Introducing MRUniversity (spread the word)

by on September 5, 2012 at 11:45 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education | Permalink

That’s Marginal Revolution University, MRU, or I suppose to some “Mister” University.

We think education should be better, cheaper, and easier to access.  So we decided to take matters into our own hands and create a new online education platform toward those ends. We have decided to do more to communicate our personal vision of economics to you and to the broader world.

You can visit here.  There you can sign up for information about our first course, Development Economics, which is described by Alex below.

Here are a few of the principles behind MR University:

1. The product is free (like this blog), and we offer more material in less time.

2. Most of our videos are short, so you can view and listen between tasks, rather than needing to schedule time for them.  The average video is five minutes, twenty-eight seconds long.  When needed, more videos are used to explain complex topics.

3. No talking heads and no long, boring lectures.  We have tried to reconceptualize every aspect of the educational experience to be friendly to the on-line world.

4. It is low bandwidth and mobile-friendly.  No ads.

5. We offer tests and quizzes.

6. We have plans to subtitle the videos in major languages.  Our reach will be global, and in doing so we are building upon the global emphasis of our home institution, George Mason University.

7. We invite users to submit content.

8. It is a flexible learning module.  It is not a “MOOC” per se, although it can be used to create a MOOC, namely a massive, open on-line course.

9. It is designed to grow rapidly and flexibly, absorbing new content in modular fashion — note the beehive structure to our logo.  But we are starting with plenty of material.

10. We are pleased to announce that our first course will begin on October 1.

Please help spread the word via tweet, facebook and post and of course please join us at MRU.

1 Norman Pfyster September 5, 2012 at 11:50 am

For those who guessed on-line education, give yourself a gold star!

2 Mark Thorson September 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

No, no, it’s a paper star. A fiat star, if you will.

3 TJIC September 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

> A fiat star, if you will.


4 Nyongesa September 6, 2012 at 3:54 am

Gold Stars all round,

For those of us who come here regularly for the economics discussions built upon concepts that push the envelope of our memories, or moreover go far beyond them, here is an avenue to learn those very same concepts, and join more of the discussions. One of the things that attracted me to this site, was encountering a long discussion I could barely understand. Look forward to stocking up on the old mental toolbox.

5 Ben Southwood September 5, 2012 at 11:50 am

Fantastic idea — but I need something I can signal with!

6 Kevin Monk September 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm


7 Sam Gardner September 10, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Indeed a degree that has some value because of the scarcity and difficult process to get it is necessary to be beleived by the world as someone with Knowledge.

What is the plan?

8 Keith September 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

I guess Tyler’s trying to falsify his “great stagnation” hypothesis.

9 john personna September 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

How many viewed source? (#geektest)

10 Nathaniel September 6, 2012 at 12:44 am

That’s been getting me about the iPad lately, no view source. Not even in chrome!

11 Alex K. September 5, 2012 at 11:56 am


But why do it independently and not as a subsidiary of other MOOC?

I hope you’re not underestimating the technical headaches involved (Unless MRU is mostly about putting videos on YouTube, in which case the technical issues are negligible.)

12 gwern September 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Hm, economists not outsourcing to any of the specialists in this very active growing marketplace, and doing an online education webservice in-house? The irony! It burns!

13 Cliff September 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm

God damn philanthropists who support education!

14 Ray Lopez September 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Those evil Andrew Carnegie imitators–trying to spread knowledge. As for MRU U, I wonder if my degree, if I pass the courses, will be considered “marginal”?

15 JWatts September 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

“As for MRU U, I wonder if my degree, if I pass the courses, will be considered “marginal”?”

Certainly it will be marginal. Hopefully, it will be a positive margin. 😉

16 Gordon Mohr September 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm

There’s a good chance that MOOC startups are, in their partnerships with traditional universities, diluting the traditional educational brands and skimming off the future growth for themselves. In the 80s, Microsoft genericized their partner IBM and made off with the software margins. In the late 90s/early 00s, Google snatched the most profitable search position from their partner Yahoo. The story of the 2010s could be Coursera doing something similar to its dozen-plus University partners.

An alternative, though, might be a instructor-superstar/per-discipline branding model… MRU and GMU-Economics might find being a leader there preferable to being 1-of-dozens-genericized under some MOOC upstart’s brand.

17 oki September 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Kids go to Stanford or Princeton because it says Stanford or Princeton on their diploma, because the best employers go to those campuses to recruit employees and because they develop deep networks with other highly ambitious, highly connected kids. The only ones who might be hurt by coursera are the comp sci kids since you could, theoretically, learn enough compsci on your own to build something.

18 Alex K. September 5, 2012 at 5:25 pm

My guess is that GMU did not like some of the clauses from the Coursera contract (I think Coursera keeps the right to the intellectual property, although there may be mitigating clauses that I don’t know about).

