My Inability to Specialize Makes Me Special

A long time ago …

A long time ago near the start of my career as an economist, my mentor at that time sat me down to tell me one word. “Specialize” he advised. I outwardly acknowledged his wisdom while secretly knowing that if specialization was necessary for success in our profession, then I was doomed.

Since that conversation I’ve published peer-reviewed articles on a bizarrely diverse set of subjects. I started with an article on how to accurately measure consumer welfare in the face of non-linear prices. I then segued to the effects that unexpected changes in wheat harvests have on net exports in Australia. Next I published evidence that professional baseball players with long-term contracts don’t work as hard as other players. I followed that up with an oft-cited article that proved gamblers do not randomly select lottery numbers even though they would be better off if they did. My seemingly random list of articles also includes subjects such as the effect of physician fee capitation on consumer satisfaction, a test of the arbitrator exchangeability hypothesis using final-offer arbitration data from Major League Baseball, and how to estimate personal consumption using a statistical modelling technique called “instrumental variables”.

The closest I have come to a “specialty” is a series of articles dealing with cancer care, including cervical cancer in the Vietnamese-American population, the incidence of colorectal cancer by bowel section and the effect of distance to provider on the incidence of breast cancer. I’ve also published articles about the effectiveness of an employer-sponsored weight-management program and the rate of moral hazard caused by health insurance.

I should mention that I published these articles and much more while working at four different universities, a state agency, a county government and four different consulting companies. I’ve testified as an expert witness in both state and federal courts of law on things as unrelated as the government’s efforts to eradicate an infectious plant disease, anti-trust behavior in the stretch limousine market and hospital payment rates by Workers Compensation. Twenty-five years after earning my PhD in economics, I went back to school to earn a Masters’ degree in health services and completed my post-doctoral training at a well-known cancer research center.

Someone unfamiliar with the economics profession might be impressed with these accomplishments, but I can assure you that other economists are not. When they see my long array of seemingly random academic pursuits, they invariably wrinkle their noses in bewilderment. That mentor who advised me in my youth to specialize stopped talking to me nearly twenty years ago when he realized I was a lost cause.

I would like to claim that all this was part of some well-reasoned plan, but the truth is that I struggle with a restlessness that I am incapable of controlling. I have learned to embrace my weirdness. Ironically, my inability to specialize makes me special.

Hence the name of my blog: The Lone Economist. I plan to pursue a data-driven analysis of topics about which I am well-versed, such as Medicare-For-All vs. the Public Option, and a new type of baseball statistic.

Of course, given my history, who knows what I might talk about.