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Created: 1999-04-30
Last Modified: 1999-05-01
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Andrei Shleifer

a (not completely serious) toast made at the party given by Andrei Shleifer's wife, Nancy Zimmerman, in celebration of his being awarded the American Economic Association's John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every two years to the most outstanding economist under forty.

J. Bradford DeLong
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/

April 30, 1999

 

As reconstructed after delivery. Anyone wanting to know the mood of the (very, very nice) party should visit www.shleifer.com.


Let me say three things:

First, let me congratulate my friend of twenty-one years on his much deserved honor and for the achievements that have merited it: there is no doubt in my mind that the American Economic Association made the right choice in awarding the Clark Medal to Andrei Shleifer.


Second, let me tell you the secret of Andrei's success. Andrei loves to write, and loves to talk. But that isn't the secret of his success. The secret is that he loves to read, and loves to listen.

Back in the early years of this century, H.G. Wells, social critic and visionary author of The Time Machine, wrote against those who said that history is decided by small and secret conspiracies. Instead, Wells wrote, he wanted to see history decided by an Open Conspiracy--a conspiracy that would avow its aims, and allow anyone who wanted to join its efforts, subject to only a very few conditions:

  • that they endorse the aim of the Open Conspiracy--the betterment of the human race.
  • that they intensively study the social world, to determine what institutions and practices worked and what didn't--what things contributed to human progress, and what things did not.
  • that they communicate what they had learned through their studies to others.
  • and, most important, that they listen to what others had to say, to what others had learned as a result of their studies: for no one has a monopoly on truth or on insight, and good judgments can only be arrived at by close and open-minded scrutiny of evidence and opinions.

As I look at Andrei's career, it is clear to me that the secret of his success is that he has made himself the center of a large sub-portion of this Open Conspiracy. Look at his pattern of co-authorship. Anyone who has written an article with Andrei--and many people here and not here have--knows of the range of his intellectual curiosity, that every page of the article will bear his imprint, that no assumptions will go unchallenged but also that no passage in anything that bears his name will pass without his understanding it and assenting to it.

For Andrei knows that no one has a monopoly on truth or on insight, that different people have looked at very different bodies of evidence, that true opinions are those that survive challenge, that good judgments are those that have been arrived at after close and open-minded scrutiny, and that only those willing to mark their opinions to market frequently have a chance of learning and teaching the truth.

Andrei has won the Clark Medal--and his done the work that makes him the deserved recipient of the Clark Medal--because he listens.


Third, let me thank the person who is most responsible for my participation in Andrei's Open Conspiracy over the past twenty one years. For there is no doubt that among those high in the ranks of Andrei's part of the Open Conspiracy, among those he listens most closely to, is--me. Andrei tells everyone else that I am a genius, in spite of much evidence to the contrary. He listens much more closely to my opinions, and gives my judgments much more weight, than I believe any rational human being would.

And the reason for this is clear. I made a good first impression.

I met Andrei back in the fall of 1978, when we were both freshmen at Harvard, both living in the southwest corner of Weld Hall, and both taking Math 55. Math 55 was a very hard advanced calculus course. It was the kind of course in which you prove theorems about how linear transformations in the abstract can be represented in terms of their eigenvectors and eigenvalues in great generality, but almost never diagonalize an actual matrix: a course not for those who were going to (at best) apply mathematics, but for people who were actually going to homestead some Hilbert Space somewhere.

From the very start it was difficult, but I had an edge. I had had the first quarter of the course in high school the previous year.

So for the first quarter of the year, conversations about math between me and Andrei would end with me remembering something from the previous year, saying "how about if we do it this way?" and finding out that it worked.

So Andrei's first impression was that I was a true genius.

And first impressions stick. This first impression has stuck with him--in spite of much evidence to the contrary--for twenty-one years, and has greatly enriched my life.

So I would like to thank my high school math teacher, Florence Fassinelli, for setting in motion the chain of events that has given me such a place in Andrei's Open Conspiracy, and has brought me here today.

Thank you.


Other short speeches were made by Rudiger Dornbusch, Oliver Hart, Lawrence Summers, Olivier Blanchard, Florencio Lopez de Silanes, and Andrei's father Mark Shleifer. I think that Mark Shleifer's was the best.


Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/

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