Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Inside Scoop on One of Murray Rothbard's Professors at Columbia Univeristy

William Vickrey
Jim Davidson emails Walter Block:
I started [at Columbia] in August 1981 and finished in May 1985, but I had a job with a bank in Secaucus, so I stuck around until August '85.

We didn't overlap, but William Vickrey was a professor when I was there.  I didn't know he was going to win a Nobel prize in 1996...His class oozed his Keynesian views, which I put up with because I wanted to minor in economics (and major in astrophysics) and his class was supposed to be better than the other professor (whose name I forget) according to the course guide.

One day, he came to class with a box diagram all strung with colored yarn.  He then attempted to recapitulate the graph on the chalk board in two dimensions.  He  arefully explained all the equations, wrote them up on the board, drew the graphs, then said, "No, that isn't it."
Took up his eraser, started over.  A room of 200 students flipped their notebooks to a fresh page and started again.

This happened at least six times as I recall.  I remember drawing that
graph over and over and over.  A whole lot of muttering in the room.
 Every time it was "No, that isn't it" two hundred pages would be

 Finally, he finished the sixth version and looked at it, blinked a
 bit, and said, "Yes. That's it.  That's exactly right.  Now, what you
see here is exactly what I was trying to say about the yarn box.  Not
very important though, and it won't be on your test."

There was a pause.  Twenty notebooks slammed shut.  I was third out
the door, and all the students who left that day went straight to the
registrar's office to drop his class.  Memorable.
Walter Block, in a reply to Davidson, continued the Vickrey tales:
 I think Vickrey won the Nobel Prize in econ, and then, two weeks  later, passed away. Murray Rothbard used to say of Vickrey, "He could draw 8 curves, all in different colors, with one sweep of his arm." When I was a columbia grad school, we all had to take a placement exam  for micro. Becker taught the highest scoring students, Vickrey the middle group, and Alcaly the lowest. I was lucky; I got Becker.
(Thanks to Dr. Block for sending along the exchange.)

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