So they decided to bear the cost of building their own infrastructure and use the Marginal Revolution brand in order to keep their independence. I just hope they have a realistic picture of the costs involved.

19 Nick September 5, 2012 at 11:56 am


20 Kuze September 5, 2012 at 11:57 am

Finally! A university that won’t give me grief for going to class drunk!

21 Tyler Cowen September 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Just wait!

22 Nyayapati Gautam September 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm


23 Chris September 5, 2012 at 11:58 am

“I suppose to some ‘Mister’ University.”

University. We just say university.

24 Saif September 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Mister Manager! (Just recently started re-watching all of Arrested Development.)

25 hippdoghipp September 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Doesn’t matter who.

26 Norman September 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Awesome! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who read this and thought of Mister Manager!

27 Kennedy Horton September 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Exciting news, never would have guessed the announcement would be for an online university. I’m looking forward to another avenue of learning brought to us by Marginal Revolution.

28 prior_approval September 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Hell, I was going to actually mention the Koch family in connection with the announcement, but bit my tongue, so to speak.

And yet, when checking out the ‘enrollment’ form, the address is for the Mercatus Center, which according to the ever helpful wiki can be described thusly –
‘The Mercatus Center at George Mason University (GMU) in the United States is a non-profit[1] American market-oriented research, education, and outreach think tank affiliated with the Koch family.’

My alma mater never disappoints in confirming just how the modern model of a university has become part of a shell game for the money that pays for the tune the piper so plainly plays.

29 Cliff September 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Yep, Tyler is a sockpuppet for the Koch brothers, you figured it out. It’s just like “The Campaign”!! Every blog post is emailed to him from the Koch brother’s underground lair word for word.

30 MotorBoatingSOB September 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm


31 Mofo. September 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Well, no POV pushing on the part of Wikipedia editors there.

32 TJIC September 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm

“NPOV” or “Neutral Point of View” in Wikipedia seems to mean “neutral given the context of 3,000 humanities grad students and half the population of Cambridge, MA’s coffee houses”. …at least when one is discussing posts with any political relevance.

33 Mofo. September 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Oftentimes, yes. Or “If you dont spend 10 paragraphs criticizing the subject in a way that i believe, then you are not being neutral.”

34 tt September 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm

how is this not neutral ?
‘The Mercatus Center at George Mason University (GMU) in the United States is a non-profit[1] American market-oriented research, education, and outreach think tank affiliated with the Koch family.’
facts are not neutral ?
we must not mention funding sources ?

35 mofo. September 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Its not neutral for the same reason that this is not a neutral description of Bill Clinton:

Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the united states and receive oral sex from his 22 year old intern Monica Lewinsky. Factual? Yes. An acceptable, neutral description of Clinton? Clearly no. Neutrality is more than simply insuring that what is stated is factually true.

36 Neal September 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Is this going to be a money-maker?

37 Andrew' September 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Well, fork over your underpants…

38 RPLong September 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Wonderful announcement. I’m excited for this.

39 Arthur September 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

You know what they say:

The future is now.

40 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 9:25 am

No. The future is…wait for it…NOW!

41 chrisare September 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Who is funding this?

42 Ray Lopez September 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Give it a rest. You do realize that if a non-profit become partisan it loses all credibility? There is bias in any person, but it’s probably less in TC than in you.

43 Mofo. September 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Thats just what the Koch brothers paid you to say, isnt it?

44 Phil Perspective September 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm

You do realize that if a non-profit become partisan it loses all credibility?

Aren’t both Heritage & AEI, among some others, both technically “non-profits”? Yet anyone with a brain knows both are Conservative outfits. They aren’t non-partisan.

45 tt September 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Heritage and AEI have lost all credibility.
is that your point ?

46 Steven Kopits September 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I’d like to do the session on corruption. It would be entitled: “Understanding Corruption using Game Theory and Pareto Optimality–Some Lessons from Transitional Hungary”

On institutions: “Why Libertarians Hate Government: Cost Centers, Profit Centers, and Implications for Behavior”

On politics: “Why Politics Doesn’t Work: The Three Ideology Model and the Missing Link between Societal Needs and Political Incentives”

Love the logo, by the way. Clearly, that’s the most important part.

47 libert September 5, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Mr. University? The future is here! I can introduce Mr. University to my Mr. Coffee.

Now all I need is a Mr. Radar…

48 Marie September 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm

When will then be now?


49 JWatts September 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Forget Mr. Radar, I want my Mr. Fusion.

50 Ilya Lozovsky September 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Don’t forget Mr. Fusion.

51 Orange14 September 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Good luck with the venture. I only note that has beat you to the punch, has a more diverse offering from a wider variety of institutions. I’ve already taken two courses and found them very well done.

