Sunday, February 20, 2005

King Banaian of SCSU Scholars Interview

This is the second in my series of interviews with the bloggers of the Northern Alliance of Blogs. The first was with Mitch Berg, of Shot in the Dark, last September.

King Banaian is the blogger who writes SCSU Scholars, formerly a group blog but now a solo operation. Aside from blogging, he is a Professor of Economics, as well as Chairman of that department at Saint Cloud State University.

I met King Saturday afternoon following a broadcast of the Northern Alliance Radio show for this interview:

Me: Let’s start with some biographical information. Your life story as you choose to tell it.

King: I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, a city of about 90,000 people at the time. Oldest of three kids. My father is a first-generation Armenian American. My mom’s family goes back to Daughters of the American Revolution. They’re an interesting couple. A great family to grow up with.

I went to high-school and went to college in the same town – or just across the river in a little place called Goffstown, New Hampshire; Saint Anselm College. Graduated from there in ’79.

And during that time there, did a little bit of college radio. It was a carrier signal, which meant you had to plug your radio into an outlet that was on campus to hear us. Transistors could not pick us up. You actually had to have an electric radio plugged into a wall. It was amazing. I even managed to get myself thrown off radio for playing a song that had THE word that you can’t play on radio on it. Rolling Stones, Star Star. Not that I was a big Rolling Stones fan. I think I was just angry about something and decided to play that song.

Toward the end of that time… I had been pretty much committed to going to Law School. And then my senior year decided I really didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to borrow the money. And I watched Paper Chase, and Red One L. Both of those convinced me I didn’t want to do this. And one of my professors said, “You know, if you go to grad-school in economics someone might actually pay your way.” Which sounded good.

So I made some applications and I ended up in Claremont, California. Pretty much as far away from my family as I could possibly get, because I had lived with them up to then. It was time to get away. So I went to Claremont. After my first year of grad-school, I married my first wife. We lived there until 1984 when I got the job at Saint Cloud State as a new assistant professor; 26 years old when I arrived on campus, where it felt like some of the students were older than me, which was kind of weird. And I’ve pretty much stayed there since.

Me: What made you decide to go into academics instead of something else?

King: That’s a good question. My second year of grad-school, I was interested in making some more money because I had just gotten married, and we needed some extra cash. So I started teaching on the side for the school, at first as a teaching assistant, but eventually getting my own class to teach at Pomona College. And I thought that was just fabulous. I thought that was really wonderful. At the same time, the thing I wanted to do instead, which was to be a forecaster – to be one of these guys that predicts the economy – those jobs started to disappear during the recession that started just before Reagan went into office, in ’81. Those jobs were disappearing left and right. So I didn’t have much of a choice. The last thing was, 1983 rolls around, and my wife is pregnant with my son, and I realize I need a job. Now. And so I’m fetching around for a job, and I only get to offers, both of them in academia. And I decided to leave southern California and come up here.

Me: About academia, I had a few questions about that. Most of us are removed because we graduated a long time ago. What about being in academia do you like or dislike? What about the life of an academic.

King: Well, for one thing I’m allergic to suits. So I can wear … the same sweatshirt I’m wearing today I wore on campus for a day. And I’m actually part time as an administrator, since I’m a department chair as well as a professor. And that’s great. I like that part. I like being able to call my own schedule.

And in particular I like being able to research the questions that interest me. I don’t have to answer any question that doesn’t interest me if I don’t want to. I think sometimes we do it early on in our careers to get tenure. But once we have tenure the research agenda is under our control. We can do with it what we want. Some people choose to do nothing. They get tenure and then just stop researching. For me I’m doing exactly what I want to do.

I’ll tell you a story. A few years ago I got offered a job to work in DC; to work as a policy analyst; to fly to different countries and do the kinds of things like I was doing in Ukraine, that we talked about before we started this. And while I was thinking about it… in fact I was close to taking the offer. It would have meant moving to Washington. It would have meant giving up Saint Cloud, my position at the university. It would have paid a lot more money than I make now. I went into a classroom, and I had not been in a classroom for four months because in that particular semester my administrative duties were fulltime. And I went into the classroom – it was a three and a half hour class with a break in the middle – in the middle of the class I went back to the office and I rang the people in DC and turned the job down. Because I had remembered why I had become an academic.

