in my Freshman year at Lehigh, on a practice run with the cross-country team along the canal that parallels the Lehigh River, engaging in the first of several pathetic conversations I’ve had in my lifetime, which were comprised of back-and-forth efforts of myself and my partner to establish our superior status over each other. What made the conversations pathetic was the comparative standard of status, which rested not through any direct comparison of our own respective accomplishments - but instead through the accomplishments of persons with whom we have some tenuous form of association. This particular conversation amounted to comparisons of the running potential of two high school runners, one of whom was my teammate a year prior, and the other his.

I remember being miffed that this guy could respond to my list of the achievements of my acquaintance with any comeback other than – you win. Why was I miffed? Because running as slow as I did that year, my only claim to significance in the sport was being unique among current teammates in knowing someone who was really good at it. Now, of course, knowing my former teammate was no comment on my own abilities, but for some illogical reason you think association with successful people lifts your own standing. You think to yourself – sure, I won’t win MVP or most improved runner at the award ceremony, but I’m a lock for the award going to the guy who knows the guy who is really good but runs for another team, and clearly everyone knows that that is the award to get.

Why do I bring this up? Not because I’ve outgrown such pathetic claims to respect, but because now I am significantly better at it – this year, the Nobel Prize in Economics went to one of my professors at the University of Minnesota – Ed Prescott. Aside from the other Gopher economists on my distribution list, this is an association I hold over everyone of you. It proves that I am smarter than you. Forthwith, in acknowledgement of my superior status to you in the circumscribed world of theoretical economists, I request that you address me in comments as the Hatcher Who Was Taught by a Nobel Laureate, a title which is a much fairer representation of my standing in the world. I took two classes from him, and even got a B in one of them, and I’ve got the transcript to prove it to you mere mortals. You might also append the “Who Was Taught …” to Professor Vic when responding to one of his incoherent comments.

I think I speak for the other Gophers on the list, especially those of us who schlep as private market economists (very low on the totem poll, though our marginal tax rates tend to dominate), that the awarding of the Nobel to Prescott comes as a great relief. Prior to receiving the imprimatur of the Swedes, our claims to the superiority of the members of the Minnesota faculty over those of the schools from which our professional colleagues matriculated rested solely upon anecdotal evidence that spoke to the horrendous quality of teaching exhibited by said faculty. Direct comparison of research skills is really subjective, but every economist knows that teaching skills can be more objectively compared and that they are perfectly negatively correlated with intelligence. Now, should anyone from some third-rate program start in trying to brag up the incoherence of one of their economics professors, we can pull out the Nobel trump, and the argument ends there. Kind of makes all of the inscrutable lectures I suffered through whorthwhile in the end. Or maybe not.


Blogger pbryon said...

Our lab at Stony Brook got a Christmas card every year from Jim Watson, discoverer of the structure of DNA and also a Nobel laureate. Can I join your club?

Or if that doesn't work, I'm on a first name basis with the NY Commissioner of Health, a former US Surgeon General. Can I use that as my non-Gopher admittance?


6:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my friends from Cambridge, MA said of the Prescott award, "Thankfully Barro (who he views as a cocky bastard, even for a tenured professor at Harvard) will not get a Nobel prize for at least 10 more years as a result".

A funny Prescott story for the Minnesota Alum (that no one else will get). When I had a job at a CA university, I loved to play small tricks on Dirk Krueger, a Prescott student who had an office down the hall from me. One week, I was asked to visit the Minneapolis Fed (I was shocked they invited me since they mercilessly ran my old advisor out of town).

Prescott rambled into my visiting office and started a conversation. He asked me how Dirk was doing. My response was, "..just fine, in fact, he told me that he was teaching the ISLM model in his intermediate macro course last week."

Dirk visited the Minneapolis Fed the week after me. When he got back to CA, he came in to my office and said "You S.O.B., you have no idea how much trouble you got me into." Prescott apparently chewed him out at great length over his choice of topics. He forgave his former student, however, after Dirk promised to teach some growth theory to the undergrads and not to teach any more ISLM.


6:57 AM  
Blogger mmcgov said...

My brother was operated on by C. Everett Koop, former US Surgeon General. And I think Koop once passed Kevin Bacon in line at Starbucks. How much currency does that get me?

7:38 AM  
Blogger John Wolfram said...

Oh yeah? Well, a guy in my college dorm who lived with my roommate the year before I did is best-selling author and self-styled "love story teller" Nicholas Sparks. Now old Nick won't be winning any Nobel prizes for literature in my lifetime, but I venture to guess that Dr. Prescott won't be getting two or three multi-million dollar movie deals either.

Furthermore, if I know more than 10 people who follow the blog of a guy who was taught by a Nobel prize winner, does that outrank the blogger himself -- by virtue of pure quantification -- since at least half of those ten will publicly admit knowing me but won't publicly admit to following the blog?

11:43 AM  

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