52 prior_approval September 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

But were those courses Koch approved?

I’m fairly certain these will be (ask the Cato Institute how that works – talk about ripping off the veil in public) – or they won’t be offered with Mercatus Center assistance for long.

53 Alex K. September 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm

What a sad little man.

54 Brian Donohue September 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm

dude, you’re like a mind reader.

55 prior_approval September 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Assuming this refers to me, I am also a former GMU employee. Any idea what department I worked in? Just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – GMU has been a shell game for decades, and it is sad to see just how many people are unaware of that fact.

And yes, that fact continues to sadden me.

56 Cliff September 5, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Vague innuendo! Menacing tone! Suggestion of insider knowledge!!

57 Mofo. September 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Was it the department of Liberal scaremongerology? Department of Leftist Boogyman studies? Sociology?

58 Matt September 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Are they calling the campus bookstore a “department” now? Hmm. Hey, speaking of undisclosed biases, we’ve discovered you work for the candy, shrink wrap, and off-brand marker industry…

59 Bill September 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

prior, I share your concerns. Organizations ala Mercatus that can saddle up next to a public university, and not be part of it, enrolling public employee faculty as employees and then creating or sponsoring a “University” deserve a look behind the veil to see who owns, controls, approves and directs. I have nothing wrong with two academics creating a video blog, teaching what they are qualified to teach, or even unqualified for that matter. But, don’t call it a University, or imply that it is associated with one. Either it is GMU supported or it isn’t. You don’t get to free ride on a public institutions name without someone saying something about it.

When I teach as an adjunct in law, and in a graduate marketing class in a different business school, my intellectual property created for these classes(notes, AV materials, etc.) are the university’s because they are created for their classes. If I were to create a website using my teaching materials created for the university’s class, I might hear about it. Or not. I certainly would be careful about creating an impression that it was a university also when it is not or that it was part of the university because it promoted, say, GMU, when in fact it is not part of GMU.

Prior, you have a point and don’t back down.

60 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 7:48 am

Right, because there is no way the government could demand a return on their investment…

61 Yogesh September 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Coursera does not get that online teaching is a new medium requiring redesigning of the curriculum presentation. Most of their courses are a slight improvement on The Teaching Company courses. All the Coursera courses I tried have boring 15-30 minute videos of the professors standing around or sometimes just their talking heads with their ppt slides. The material is organized like a typical college text book. Very dry. I get the impression that not a single one of these guys have spent time at the Khan Academy or even Udacity.

62 Tununak September 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Precisely correct. Compare and contrast Coursera and Udacity to see what the future of online teaching will be.

63 magilson September 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm

The tolerance GMU has for the dissemination of information by it’s employees surely puts the final nail in the coffin solidifying education as mostly signaling. Unless GMU has no idea what’s going on, they clearly understand that it’s their name on a resume, not the information their educators provide, that warrant their tuition prices.

64 Rich Berger September 5, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Excellent and looking forward to taking some of your courses.

65 King Cynic September 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

What a pity that Alex and Tyler think that offering an cheap inferior alternative to their day job is a good use of their time.

66 GW September 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm

I wonder if their contract with GMU includes a moonlighting clause, regarding teaching or other activities outside of GMU. In many states — New Hampshire is one example, I don’t know about Virginia — there is widespread public concern that public employees, like professors at public institutions, are in fact working full time for their full time salaries.

67 Arthur September 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Out with the old! In with the new!

68 dirk September 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm

How will I meet sexy coeds at this university?

69 Micha Elyi September 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm

That’s the competitive advantage of brickhouse and mortar institutions over the online nerds, isn’t it?

70 Andrew' September 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm

By wearing your “I’m with Roissy!” t-shirt?

71 Norman Pfyster September 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm

But we all know that sexy coeds are a negative signal for the quality of the education/food/etc. So, do you care about learning or just about hooking up? (Hmm, when put that way…)

72 NAME REDACTED September 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm

You won’t.
Online education is for learning.
Brick and mortar education is for meeting a spouse.
This is why brick and mortar is both more valuable and starting to fail.

73 Ryan Cousineau September 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

1) There is no great stagnation/There is no market in education/the culture that is the econoblogosphere. (It’s out of my system, that felt good, thanks.)

2) Congratulations! I am excited that you are thinking about pedagogy and convenient delivery, at least in terms of the short length of the videos.

3) MRUniversity? Pronounce it “Marooniversity.”

74 Adam September 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm

The fighting Maroons!!

75 Cliff September 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm

The tip of the iceberg of nonprofit foundations? I fail to see the relevance of this information.

76 paul September 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I’m curious what you gain from launching your own platform rather than teaching a class on Udacity. Nevertheless I’ve learned not to doubt Tyler, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys produce. Congrats on the new beginning!

