January 05, 2003
The Non-Work Side of the American Economic Association's Annual Meeting

"I'm sorry. That's not who I thought it was. It was the vaguely lost look and the huge dark circles under the eyes that fooled me."


"There are five thousand economists wandering around the Washington DC Grand Hyatt today." "And your point?" "Because it is Saturday--and because this is a lobbyists' hotel--the coffee shop is shut, the sandwich shop is shut, and the bar is shut. The only thing open is the leisurely-lunch-restaurant." "This is their standard operating procedure." "But surely profit maximization would dictate changing their SOP on this Saturday? Feeding and watering five thousand economists? Separating them from their money? Shouldn't we sell Hyatt short Monday morning?" "Perhaps the manager of this hotel sold Hyatt short Friday afternoon. But what's your real point?" "That I passed up breakfast at my father's house this morning, thinking that I ought to get moving..."


Job Candidate: "Wow. There are nine of you!" Interviewer Maury Obstfeld (counting and confirming that, yes, there are nine Berkeley economics professors in the room: "Well, some universities fly the candidate to meet the faculty. We clearly prefer to fly the faculty to meet the candidate."


"Did you hear Larry this morning? He was awesome!"


"Who was that woman I was talking to last night at the Ely Reception?" "If that's the start of a joke, the punchline is something like, 'That was your wife.' But that makes no sense at all."


"Do you know all these people you are waving at across the hotel lobby? Or are you just waving at random? Who are those two--they look really confused." "I wasn't waving at them, I was waving at Aaron Edlin behind them."


"My feet hurt. These marble floors are hard. I want to go sit down." "But here comes David Laibson, the master of hyperblic discounting. If we stay here, we can talk to him." "But then our feet will hurt worse later on in the afternoon." "Ah, but right now we don't care: you see, we are hyperbolic discounters, and so underweight future pain relative to present pleasure. It's true that later on we'll regret the fact that we spent so much time standing around and did not sit down. However, right now the benefits of discussing hyperbolic discounting with David Laibson are irresistible!" "But if we stay here, we'll be doing the wrong thing..."


"There! By mixing my labor with this table and these chairs, I have appropriated them out of the Lockeian state of nature and have made the right to sit at them for the next two hours my private property!" "Throwing your sportcoat on a table is mixing your labor with it?" "Don't fight with me, go fight with John Locke." "He's dead. And I thought items in the state of nature were things like trees... soil... animals to be domesticated... not tables and chairs made in the Shenzhou Special Economic Zone." "I don't inquire into how they got into the state of nature, I just observe that the right to sit at them for the next two hours was in the state of nature, and that I have just appropriated it." "Well, now that you have Locked in our seats, I had better see if I can find someone to sell us drinks. Oh. Isn't there something about 'as much and as good' left for others, and wasn't this the last free table?" "You seem to think that I am using Lockeian doctrines as part of a serious philosophical argument to justify our monopolizing this table. I'm not. I'm using it as an ideology--as a plausible but ultimately specious justification that gives us the right to ignore the glowers of others standing around, others who clearly wish we would get up and leave so that they can sit down here instead."


"I had an extended conversation with Joe Stiglitz on why the internet is dominated by right-wingers." "That's funny. I had an extended conversation with Bill Niskanen on why the internet is dominated by left-wingers."


"I was supposed to meet him here at two forty-five." "I was supposed to meet him here at two o'clock." "Well, it's three fifteen now. Are you saying that there is a sense in which you 'win'?"


"That's my department chair!" "So?" "His office is four thousand miles from here. But I see him only three minutes after I first walk into the Grand Hyatt." "That's what a big conference is for." "No. The purpose of a big conference is to see peple you don't see every week, not people you do see every week."


"They accepted the paper even though you had only twenty-seven data points? And only twenty-four degrees of freedom?"


"It's time for you to tell your story of how Professor F______ was mistaken for a homeless person by the crowd on a DC Metro subjway car." "My story? I have no such story. You're hallucinating again. It's time for you to tell your story of how you found a key book in the library not by looking in the stacks under its call number but by thinking, 'Who at this university would be reading this?' and finding it by looking in their library carrel..." "I prefer my story of how I showed up for Professor S______'s office hours to find eight people and a ninety-minute backlog in front of me, ducked into a nearby office, called him, apologized that I wasn't going to be able to make my appointment in person, and talked to him for twenty minutes..."


