There was a discussion on Facebook a few years ago about whether you can be a scholar but not be in academia. One person was claiming that you can’t.

My Exhibit A that says you can is Phil Magness.

Phil got his Ph.D. in Public Policy at George Mason University in 2010. Since then he has spent most of his time at think tanks rather than academia. He has been full-time in academia for only 1 of the last 13 years and that was not a tenure-track job. For 10 of the last 13 years, he has been a full-time employee of think tanks: the Institute of Humane Studies from 2010 to 2017 and the American Institute for Economic Research from 2018 to the present.

I won’t list all his academic publications. I’ll list only those in top journals.

The Mainstreaming of Marx: Measuring the Effect of the Russian Revolution on Karl Marx’s Influence” Co-authored with Michael Makovi. Journal of Political Economy (June 2023)

“How pronounced is the U-curve? Revisiting income inequality in the United States, 1917-1960” Co-authored with Vincent Geloso, Philip Schlosser, and John Moore. The Economic Journal (March 2022)

The Great Overestimation: Tax Data and Inequality Measurements in the United States, 1913-1943.” Co-authored with Vincent Geloso. Economic Inquiry (April 2020).

The anti-discriminatory tradition in Virginia school public choice theory.” Public Choice. (March 2020).

James M. Buchanan and the Political Economy of Desegregation,” Co-authored with Art Carden and Vincent Geloso. Southern Economic Journal (January 2019).


Now it is true, as those who know Phil well know, that he does not do this by working a 40-hour week or even a 50-hour week. My guess from being around him is that he works an approximately 75-hour week. That way he can do the responsibilities that come with his job at a think tank, only some of which involve writing for academia journals.

But the point is that it can be done. Is Phil a genius? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. What he has is a lot of smarts, a LOT of passion, and a willingness to work very hard.

My guess is that because of all the hoops academic departments make you jump though nowadays, the disadvantage of working in a think tank, though still there, has diminished.

[Editor’s Note: Look for a new Liberty Matters forum at the Online Library of Liberty on New Histories of Capitalism headlined by Magness this fall.]