77 Jared September 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Well the title is “marginal revolution” isn’t it? I don’t think Tyler and Alex want to make it “to the top” necessarily. They just want to provide competition, experimental refinement. I don’t see them filing any patents either.

78 Nadav Manham September 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

1) There is no Great Stagnation!

2) I see a happy ending. I see infovores!

79 Tyler Patterson September 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I cannot understand what problem people would have with this. Two highly regarded economists re-thinking education and sharing it with an on-line community for FREE. What’s the deal with the negativity out there?

80 Chris September 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Bias towards snark.

81 Thor September 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm


82 huh? September 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm

lol @ “highly regarded”

83 Freddie September 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm

If only the empirical research on online education wasn’t so relentlessly discouraging. (Prediction: no one will want to break the hype enough to actually check if it works, and those who suggest that this would be responsible will be dismissed as being in bad faith.)

84 JWatts September 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Yes, but on the other hand it’s a very cheap experiment. And if people are watching the video’s it’s probably working to some degree.

85 Jacob September 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Great day for development economics.
Honduran Charter City Announcement was today as well:

86 Abe Froman September 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Wow. Got anything on the Illuminati? Kennedy Assassination? Area 51?

Tyler and Alex are giving away access to their (remarkable) talent in the name of advancing education. For free. That means even the impoverished will have access.

Are you to dumb to realize the vast benefits here? This is a public good.

87 JWatts September 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm

“Area 51?”

Hey, I second this. Some good Area 51 conspiracy comments would be vastly more entertaining than the current Koch brother comments.

88 Philip Wallach September 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Really excited about this news. Thank you both for being so relentlessly committed to creating consumer surplus.

If you’re interested in suggestions, I’d love to see a course on money and banking, or on the mechanics of financial markets.

89 Mark Thorson September 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I’d like to see a course in technical analysis of stock markets, but I suppose that would be like a medical school offering a course in chiropractic technique.

90 Deane September 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Absolutely awesome news. Expected this to happen.

91 Philippe Legrain September 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Congratulations. Fantastic move

92 Super September 5, 2012 at 1:34 pm

This is a great alternative to Udacity. Free entry: almost always good.

93 Rich Berger September 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

You beclown yourself. Time to take a break, a few deep breaths, and you will feel much calmer.

94 Brandon September 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

+1 for “beclown.”

95 Tom September 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Great news — maybe it will be interesting enough for my teenage son, altho we want him to be a doctor, not really an economist.

I’m glad you’re trying out the purer version of your own vision, so that there are more experiments. Despite the advantages of early standardization, it seems more likely with education that many different models can be successful, and the ones the students & teachers both feel most comfy with will be the longer term best for them, but others will have different weights on the criteria.

The class I’d like to see is “Moral Hazard: did the bailout of Long Term Capital Management lead to TARP?”
Because I think it did, when an alternative and more damaging to investors bankruptcy might not have.

96 Chris September 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

There has been quite the economics shaped hole in the free online university offerings and I’ve been waiting for one of the GMU bloggers to fill the gap. Glad MR has stepped in. I’m a bit overloaded on Coursera and Udacity at the moment, so I’m glad MRUniversity’s launch is not immediate.

97 prior_approval September 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm

‘There has been quite the economics shaped hole in the free online university offerings and I’ve been waiting for one of the GMU bloggers to fill the gap.’
There are a bunch of old videos of Prof. Williams teaching, for example (and definitely Youtube quality, if one understands the subtle point about Youtube’s quality). Not online, probably, but GMU used to broadcast courses decades ago, being a self-described pioneer in that entire subject. And why might so many courses have been broadcast? Let’s just say a certain government agency was part of that entrepreneurial calculation.

98 RR September 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm


If the design cannot be changed , suggest atleast the Font of “NIVERSITY” in MRU NIVERSITY be even smaller than it currently is..

99 Carla B September 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Even with a grad education, as I run headlong into age 60 I am painfully aware of the gaps in my education but not ready to go back to school. I also have found online anything rather stressfully a challenge.
For me this sounds like a wonderful way to bridge my educational “gap” and maybe fill in some of the blanks.
Thanks for your creative efforts. I will put it on my Oct. 1st calendar (on my laptop as well as my paper calendar as I get quite forgetful about the techie things and paper is so much more tactile!).
Sure hope this goes well for you as no doubt other even smarter folks than I will find it a helpful resource. I know how to add a smiley :)

100 Bill September 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I think academics make a mistake when they call their video podcasts a “University”.

Is it a University? Why was the word “University” chosen? Maybe to compete with Glenn Beck University. Or Rush Limbaugh University?

Will credits Transfer to Sarah Palin University?

