They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)

Many economists build careers on only a few decades’ worth of data. Not Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. For “This Time Is Different,” they studied eight centuries of financial crises.

By CATHERINE RAMPELL
Published: July 2, 2010

THE advertisement warns of speculative financial bubbles. It mocks a group of gullible Frenchmen seduced into a silly, 18th-century investment scheme, noting that the modern shareholder, armed with superior information, can avoid the pitfalls of the past. “How different the position of the investor today!” the ad enthuses.

…ONE of Ken Rogoff’s favorite economics jokes — yes, there are economics jokes — is “the one about the lamppost”: A drunk on his way home from a bar one night realizes that he has dropped his keys. He gets down on his hands and knees and starts groping around beneath a lamppost. A policeman asks what he’s doing.

“I lost my keys in the park,” says the drunk.

“Then why are you looking for them under the lamppost?” asks the puzzled cop.

“Because,” says the drunk, “that’s where the light is.”

Mr. Rogoff, 57, has spent a lifetime exploring places and ideas off the beaten track. Tall, thin and bespectacled, he grew up in Rochester. There, he attended a “tough inner-city school,” where his “true liberal parents” — a radiologist and a librarian — sent him so he would be exposed to students from a variety of social and economic classes.

He received a chess set for his 13th birthday, and he quickly discovered that he was something of a prodigy, a fact he decided to hide so he wouldn’t get beaten up in the lunchroom.

“I think chess may be a relatively cool thing for kids to do now, on par with soccer or other sports,” he says. “It really wasn’t then.”

Here is the full article.

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