Meet James Schneider
By Bryan Caplan
Allow me to introduce EconLog’s latest guest blogger, James Schneider. James was my best friend at Princeton econ. Way back in 1993, he heard a rumor I was Princeton’s token libertarian. As soon as he confirmed the rumor, we became constant companions – and started the never-ending series of arguments we’ve been having ever since.
James is a man of many talents. He was a math whiz even by Princeton standards, so we often came to him, hat in hand, for help with our homework. But I was much more impressed by his voracious reading. James reads it all, especially economics, history, medicine, psychology, biography, and literature. He has self-taught himself French and Spanish – and often refuses to read popular English novels except in translation. Years after graduation, I learned that James had written several unpublished novels. After I convinced him to share his drafts, his novels – often centered in Princeton – became some of my personal favorites. I often quote this passage from his Flight Into L.A. to poetically illustrate my Iron Laws of Pedagogy:
He [an art history professor] rambled on about how Rembrandt captured the “soul state” of each of his figures, and then he made an analogy to Beethoven’s music. He extended the analogy for several minutes not realizing that nobody in the class knew anything about Beethoven. Three weeks into summer vacation most students won’t remember anything about Rembrandt.
During graduate school, James focused on applied economic theory. Since then, however, he has worked in two Real World industries: economic consulting and health insurance. As a result, James has transformed himself into the single best-informed health economist I have ever met. He knows theory, he knows empirical research, and he knows the on-the-ground details of how the U.S. health industry actually works. He is almost done with his first non-fiction book, The Seven Deadly Sins. The topic: behavioral health economics. I’ll save the contents for him to blog, but I claim a little credit for inspiring his chapter (“Pride”) on climbing Mount Everest.
James, like me, is a tireless debater. While we are of one mind on many issues, you’d never know it from listening to us converse. I could spend several posts summarizing our recurring disagreements, so let me just hit the highlights.
- We’ve spent years debating Robin Hanson’s medical skepticism. Though Jim is well-aware that medicine is often overrated, he’s a lot more optimistic than Robin about medicine’s contribution to human well-being.
- We’ve spent years debating consequentialism. While James is no bullet-biter, he’s a lot more consequentialist than I am. At least he’s a moral realist, though!
- We’ve spent years debating the Szaszian view of mental illness. James may demur, but I think I’ve gradually pulled him quite a ways in my direction.
- We’ve spent years debating the value of mathematical economics. In graduate school, you could chalk this up to the fact that James was great at math econ and I wasn’t. But he (almost) never pulled rank on me. Instead, he insisted that I failed to appreciate pure theory’s full intellectual payoff.
- We’ve spent years debating the role of psychology in economics. I take The Seven Deadly Sins as a major concession to my position, but James may interpret matters differently…
For the past twenty one years, James has been one of the great joys in my life. He’s one of those old-fashioned scholars who’s read so widely and thought so deeply he can improve your thinking on almost any topic. I’ve often felt disappointed that he isn’t my full-time colleague. The good news, though, is that after seventeen years, we’re colleagues again. So please join me in welcoming EconLog’s latest guest blogger. Prepare to be enlightened, challenged, and amused.