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2.16.2004
  Rough draft: statement of purpose take 3 (updated, again)
It was on the third iteration of the Excel model that I was creating for my boss when I realized what it was all about. My boss asked me to give him a recommendation regarding the staffing levels in the new department I was creating. Instead of pulling a number out of thin air, my first reaction was to analyze the problem and try to understand how to best answer his question. We collect tons of data in our accounting system that describes the tasks performed and the number of hours spent on each task. So all I needed was an export from the accounting system, Excel, and then I could dig in.

After two iterations of complex and convoluted staffing models that my boss rejected, I went back to the drawing board. My boss had asked for a recommendation, not a model. While I enjoyed analyzing the data and playing in Excel to create models, the purpose of the exercise was to guide staffing policy. The model's only purpose was to distill the complexities of reality. A good model would make it very clear what variables are important (cost of the staff and the expected profit margin) and what assumptions are made implicitly or explicitly (both senior, expensive engineers and junior, cheap engineers can accomplish the tasks required in the department).

During the construction of the third iteration of the staffing model, I realized what I want to do in my life. I want to help people make better decisions. Deciding how to allocate their resources are the most important decisions people make. Economics called to me in that moment.

Creating models is just story telling. One of my favorite books is "An Introduction to General Systems Thinking" by Gerald M. Weinberg. He teaches that all models are approximations of reality. A model's only purpose is to help shape the way we think about problems. If this is true, then theories and models in economics are no more than stories about the world that help to explain how it works. Of course, I get deep satisfaction out of the analytical aspect of creating models and understanding theory, but it's an interesting perspective.

I also enjoy the perspective given by what I call the long view. One of the many areas that I was interested in during my undergraduate years, and a good source for the long view, is Japanese history. I grew up in the idyllic yet parochial redwood forests of the north coast of California. Aesthetically, I enjoyed learning about such a different and "foreign" culture. What struck me most was that despite being almost completely isolated from Western culture for most of its history, Japan has developed into one of the great economic powers of the modern world. On the one hand, their history is an example of successful development that was very distinct from the sort of development seen in America and Europe. By comparing Western development with its Japanese counterpart, we have a sort of controlled experiment that lets us see what attributes of society (culture, institutions, etc) are necessary for successful economic development. On the other hand, Japan is an example of country that has successfully developed in the shadow of more advanced countries, a challenge developing countries face today. By analyzing Japan's interactions with the West during its development, lessons can be learned that can be used to help developing countries today.

In this respect, I'm interested in working with Dr. Wing Thye Woo, because of his views regarding Asian comparative economics. I'm also interested in Dr. Gregory Clark's views on using history to understand the true causes of economic growth, such as seen in the English industrial revolution. Also, I'm very interested in Dr. Alan M. Taylor's long view of globalization. Dr. Taylor has observed1 that contrary to popular impressions, globalization is an old issue, with a long history. In the past, how did institutions grow in concert with commerce to spread economic prosperity across geography? As an aside, there is a question that I'm very interested in answering... Do the anti-globalization folks have any point at all?

September 11th really focused my attention on the issue of globalization. The neoliberal agenda, which calls for the dismantling of trade barriers and supports institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, seems especially attractive in a world whose poorest parts are producing ideologies that are the most destructive and extreme. In his address to the U.S. Congress, Tony Blair said, "The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defense and our first line of attack." To what degree is economic prosperity linked with the spread of freedom? How to respond to Dr. J. Bradford DeLong’s recent misgivings2 regarding capital mobility? What can we learn from Asia? Will China prove to be an exception with its extraordinary economic growth, despite its lagging political freedom, or will its economic growth stagnate because of its backward politics?

I enjoy Lester Thurow's passionate writing in his book "Future of Capitalism", in which he makes the connection between freedom and economic prosperity. He explains how capitalism both requires democracy, as its foundation, and is diametrically opposed to it. He argues that capitalism's selfishness is destroying democracy. Democracy's downfall will cause the destruction of capitalism itself. By saying that there is no future for capitalism if it destroys democracy, he suggests a history of capitalism in which the institutions of democracy were necessary for capitalism to grow.

As I said before, I want to help people make better decisions. In this context, a discussion of globalization is primarily focused on an audience of policy makers. I admire authors, like Thurow, who expand the audience to the general public. Outside of economics, I've admired Carl Sagan for his ability to popularize astronomy and science, in general. He was able to explain profound and beautiful things using simple language that could be understood by the general public. Economics is in need of similar popularization. The recent controversy over "outsourcing" and the nightly outrage that is the Exporting America™ segment on Lou Dobbs, demonstrates one of the major failing of the economics profession. The profession, for whatever reason, hasn't been able to articulate the advantages of free trade to the lay audience. I am interested in helping to rectify this situation, and I hope to make some contribution to the popularization of economics.

In addition to policy makers and the general public, I want to help students become better decision makers. I want to become a good teacher. Students need good teachers to equip them with the tools they need to make good decisions in their lives. In school, I was very active with teaching my peers. I led a study group in an economics course, I graded finance quizzes and exams and for two semesters I led discussion sessions in a freshman computer science course. Even at this early age, I saw my peers able to look to me to give them guidance. At work, as you see from my letters of recommendation, I was proud to have been seen as a mentor and a teacher. Very quickly after starting my job, I learned the ins and outs of the company's software platform. Not soon after, I began to be seen as the system expert and only 12 months after starting, I was promoted to lead the System Architect team. This team's charter was to educate internal and external customers about the company's technology (while being actively involved in system implementation). I am very proud of our accomplishments and in our team's ability to spread knowledge of the workings of the company's technology.

As you can see, my primary motivation is to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be a credible source of advice and counsel to many audiences. I want to be a member of a faculty, contributing to the field, teaching undergraduates and having a direct and indirect impact on policy makers. To quote the President on the West Wing, "I'm a man that needs to be the one to get things done. You're the one that helps that man get things done." I'm that second man! To be credible in that role, I need to make real contributions to the field of economics and I need to get a degree from an esteemed university such as UC Davis.


1 Taylor, Alan M. 2002. "Globalization, Trade, And Development: Some Lessons From History" NBER Working Paper no. 9326.

2 DeLong, J. Bradford February 27, 2004; draft 2.0. "How Strong a Supporter of International Capital Mobility Can I Still Be?" (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000378.html)

 
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