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Economists Separated at Birth?

October 21, 2014 - 3:38pm

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?

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