Thank You GMU Econ!

Ten years ago today the GMU economics department voted to award me tenure. With that vote, I won my academic gamble. I can’t be sure what my odds reasonably were, so I can’t be sure it was a gamble worth taking. And I’m not sure tenure is overall good for the world. But I am sure that I’m very glad that I achieved tenure.

Many spend part of their tenure dividend on leisure. Many spend part on continuing to gain academic prestige as they did before. Many switch to more senior roles in the academic prestige game. And some spend tenure on riskier research agendas, agendas that are foolish for folks seeing tenure.

Though some may disagree, I see myself as primarily in this last category.  And since that would not be possible without tenure, I bow in sincere supplication, and thank my colleagues for this treasured honor. THANK YOU for my tenure.

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  • Quixote


  • Do you think GMU is as happy as you about having granted you tenure?

  • Ray Lopez

    It took you 10 years to give thanks? Ingrate…

  • burger flipper

    Of all the notable libertarians swaddled in the warmth of publicly-funded zero-competition you are my favorite (to affiliate with) and probably most likely to use it “properly.”

    • Tige Gibson

      Why does that sound so hypocritical?

  • consider

    (But you realize that tenure is coming to a screeching halt, right?)

    • Tenure seems pretty stable to me.

      • sflicht

        Have you elaborated upon this perhaps-no-so-uncommonly held belief in writing anywhere?

      • It is a very commonly held belief. Why bother to write that the status quo will probably not change? It is up to those who think otherwise to persuade the rest of us.

      • sflicht

        Yeah but “End of tenure” was a fashionable theme some years ago (shortly after the recession started). Was just curious whether you took part in that dialog, offering the standard prediction that status quo will continue. Incidentally, I wonder if by now Daggre/GJP/Scicast have gathered enough evidence to say whether *for predictions about whether the status quo will continue* people tend to be overconfident or underconfident about it continuing. Hard to make this precise…

      • IMASBA

        A 2010 Nature article claimed (for the US) the proportion of PhD-holders who are tenured or on a tenure-track declined significantly between 1980 and 2010, from over 40% to under 30%. The number of people getting PhD did increase however, which means the absolute number of tenured people didn’t decrease so sharply. So in some way you and “consider” are both right. I guess it all depends on how many of those extra PhD-holders actually want to become academics, I have no numbers on that but I suspect that all in all competition for tenured positions has become tougher.

      • consider

        In 1996, I thought tenure would end by 2016 after several improvements of the internet and imaging and because students would demand more flexibility to have some online credits transfer to their university. I still think this coming within a few years.

      • So offer a bet.

      • consider

        I’m waiting to hear your offer but am eager to take your money! “Fewer than half of the top 50 econ departments will have tenure in 2025.” Too far into the future?

        By the way, I know an economist at a school ranked just ten notches above GMU, so really the same. He has tenure, but economists there also face 5 year review. Not exactly old school tenure. He noted that three economists were fired a couple of years ago at another state school nearby and all had tenure.

        By the way II, what do you think of James Miller’s take (which is similar to my timeline)?

      • By 2025 is fine with me. We could use USNWR dept rankings. I wouldn’t want to get into judging if apparent tenure is “really” tenure. Are you imagining no one has tenure anymore, or that no new people are getting tenure? And what odds would you give?

      • consider

        Sorry, for the time being I can only use a computer a limited time until my own is fixed. I’ll think more about details. I’m thinking those with tenure would also be stripped of it, yet I could see them getting say 5 years more.

        Since you seem so skeptical of the coming health pills, I’d like to bet you that at least one will be on the market by Dec 31st, 2022 that will easily be recognized as a “health pill” . That is, extending one’s 40s, 50s, 60s, etc by 5 to 10 years

      • What odds will you give on the claim that a single pill will increase the average 40+ person lifespan by >5 yrs by 2023?

      • sflicht

        @RobinHanson:disqus : That seems essentially impossible, if you use a standard such as a pill marketed with an explicit FDA endorsement of the longevity claim. (Such an endorsement would cause massive social upheaval, and I suspect that with the government in its current form, regardless of the pace of scientific advancement, no such endorsement will be made for at least 60 years. Just think of the lawsuits… they would have to use an extraordinary standard of clinical evidence.) But perhaps @disqus_7K1HQbDsf2:disqus was suggesting weaker FDA certification along the lines of, “the general health and well-being of an average person aged 50 taking the pill is comparable to that of an average person aged 45 not taking the pill.” That seems far more plausible, but I’d still bet against it at 10:1 odds by 2023. (Again, mostly because this would be such an important drug that probably decades of clinical trials and longitudinal studies would be required before the FDA would sign off on such a claim.) Which raises the specter that if medical researchers *do* make such an advance, we will be denied what must be hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of welfare returns from it, by our own government. But more likely, the drug would be copied and marketed abroad, and rich Americans would quickly procure it overseas. Still likely to cause massive social upheaval, but of the more familiar class warfare kind.

      • sflicht

        My, pondering that scenario has made me optimistic: one likely outcome of said social upheaval would be liberalizing the FDA, which would have very positive knock-on effects for human welfare.

  • BigEd

    Does having tenure make you a rent-seeker??

  • Adam

    I am not aware if it was GMU’s strategy to begin with, but I give my kudos to a University and to a department that has retained so many stellar academically-oriented, but also, public-facing, economists.

    You, along with Prof’s Caplan, Williams, and Cowen, and I am sure others, do, I think, an excellent job promoting ‘economics’ as more than a set of esoteric statistical tools to be used by macroeconomics —- not to imply that you are in the “pop econ” camp by any stretch, either.

    Thanks for taking risks; our civilization would stand to benefit from more thinkers like you.

  • TheBrett

    It has its issues, but I think tenure is a good thing. It helps to curb the “political hire and fire” risk, and had its origins as a way to prevent corrupt political “machines” from using teaching positions as cushy reward jobs.

  • Isn’t it troubling that hiring at GMU is based on ideological criteria, and that this resulted from directives from a billionaire out to use his money to have an outsized influence on public policy?

    • Mariano

      Fortunately, hiring at all the other universities is almost completely unbiased and non-ideological.

      • As Robin has often implied, hypocrisy can be (relatively) virtuous. At least the other universities pay lip-service to the premise favoring broadly conflicting opinions among faculty. Is it not a principle worth defending?

    • stargirl

      GMU Econ has been home to a massive number of Nobel Prise winners. Far beyond what one would expect from the prestige of GMU as a whole. So not it does not trouble me at all. The results stand for themselves.

      • IMASBA

        I don’t think you can measure performance well on the basis of extremely rare events, especially not when they are awards that have some political motivation behind them (and if you do, remember that Northern European universities wipe the floor with their American counterparts when it comes to Nobel Prizes per unit of funding). Also, the historic record is irrelevant when discussing the more recent influence of billionaire backers. I agree in principle with Stephen Diamond that university funding should not be left to the “charity” of billionaires.

  • James Donald

    The proposition that GMU is some kind of right wing plot, like the proposition that tenure fosters ideological diversity, is, I assume, made tongue in cheek.