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 21: What Makes My Mind Tick

Mark Perlman

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

Extract

* Mark Perlman Doubtless there are many purposes for editing a collection of one’s essays, particularly when the span of time of their preparation covers more than 40 years. In the end perhaps the most obvious purpose is to describe what one did with those decades and begin to explain why. I will come to the description a bit later, but here I focus on why. Many academics believe that their thoughts were responses to ideas and even to the influences of ideas as propounded by their teachers and other great persons. Yet, while I am more than willing to admit that my life has been shaped by others, including great teachers handling great ideas, in looking back what has principally shaped my adult life was a series of institutional questions which I perceived sometimes conventionally, but more than occasionally idiosyncratically. I have always been as interested in how to teach – that is, in how to influence others – as I have been in what I was trying to put across. This trait I share with Adam Smith, who was more of a rhetorician than either an economist or a philosopher. To teach, one has to understand the constraints in the other person’s mind. Many of these constraints are institutional, by which I mean (to paraphrase John R. Commons) collective thought shaping individual choices. This introductory essay, accordingly, is my own analysis (buried in the narrative) of what has made my mind work. PHYSICAL SURVIVAL AND EMOTIONAL SHAPING Surely the dominant institution...

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