No, I was not paid directly for this job, but it has been worth an enormous amount to me, most of all as a path to tenure and also future career opportunities of a broader nature.
I started publishing earlier than most people, with two articles accepted which I wrote at age nineteen, though it took a while for them to come out.
There I was at George Mason University, an undergraduate, and I figured I needed to do something to advance my lot. And I already had the experience of beating adults at chess at young ages. So it seemed to me I could publish something, even if not in the very best journals.
I was also well aware that GMU was specializing in various brands of Austrian and market-oriented economics, so some portfolio diversification would not be a bad thing, in part to ensure I would learn other traditions, and in part to signal that I was interested in them, as indeed was (and still is) the case.
I had been doing a lot of reading on the Cambridge capital debates, and so I thought I would try publishing a piece in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. I sent it in, and they took it! While I had thought this was possible, I still was quite surprised at the outcome, as it was my very first submission to a refereed journal. The piece was “The rate of return in general equilibrium: a critique,” and it focused on the claims of Christopher Bliss and others that GE models were a successful resolution to the capital reswitching debates. Editor Paul Davidson gave me detailed and excellent comments to help turn it into a publishable piece.
I was aware of course that such pieces would brand me as “not on the mainstream fast track,” but still it seemed like a very good deal to me.
Another area I had been studying was public goods theory, at the original behest of Walter Grinder, an early inspirational mentor of mine. So I wrote up some of my ideas on public goods theory, but put them in a neo-institutionalist framework, and sent it off to Review of Social Economy, an institutionalist journal.
They accepted the piece too! Of course I had to respond to the comments from Reviewer 2, ever-valuable training to this day. Note that with these early pieces I received only modest help from GMU faculty at the time.
I also was doing a term paper for a British history class, and I studied the 17th century British mercantilist Nicholas Barbon, and early advocate of free trade and also YIMBYism for London, following the Great Fire. I turned that into a submission too, and a bit later it was accepted at Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, then edited by Warren Samuels. That was “Nicholas Barbon and the Origins of Classical Liberalism,” and it contained some of the ideas that later evolved into state capacity libertarianism. I recall three referee reports, not just two, and lots of follow-up work that was required.
My learning from these experiences was pretty simple:
1. I ought to keep on trying and writing more, but aiming higher.
2. My experience with early success in chess was not entirely unique, so of course this boosted my confidence more generally.
3. Try things, and make people tell you no. Just keep on trying, in the most naive “Reader’s Digest” sense. Most people simply won’t be doing that, so it can be a huge comparative advantage.
4. It is worth writing for people with ideas and political viewpoints different from one’s own, and they might have a real interest in what you are doing, especially if you can become fluent in their languages as well as your own.
5. I realized I didn’t have to grow up “having a chip on my shoulder,” as I saw was the case with many other young libertarians or for that matter left-wing radicals. I figured I would and could strike out along a different path of eclecticism.
6. The publications probably got me get accepted into top graduate schools, as I was accepted everywhere I applied, basically the top six plus a few safety schools. That validated my earlier decision to go to George Mason as an undergraduate and work on my own, rather than be stuck with more homework and more conformism at a bigger name university. I figured that subsequent “work on my own” decisions might turn out well too, and later they did.
And so that publishing job was to continue for a long time, in conjunction with my other labors of course…