And that’s the great thing. You keep getting older, but the kids keep staying the same age. You keep getting to talk to people who are young, bright; some of whom are inquisitive; some of whom you’re trying to turn their inquisitiveness button on. And sometimes you do that, and those are such great successes. And you talk about wanting to touch people where they are in a particular point… There’s nothing better than watching the little light bulb go on above somebody’s head. I get a chance to do that pretty much every day at work, and it makes me want to get out of bed and go to work in the morning.

I certainly don’t enjoy… I’m an administrator because my department asked me to be, and I feel like I should do this for them. And I do this for them. But I don’t do teaching as much for them. I do it more for myself because I so much just enjoy that experience of watching the light go on. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does you’re just so jazzed to go back and try to do another one in the next two, three, four weeks.

Me: What are some of the experiences, I know we talked about Ukraine earlier, but what are some of the experiences you’ve gotten through your life as a scholar that you’re most fond of, or made the biggest impact on you?

King: Well, Ukraine I think was certainly a wonderful experience.

My daughter, who was at that time a year old, had a problem with her throat. And we were really concerned about the healthcare system there. So we decided to live separately. My wife and daughter stayed up here in Minnesota. I went to Ukraine. So it’s a little bit bittersweet, because I kind of missed a year.

But the experience of working with the Ukranians… actually working with the man who’s now president of Ukraine, Victor Yuschenko… it was just a fabulous experience. He’s such a bright, interesting, and again inquisitive guy. He was always asking questions about… What do you think about this? What do you think about that? And interested in a debate – in a discussion that moved things forward. He was very clear about what taking what you say, hear it, and then do something with it.

I’ve been able to advise a lot of other countries. I’ve been to Egypt, Indonesia, Armenia, Macedonia, Slovakia… I think that’s all of them. And I haven’t quite had the same experience as I did in Ukraine, so that was a fabulous experience.

I’ve had the experience of meeting Nobel Prize winners. I sat about as close as I’m sitting to you to Milton Friedman; not once, but twice in my life. And that’s just an amazing experience. One time carrying on a conversation with a bunch of us who were graduate students, and asking, “What are you doing with your dissertation? What interests you?” To think that this guy who was already… that would have been 1982… this gargantuan figure; to be available to us was unbelievable.

And then a few years later sitting at a conference about the same distance apart. And him saying hello. And he’d forgotten my name, no reason he’d remember it. But he certainly looked like he’d remembered me. And then when he saw my dissertation advisor, who’s paper I was there to hear, he put the two together and realized who I was and that was quite remarkable.

Me: Okay, one little aside here: the name King Banian. When I first heard it I assumed it was like “Hindrocket,” or “Saint Paul,” from Fraters Libertas. It turns out that’s your real name. What’s the story behind that name?

King: There are two stories. The short story is it’s my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

The long story is my parents waited six years – six and a half years – before my mom became pregnant with me. She’d had a couple miscarriages. They were concerned. She was staying home with lots of bed rest. And my father worked nights. And so when my father got up at night to get ready to go to work, it was an exciting time for her. And so she’d always have lots of conversation. My dad was getting ready to go to work. My mom said, “George, what do you think about naming him Rex, if it’s a boy?” And my father is getting ready to go out the door, turns over his shoulder, the way he tells the story, to my mom and said, “Jesus Christ, Nancy. At least translate it out of Latin and call him King.” And on that note he goes out the door. He comes back from work, and the next morning he’s getting ready to go to bed. And my mom said, “You know, King’s a nice name. You know that’s my mom’s maiden name. I think that’s a perfectly good idea.” My dad said he had two choices then. His choice was either to have a fight in which case he would not go to sleep, or wish I was a girl. He chose to go to sleep.

Me: Okay, we’ll get back to the academic stuff now. You’ve written a bit about the political correctness on campus. That’s obviously a hot-button issue among conservatives. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what you think about it.

