A Question About the Future of Work...

Suzanne Scotchmer

Suzanne Andersen Scotchmer 67 Marjorie Holic Parmalee 67 Brian Shute 67 Sitka com Photo Gallery

From The Fall and Rise of the Smithian Economy https://www.icloud.com/pages/0T3bT42JX6K1UcyTZT0kVUVGg | https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0IrNvoyDNCe6k7FuDAxsKllFQ | https://www.icloud.com/pages/0ytOBbemlXLZtytkJqlvb_gXw: I am very happy to be here this morning, giving the Suzanne Scotchmer Memorial Lecture.

I am happy even though I was mousetrapped into doing this.

A couple of years ago I discovered that Toulouse had a Suzanne Scotchmer Memorial Lectrure. My first response was to blather on the Internet: how come Berkeley, where she worked for the bulk of her career, did not have such a lecture? Paul Seabright took advantage of this, saying: “Well, then, you have to come to Toulouose to deliver such a lecture!” And lo and behold here I am—and very happy.

I had known Suzanne for a very, very long time indeed. I have known her from the very start of the 1980s. Back then I was in undergraduate at Harvard, trying to figure out what I should do with my life. Back then there was an entrepreneur, George Howell, who started a coffee shop called The Coffee Connection in a building called The Garage (because it was a converted parking garage). George Howell's Coffee Connection was the very first appearance of French style coffee in Cambridge, MA.

I discovered it.

I became immediately and totally addicted to espresso. And Suzanne discovered it as well: she would spend mornings writing in The Coffee Connection before heading up to her office in Littauer. So I got to know her rather better than most undergraduates got to know members of the Harvard tenure track faculty back then.

For somebody trying to decide who to become, Suzanne was a wonderful role model—if, that is, deciding to become an economist is a wonderful thing. Two things were clear about Suzanne back then:

  1. She was focused on the important questions—what theory could tell us about how the economy actually worked, and how theory needed to be developed to shed light on things.

  2. She was having a lot of fun playing with ideas: being an economist was not just a job that did not require much digging of ditches, heavy lifting, or crosschecking of columns and figures—it was a job that could clearly, for someone who valued being intellectually alive and stimulated— be a great deal of fun.

I found that extraordinarily encouraging. Indeed, it is one of the reasons I am here today. But—and here there is a “but”—in this day and age I should not let past the fact that Suzanne was an icebreaker as a female economist in Harvard’s economics department back in those days. In the early and mid-1980s days things were not what they are now. Or were they?

Harvard in the early 1980s was a place where a young female assistant professor of Government—I hasten to say not Economics—could be told: “Come across, or your tenure case is toast”, and her harasser would then rise to become a Vice Provost and a Weatherhead Center Director with a lot of control over funds and positions even though his behavior was well known to Harvard Hall and the numbers of whispering women grew.

Harvard in the 1980s was a place where senior professors—unfortunately in Economics—could and would say casually to their younger, untenured colleagues and to their students that they really did not think females had the right kind of brain to do first class economics. Harvard in the 1980s was a place where your male students who belonged to ΦH or various finals clubs like the Phoenix or Porcellian—and other students as well—would write on their teaching evaluations of female professors: “Your lectures would be much more interesting if you gave them naked”.

We should remember that there were such days. Or perhaps that we still live in such times. I asked Susan Collins, Dean of the Ford School at the University of Michigan, who was in the cohort of female assistant professors immediately following Suzanne, what I should say about this—what it looked like to those, like her, on the other side of the hill from me.

She suggested something like: It has always been tough to be an assistant professor at Harvard—and especially back in the 1980s, it was much tougher still to be one of the few females on Harvard's economics faculty.  There were no tenured women at all.  Suzanne was consistently professional, and a much appreciated resource for the women who came after her.

Those of us who do digital economics owe Suzanne Scotchmer a lot as we stand on her shoulders. Those of us who seek a free and equal society are deeply indebted to Suzanne along these other dimensions as well.