101 Bill September 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

If you call something a University that is a collection of 5 minute presentations on a subject and a list of reading materials, it’s more like YouTube or video blog with an appropriated name of University.

Ask yourself: How are or would be the standards be different than if the course were offered by the University of Virginia. coursera and other courses are in fact the undergrad courses taught at Stanford, Yale, etc. what makes this different from a video podcast or YouTube?

102 MD September 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm

So what you’re saying is they should have called it “MRCollege”?

103 Bill September 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Is it a University if the University of Virginia or George Mason did not offer it as a course.

What distinguishes this from a series of video lectures sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute on its new website, American Enterprise University.

Sometimes words have meanings, I guess sometimes they don’t.

104 mofo. September 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm

“What distinguishes this from a series of video lectures sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute on its new website, American Enterprise University.”

I would say the fact that this is PhD college professors teaching on their field of expertise is what distinguishes this.

Counter question, what do you think distinguishes this from what you define as a university?

105 Bill September 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Mofo, did you read the description of the class (5 minute lectures) in the previous post?

If you think all you need for a university is two phds then by your definition you must be right.

Look up the definition of university and we’ll maybe have an intelligent conversation.

I am waiting for Procter and Gamble or Exxon University as I understand they hire PhDs.

106 Claudia September 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Bill, what’s the worst that could happen? MRU is wildly popular and the number libertarians doubles? (Still wouldn’t be that much regardless if you think that’s good or bad.) If it is a successful format there will be competitors. When MR started economists weren’t blogging (most didn’t know what a blog was). Now even pre-economists have ‘must read’ blogs. I have reasonable faith in the marketplace of ideas.

107 mofo. September 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Oh gosh, Bill, can we have an intelligent conversation? Because winning the approval of an internet blowhard would really just complete me. If i pedantically point out that they arent using a word in the strictest definitional sense do i get to be a super cool grown up just like you? Cause of thats all it takes then i could point out that Marginal Revolution University isnt really a revolution in the definitional sense. And thats all it takes to have an intelligent conversation, right? Not having a point or discussing something interesting, but splitting hairs.

108 Bill September 6, 2012 at 6:07 am

Claudia and mofo,

The reason I object to someone anyone the word University in this context is that it ascribes a meaning to something that it isn’t.

Let’s take some examples.

Let’s say Tyler (or one of the other presenters, say Caplan) is interviewed or writes a piece somewhere else and the reader is told that he is associated with MRUniversity–what is the impression on the reader?

Either you use a word for its meaning or you don’t. Personally, I think it is deceptive, and purposely deceptive.

It would not be deceptive if the reader or third party could, from the context of other words surrounding it, realize that it is not a University. So, if Proctor and Gamble wants a training program for execs, and they want to call it Proctor and Gamble University, fine. I understand what it means, and know that it is not a university, but just a training program. The reason I understand this is that Proctor and Gamble, unlike the monicker MR, is known by the audience as a consumer product.

Also, so you understand, I am not objecting to anyone having a printing press. That’s not the point at all. But, what you call yourself when you write something with that press, is important, or the word University is meaningless.

And, from the comment, I see that it must be the case that among learning institutions, the word University is meaningless.

109 Bill September 6, 2012 at 6:24 am


A further point on the word University and deception.

Is MRUniversity part of GMU. From what I understand, it is not.

So, go to Alex’s post that preceded this one, and please tell me what this sentence means: GMU is a very entrepreneurial university and we think we can be a world leader in online education.

MRUniversity is not a part of GMU, a public university. It is part of Mercatus, a private foundation. So, why make the statement: GMU is a very entrepreneurial university and we think we can be a world leader in online education. What is the impression that the author creates.

Do you think that there would be any noise if someone working at a public institution created something called Federal Reserve University and had their staff economists give courses on what they were paid to do during their daytime job.

110 Bill September 6, 2012 at 6:50 am

For anyone not trained in English, here is the Wiki definition of University

“A university is an institution of higher education and research which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects and provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education. The word “university” is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means “community of teachers and scholars.”[1]

111 Claudia September 6, 2012 at 9:09 am

Bill, my last thoughts on this… I agree that honest disclosure and transparency is important. I am not bothered that this blog post doesn’t spell out all the details…sometimes I watch commercials and can’t figure out what they’re selling. Do I think accredited colleges and universities support lifetime learning in the best way possible? Probably not. So I am happy to see people *doing* something about it and not just *complaining* about it. Finally there are a lot of words used in funny ways by firms. Do you have a problem with Apple (the firm, not the fruit)? I am happy to be picking up a new i-appendage today…I assure you that I am not going to try to eat it. You have some valid concerns, but I disagree with extent. Progress is messy, but important.