King: Saint Cloud State is kind of an unusual place. It has a strong faculty union built on a model that … I think the closest analogy would be the Teamsters. It’s very adversarial. It’s very much a militant us versus them. The collegiality that one might expect in an academic union doesn’t exist, really, in any serious way. As much as both sides have tried at times, it just doesn’t work out. So along with a desire to censor some people who express thoughts that do not conform with the academic mainstream, which is extremely liberal, you also get the force of a faculty union which can enforce its will upon the administration to sanction those who speak against that dominant liberal paradigm on campus. And so it’s almost like Saint Cloud State is a petri dish in which one can see what would happen if you were to allow the people who believe in these things to gain enough power to actually enforce their will.

And so when we started Scholars… And I should point out, Scholars was initially a group-blog. It had four people on it. …. The idea was simply to turn a spotlight onto Saint Cloud State – onto the petri dish and say, “Hey, look in here and see what’s going on.” So that was the idea of what we were doing.

What we’ve discovered is that whenever speech occurs on campus which they disagree with, their desire is to in essence shut it down. On Saint Cloud State’s campus there was a list-server that was basically just for discussion of various events. It still exists. But a year and a half ago the administration said, “We might need to censor that list. We might need to moderate that list.” And what’s happened as a result is that nobody ever posts on it anymore. It becomes one of those Usenet wastelands where a flame-war broke-out on soc.culture.Turkish, and all the Armenians and the Turks have a big word battle there and all you see is the smoking ruins of 1997 posts, and nothing since. That’s what’s become of the discussion list.

So our feeling is that we have the imposition of a dominant paradigm, which self-perpetuates; which is willing to avoid rules in order to self-perpetuate… which I think is the crux of the Ward Churchill story. The fact that some guy doesn’t have a PhD, has questionable scholoarship, and yet is tenured and a chair of a department at a major American university. I’ve got that thing going on in many places at Saint Cloud State. There’s that kind of thing going on at many schools. I have not written as much about Ward Churchill as some people because my reaction is… I’ve been telling you this for years. It’s been going on for years. You just happened to catch one guy who said the one thing that made everyone go, “Oh my gosh! You can’t say THAT.”

And so I think that’s the issue. The issue is that speech on campuses is being suppressed. Standards on campus are being reduced in a desire to not have anybody offended, or have anybody thrown out who has the proper viewpoint of the world. I think there’s a large group of faculty on campus who watch this, and they’re not happy about it, but they’re afraid to say anything. You have a vocal minority on our campus, because of the union, that minority can be a pretty good size. It’s 25 – 30 percent on our campus I would say. But on other campuses I would say it’s 5 or 10 percent dominating 90 who are afraid that if they say anything bad something will happen to them.

I think that’s what’s happened. We have lax standards. We have a suppression of free speech. Those are the two most important issues. The honesty of scientific inquiry is just vital to campuses around the world. That we can both present evidence to support a hypothesis, and that we can agree that the data supports or does not support the hypothesis.

Now there are places, particularly in the social sciences where I am, where you can get in debates over whether the evidence really supports or not. But you have the same goals in mind.
We have people on our campus though who use such things as Deconstructive theory, Post-Modernism, or so on, to sort of say that evidence is dead. I don’t understand that. If evidence is really dead than how do we ever prove that anyone is ever guilty of a crime for example? Or how do we prove anybody’s parentage? Think of all the things that would be true if all of a sudden that decision on what constitutes evidence is called into question. But that seems to be what’s happening.

Me: Put yourself as the all-powerful university president for a day, what would you do to clean it up in practical terms? Not just idealism. I assume, you being part of the campus, you have some concrete ideas that you’d like to see implemented.

King: I do. I think first of all every faculty member would have to demonstrate, not only that they are good teachers, but that they are good scholars. And that means having their materials reviewed by their peers and found to be of professional quality. And I think you have to insist on that process. At least on my campus faculty are allowed to demonstrate their packages for promotion and tenure in any way they want. I would want that to be more standardized.

There are places on my campus where one is allowed to speak freely and places where you’re not allowed. There are free speech zones at Saint Cloud State. There are free speech zones on many campuses. My first act would be to abolish that. Not only for the faculty and the students, but if someone wants to come off the street and stand and scream fire-and-brimstone and wave a Bible over his head, the way you react to that is to say, “You know that’s not what the Bible says.” And you just talk back.

