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This book provides an intimate history of Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith’s early life, combining elements of biography, history, economics and philosophy to show how crucial incidents early in his life provided the necessary framework for his research into experimental economics. Smith takes the reader from his family roots on the railroads and oil fields of Middle America to his early life on a farm in Depression-wracked Kansas. A mediocre student in high school, Smith attended Friends University, on Wichita’s west side, where an intense study of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and astronomy enabled him to pass the examinations to enter Caltech and study under luminary scientists like Linus Pauling. Eventually Smith discovered economics and pursued graduate study in the field at University of Kansas and Harvard. This volume ends with his Camelot years at Purdue, where he began his famous work in experimental economics, nurturing his research into an unlikely new field of economics.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Before “My”

Abstract
When I began to talk, I went through a period when I called myself “my.” I recount here events important in my life and family before I was born: events that influenced and inspired my outlook, maturation, and eventually a life of discovery. This chapter fixes childhood—mine, but metaphorically a state of childlike curiosity—as a prominent theme throughout my life. Maternally, we were a railroad workers’ family rich in the economic history of that period. My mother married Grover Bougher when she was 16. He worked as a fireman for the Santa Fe Railroad until 1918 when he was killed in a train wreck, widowing my mother at 22 with two daughters under age four. She would remarry and have one more child that she would influence far beyond any reasonable expectations because of who she was.
Vernon L. Smith

Beginings and Launching

Frontmatter

Chapter 2. You Can Go Home Again

Abstract
I want to take you through the house that I came home to, after being my mother’s first child born in a hospital. I knew that house, its every nook and cranny. It was a treasure house in memory proving that ninety odd years later you can go home again.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 3. Enter My Father

Abstract
My father’s family worked in the oil (petroleum) industry , almost from its beginning in 1859. His father left the Pennsylvania oil fields for Tulsa, then Riverton, El Dorado, and finally settled in Wichita. My father, however, will abandon his father’s roughneck life portrayed faithfully by Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. After serving in World War I, dad will apprentice as a machinist in Cleveland and move to Wichita to work for an oil field machine supply company. He enters my story along with my sisters, grandparents, and childhood playmates, some of whom will die years later in World War II, an integral and unforgettable part of my first memory of them.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 4. From City Lights to Starlight

Abstract
Abruptly though not unexpectedly my father was laid off from his work in 1932 as the Depression of 1929 deepened beyond all hope of an early bounce-back. When Grover was killed, my mother had received a railroad life insurance payment that my parents invested in a 160-acre farm about 45 miles southeast of Wichita near Milan Kansas. I became a farm boy at age 5 for most of two years that will leave an indelible mark on me that I still carry. Difficult economic years for my parents will be truly wonderful years for me, learning about animals, cooking, gardens, home canning, milking, Coleman lanterns, fence mending, and first-grade class in a one-room schoolhouse under the tutelage of my teacher, Mr. Hemburger. He was in charge of an extinct, highly functional, fully decentralized American institution, whose light penetrated well into the twentieth century. A predominantly centralized top-down public education system has replaced that institution, and its decentralized urban multiple room counterpart. For economists, as much a part of the problem as the solution, education is a public good, thought to require government for its efficient production. That proposition would fail as authority gradually passed from teachers and principals to superintendents and the Department of Education.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 5. City Lights Again

Abstract
Fortunately for my family, in 1934 my father resumed his job in Wichita about the same time that the bank foreclosed on our farm. The gain would exceed the loss, even for me, for I now had playmates, and we still had our ever-reliable felines, Lady and Mandy, and Glory, my faithful terrier. I was just turning seven. If I had stayed on the farm, Mr Hemberger would have had me skip grade two entirely. That was a bit of an overreach for my Martinson school principal, but she advanced me a half grade. I look back gratefully on her wisdom, as that made me the youngest in my class through high school. Any younger and I would have been a total outcast in high school society where sixteen-year-olds think they are going on thirty, and the girls only date the older boys. Wichita, as I gradually learned—growing up only a few blocks from Clyde Cessna’s west side plant—was a ferment of thriving innovation and entrepreneurship. Gradual indeed was that learning, because my mother, family, and close friends were all socialists, active in the American Socialist Party. Wichita’s household names included Cessna, Beech, Stearman, Coleman, Garvey, Dold, Love, Vickers, Koch, Innis, and more. However, we knew and saw none of Wichita’s “rich” as they lived on the east side; we lived on the west side—on the other side of the railroad tracks. However, when my sister Billye became active in the Wichita Art Museum she came to know and greatly respect Mary Koch, mother of Charles, David, Bill and Fred Jr, and Olive Ann Beech. Growinng up socialist, I would eventually see its error in opposing economic freedom. Nevertheless, American Socialists were wise in opposing most of American adventurism abroad and resolute in their support of free speech, assembly, and association , and in opposing discrimination based on race, religion , national origin, skin color, and so on.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 6. High School, Boeing, and the War Years

