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. ...