112 Mofo. September 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

Bill, i might agree with you if I though there was some attempt to deceive associated with MRU. I just dont see it. They are clear what they are doing, what they offer and who and what they are. Perhaps they trivialize the word university to some degree, but i have a really hard time believing that anyone would be confused as to the differences between MRU and a traditional university and if they did it wouldnt be from any degree of deception on MRU’s part.

Frankly, i suspect your real objection is to the perceived connection between MRU, Mercatus and GMU. Fine, whatever. But you could at least have the decency to say so at the outset so the rest of us will know that you are just further beating the anti-Koch drum.

113 Bill September 6, 2012 at 10:36 am

If you are a Virginina taxpayer, and I am not, what would your reaction be if some state institution professor created an online class for a private foundation using university time and materials. I do not know if he is replicating a current GMU class, so maybe this is not competitive; I don’t know if he is doing it on university time, or if his contract with the university or university policies permit this.

I would have a different view if this were a private college, but it is a state instituion and a state faculty member creating an online class for a foundation under the title of MRUniversity.

But, think about this for a moment: if you are a faculty member at a state college, could you create a separate entity and put your class online without the administration or some other elected official reacting to this?

It could be this is going to be a video blog, and not a class competitive with a current offering or using university time. Or not. The bottom line is that an employee owes a fiduciary duty to his employer.

114 Mofo. September 6, 2012 at 11:21 am

Do you have some reason to believe that Tyler and Alex didnt clear any of this with GMU? Or that GMU has some problem with this? And why do you suppose that any problems that GMU might have with this centers on the use of the word ‘University’?

115 Brian Donohue September 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

Bill, your courageous crusade on behalf of taxpayer is duly noted.

116 Bill September 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Mofo, I am glad that you can assert that GMU cleared this. I was hoping that someone who did know, like TC, would respond and say that it did.

117 you just had to ask... September 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Bill, happy tweet from the President of GMU seems to agree with mofo.: now you can rest at ease.

118 Bill September 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm

mofo, Question asked and answered. Thanks for the info.

119 Gordon Mohr September 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm

When and where can I get an MRU sweatshirt?

And is there any chance the surplus of sports revenues over traumatic head injury liabilities would allow MRU to field a football team?

120 Nigel September 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm

No snark here – just congratulations and good wishes.

121 Eli September 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I wonder if we’ll get a larger repertoire of teachers? Bryan Caplan maybe?

I also wonder if George Mason is okay with all of this. It might draw people away from their online classes, if they have any.

122 Nick September 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm

doubtful until MRU starts offering college credit

123 Bill September 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

prior, Good points and don’t backdown to those who call names and don’t address issues.

124 Jeff J September 6, 2012 at 7:38 am

Propaganda doesn’t require a conspiracy.

125 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 9:29 am

Bill and PA,

Do you guys not realize that all universities, foundations, institutes, and everything work exactly the same way?

I’m not calling names. It’s just that I have the exact same stories from my instititutions and you are presenting sampling bias as evidence against libertarianism when it is your own ignorance that this is how academia (not to mention all the liberal non-profits and things) works.

If you don’t like how these things work, then work on that.

126 Bill September 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

Andrew, Please point to any foundation that uses a state institutions instruction materials on a class as its online material.

There is no problem with a university using its own course material online. There should be a problem with a university having its instructors course material and class being used in a private foundations program.

Its called free riding. If you were a Virginia taxpayer, how would you feel if an econ prof took his class and ran it on something called NaderU.

If the University system approved it, fine; they answer to taxpayers. If a private college does this, fine, its there money.

127 Non Papa September 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm

They are creating new educational materials (videos) for this project. I doubt they are using any intellectual property that belongs to GMU.

128 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 9:31 am

“Good points and don’t backdown to those who call names and don’t address issues.”

What points and what issues?

Bill, do you realize you are our poster-kid for mood affiliation here.

Name a “good point” or “Issue” that we can discuss.

129 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

You don’t even realize that the Cato institute fiasco is evidence for exactly the opposite of what you are implying.

Money buys very little influence.

And it’s not like all the liberal institutions are run for free. And just because, for example, the ACLU may be funded by skinny-cat lawyers (but I doubt it) doesn’t fundamentally change much.

130 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

I can’t save the world, but…

See all those names? “Paul M. Warburg chair of…” for example.

This is funny:
The cartoon character, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in the Little Orphan Annie series, was purportedly inspired by Warburg’s life and times. The Paul M. Warburg chair in Economics at Harvard University was named in his honor.

Sure, he’s dead, and I’m sure that will help you miss the point. But I could dig a little deeper than a 1 minute google search but I’d just be wasting my time. Maybe people just give money to the kinds of things and people they feel relatively aligned with.

Do you really think that such a weak linkage of return on investment such as funding tenured professors is the best investment idea of people who have gotten insanely wealthy? That’s strange to me.