Abstract
At age 12, I entered the workforce unimpeded by child labor laws and minimum wages. I was the third breadwinner in the family. My father worked full time. My mother baked cakes and pies that she sold to restaurants. In addition, I worked for the West Side Drug store delivering to customers on my bicycle, much as Amazon and UBER are starting today to deliver groceries and sundries to homes by auto. My pay: 8 cents per hour. I learned to operate an old-fashioned soda fountain. At age 14, that skill landed me a better job at the OK Drive-In , managing a fountain. Here I learned to fry-cook. Pay now grew to $8 per week. With a record as a reliable employee, supplemented by high school shop courses in electricity, I landed a job at Boeing, 1943, age 16, starting at $5.60 per day. During these years, I became an activist member of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), working to break down local discrimination against African Americans (Negroes , or “Colored ” in the politically correct language of the day). The theaters, confronted with mixed race sit-ins would concede. Under the Kansas constitution, all forms of discrimination are illegal. But theater policies were not changed, and black peoples were predominantly passive in accepting inferior treatment.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 7. Friends University, Caltech and University of Kansas

Abstract
I was a C+ student in high school, but no less resolved to go to college. Where to go? No one in my family could help. A book I found stated that the best college in the USA was Caltech. So, I decided to go to Caltech. No pretense here, only an incredible dose of naiveté and ignorance. To be accepted you had to perform on three 3-hour examinations in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. I decided to prepare for the examinations by going to Friends University, a local Quaker college about a mile from my home. I quit my job at Boeing in August 1944 and enrolled at Friends. Over the next academic year, I registered for classes in physics, chemistry, calculus, spherical trigonometry, and astronomy. I was a straight A student in an environment in which grades measured performance, and mine was high. In the spring of 1945, I sat for all three examinations over three days, passed, and I enrolled at Caltech. It was clear at the outset that Caltech was an academic meat grinder like none I could have imagined. I graduated in 1949, switching from physics to electrical engineering as a senior, and acquiring an interest in economics. I returned to Kansas, this time Lawrence, and the University of Kansas to study for an MA in economics. It was a period of great joy and excrement. I lived in the interracial coop houses at KU and continued to be a racial, social , and political activist. An education in economics was only marginally modifying my socialist outlook, but KU opened a completely new world in economics. I applied at Chicago, MIT, Stanford, and Carnegie Tech; accepted at all, I moved to Harvard.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 8. Harvard, 1952–1955

Abstract
Having survived and thrived at Caltech, then earning an MA in economics at KU, Harvard was easy. I had trail-blazing teachers of the day—Leontief, Haberler, Orcutt, Hanson, Samuelson who taught down-river to MIT. At Harvard, I placed among the top 2–3 graduate students. My entry scores at Harvard were good enough, but not outstanding, proving what I had long believed and witnessed, that smart students rest too easily on their mental endowments and learn to work only hard enough to excel—stronger on pretense than on curiosity. This is not prescriptive of an intellectual life of adventure and wonder. I write about the local news; it was hilarious, especially the politics, but also the local heroes, from cops to the FBI most wanted. The Boston area is a fun place to live, for a short time anyway.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 9. Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother

Abstract
My father died unexpectedly, a year before I finished at Harvard. My mother followed him only two years after I settled into Purdue for a career they had made possible. I was only just getting to know them as people, not parents. I took it in stride because they taught me that life was for living, not crying. But their passing left scars of sadness, as most of my grandparents lived 25–30 years longer. Here I write about my family—looking back long after the happy years of childhood and early adult maturation; about our pathways through thick and thin; about tragedy that is part of finding yourself in the diversity of an incredible family; and about the challenge of forgiveness.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 10. Above All to Thine Own Self Be True

Abstract
“And it must follow, as night the a day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” When we separate from that wisdom, we suffer. This chapter is largely about the brain, the mind, mental-izing, and the diversity of these characteristics in people and its importance in human betterment. We each vitally depend on the knowledge of others, from whom we benefit through social and economic institutions.
Vernon L. Smith

The Purdue Years

Frontmatter

Chapter 11. The Good Land

Abstract
The most important economic story I have to tell is my Camelot years at Purdue. They were pioneering years, created day by day from our experience and from pooling our increasing knowledge. Out of this process emerged new theory, applications, quantitative methods, cliometrics, and experimental economics. I report the circumstances of my first experiment in 1956, leading to many more; to my first article on experiments and the saga of getting it past referee opposition. I visited at Stanford, 1961 where I met Sid Siegel, also doing economics experiments. Family excursions took us to the Jeep trails of Southeast Utah—a story I document with pictures of an isolated world of beauty, now easily accessible by anyone, and no longer pristine.
Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 12. The People

Abstract
Let me introduce Em Weiler, Purdue department head, then Dean, School of Industrial Management. He hired the first wave, 1954–1956, managed it with finesse, integrity, and turned quality standards over to his faculty. Meet John Hughes, economic historian, the brother I never had; Stan Reiter, best economist I ever knew; mathematical economist par excellence, entirely self-taught in mathematics. He and John created the field of quantitative economic history; Stan named it cliometrics after Clio, the muse of history in Greek mythology. Meet Ed Ames, Russian economic specialist, generalist, who learned to program out first “supercomputer” in machine language, and discovered Charles Plott because Ed had this ability to sense a future innovator. Finally, there were our students: John Ledyard, Hugo Sonnenschein, Nancy Schwartz, Morty Kamien, Norm Weldon, Don Rice, et al.
Vernon L. Smith

Backmatter

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