My lack of mathmatics

If you want to do a PhD in economics these days, you need to know about probability, linear algebra, matrices, real analysis (whatever that is), and so on and so forth. As far as I can tell, that’s just how it is. And I never made it past Calculus II. To be fair, I didn’t try all that hard. Sitting around doing math problems just never appealed to me, but because I didn’t have the patience for it, I can pretty much expect never to make it in serious economics circles. Which is frustrating.

In some sense, it’s not that big a deal. Given that I live in semi-rural Illinois, and teach community college, it’s doubtful that I’d ever do a PhD anyways, because I’d have to go somewhere else to do that, and moving isn’t an option when you have a little kid. And besides, I’m in my mid-30s. If I was ten years younger, a PhD would make a lot more sense, but I’m not, so it doesn’t. And honestly, if nothing else, I’m just thankful that I’m not working in a kitchen anymore. There’s some part of me that wishes I could swim with the big fishes in the world of academia, but it seems pretty unlikely.

And on some level, it’s not that I really want to learn a bunch of math (if I did, I probably would have already) or go through a PhD program. Mostly I just want to be able to write stuff and have people take it seriously, which is something you can do with a PhD. Nobody gives a shit what an MA has to say.

Now maybe I’m just writing all this so that I don’t have to feel like I need to take anything I write seriously. But there really are lots of people who are way smarter than me who have been taking their writing seriously for years now, and they deserve to be read before I do, I’m pretty sure. And the other thing about doing serious writing is that you have to do a lot of it, and I don’t have all that much time to do it these days. I have an infant to take care of, and household stuff, I have to drive to and from work, and also work, and so on and so forth. Sometimes I like to play music. It’s not as if I’ve got a bad life. If anything, fantasizing about a PhD is waste of time.

The thing about learning a bunch of math, at this point, is that it’s not really a priority for me. There are books I want to read, and letters to write, and songs to learn. I’m happier reading history and philosophy than I am doing math. I was always just good enough at economics to get by – it’s fun thinking through the problems and everything, but all the mathy stuff is just beyond me. A friend of mine, who’s a big math nerd, likes to post super-mathy economics papers he finds on my Facebook wall. I’ll take a look at them, but they pretty much always go over my head. I get it that thinking of the economy as a series of interlinked constrained maximization problems is kind of beautiful, and even occassionally useful. And I kind of like it that math nerds use their nerdiness to bludgeon the bleeding hearts of the world. In the end, I do rather think it’s a bit of a stumbling block to the discipline (easy for me to say), but I understand that there has to be some way to keep everyone out of the conversation, and this is a way to get that done. I’ve seen many, many people walk into the economic conversation like “Everything is wrong!” And if you’ve spent a lifetime thinking really hard about economics, you don’t want someone who’s spent all of five minutes thinking about it to just say you’re full of shit, now do you?

Sometimes I do wish I was part of the economics world, just for the comradery of it. Although maybe not. I never really fit in anywhere.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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