September 23, 2019

A Nobel-Winning Economist Goes to Burning Man

Three weeks after the survey, Mr. Romer and I returned. The dusty streets were now clearly defined as the space between what people had invented: at one intersection, a “passport office” for Burners who wanted to record their adventures around Black Rock City. On another corner, a troupe of fire performers from Canada was camped, and on another a half-dozen drivable pieces of art were parked. There was also a row of 36 portable toilets, and behind that, “Brand-UR-Ass N More,” a camp where it was possible to get both a drink and a faux branding of the Burning Man logo.

While we were standing at the intersection, a man in a great beard and a blond wig approached with a hug. Levi, 35, was part of a camp running a 24-hour bar up the street, and we learned that he had lately been riding motorbikes across Africa but was about to apply to graduate school to study cognitive science.

Levi, who did not know whom he was talking to, mentioned to Mr. Romer that his hero was Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 winner of the Nobel in economic sciences.

“Well, I won the Nobel prize last year,” Mr. Romer said. “So Danny is a fellow laureate.”

Levi’s face lit up, and we then spent the next 45 minutes wandering around the neighborhood talking about economics and human behavior and scarcity. Nearly everything in Black Rock City is effectively free. But you’re supposed to respond with some type of gift to the people around you: a piece of advice, a turn in a hammock, a hot dog.

At Levi’s bar, we were given cups of something cold and orange and alcoholic. Mr. Romer, in a comparable act of generosity, then offered Levi his email address. He would happily write a recommendation for grad school, he said. Levi, floored, went in for another hug.

Theirs was exactly the kind of encounter that a city generates, over and over again, until someone gets into grad school, and someone else finds a job, and someone else begins to earn more than $2 a day.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/05/upshot/paul-romer-burning-man-nobel-economist.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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