Fulbright chronicle #6

With Ross at the department after not too fortunate an early morning run. The result: a broken ankle. I am now deprived of training for six weeks but have two great friends.

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Roaming the Arizona desert

Yesterday we had the fisrt hiking trip after my returning to ASU from Duke. While we (Kim, Ross and I) were climbing up to Wind cave, Duke got on her knees under the burden of snow. It was quite difficult fur us to imagine talking a walk in the 76°F December weather.

Here are some random pictures. The Phoenix are, where ASU is situated, is a bowl, surrounded by high mountains. This is the desert all around: gravels and cacti with mountains rising in the distance.

Historical work at ASU

This is how it works…

There is an exciting piece in the exchange between Lucas and Sims in 1982 in the course of which both of them explicate their theoretical stances in detail. Lucas on island models and Sims on his VARs. However, the letters contain some enigmatic details – facts which were known to them in those days, but have faded in the mist since. So we are trying to trace back these crumbs.

All this makes up an exciting combination of historical and methodological work!

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Pictures at an exhibition

Duke University campus has changed a lot since my last visit in the summer of 2016. Recently erected Duke Student Wellness Center was under construction in those days and it was rumoured that a new art centre was also in the making – named Rubenstein Arts Center. Walking on campus this autumn you can easily run into the building on the corner of Campus Drive and Anderson Street. Rubenstein is not meant to be a gallery but rather a place or home for artists. Of course, you can find exhibition rooms, but the building is much more about studios and rehearsal rooms for performing arts. The other day I spent an afternoon there roaming the alleys from room to room, from one exhibition to another.

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The front of Rubenstein Arts Center on Campus Drive, Duke University

One of the showrooms gives home to an exhibition of works of arts made by people living on the death-row. Each piece is the outcome of a collaboration of a convict and an artist.

The exhibition is intended to be an alert to call attemtion to a fact: the United States imprisons a portion of the population greater than in any other nations. More than 10 million children have parents having been in prison or jail – and half of these children are younger than 10. In this prison-population the death-row constitutes a special microcosm. The residents are disproportionately racial or ethnic minorities. A lot of them end up executed whilst innocent. Innocent…? Or not innocent enough…?

Each work of art summarizes the life of someone living on the death-row. For how long? God knows only… Maybe tomorrow his time will have come. The forms are chosen in order to express their ways of life – and I was shocked how often they have chosen the boardgame as the most expressing way. Why boardgame, you may ask – and I also asked. The reason, I believe, is that the journey through a boardgame is pre-determined. One cannot avoid punishment… and he ends up dead. These lives are the same: drifting towards an inevitable catastrophe.

Below I will show you the details of the one grabbed me the most deeply. There is a poem written across the board – and even though I am not a native speaker, even I am able to feel out how… straight-out…? … it is.

When my time is over

When the end is nigh

Empty tracks before me,

all my life gone by.

I’m standing on the platform,

but I am not alone,

He is standing with me

He will take me home

My hand in his for comfort

He holds me to his side

We are safe together,

WAITING FOR THE LAST TRAIN RIDE.

Loneliness, isn’t it…? A recurrent motive is a crying out for help, into the irretrievable past, to the father – recalling his missing, his failure not to hold his lost child’s hand in a crucial moment. This is a clear case of placing the blame on someone else – my crime is YOUR fault. I believe this is the explanation of the boardgame-form. I was unable to avoid my destiniy for my fate was not my guilt – it is you who put me on this track. And this is a track… not a road which one can leave to turn back.

And the pictures I promised. Here they come…

 

 

My Chicago problem

In multiple sources did I read that one of the factors underlying the eventual success of the Chicago school of economics is its geographical isolation. And this is not a fairy tale. This is present’s reality. If you do not live on campus, on a daily basis you will have problems with travelling to the university. Even though Chicago is a huge city, the University of Chicago is not within easy reach. It is isolated. Still.

I live at the far end of CTA green line, so it seemed reasonable to take a green line service to Garfield station. My daily route was made up of two transfers (bus to subway and subway to bus) and a long walk (from my apartment to the bus stop). This option did not work. Having realized this, I looked for another routes, and I have two candidates. Both consists of one transfer in the Loop, but there I can choose from (1) a slow bus and a short walk and (2) an express bus and another long walk. And that is my Chicago problem: which option should I choose? By undertaking another long walk I can decrease travel time by almost 15 minutes – but it is tiresome. By insisting on comfort, I am always late, however. So I have tried to analyze this problem as an economist. Let’s see the outline.

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There are two goods: comfort and save on time. Naturally, I would be better off if I were able to comfortably save time, but this is not an option. I can get to the university sooner only at a price of a long walk. This is an exchange situation: with less walk I feel comfortable while travelling, but arrive late – or by paying the price of a long walk I can start my morning run before 6:30 am. The market offers a schedule for exchange, so there is a budget line, which is not straight. Even though I might be willing to take very-very long walks, after a point it wouldn’t reduce my travel time. Going on foot to the university is a 20-km hiking. Points A and B designate my relevant options.

My preferences are well- behaving. I like travelling comfortably, but for some saving on time I am willing to give up my lifestyle. The more I need to give up my convenience, the more compensation I claim in the form of saving on time. The less comfort I have, the greater this compensation must be. Diminishing marginal utility holds.

I will choose A, because for me comfort is a higher ranked good than saving on time. As I do my runs in the morning, excessive walks are counterproductive, no matter how early I can get to the Ratner center.

Gary Becker rulez.

A day in Chicago

My work at the libraries of the University of Chicago comes to an end in a few days – Thursday I move to Durham, Duke University, to complete my work on the Lucas papers I started in 2016. I have had a tough month here, so this was the very first day I spent on visiting the Loop, downtown Chicago and taking some photos around the university. Don’t have high expectations. They are simple tourist memories. I will show you a couple one right away…

Tackling the language problem

Your life as a Fulbrighter is far from easy. Setting your feet on US soil may shock you in cultural terms – especially those not accustomed to a native English-speaking environment. And I am not. So I need to be courageous and dive into unpredictable small talks, chats to exchange pleasantries or conversations on serious topics. Admittedly, I am more familiar with such situations. Thus, when I have the opportunity to start a ‘speech’ on inflation, unemployment or even the methodology of modern business-cycle theories, I can really enjoy myself… and I do my best to prevent others cutting in. As long as I am talking, that is not a conversation, so no problems understanding the other may arise. There are as many dialects of English as speakers of English, aren’t there? So I am particularly grateful to those speking a clear and well-articulated version – which must be tiresome, I know.

But communication problems belong to our everyday life. Now I’d just like to know which of the figures in the video I am…

 

Department of Economics Records, the University of Chicago, Special Collections

I love working in the archives. This box contains some stuff from the last years of T.W. Schultz as the chairman of the Department of Economics and the first few years of Robert Lucas as a graduate student – departmental minutes, personal notes and letters. I love working in the archives, because you never know what you will find. For instance, b browsing these papers I could identify the mysterious Donald Bear whom Lucas mentions in his Nobel-bio. This was really exciting, as in the official Announcements of the Department I could not find his name however hard I trieed. However, as Robert Lucas suggests, Dr. Bear tought an exciting course in econometrics. Finally in a note I could find who he is, what his subject was and how he became affiliated at the Department.