Bryan Caplan  

The Theory of Time and Frittering

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From Rothbard's biography of Ludwig von Mises, a passage worth remembering:
On the publication of his two books in economic history and on the receipt of his doctorate in 1906, Mises ran into a problem that would plague him the rest of his life: the refusal of academia to grant him a full-time, paid position. It boggles the mind what this extraordinarily productive and creative man was able to accomplish in economic theory and philosophy when down to his mid-50s, his full-time energies were devoted to applied political-economic work. Until middle-age, in short, he could only pursue economic theory and write his extraordinary and influential books and articles, as an overtime leisure activity. What could he have done, and what would the world have gained, if he had enjoyed the leisure that most academics fritter away?
I vividly remember reading this passage during my first year at GMU.  I've never been inclined to fritter, but it's still been an inspiration.  Academics inclined to lament their lot in life really should ask themselves, "WWMD?"


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
hacs writes:

Off topic

http://www.nature.com/mp/press_releases/aug_11.pdf

ron writes:

I do my best work when I am angry. Not a stellar character trait I know. It seems dumping on me works best, although you put yourself at risk of looking stupid when I work like a madman to prove you wrong. I would be the wrong person to give tenure to.

Jim Rose writes:

were there that many paid university positions for economists at that time?

Tracy W writes:

Would his work have been as good though, if he was a full-time academic? Or did his day job inform his theory?

DougT writes:

I agree with Tracy. When I was considering a Ph.D. in Biology my mentor exhorted me to "always wash your own glassware." His lesson was that insights often come to us in the mundane moments. What is an economist's glassware?

As an aside, Einstein published his paper on special relativity while working at the Swiss Patent Office.

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