Reflections of Eminent Economists

Reflections of Eminent Economists

Edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan

In this collection of autobiographical essays, 26 prominent scholars detail their professional development, while offering insight into their lives and philosophies. With candor and humor they relate how they came to the field of economics, as well as how their views have evolved over the years.

Chapter 8: The Story of a Reluctant Economist

Richard A. Easterlin

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


145 economics was shaped partly by my own choices, but even more by factors beyond my control. The simple model of occupational choice puts the expected rate of return in the forefront of job choice. To my generation, reared within memory of the Great Depression, income and job security were extremely important. In my personal experience, however, this factor operated largely to rule out certain choices, most notably, a youthful ambition to be a writer. But it left open a wide array of options that appeared to my limited knowledge to have quite acceptable returns. In fact, it was events beyond my control, along with personal preferences, that led me eventually to economics. The external events were World War II; government policies with regard to the draft, officers’ college training programs, and GI benefits; and an extremely strong post-World War II labor market for young adults due to the combination of rapid growth of aggregate demand and unprecedentedly small numbers of labor force entrants. Ultimately, I was to realize that these forces had shaped not only my personal experience, but that of my entire generation. This revelation provided powerful confirmation for me of the insights that economics could provide into the forces shaping our lives, and led eventually to a research monograph on population and labor force that put the post-World War II boom in the perspective of past long-term swings in the economy (Easterlin, 1968). In retrospect, these exogenous forces provided a succession of opportunities for me to explore...

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