131 The Anti-Gnostic September 5, 2012 at 6:20 pm

>No snark here – just congratulations and good wishes.

Same from me. Tyler is a hardworking, intelligent man and I wish him the very best in his ventures.

132 Olaf September 5, 2012 at 6:56 pm


133 ad*m September 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

This is great news, and it is good to see the entrepreneurial spark alive and kicking in economists.

My father is an economist, and I never thought of economists as being entrepreunerial!

Re: snark, I cannot help myself: you do realize you did not build that MRU yourself, right?

134 Olaf September 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Congratulations! All the best for this venture!

135 Lola LB September 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Please make sure to subtitle in ENGLISH. Those of us Americans who are deaf/hoh like to learn.

136 Tyler Cowen September 5, 2012 at 8:09 pm

And there will be transcripts…

137 Alan September 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Are there any no-charge, on-line courses on Development Economics presented by left wing liberal economists? I’d like to compare and contrast the content.

138 tt September 5, 2012 at 7:46 pm

you could try the library

139 Thor September 5, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Yes. They are called Anthropology courses.

140 Claudia September 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm

hope you find bringing your vision for online education to life as rewarding as blogging about it. regardless of what you call it, it will be interesting to see what that vision is…the how may be much more important than the what. good luck.

141 Will Pflaum September 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Should be good. I have learned more in the past few years from various iTunes U and The Teaching Company courses than I learned in college, I think. Only, economics is not my main interest. How broad will the offerings be? And, I want to teach a course! Your Right to Know: Freedom of Information Law (FOIL): In this class, after brain storming together, all students decide on a subject they would like to research. Then we work together to request documents from various branches of government, appeal any denial of documents, file suit to obtain documents if necessary, then study the information received to see what we all found out. At the end, we write up our results and publish the information and show all the documents for everyone on the internet. The instructor in this class, Will Pflaum (MA. M.Ed. Columbia University) writes a blog, Sunshine on the Hudson, on FOIL law and open government and has filed FOIL lawsuits pro se. Knowledge is power. After taking this course, you will be more powerful. Five minute lectures, showing examples of what kind of information you can obtain and what to do with it, discussion online about what to work on… Anyone want to do this with me? Government is very corrupt and sticking it to a bunch of crooks is a good thing to do in your spare time. Knowledge really is power.

142 Andrey September 5, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Please help spread the word via tweet, facebook …

I hope this word saves Facebook stock from falling!

143 Donald A. Coffin September 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Every time I read something like this post, I think (a) Wow. What a creative idea.

But then I think (b) “..The product is free…” Really? The product has real resource costs. Setting a price equal to zero simply means that somewhere, behind the curtain, there is a real subsidy being provided by someone. Maybe the providers are subsidizing it? Then, for how long can they *afford* to continue subsidizing it? Maybe some outside phinalthropic interest(s)? Then is it of interest to know who the interest(s) is or are? I would argue that it is. Public choice theory would suggest that the philanthropic interests are providing philanthropy because they expect some benefit from it. So what are their interests, and what benefit do they expect? Are their interests shaping the product in a way that might surprise both the providers and the rest of us?

And how long will this philanthropy continue?

ANY time tells you something is “free” when it obviously is *not* free, make sure your hand is securely over your wallet.

144 Thor September 6, 2012 at 2:24 am

Well, this blog is free, in at least one sense of the word. I find it smart, interesting and worthwhile, and so would perhaps even pay for access to it, but I do appreciate that it costs me nothing (but time).

145 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 8:39 am

The subsidy is provided mostly by Tyler and Alex. Or, that is, the subsidy is the opportunity cost we give up relative to what else they would be doing. Since the relevant comparison is doing the status quo within academia, it’s pretty close to a free lunch. T and A would obviously make fine CEOs (the best blog, a textbook, influential books and papers, and now this! Incredible) and the opportunity cost is how much academia takes away from us by undermining productivity and that is exactly what they are fixing here!!!

146 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 9:00 am

Some of you people observe a couple professors creating an on-line course and all you see is negatives?

Are you always like this, or just when being partisan?

What are the “big rocks” in the jar here? Professors just doing their job, except expanding the number of people who benefit. There may be many pebbles or grains of sand one could quibble with but I’m an expert cynic and this is a tough case to make.

147 Donald A. Coffin September 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

I just don’t see how it’s possible to produce something that has real costs of production and distribute it at a zero price, *without a subsidy* from somewhere. Clearly, over time, this is an issue. How big is the subsidy and where does it come from? It’s an issue for the providers–without a subsidy (even if it is from themselves, in which case they bear a (large) opportunity cost, they can’t continue. It seems to me to be an issue for the rest of us as well.

148 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 10:13 am

Sure there will be costs, but what if the cost is one less obscure paper on monetary policy?