That’s the great thing about the blogosphere. It’s the ability to talk back to people in a way that hopefully doesn’t become the Usenet flame-war sort of thing. And a campus that could build that environment is a very vital campus.

I think I would require students to go through a core curriculum that reflects the basic tenets of Western society. I’m not only not in favor of multi-culturalism, I think it’s wrong. And I’m actually pro-West. I’m pro-American, and pro-England. I believe that that tradition, that Western tradition, is what lead people out of poverty. As an economist one of the things I tell people is that the history of mankind is that for about four thousand years we all lived at a subsistence level. Only in the last two centuries have we discovered that we can live well beyond the subsistence level. And it all happened in one place at one time and that was the West. And rather than denying the superiority of that we should be going and looking at that, and picking up parts and saying, “Here’s what caused the growth of the West in that period.” Western universities in particular ought to be able to teach it so we learn not to destroy what there is.

I think I’d describe it this way. I read this on a blog somewhere, I can’t remember where… You know how people always say think outside of the box? My view of it is respect the box. First figure out what’s the box, what’s in it, and learn to respect it. And then if there’s something outside it that could also be valuable, well then by all means bring it in. But first understand what’s in the box. I don’t sense that many academics actually do understand it.

Me: Last academic question, and then we’re going to move on to talk more about blogging. You specialty is economics. What is it that excites you most about economics? Why that as opposed to Law, for example, which is the other thing you said you might go into?

King: I like economics mostly because it helps me make sense of the world around me. Economics is sort of a description of everyday life. People interacting with each other. It’s social. It’s a social science. I do not teach in the College of Business. I teach in the College of Social Sciences, and I like that. Because it is a social science it describes interaction. It helps me understand what I see around me. And I think that’s the only criterion I would use for whether or not to be a lawyer, or a sociologist, or a psychologist. Does it explain the world I live in?

I’m very much a positivist about my view of how things work. That again descends from Milton Friedman. It’s amazing how many parts of my life came from Friedman at various points in time.

If I build a model about how the world works and it has the assumption the sky is green, if it helps me explain the world I’m not so worried about what that assumption is. What’s nice is economics has certain basic assumptions about people being self-interested. The story of no free lunch. The means by which everybody has to optimize their welfare. Do I think people actually behave that way? No, probably not every person in every place. But I get far more predictions right than I get wrong. And to me that’s what’s attractive to economics. It takes very basic questions, takes a very simple set of assumptions, and shows its power by showing it predicts a lot of behavior we see in the world. In rather interesting ways.

The other thing about it which I think is kind of funny is that economists like the kind of argument where you get a kind of ironic solution. Where someone says, “Well that’s good.” And then you can say, “Well, you know, it’s not really good because it’s bad this way.” And everyone says, “Oh, so it’s bad.” “Well, yeah it’s bad, but you know it’s good this way.” Economists love that kind of thing, and it somehow just appeals to my personality to have that kind of argumentation.

Me: Back to the blogging. You mentioned a bit about how it got started as a group-blog, but I discovered SCSU Scholars through other blogs that I read in the Northern Alliance. I didn’t see the early days. I think you spoke a little about the motive for starting the blog, but why don’t you talk about the mechanics. When was it? Who was in involved? How did it all come about?

King: September of 2002 I had been reading… in fact, I was reading two Northern Alliance blogs. I was reading Fraters, and I was reading Shot in the Dark. So I had read Mitch. And I had no idea who the heck “the Elder” was, or anyone like that. They just struck me as a couple of smart-alecks down in the Cities who were writing stuff that was really funny and insightful, and I said, “Hey this is cool! I want to read this stuff.” So I saw that.

And about that time I was talking to people about this desire of a lot of people on campus to suppress the ability of conservatives on the campus to interact in a public forum. This was coming. And so I kind of decided that I needed to stake out an alternative place where people could come and speak freely. And so I created the blog. I’m the one that signed it up, and I quickly lined up two or three other people who were conservatives of various stripes. One’s an English professor. One teaches insurance. And the other was a former professor of psychology. And I got them signed on and to learn how to use it.

Over time all the other three dropped out of it. And so SCSU Scholars, I’ve been tempted to change the template, to take the front page and cross out the “S” at the end, as sort of a smack on the other three.

