What would you do if you were shipwrecked on a Caribbean island frequented by cannibals, all on your lonesome except for the captain’s dog and two cats? Well, if you were Robinson Crusoe this would not be a hypothetical question, and you would dry grapes into raisins and hunt with handcrafted tools until you were rescued decades later. But in John Rush’s awesome Economic Principles & Problems class, our man Crusoe has much to teach us about the “utility function” that is the bread and butter of economic theory.
Okay, in case you’re just catching wind of this, John Rush is Marlboro’s new economics professor, joining us from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (so he has some tips to share on island survival), where he received his doctoral degree. According to John, economics is all about “choices,” and how we make choices to maximize our good friend the utility function. What is it worth to us to eat mac-n-cheese every day, for example? To sled down library hill on a dining hall tray? To hang out with friends and watch Game of Thrones? None of these things are options if you are shipwrecked, of course. However, Robinson Crusoe made many other choices—like, should he kill the marauding cannibals who don’t know they are committing an abomination?—and John’s class is reading this timeless classic to get at the heart of economics.
But the real economic question on everyone’s mind is whether John Rush and recent Marlboro graduate Patrick Magee ’14 are twins separated at birth. I mean, not only is there a marked similarity between the two gentlemen, they are both economics scholars with uncanny knowledge about things like resources and actors and scarcities and market equilibriums and the like. Sure, Patrick’s Plan was about the impact of U.S. agricultural policy on small farms, and John’s work has focused on natural disasters and inequality in developing countries, but they are both unusually kind and sensibly dressed. I wonder if they both include mac-n-cheese in their utility function?
It’s that time of year again, the bright dawn of an awesome new semester at Marlboro, and I’m not talking about any old convocation, or registering for classes, or the first yummy community dinner. I’m talking about that most august of September rituals known as the students vs. faculty/staff softball game. That breathtaking event where community members put aside their Dostoevsky and their vector fields and their epistemological solipsism to pit their lofty brains against six ounces of kapok stuffing.
In case you didn’t know, Princeton Review ranks Marlboro as #18 among colleges for “Nobody Plays Intramural Sports,” and a whopping #10 for “There’s a Game?” When it is not broomball season, the pinnacle of Marlboro sportsmanship, most students prefer to get their exercise hiking up to the science building or seeing how many can fit on the OP stone bench. But somehow these particular students didn’t get that memo, because they turned out the most fearsome and strapping team of softball ringers that had ever pummeled a ball on Person’s field.
At least, that’s my feeble explanation for the resounding defeat of the faculty/staff team, with a final score of 8 to 20-or-30-something. John “physical capital” Rush, Marlboro’s new economics professor took a productive turn on the mound, but could not exert a normative influence on the supply of (or demand for) soaring hits by the students. Philosophy professor William “epistemology” Edelglass led the team with a competitive edge that would have made Emmanuel Kant blush, and chemistry professor Todd “kinetic energy” Smith made his mark with a three-run homer that had everyone’s electrons excited for a moment. But the faculty/staff team never quite rose to the students’ challenge, despite an generous allowance of extra outs and the rousing solo cheerleading of Kathy “pom-pom” Waters, alumni director. There’s always next year.