If a web-based startup had huge capital costs we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

So, is the Peanut Gallery’s big idea that we are still burning fossil fuels because of the vast influence of GMU mouthpieces? Nutso!!!

149 Andrew' September 6, 2012 at 10:17 am

For those keeping score, we are burning fossil fuels because the stuff is flipping awesome. If it all disappeared tomorrow billions of people would die (in my sober estimation). That is exactly why we should wisely and methodically (i.e. s l o w l y) develop alternatives, by the way.

150 Brandon September 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I’m glad you’re just looking out for “the rest of us,” Donald, because I was sitting here thinking you were just being an asshole!

Are you people being serious? Do you think Tyler and Alex owe their intellectual existence to you, “the taxpayer,” because they teach at a public university? Is Tyler allowed to discuss economics with his friends? Is Alex allowed to give his kids pointers on demand curves? *As long as they’re not neglecting their GMU duties–the determination of which is GMU’s responsibility!–then they can do whatever they want!*

“Geez, Professor Smith, I know you like to write about economics in your spare time, but, uh, you’re hired here, *at public expense,* to teach *moral philosophy.* Let’s make sure your not defrauding Scottish taxpayers to fund your little book venture.”

151 Bill September 6, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Brandon, It appears that you cannot answer Donald’s question, so you call him an asshole. We’re not talking about an academic talking to his friends. This is a class, being advertised as a class, taught by a full time faculty member and being provided to a private foundation with someones money–the university???, Mercatus???.

You can think about the day when corporate foundations get the taxpayer to create and distribute a product for distribution by the foundation and not think of it as an issue. You can also think that a university should not exercise control of the use of its faculty members time in creating a product that either copies an existing offering or is competitive with it.

I am glad that your faith in people extends this far without asking questions. I am also glad that the Virginia colleges have enough money to spend on creating non-credit online classes that are distributed by a third party and probably using university assets in doing so.

152 Non Papa September 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

When the course comes out you will have the opportunity to scrutinize it for bias or distortions. If you find any, perhaps then you can speculatively attribute it to philanthropic pressure.

153 Julian Berengaut September 6, 2012 at 1:16 am

Tyler and Alex continue a certain tradition (from Wikipedia):

Folk high schools (Danish: Folkehøjskole; Finnish: kansanopisto and työväenopisto or kansalaisopisto; German: Volkshochschule and (uncommon) Heimvolkshochschule; Norwegian: Folkehøgskole; Swedish: Folkhögskola) are institutions for adult education that generally do not grant academic degrees, though certain courses might exist leading to that goal. They are most commonly found in Nordic countries and in Germany and Austria. The concept originally came from the Danish writer, poet, philosopher and pastor Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783–1872). Grundtvig was inspired by the Marquis de Condorcet’s Report on the General Organization of Public Instruction which was written in 1792 during the French Revolution. The Revolution had a direct influence on popular education in France. In the United States, a Danish folk school called Danebod was founded in Tyler, Minnesota.

154 Karthic Dixit September 6, 2012 at 2:03 am

Many thanks, Dr. Cowen & Dr.Tabarrok.

I have much benefited from reading this blog daily over the years; a more focussed and concentrated educational opportunity only makes me the happier and more grateful.

Thanks again.

155 londenio September 6, 2012 at 4:27 am

This is great. Will there be a way to apply to supply a course?
On an unrelated point: How could so many commenters think there is no point in starting a new online platform because we already have Coursera and Udacity? This is an infant industry. Imagine the typewriter industry when typewriters still looked like small pianos.

156 Brock September 6, 2012 at 5:33 am

Scott Sumner for Intro to Macro and Monetarism!

157 tom September 6, 2012 at 10:38 am

Austria for the Austerians!

158 carlo September 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Why is the left so obsessed by organising a Koch witch hunt. the left controls thousands of the academic departments, what’s so frightening about have one or two departments such as econ GMU, that have a different perspective, and wouldn’t exist without Koch money.

159 Derrick September 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The words in your content seem to be running off the
screen in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with web browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.

The layout look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon.

160 freethinker September 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I wonder how a libertarian can state that “We think education should be better, cheaper, and easier to access”. I thought the market should decide everything, including the price of education. Is Tyker saying the market fails in not providing free education?

161 Erica11492 September 20, 2012 at 4:33 am

@Cliff What’s wrong with philantropists who support education…?
“Change comes about when ordinary people do extraordinary things.” -President Barack Obama

No matter your perception of the man who said this quote, it still holds true. There is nothing wrong with doing something for the greater good, WITHOUT incentive. Yes, human nature calls for incentive because it’s a stimulus for a reaction, but people do have a tendancy to be able to overcome nature. The mere idea of charity abolishes the idea that you must have incentive to do something…

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