"Are you one of the people who has a nickname?" "A nickname?" "You know: Superstar, The Hope of the Democratic Party, The Resplendant Quetzal." "Ah. Yes. DeLongRun."


"So do economists really assemble the whole department, and come up with a consensus numerical ranking of job market candidates, periodically benchmarked to people who are well known?" "Yes. But there are a lot more 'young Dani Rodriks' and 'young Tom Sargents' than there should be." "Even so. How efficient. How... rational." "Has anyone told you about the part where the meeting drags on interminably, and most people grow tired and discouraged and leave, and then a rump seizes control and overturns key parts of the ranking at the very end?" "Ah. No, they haven't. How... human..."


"J___ L____ is really happy. Look how wide his smile is!" "He's always happy. He's always smiling." "Even correcting for the individual fixed effect, he's really happy." "Why shouldn't he be? His university has just hired Thomas Sargent. And New York City is now a safer place to live than Provo."


"Well, we do have a strong system of faculty committee governance. But that isn't a blessing: it's a curse. You see, rule by faculty committees translates into rule by those who come to meetings and stay a long time. And thus it becomes rule by those who have nothing better to do--rule by those who place a very low valuation on their time. In most cases, those who place a very low valuation on their time are correct in doing so. It's thus a form of rule by the incompetent." "Your mission is to show up next year with a proper Greek-derived word for this."


"You must have done a bunch of research to learn that much about the connections between Lord Dalhousie's 'Doctrine of Lapse' and the Anti-British Revolt of 1857." "Well... Sort of... It was in the distant past, and only if reading pulp historical fiction novels by George McDonald Fraser counts as 'research'."


"If he'd had that diagram, it would have made things much clearer." "If he'd had that diagram, the seminar would have been over in five minutes, and then what would he have done with the rest of his time?" "But it would have been a really impressive five minutes."

Posted by DeLong at January 05, 2003 02:11 PM | Trackback

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Absolutely frightening.

Posted by: Glenn Kinen on January 5, 2003 02:49 PM

Such joy! A well-lived life consists, in part, of getting into as many conversations like that as you possibly can.

A sample of the cocktail-party small talk of my own tribe:

TNH: (walks up holding a dish of micro-tomatoes) Lycopersicon pimpinellifolium!
JW: Mmmm?
EOB: Mmmm?
JS: Ah!
TNH: (as everyone samples them) They're a separate species.
JW: Mmm?
EOB: Huh.
JS: Yiss! ... Here, let me have another. Distinctly different flavor.
JW: I think you're right.
EOB: For no reason whatsoever, that reminds me: I think I've found a practical use for antimatter.
TNH: Practical?
JS: Ooh!
JW: Oh yes, that one.

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden on January 5, 2003 05:20 PM

The proper Greek-derived word for "rule by those who have nothing better to do" is aristocracy.

The aristocrat (assuming a certain concavity) observes that derivatives are large far away from the optimum, and very small close to it.

Hence the suboptimal will be very busy (negotiating; placing a high valuation on their time), and the optimal will not (otiating; having a surplus of time).

[this logic can be used not only in choosing rulers, but also in targeting tax cuts]

Posted by: on January 5, 2003 05:25 PM

Australian equivalent.

"I had an extended conversation with Joe Stiglitz." "Namedropper."

Posted by: Michael Harris on January 5, 2003 07:36 PM

>>>...only if reading pulp historical fiction novels by George McDonald Fraser counts as 'research'.<<<

Hey! Everything I know about 19th century history I learned from reading Fraser's FLASHMAN novels.

Posted by: FMguru on January 5, 2003 08:04 PM

Hmm...were the 5000 economists still
in one place when the Times reported that
Bush was going to push to *eliminate*
taxes on all corporate dividends? If so,
I'd like to hear what about what those
conversations sounded like (including, if
you like, talk about schemes to restructure
faculty pay as dividend income :-)).

Posted by: Jonathan King on January 5, 2003 08:54 PM

Adunamicracy - rule by incompetence
from Greek: adunamia "incompetence" + krato to exert power, hold sway.

