Saturday, March 2, 2013

Advice to a Student on How to Become a Government Economist

A student sent Greg Mankiw, the following email (my highlight)
I have read all the advice on your blog, and have not found an answer to the following question. With some modifications I think it's a question a few pre-PhDs from Harvard/MIT/etc. have, so I hope I'm not being too selfish in asking.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I have good reason to believe I'm in the top 1% of academic-economists-to-be in my generation, possibly better.
Suppose further that I want to devote my career to important, and mostly policy-relevant, research. In the medium term I just want to be an academic (professor with tenure), but in the long term I'd want to do the sort of government roles you've done.
I have an offer to work for a management consulting firm for two years. Or I can start my PhD next year. Should I take the former option, with the aim of learning 'how the world works', how to prioritise/listen/implement, etc., or should I just complete my PhD as quickly as possible? It seems I could get away with a short stint in the private sector now, whereas there'd be no chance post-PhD on the academic track. But then the opportunity cost of two years in early 20s not doing maths is also high. I'd be very grateful for your reflections, however brief.
 Mankiw responded this way:
Great question. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. I have known successful economists who have followed each of the two paths you describe.
The best path depends on your goals. If your goal were to be a purely academic economist doing more abstract research, then taking off time before grad school is likely a mistake. That is, if you were trying to maximize the number of publications in Econometrica and the likelihood of winning a Nobel, then go straight to graduate school, get your degree, and start writing those papers. 
On the other hand, if your goal is to be the kind of economics professor who engages more directly with the real world, as it seems to be, then some real-world experience is indeed helpful. It broadens your perspective, and it teaches you the skills to understand and communicate with non-economists.

Here's my response:

Dear Kid,

So you want a high level position in government. This is not as difficult to get as you might think. The first step is to check your conscience and your moral compass at home. Leave it with your mother. There is no place for it in high-level government. Next you need to sound knowledgeable without actually coming down hard on any issue, though at the same time you must drop code words so the power elite know you are on their side. Study the speeches of Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan on this. In the realm of foreign policy, Rand Paul just gave a doozie of a speech at the Heritage Foundation, that could be adapted and used as a guideline for a budding government economist.

In the realm of policy, you need to talk "tax reform" and argue that all lines on the 1040, except for the line that says "tax due," is a loophole. On the spending side, you should argue that the baseline is much too low and that an increase in spending should be called such only after the baseline is raised by the amount of all interest rate payments made by the government, since interest payments are not "real" spending. These type proposals will get you labeled as an "up and comer."

As for specific comments about the economy and economics, preface each sentence with, "As a Keynesian my view is..." Challenge anyone, who points out that Keynes was anti-semetic, bi-sexual and a trader on inside government information, to a duel.

To anyone who references a Paul Krugman column or post, you should reply, "You know, generally I like his work, but I found that one a bit weak." But most of all, kid, be willing to run out for more green ink and reply to anyone who raises concern about price inflation, with this, "Inflation what inflation, take out food, clothing, rent, energy, and healthcare expenditures an there is no inflation."


  1. Keynes being a bi-sexual makes a difference how...?

    1. Maybe he was a bi-metallist?

    2. I think Keynes bi-sexuality had an impact on his personal & economic theories in that it was easier for him to be hedonistic, specifically in his "fuck the future" economics that enabled current generations to borrow against future ones at their expense.

      It's easier for someone with no intention of having kids to feel such a thing is "ok". Obviously that doesn't apply to all bi-sexuals.

    3. Thus his quip, "In the long run, we're all dead."

    4. Keynes liked to have sex with young boys. Poor young boys. He did not like "bourgeois" morality, especially notions of thrift and forbearance. Eugenics is the control of reproduction. Between 1937 and 1944 Keynes served as the head of the Eugenics Society and once called eugenics ”the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.”

      Keynes' belief system and private morality are reflected in his economic theories which are based upon a belief in the stupidity of the masses and of the brilliance of the elite (Keynes himself). They are thus relevant to a discussion of "Keynesian" economics.

    5. If Keynes attempted to keep that element of his life private, it made him vulnerable to blackmail. A guy who had the ear of PMs and Presidents would be a very attractive target for blackmail.

      Not that the Powers-That-Were/Evil Cabal/Money Mafia would ever stoop to blackmail.

  2. "...and kid, be sure you use the word "comprehensive" when you reference actions you would advise taking, especially if "comprehensive" implies that your Boss will get his Power increased if he can implement - from the Executive Branch Power side - a "Comprehensive Set of Goals".

    "Oh! One more thing: The Power comes from "Rule Making". Drop acronyms in front of your Boss like "NPRM" - Notice of Proposed Rule Making - and study the FedReg everyday. The Proles tell you to rob banks because, "That's where the money is".


    It's the implementation of the the Regs and manipulating the NPRMs that is SO much easier. THAT'S where the money is. Let the peasants go to jail, that's what jails are for. Now, if you get in on writing the Regs for what a jail should look like, you're set for life on easy street. You're an Economist. You think you can code the language to your benefit?

    See how that works?


    1. Sheesh, you're So CYNICAL! Whatever caused you to turn out that way?

    2. AS Kurt Vonnegut stated,
      "That's what they taught me in college!"