Famous Economists Time

Years ago, I was given the opportunity to meet Milton Friedman in person. It had always been a dream of mine and a picture with him would have been something I would have cherished forever. There was only one problem: it would have cost me $10,000. Even at that price, I still considered it. When he died, a year or so later, I look back on the lost opportunity and second guess myself. Maybe I should have just paid it!

Some of my (not so very economically inclined) readers might balk at the idea of an economist charging for his time. But that never really bothered me. Some of these people are so famous and so sought after that if they’d give their time away free they wouldn’t have any time left for anything else. And more importantly, I would have less of a chance of ever actually meeting them. Time is money, and everybody has priorities. If you want your place above certain priorities, it should be mutually beneficial.

In fact, I believe in this so much that I have often suggested it to other economists. For example, in a discussion with a knowledgeable opponent, you may reach a point where you don’t know what to say next. Does the data fit your intuition? Are his points stronger than yours? What does the “mainstream” economist believe? But while you may not have the answer, you are certain someone else would. Only problem is: how do you get it from them? Sure, an email sometimes works. But oftentimes it doesn’t. In the past, I’ve suggested to the more famous bloggers that they should have an “hourly rate” posted somewhere on their blog. A means that guarantees access to them. For example, I would easily pay $100 for an hour of back and forth discussions with, say Scott Sumners. Or Tyler Cowen. Or especially Bryan Caplan. Even Paul Krugman, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein would be on my list (sometimes you want to know what the real, thought out, opposing view is). But alas, they don’t have that option – so most emails go unmet.

Lucky for us though, many famous free-market  economists have already thought about this idea and made it public. Bloomberg reports:

Becker, a University of Chicago professor who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1992, will be selling his time on ExpertInsight.com, a website offering one-to-one video chats with leaders, which opened yesterday. He’ll join people such as economics professors Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University and Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, “Freakonomics” co- authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, poker celebrities Patrik Antonius and Tom Dwan, and tennis coach Jeff Salzenstein.

“The idea is to bring this coaching model to everything,” said Brandon Adams, Expert Insight’s 32-year-old founder and chief executive officer.

I think this is a great idea and hope it becomes the norm. This is a great step in the path towards a smarter and more knowledgeable citizenry. I’m excited!

5 Responses to “Famous Economists Time”


  • Apparently Noam Chomsky used to spend hours every day answering letters and emails from everyone that would write him. He may still do it even though he’s 82 or 83 now. In fact I wrote him about a year ago just to thank him for his efforts. He wrote me back encouraging me and otherwise responding to what I had said. He thinks intellectuals have an obligation to questioners. And he cares about everyone, not just the rich. He also cares about the world and he wants to give people the tools to improve it.

    I was reading this book “Do As I Say Not As I Do” which purports to criticize supposed liberal hypocrisy. The author wrote to Chomsky just as an anonymous questioner, posing some mild criticisms. He was shocked that in fact Chomsky replied. I was not shocked because I know he does this for everyone. He won’t debate back and forth endlessly, but he will at least respond in some way, even to critics.

    I’m finding that I really think this Ayn Rand mentality of everybody is on their own and if you can’t earn it on the free market screw you mentality is really misguided. It just seems like a horrible kind of world to live in, where only the rich can ride on the roads and the poor must go without, or only the rich go to decent schools and the poor go without. I know that’s not your view, but it really is the view of many people that I know. What I think they don’t realize is that they are not so independent. They think they did it on their own, but nobody does. I mean, I couldn’t even grow food. If the agricultural apparatus broke down I think I’d starve. We are a unique species that has soared to great heights by relying on each other, not acting as singular, self made types. The tea party crowd needs to recognize this. No, you did not make it on your own.

    Friedman is pretty ridiculous if you ask me. You’ll find no photos of him with perhaps a Mexican migrant worker or one of those food service workers at the university. Not only is he not interested, he’s proud to be not interested. That’s really a loathsome world. Contrast with Chomsky. He’ll dine with the rich and the poor. That’s a much better world. Dare I say it’s a more Christian world.

  • Where do you get your facts about Friedman? You know me Jon…you cant just cite, you gotta prove. :-)

  • I should also make clear that Friedman, Becker, and the others, mostly do (did, in Friedmans case) ALSO respond to emails and mail. Shoot, even Gary Becker, nobel prize winner and probably the most sought after economist, has his own blog where he responds to comments. SO I am not saying this is either/or. Only that it atleast guarantees an audience with them or more intimately, a picture.

    I’m sure even Chomsky is selective on who actually meets him face to face. He has to be, or else he wouldn’t have time for anything else.

    My only point here is that they ALSO provided an avenue to guarantee a spot with them…in addition to their mail and email responses.

  • A source? I just read you say it.

    OK, so I thought you were saying that was what he did exclusively. So you couldn’t sit down with him somehow if you wanted to without the money. Could you have?

    For Chomsky you can. I read on line people say that anyone that wants can get in touch with him and show up at MIT and he’ll talk with you. Sounds like you are saying Friedman had an alternative means of meeting him that would have been pay to see in addition to other efforts he’d make to meet with the general population. That’s not as bad as what I thought you were saying.

    Chomsky is very principled though it seems to me and I think acts in a more honorable way. He has very little by way of bias towards wealth in terms of his willingness to converse. Surely he must in some way limit access. Like when he’s at a lecture he can’t stay and sign books and pose for pictures all night given his age. But it seems to me he works very hard to accommodate everyone.

  • Jon,

    You could have. It was just random, or luck, or a que. Nothing guaranteed. He was a very busy man and much older than Chomsky (in his early 90′s)…MANY people wanted to see and meet him…all over the world.

    But I know of many stories of him responding to personal emails and mail, all for free. For example, an (online) friend of mines dad sent him an idea by mail, and he FLEW down to talk more with the dad. It was one of the life changing events that got my friend into economics. He also wrote several excerpts for books, all free…at the end though, he had to start turning some down cuz he was having eye problems.

    The paying method was just a way to GUARANTEE an audience with him and enough time to talk about the idea of your choice and pose for pictures. It was a full package guaranteed deal…and btw, the money didnt even go to Milton Friedman. It was for another organization (I think Heritage or CATO – this was years ago), he was merely speaking there and they were assigning seating arrangements.

    I really dont see a difference between the Friedman vs Chomsky approach except that Friedman, by way of organizations he supports, ALSO added another layer of guaranteed meet-ups. I’ve always thought that was reasonable…especially given his age and the great demand set on him. Personally, I wish more people would add that layer.

    Most people dont do that…and hence, alot less people get to run their ideas by them than otherwise could have.

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