But the whole idea was… and this is the part of SCSU Scholars that was amazing… I thought it was a blog just for the people at Saint Cloud State. I never intended it to have a large national audience. I did want the ability for students to see what was going on. Given some of my concerns about what’s happened with the administration over time, I wanted trustees, alumni, boosters of the athletic programs to be able to see what was going on.

But all of a sudden I’m getting comments from people in California who have never been to Minnesota. And I realized there’s a bigger market for this thing than I thought.

So when we started it we really thought… We would post a big piece that we thought was really damning of something that was going on at Saint Cloud State. And at the end of the day we’d all get together and say, “My gosh! We’ve had seventy visitors today!” There’d be high-fiving going on, and we’d be all so happy.

And so the purpose of the blog really evolved over time.

And then when the Northern Alliance began, in January of ’04… We joined the Northern Alliance in May of 2003, and that was kind of just on a lark. I had always been commenting, and goofing, and sending e-mail to Chad, and commenting on Mitch’s site. And Mitch had thrown me a couple links, and Fraters had thrown me a couple links. And you get dizzy on the fact that someone throws you a link and all of a sudden your readership goes up. Remember, we were going like fifty, sixty, seventy, and all of a sudden we’d have a day where we’d get two hundred readers. And we’d go, “Wooo! That’s unbelievable!” We were really happy about it.

And so what happened when they decided to do that, what happened was, Scholars began to evolve. We had been very firm about doing only academic issues; particularly about higher education up to that time. Then when we decided to do the radio show, I started to add K-12 education, particularly because I was involved somewhat with a discussion over the social science standards that were trying to be passed by then [former Minnesota Education] Commissioner Yecke. And eventually the other guys of the Northern Alliance said, “You know, you’re an economist. You should write about economics.” And I was.. “Yeah, but there’s so many other people doing that already.” There are far more economist blogs going on than there are academic blogs… higher ed blogs. The ones that are out there are also by and large written by young people who are adjuncts and they have a very different view of how the world works. And they’re also written very much by people who are in the humanities. I’m a tenured, department Chair, in economics. I have something entirely different than what they do. I really didn’t want to give that up.

But I have kind of branched out, in part to provide material for the radio show. And in part because I am finding more and more that there’s stuff going on out in the world that really interests me that I wanted to have a place to talk about. I thought I’d develop a second blog, but that just never worked out. So I’ve just put that stuff into Scholars.

Me: You mentioned the radio show. How did you get involved in that? What’s your memory of how that came to be?

King: I think the story is pretty well known.

I had never heard of Hugh Hewitt until we were told that we had to get approved by this guy who is the Commissioner of the Northern Alliance. And I was like, “Who’s he?” And so I find out Hewitt’s got a radio show. And I find out they’ve got a stream of the radio show, so one night I flipped the stream on, listening at the house. And I was listening going, “He’s pretty good, so alright.”

And so I started listening to Hewitt, occasionally sending him e-mail from time to time. . Occasionally he mentions the Northern Alliance. And every once in a while, he’ll send a link on one of his things to Scholars. And I was interested. I thought he was an interesting guy.

We get a note in early January in 2004 saying Hewitt is coming out for his Hewitt on ice event, his winter trip to [am 1280] the Patriot. And would I like to come to have lunch with him? Okay. I was thinking I’ve got my daughters in a chess tournament that day, and so I had to go do the chess tournament first and I said, “Well I might miss the lunch, but I’ll certainly come by toward the tail end of the lunch and visit with you all, because it’s down here and I’m up in Saint Cloud.”

So I drive down, and only when I arrive and I’m sitting having desert do I hear that the purpose of this is to discover whether or not we make a radio show.

Now, as I mentioned I did college radio at Saint Anselm. When I was at Claremont I did college radio for two years. Punk rock. All that bad stuff. Heck, I played the heck out of Gary Newman and Cars, as a 22 year old. I’m embarrassed about it. But I heard this, and I thought, you know I enjoyed my time in radio. That might be fun.

