Reminiscences of Miles Kimball, and others

by on July 10, 2012 at 7:21 am in Economics, Education, History, Uncategorized | Permalink

Miles and I were in the same entering class in Harvard.  Miles and Abhijit Banerjee were for economic theory the sharpest students in the group and it must have been an absolute terror to teach them.  Both were gentlemanly in the extreme, but if a mistake or ambiguity were on the board, or in a paper, you could be sure they would find it and point it out.  I recall Abhijit answering a question on the macro final exam and showing that what he thought would be the supposed Harvard faculty member answer was in fact wrong, in addition to solving for the right answer, finding a few other possible equilibria, and acing the rest of the exam in but a few hours’ time.  Steve Kaplan, from the same class, later became known as an empirical economist but his theoretical acumen was remarkably good.  Those three dominated a lot of the discussions.  Mathias Dewatripont was also no slouch in theory though temperamentally quieter.  Alan Krueger, in his third year, obtained the reputation of having the best eye for an important empirical paper and how to execute it; he learned the most from Larry Summers.  Nouriel Roubini was generally quiet, though he looked all-knowing and at times slightly jaded.

Brad DeLong was a few years older.  He was thought of as the slightly right-wing guy (compared to his peers he was) who read a lot of unusual history of economic thought, including Adam Ferguson.  He and his girlfriend (now wife) were inseparable and always affectionate.

Miles struck me as a mind in perpetual motion, in the best sense of that phrase.  I was not surprised, in 1984, when I heard about his linguistics Master’s thesis, which includes a learned and original discussion of Charles Peirce.  Miles is also a cousin of Mitt Romney, and he will soon blog “Will Mitt’s Mormonism Make Him a Supply-Side Liberal?”.  I wonder what he makes of us all.

Here are his early tweets.

One feature about his blog which is refreshing is that he is neither a libertarian nor a progressive, though he incorporates ideas from both approaches.  My RSS feed is mostly libertarians and progressives, but that is part of the strange selection mechanism of the blogosphere, not a reflection of the economics profession.

Again, Miles’s blog is here and Miles on Twitter is here.  Most of all, he seems to be a great dad, or at least his daughter thinks so.  She too is studying at Harvard, for an MBA.  Here is her project Expert Novice, “Every month or so, I write a letter about what I’ve learned lately.”

TJIC July 10, 2012 at 7:38 am

I think you’ve just made a convincing argument why online college may complement meat space college, but never entirely replace it.

If I was a high schooler interested in economics and had a chance in hell of attending Harvard and potentially meeting and befriending the next generation of prodigies – as you did – I’d move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Presumably other smart kids would feel the same way.

Equilibrium: all the smart kids still want to go to meat space college.

Andrew' July 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

The problem is that it is like sports, it only really works for the very top. Just like sports plenty of people seem to think they have a shot, but that doesn’t mean that it is efficient individually or in the aggregate.

Millian July 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm

It’s like sports, in that a baseball player who only played in his back yard with his sister would not learn much.

dgl July 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

How about making your RSS feeds public on Google Reader? I’d be interested

Tyler Cowen July 10, 2012 at 8:37 am

No surprises, much of the blog roll plus a few others which I haven’t yet had time to add to the blogroll…

Noah Smith July 10, 2012 at 9:37 am

Miles’ mind is still in perpetual motion…

AC July 10, 2012 at 9:43 am

But did Brad DeLong delete his friends’ comments that disagreed with him?

lords of lies July 10, 2012 at 11:22 am

“My RSS feed is mostly libertarians and progressives”

mood affiliation.

Saturos July 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

“I recall Abhijit answering a question on the macro final exam and showing that what he thought would be the supposed Harvard faculty member answer was in fact wrong, in addition to solving for the right answer, finding a few other possible equilibria, and acing the rest of the exam in but a few hours’ time.”

How much was the allotted time, then? (How long did Tyler take to finish the exam?) And how did Tyler know about Abhijit’s response anyway? Was this a past paper being solved in class? Or was the exam gone over afterwards? Or do examinees get to see what the others are doing in situ? (I have no idea how things work at Harvard.) Awesome anecdote, anyhow.

The Original D July 10, 2012 at 3:13 pm

“read a lot of unusual history of economic thought”

This seems like an underweighted element of the economics curriculum. Math whizzes arguing over theoreticals may be more fun

Stuart Buck July 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Did he die or something?

Virginia Postrel July 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

I wondered that too. There seems to be a news peg everyone but us understands.

Alex Tabarrok July 11, 2012 at 11:02 am

He started blogging!

Jon Rodney July 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Ah … blogging! Didn’t Shakespeare refer to that as ‘the little death’?

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