Richard Posner once remarked (I cannot find the reference) that the mere fact that huge amounts of academic research was garbage does not imply inefficiency. After all, a sturgeon lays millions of eggs to produce very few progeny. So maybe intellectuals are like sturgeon. A few million lost to produce one good one.

Perhaps. Judge Posner is echoing a comment John D. Rockefeller made about the propagation of roses years ago.

A similar topic came up at dinner with some colleagues earlier this week. One remarked that economists as professors were probably overpaid in the aggregate, but acknowledged the remark of another colleague, not at dinner, to the effect that macroeconomic research had paid for itself many times in understanding and taming -- perhaps by forestalling foolish policies -- the amplitude of the business cycle. Something else might be true of industrial economics. Research was effective in identifying the deadweight losses of transport regulation, although nobody -- to my knowledge, correct me if I missed something -- anticipated the productivity-enhancing effects of deregulation coupled with better understanding of logistics. The deregulation permitted logistical innovation to be implemented without a wrangle over whether the proposed change in service was in the public interest or likely to have adverse effects on other carriers.

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