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April 2021

"College as a Marriage Market"

I think I may have noted this once before, but if so, here it is a second time. When asked in class why people would pay such high prices to attend Ivy League schools, the great economist Armen Alchian had a ready answer: the high prices were justified by the ability to go to school with lots of other smart, ambitious people from whom you could well find an excellent marriage partner.

"'I Don't Know How Professors Teach Without Fighter-Pilot Experience'"

Missy Cummins, a full professor in three departments at Duke, on the difference between the military and academia:

Fadulu: Did you feel like your military experience prepared you for the classroom in any way?

Cummings: Absolutely, especially as a research professor at a demanding institution like MIT, where I was a professor for my first 10 years. I don’t know how people do it without having been a fighter pilot first. It’s kind of a dog-eat-dog world.

Fadulu: What do you mean by that?

Cummings: It’s very hypercompetitive, it’s very back-stabbing. In fact, in the fighter-pilot world, people are just jerks to your face. In academia, people are jerks behind your back. They’ll stab you in the back but be nice to your face. It was a little harder to negotiate the academic world. When people are jerks to your face, at least you know where they’re coming from, and you know to avoid them. People who are backstabbing you, you don’t know to avoid them. I’d prefer the person who’s a jerk to my face.

More from Prof. Cummins: "Missionary Misfits: Meet A Former Fighter Pilot, Current Autonomous Vehicles Road Warrior" and "What’s Causing the Tesla Crashes?"


"The road from Rome"

Argument that Western history is explained by the fall of the Roman Empire: it fostered intense political competition which, in turn, explains much else.

Hardened by conflict, the European states became more integrated, slowly morphing into the nation-states of the modern era. Universal empire on a Roman scale was no longer an option. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, these rival states had to keep running just to stay in place – and speed up if they wanted to get ahead. Those that did – the Dutch, the British – became pioneers of a global capitalist order, while others laboured to catch up. . . .

They’re deeply rooted in the fact that, after Rome fell, Europe was intensely fragmented, both between and within different countries. Pluralism is the common denominator.