So I said how’s it going to work? And the initial thought was I was going to participate over the phone, or over a remote studio somehow up in Saint Cloud. I didn’t realize I’d drive down all the time. And that was the basis on which I said yes. We tried a few phone things, and it just doesn’t work. The way the chemistry works in that studio is everything is eye contact, everything is pointing at each other. Seeing the person you’re talking to on the radio makes all the difference in the world. It’s sort of like the difference between e-mail and real conversation. In e-mail you’ll say things that you would never say to somebody you saw in the face. In part because you’d be afraid they were going to smack you in the mouth.

It was really that event… Mitch and Ed went ahead and talked to the Patriot, and they said, “Alright. If you’re going to try it.” And I initially thought we’ll go down a few times, this could be kind of fun. But this is a lark. A couple months it will go away. Two or three months, it will be fine. I told my wife at the time, it’s going to last only two or three months, this isn’t going to go forever.

We’re coming up on a full year in early March. And I’m just stunned that it’s still going. That we’ve been able to do national shows. That there’s interest in the program. That there are sponsors. I expected absolutely none of it. Proof once again that I would be a horrible forecaster if that had ended up being my profession.

Me: Sorry to get to this, because it is directly contradicted by your previous statement. Where do you see the radio and the blog going? What’s their future?

King: I think the blog will stay there. It’s simply a nice part of my life. What the blog’s done is allow me to develop a writing style that only comes with practice. I got addicted to the whole thing about writing every day when I wrote a book about Ukraine back in the late 90’s. And for a couple years I tried to journal. And I’ve got like five or six books of stuff in there. And it’s only inertia that hasn’t caused me to burn them, because there isn’t anything I think particularly valuable in them. I just wanted to write this stuff down.

So when I formed the blog, part of it was to get the word out. But part of it was simply I like writing every day. I like that experience. And I like having a particular time at which I do it.

I think the blog will continue. I toyed with the idea of getting rid of the name, because it’s not really descriptive of what the blog does anymore. But it’s got enough cache now. It’s got a miniscule brand capital invested in it. And so I’m going to keep it the way it is.

The show? I don’t know what’s going to happen to the show. It’s a hobby right now in some part, I think in large part. I think there’s interest in seeing if there’s maybe something more professional we can do with it. I think there’s an interest in seeing… Can it be a regular profitable gig? Could it be syndicated? I think it’s possible. A lot of stations are playing repeats of Limbaugh or Savage or Hewitt on the weekends. And I think that live-radio over that time would be of interest to them.

Everything that’s happened lately has been about jumping the news cycle… getting ahead of the news cycle. And yet for talk radio, between Friday night and Monday morning, there really isn’t anything there. So we would have a chance to sort of jump in and say that here’s the big thing that’s happening this weekend. And if we focused on that… And we try to do that. When we do the week in review, it’s almost Friday night in review. When we do that I really think it’s something that could go forward. I’d like to see that happen.

Am I going to be part of it? No, I’m doing exactly the job I want right now. I like being an academic. I like being a professor of economics. I don’t like being a chair. I hate being a chair. But my department feels like they need me to do that job for them right now, and I love all the members of my department, and I’ll keep doing that. I’m not going to go off and do a career in radio. That’s just not how I see myself ever being. But if this is available as a second option to do from somewhere up here in Minnesota, I love doing it. I’ll keep doing it.

Me: These are some random questions I put together. I did the same thing with Mitch when I did his interview, but slightly different in your case because you’re not quite the same person as Mitch. One question is the same though. What are your top five books?

King: Hmm.. This is an odd list. The Road to Serfdom, by Hayek. Certainly.

The Bible.

And then to almost completely contradict that The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. It was a very important book at one part of my life.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which was the book I absolutely could not put down not only during college and grad school, but when my son was born I read the whole book while he was in the hospital with a small case of jaundice. During the week I just sat across from where the window was where I could look into the nursery and see him. And I just sat against the wall and read that book. And it ties me to him in some very strange ways. He’s never read the book.

And then I think it would have to be… that’s a hard question on the fifth one. I would guess Mark Twain. There’s a lot of books that could be the fifth book. But I think Mark Twain, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I think it was just the book that described America in the nineteenth century, which I think is a great time.

Me: Next one. Perhaps more challenging for you. You are restricted to five. Top five economists of all time.

King: Of all time? Wow.

Friedman. We’ve already talked about that. And Hayek. Certainly are two.