Posted by: Joe Socher on January 5, 2003 10:02 PM

Kakistocracy: government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. From the Greek kakistos, meaning "worst."

http://www.bartleby.com/61/49/K0004900.html

Posted by: Pat Berry on January 5, 2003 10:17 PM

Sorry to sa so, but it's actually pretty easy to tell who all of the blanked out names are, especially J___ L____ . . .

Posted by: Bobby on January 5, 2003 11:02 PM

Yeah. I was wondering what J.Lo was doing at the conference. Private performance for the Laureates, I guessed.

Posted by: Michael Harris on January 6, 2003 12:45 AM

Your meetings seem even duller than psychologists' and the Hyatt isn't much better as a conference venue during the week.

Posted by: Rich on January 6, 2003 05:08 AM

What would Flashman have done at the meeting? That's what I want to know?

Posted by: Sean-Paul on January 6, 2003 05:31 AM

ROTFLMAO! I remain skeptical regarding the value of economists as practitioners of science ... but as entertainers, they are indispendsible!

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on January 6, 2003 10:00 AM

The meetings are high entertainment...unless you are desperately looking for a job or responsible for conducting interviews the entire time.

Old Flashy would have had a few drinks, found a somewhat horsey-looking woman (who would later turn out to be the wife of a prominent professor), skipped the afternoon sessions, and ducked into an unoccupied conference room at the Mayflower Hotel.

Posted by: Ivan on January 6, 2003 10:00 AM

Interviewer #1: So, how do you pronounce your last name?

Me (flattered someone, at last, cares about pronouncing my Dutch last name right): well... [Stijns] like... (trying to think of something that sounds like my last name in English - retrospectively, [Main], the state, is probably the closest it gets to the sound.)

Interviewer #2: Ah! Like this thing you're not supposed to take out of your... zipper (pointing to the center of gravity of his body, and apparently of his mind as well.)

Disclosure: I do not pretend to have understood this "joke". All I know is that all I could do is smile in return... and wonder who was interviewing who. :)

Note: This DOES NOT come from an Alabama community college, but rather from a first-tier East Coast university.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 6, 2003 11:07 AM

JPS

Fools are fools are fools. Supposed pedigree makes little difference.

Posted by: on January 6, 2003 12:37 PM

cephenocracy: "rule by drones," non-workers, people with too much time on their hands

Aristophanes, Wasps 1114-1121, brands juries of citizen-drones with incompetence to judge the active citizenry--and recommends denying them jury-pay

Posted by: molly on January 6, 2003 01:50 PM

Yet another Greek-derived word: anikanocracy = an, "not" + ikanos, "competent, capable" + "cracy". ;) That's "AHN-ih-can-KNOCK-ruh-see".

Posted by: Just John on January 6, 2003 05:12 PM

Coulrocracy--rule by clowns

Posted by: on January 6, 2003 06:01 PM

Coulrocracy--rule by clowns

Posted by: on January 6, 2003 06:01 PM

Coulrocracy--rule by clowns

Posted by: on January 6, 2003 06:02 PM

Doesn't everyone read the Flashman novels for the footnotes?

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden on January 7, 2003 04:03 AM

Wait a minute, wouldn't "anikanocracy" be "rule by Darth Vader"? :-)

I've heard similarly hilarious exchanges at the two kinds of convention I go to -- info tech / media / linguistics conferences for my day job, and science fiction cons for my work with Strange Horizons (www.strangehorizons.com). It seems to be a universal constant -- get together enough bright people, force them to discuss one thing for long enough, and no matter how smart they are about it normally, they'll start saying hilariously dumb things about it. :-)

Posted by: Auros on January 7, 2003 12:33 PM

Wait a minute, wouldn't "anikanocracy" be "rule by Darth Vader"? :-)

I've heard similarly hilarious exchanges at the two kinds of convention I go to -- info tech / media / linguistics conferences for my day job, and science fiction cons for my work with Strange Horizons (www.strangehorizons.com). It seems to be a universal constant -- get together enough bright people, force them to discuss one thing for long enough, and no matter how smart they are about it normally, they'll start saying hilariously dumb things about it. :-)

Posted by: Auros on January 7, 2003 12:35 PM

Grr. I waited several minutes wity my browser spinning its wheels, opened a new window and successfully reloaded the page _without_ seeing my comment added, so I tried submitting it again, and ended up with two copies.

Bad software. No bulletin board biscuit.

Posted by: Auros on January 7, 2003 12:42 PM
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