In 2008 I found myself at SJSU study economics as an undergrad. That was the big turning point that landed me on this blog.
A lot of people insist that was a fantastically interesting time to study economics, what with the global financial sector crumbling and society at large humbly learning a lesson in allowing markets to discipline irresponsible risk taking. (Right? Isn’t that what happened?). But for me, what was fascinating was the intellectual framework that allowed you to dig into the root causes. The SJSU econ department was a fantastic place for me to start building up that framework.
Fall 2008 was professor Rudy Gonzalez’s last semester before retirement and my second semester in that program. I took advantage. Rather than four discrete classes (Law & Econ, History of Economic Thought, Labor Econ, and Public Choice) I essentially had a 12 credit class in Economics broadly understood. It was the most intellectually fruitful semester in my economics career.
Rudy was the sort of freewheeling professor I try to be. He set a tone. In Rudy’s classes I learned the most in the gaps between the stuff for the exam. My classmates and I came out of his classes debating concepts and engaging with ideas. This was the semester I wrote my best joke: The Physiocrats. I learned a lot from studying for those exams, but the best stuff was in the digressions.
I think my students hate it when I digress. They’ve been trained by a lifetime of standardized tests and the empty promise that ambition is as simple as uncritically ticking off the right boxes: take these classes in this order, get a degree, then get a job (whatever that means). There’s a lot of lip service to the importance of education, but now education is a commodity. Bricks to be stacked mechanically.
In Rudy’s class, education was a process of enlightenment. Knowledge wasn’t an assembly of bricks, but a garden–different bits of knowledge growing and complementing one another, fertilized with jokes and stories.
It was in his class I decided I wanted to be an economics professor. He also gave me a copy of the paper that convinced me of anarchism. I’m still trying to share a taste of the excitement I got in his class with my students. It’s an uphill battle, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance to fight ignorance with economics and humor.
Goodbye Rudy. You will be missed.