Adam Smith. Who is the father of economics. You can’t possibly do a list of economists without him.

I’m sorry, do you mean the top five ever, or the top five that affected me?

Me: Affected you.

King: Okay.

James Buchanan is considered the father of the public choice movement in economics. An eminent gentleman and a scholar. And a guy who gave the one piece of advice I’ve never forgotten, “Don’t get it right. Get it written.” Because in the process of writing it, you find out if you’re right or wrong.

And then, if you mean to me personally, than my dissertation advisor, Tom Willett at Claremont would have to be one of the top five economists, in terms of someone who affected my life, who taught me how to be a professional and to do my job. Watching Tom, editing Tom’s papers for three years as a grad assistant, there was no greater experience a guy could have in becoming an economist that working for a guy who was so prodigious in output and so giving of his time to his students.

Me: The final one. A little more close to my heart. These don’t have to be a top five, because that gets personal. But name five Northern Alliance blogs that you like a lot.

King: I think the first one would be Newmark’s Door. I think Craig Newmark has such a good eye. He’s just a linker, but he finds… Almost once a week I end up blogging something that he does. And so I love his blog.

Another economist’s blog I read a lot is Cold Spring Shops. Steven Carlson’s site. He’s at Northern Illinois. And I’ve met Steve, and he’s a great guy. I like reading his site.

What else am I reading these days? Those two places I go every day.

The Volokh Conspiracy I read every day. I know some of the other folks don’t like it as much because they do some arcane stuff. But I find that if I’m looking for someone who’s hitting the intersection of law and economics, I think that’s interesting. I think he does a good job.

I just found your blog a month ago, so I’m not quite in the habit yet. But certainly you’ve done well.

There’s one that’s called This Blog Sits at the Corner of Economics and Anthropology. And I find that’s really fascinating stuff. He does such interesting stuff. I’m forgetting his name right now, his first name is Grant. He does such really interesting things.

There’s only two more, and it would be the two other edu-bloggers that I think are just huge, which would be Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor’s site. And then Joanne Jacobs, out in Sacramento. I look for things on their sites that are of interest to me.

Me: Anything else you wanted to talk about? Make a closing statement?

King: First of all, thank you. I’m surprised that people are interested in who blogs.

I got this wonderful note just the other day from a news reporter up in Saint Cloud, who I have commented on and a couple of times been critical of in his coverage of things around there. Now I did not realize, but the Saint Cloud Times has at least a half dozen people there reading my blog. Anyway, he dropped me a note. And he said, “Hey, I wanted you to know I really appreciated all the stuff you posted on Ukraine. Because I worked in” … was it Estonia, or Lithuania? He worked in the Baltics as an English teacher back in the early 90’s. And he said, “You were reminiscing about some of the same things that I reminisce about.” He said, “ That was really neat.”

And I wrote him back, I said, “You know it’s amazing. I’ve known you for six or seven years. I had no idea you ever worked in Lithuania or Latvia.”

I think we all want to know each other in some ways but…. David Strom, who’s blog… I should count that. David’s not an NA guy technically. He’s a quasi-NA guy. But I read their blog daily. But David said something interesting on his show once. He said the great thing about what he does, is he gets to talk to a lot of interesting and intelligent people. That is the best thing about blogging. I talk every day through my blog, and through reading other blogs, to a bunch of really intelligent people. Some people who have viewpoints that are completely different than mine. But who make me ask, “Do I really understand why I believe what I believe about this topic? Can I defend myself?” And I find that really a treat.

And it’s part of that life of the mind. The thing that you imagine two centuries ago… the Salon with the conversation and the wine…. Now I think the blogosphere is where that thing’s happening. That’s almost like the Salon that I’m chatting in. It’s just that you can’t see me, and I can’t see you. I’m waiting for the day when blogs will actually have a talking head come up and say the blog rather than you read it. I wonder if that might not be a step at some point.

I’m shocked that it’s been this successful. I don’t get that many readers. I’m certainly the lightest readership blog in the Northern Alliance. But I get lots of links, that means other people are reading my stuff, and commenting on it, and carrying the conversation forward. What could be better than that?


Blogger Leo Pusateri said...

I'm a regular reader of King... great interview-- Thanks!!


12:12 AM  

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