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Friday, March 09, 2007

Who am I? (with apologies to Admiral Stockdale)

My name is Jonah B. Gelbach, and I’m currently associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland at College Park. As of the coming fall semester, I’m moving to the department of economics at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

Allow me to write a few grafs of background, which hopefully will clarify what in the world I’m doing as a guest blogger here at PrawfsBlawg. For the present academic year, I’ve been a visiting professor at the College of Law at Florida State, which is how I met Dan Markel, who has graciously invited me to guest blawg here.    

I don’t have a J.D., so a lot of my econ friends and others were surprised to hear that I’d want to teach in a law school (and, in general, more surprised that a law school would want me to teach!).  But I’ve been a law junkie for a long time. (Last summer my mom gave me a bunch of old stuff from my high school days, and I was amused to find a copy of the Stamford High School Roundtable, where I used to write a column back in the 1980s. I had to smile last summer when I read my column on the SCOTUS nomination of Robert Bork.)

Until this year, my interests in law were mostly in con law and legal theory (people tell me that I’m the only economist they’ve met who knows the difference between original intent and original meaning originalism). I also had a small interest in antitrust (I was extremely lucky as a grad student and got to TA for Franklin Fisher during the Staples-Office Depot merger case and some of the preliminary parts of the DOJ’s case against Microsoft). And then there’s the large interest in “legal” TV shows like LA Law, Ally McBeal, the Practice and Boston Legal (yes, I know, that doesn’t really recommend me to write on a law blog….but it’s what I got).

Last fall I taught two classes to FSU law students: Statistics for Lawyers and Social Insurance. I absolutely loved teaching the statistics class. I’d never taught basic statistics before, and that alone was fun. But it was really great finding and thinking about legal applications to use (for background, I used Finkelstein & Levin’s Statistics for Lawyers, which was very useful). The other class was interesting as well, and I had the added bonus of learning from my students, each of whom had to find and discuss a case that involved the social insurance system in the U.S.

This semester I’m teaching Law & Economics and co-teaching/-hosting an empirical workshop with Jon Klick. Both have been a lot of fun for me so far.

One thing that Dan mentioned might be useful for me to write about is what it’s like to be an economist in a law school. Maybe the most surprising thing to me is how much of the language of economics is spoken by law professors, even those without substantial formal training in economics. Just about every faculty workshop I’ve been to brings some reference to agency theory, selection bias, externalities, and so on. I hear this stuff enough that I’ve started to wonder whether lawyers didn’t come up with these terms first (given economists’ penchant to absorb—some might say take over and warp—other disciplines’ terms and ideas, it wouldn’t surprise me if you all had lots of the ideas first, too).

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how well folks in the law school at FSU have treated me. I admit to having had a good bit of anxiety when I got here. It’s a weird feeling to be on the faculty of a professional school in a discipline for which you have no formal training. In fact, people have been welcoming and respectful from the git-go (except Curtis Bridgeman, who calls me mean names and makes fun of my hair—hey Curtis: we can’t all wear $100 suits to work everyday!).

Anyway, hanging out here at FSU has given me a chance to think about moving my research in the law & econ, and in a couple possible cases, the law, direction, and that has been a really wonderful opportunity for me.

Over the next couple weeks, or however long it takes Markel to get wise and banish me back to my lately dormant 20-hits-a-day-except-that-time-I-got-Mark-Halperin-on-the-phone-the-night-before-the-election blog CardCarryingMember, I’ll be sharing my thoughts with you about topics that will hopefully be relevant to law types, most of which will usually have some basis in economics as well. I look forward to any comments you all might have—just, please, no hard fouls.

Posted by Jonah Gelbach on March 9, 2007 at 05:14 PM in Housekeeping | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 9, 2007 6:02:50 PM


How could you guys invite this guy to blawg? Are you crazy?

****This comment is a joke. Please do not misinterpret it as serious. I admit I did it myself....Jonah

Posted by: Mary Rosh | Mar 9, 2007 5:35:09 PM

As an economist, I presume you are reasonably proficient in statistical methods. I also see that you have been teaching statistics in recent years. As a measure of your skills, is there any chance you can derive the quadratic formula, without the aid of a textbook and after having consumed a fair amount of EtOH?

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 9, 2007 6:29:47 PM

Dear Anonymous:

Thanks for your question. Rather than answering it, I will suggest that all those readers out there take this moment to reflect on the dangers of pursuing a career in the biological sciences. The fumes in those labs can do terrible things to you. Plus, not yet having tenure makes a person comment anonymously, rudely and nonsequiturally on his friends' blog posts--just when said friends have gotten their big chance!

Anyway, anonymous, if you want me to prove that formula, you'll have to buy the next round. Meanwhile, go Spartans...they're all we have left!

Posted by: jonah gelbach | Mar 9, 2007 7:18:58 PM

How about it. Although I dropped out of law school three years ago, I remember having Jonah Gelbach as my Intro to Micro professor as a freshman in college. Go Terps.

Posted by: RLP | Mar 10, 2007 11:42:27 PM

Nice seeing someone from my old stomping grounds on here. I just graduated from FSU Law last Spring.

Posted by: jps | Mar 12, 2007 9:48:57 AM

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