30 Mar 2011

Thank you, Professor Wantrup!

I was a Wantrup Fellow at UC Berkeley for two years, and that position gave me the freedom to pursue my research on the political economy of natural resources (and create a public good, this blog) without worrying about how to pay the bills.*

Siegfried von Ciriacy-Wantrup died in 1980, but his bequest** lives on.

If you are interested in the institutions for managing natural resources, then I recommend that you read a few of my posts on Wantrup's work:
I credit Wantrup for explaining how decisions are made on three levels: establishing the constitution, making rules allowed under the constitution, and making decisions under the rules. People tend to spend too little time on deviations from the rules (conflict theory, corruption) and how rules are made (public choice, principal-agent dynamics), let alone constitutional limits. See more in my review of the Calculus of Consent.

Bottom Line: Institutions (rules and norms) matter, and this funding institution allowed me to avoid the fetish for mathematical research to spend more time trying to understand our institutions for managing natural resources and the environment -- and then communicate those ideas/opinions to you :)

* Although I am employed again (for research), I still see little sign of professional support for teaching and outreach to the general public. This is depressing to me, since I see much too much energy going into publication (which counts for professional advancement) and too little into dissemination or implementation (which does not, except maybe via consulting). It's still possible that the "aguanomics" brand will make it possible for me to support myself teaching, blogging, and talking to reporters, citizens and policy makers -- especially since I'm not too worried about material success or comfort. But academics like me are definitely in the minority. The majority worries about paying the bills and/or doesn't care about reaching the world outside their office.

** "For the purposes of this fellowship, natural resources are defined broadly to include environmental resources. The fellowship encourages, but is not limited to, policy-oriented research. Applications are open to scholars from any social science discipline, and related professional fields such as law and planning, who will make significant contributions to research on natural resource economics broadly defined. Preference will be given to proposals whose orientation is broadly institutional and/or historical, and which are conceptually and theoretically innovative. Proposals with a primarily statistical or econometric purpose are not eligible for consideration." Although I loved that last part, a number of colleagues denounced it as barring "talented" economists mathematicians.