Monthly Archive for July, 2007

Orthodoxy, trade and the developmental state

I love the internet. I love what it’s becoming, what it’s capable of becoming. A few years ago, the blogosphere (I hate that word) was dominated by enthusiastic amateurs. That is, it was filled with people who, in so far as they had any speciality, had it in entirely separate fields, but were interested in the topics they wrote about. It still is, and that’s great. Public debate is always good.

But now we are seeing professional thinkers stepping into the arena. University professors are emerging from their ivory towers and using the web to debate each other in the public sphere. That is freakin’ awesome. Here’s a recent example …

Patricia Cohen, of the New York Times, wrote this piece: In Economics Departments, a Growing Will to Debate Fundamental Assumptions. In it she quoted the views of, among others, Alan Blinder (Princeton), David Card (U.C. Berkley) and Dani Rodrik (Harvard).

It elicited quite a response in the various academic blogs. Three of them that are worth checking out:

It’s that last one by Don Boudreaux that I want to focus on. In it, he criticised the views of Dani Rodrik in particular and issued Dani a challenge.

Dani Rodrik replied: What’s different about international trade?

Brad DeLong (U.C. Berkley) was watching and gave his opinion: Don Boudreaux vs. Dani Rodrik on Industrial Policy: I Call This One for Don–I Think It’s a Knockout

Dani Rodrik then updated his original post with a rebuff to Brad DeLong.

Brad DeLong stepped up with a more lengthy post: DeLong Smackdown Watch: Dani Rodrik Strikes Back

Career advice from a comic-strip author

Scott Adams has an interesting entry up with some career advice. It’s worth reading the entire thing, but here’s the crux of his offering:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing.
2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

The comments are, especially given the nature of his audience, tediously focused on claiming some combination of computer proficiency and communication skill. I’m happy to maintain that the pairing is stereotypically rare (after all, it’s how I’ve paid for myself for the last decade or so), but it’s also common enough to be pretty ordinary. It certainly isn’t something extraordinary, let alone unique.

Ultimately, Scott Adams and the script supervisor that he mentions are so interesting because they are genuinely unique (or nearly so). These are the people I’d want to invite to a dinner party, though hopefully without Mr. Adams’ sycophantic followers tagging along.