Cheapskate Economists – Lessons for Hiring in 2010

There are many ways to gain visibility into the character of candidates for hire. Among the most common sources are personal and professional references, social networking sites, and credit reports. But when it comes to hiring in the procurement sector -- which we can hope there will be much more of in 2010 -- personal thrift may be one of the most important factors to scrutinize.

The weekend WSJ ran a piece on the eve of the American Economic Association's meetings in Atlanta this past weekend on the ways in which economists tend to be inordinately thrifty in their personal lives. While some of the behavior described is a bit compulsive, I couldn't help but think that if these people hadn't chosen Economics for their professional careers, they'd make great procurement professionals. Behavioral examples cited in the article include "saving $100 by buying a black car when you prefer gray … Nobel laureate John Maynard Keynes once served [a total of] three grouse to eleven dinner guests … covering the 'check engine light' with a piece of electrical tape [and] buying off-brand shoes 'so that my lovely children could have Nikes.'" The Journal also cites a hotel sales representative showing a chart that indicated "how little economists gambled compared to other people." My personal favorite from this litany is a line from the stand-up comedy act of an economist who performed at the Atlanta conference: "You might be an economist if you refuse to sell your children because they might be worth more later."

A key factor between being good vs. great in our life's work is passion. Economists I've known twinkle when asked, "Why did you choose Economics?" Invariably, they describe getting hooked at their first freshman lecture and never looking back. The Journal reports that "some economists may be cheap by the standards of other people, because of their training or a fascination with money and choices that drives them to the field." This might support the argument that the discipline of Economics doesn't make one thrifty but that thrifty personalities are passionately drawn to the subject. So when hiring this year -- if you're in the market for candidates with freshly minted bachelor degrees whom you can train and mold -- give those econ majors more weight in the process.

William Busch

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