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The end of intellectual isolation a.k.a. when I was your age...

SEATTLE, Washington - I've given a bit of thought here and there in the last few months to what my life would be like if I was just coming into adulthood today, instead of almost 20 years ago. One of the impetuses for this was a blog post from Neil Best last fall, where he mentioned that his employer asked if he had a business need for the pager that he was issued years ago. Not only did he not know the whereabouts of the pager, but he wondered if young adults reading his post even know what a pager is.

(I rolled with a pager in the mid-1990s).

The internet, of course, is the big deal of my lifetime. I first started accessing the internet in 1994 or so, via dialup, as a 22 year old. I recently chatted up some younger folks at the coffee shop, who have had full-blast internet access since they were 9 or 10 years old; they barely remember a world without it.

Of course the mid-1990s internet was a different place, with primitive web sites (go look at copies of your old favorites) and email lists ruling the day. Today we have blogging and RSS, and you can read from and interact with a large number of people from every nook and cranny of the human spectrum.

Intellectual isolation is a thing of the past. This was brought up recently in a post by Dr Joseph Salerno, discussing how students interested in out-of-the-mainstream Austrian economics no longer have to seek out the tiny number of graduate programs that have an Austrian concentration; they can apply to the best schools possible and still stay in the dialogue on Austrian thought:

When I went to lunch after the panel with four Rothbardian TES members I was not asked once to recommend an "Austrian" graduate program--much to my surprise and delight. Rather the discussion revolved around the pros and cons of the grad programs they themselves had researched and applied to. None of them fretted that he would be "intellectually isolated"--a ridiculous complaint in this age of the Internet , Facebook networking,, etc.
This strikes a chord with me. Even as a young, moronic 1st year college student in 1990, I had a budding interest in economics. I took courses from econ professors in my first two semesters, and was then soured on the whole topic for years.

What happened? I ended up with two semesters of indoctrination from unreconstructed Marxist professors* which, even as a young moron, was out of line with my budding intellectual inclinations. The Macro class textbook was a long paean to wise government planning and Keynesian ditch-digging written by Robert Heilbroner and James K. Galbraith. Heilbroner was a socialist for most of his adult life before throwing in the towel and declaring capitalism to be superior; I doubt Galbraith will ever throw in the towel.

My personality seems better suited to being an eccentric small-college professor than my current corporate drone status, and pursuing economics in college to the bitter end might have landed me in such a career. In 1990, I simply assumed that the nature of economics was what was presented to me in my early classes and texts; today, given sufficient interest, I would have balanced the stuff in class with supplementary learning more in line with my expectations and seen that I was not getting exposed to the whole soup and nuts in college.

I've had various chances to correct my trajectory in life (including nearly changing my major in graduate school in 1997), and fumbled the ball every time.

My interest in econ has been recently rejuvenated by reading best-of-breed blogs. There isn't a whole lot stopping me from just throwing it all away and going back to school to do a PhD today, except inertia, my belief that people's mathematical ability erodes over time, and my own trait of not being very adept at long-term, open-ended tasks.

Sound like whining? Yes, I'm whining. I ultimately have no one to blame but myself. My excuses are weak. But my When I Was Your Age lesson is: you can now cook up all sorts of excuses for how your life goes, but having a lack of information, or being exposed to an inadequate spectrum of information or opinions, is no longer an excuse.

* I want to note, these were two of the nicer guys you could possibly meet; in fact one helped me get into the class of the other when it was overbooked. This does not validate the bad economics.