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Ask an Entrepreneur

Want to learn how the economy really works?  Don’t go into academia.  Get a job.

I spent six years of school filling my head with fancy theories and complicated mathematics, practiced under assumptions that often don’t work in the real world.  I earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in economics, but where I really learned about the economy was from my job.

For the past decade, I have worked for David Hartman editing The Lone Star Report, a weekly policy newsletter that covers state government.  An engineer by training with an M.B.A. from Harvard, Mr. Hartman has succeeded in a variety of vocations—banking, plastics, trucking.  He has run real businesses and has a knack for numbers like few I have ever encountered.  In many ways, Mr. Hartman is a stereotypical banker—conservative, thrifty.  America used to produce thousands of self-made entrepreneurs like that.

When I first came to work for Mr. Hartman, Austin, Texas, was a boom town.  Dot-coms were multiplying like flies, with many moving here from Silicon Valley because of the lower cost of living.

“This is a bubble,” Mr. Hartman told me in 1999.  “It won’t last.  These dot-coms produce nothing of value.”

Sure enough, the bubble burst, and in the early part of this decade Austin contracted about as fast as it had expanded. ...

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