I'm a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. I'm about to start Econ 001. I know it's important to get an academic background in economics, but I think some of the best learning I've done in most fields has come outside of the classroom. I was wondering if you could tell me about some of the key moments in your intellectual development as an economist, and where these moments took place. My goal here is to figure out how I can supplement my Econ education with real-world schooling.
I am hardly a paragon of practicality, but I will recommend the following real world experiences for anyone wishing to be an economist....
1. Go live in a very poor country for a while, and I don’t mean in the fancy part of town.
2. Go live in a wealthy but distant country for a while. Canada doesn’t count.
3. Try raising some money for your university or non-profit and maintain regular contact with the donors for a period of years.
4. Try meeting a payroll for at least twelve months.
5. Work for a short period of time (or longer) on a trading floor or rapid-fire trading environment of some kind.
6. Testify in court.
7. Consult for a local business; the stupider the owner the better.
8. Work as an editor.
9. Work as a manual laborer; in my case I wrapped produce in a New Jersey supermarket for two years as a teenager.
10. Fire someone, especially someone you like.
11. Spend at least one year in government.
12. Work on at least one major project with a multilateral institution.
I am weakest on #5 and #11, with involvement on #4 but relying on the competent help of others. The other experiences have all contributed significantly to my views on economics and of course politics. My lack of #11 truly is a big gap, but I am simply physically unable to put myself in one of those rooms downtown and stay there all day long. Brad DeLong and Greg Mankiw are stronger he-men than I am. Much stronger. Qué lástima!
Surely Arnold Kling can add to this list…