Expense Account, Mint
The date is 5 October, 2011. Bob Shiller arrives 15 minutes late to class. He’s teaching his signature Behavioural Economics course and it’s the Fall Semester at Yale. I’m sitting in the class as one of the several World Fellows who’ve taken the course as part of our work during the semester we spend at the University.
The buzz about him that year was that he was up for the Nobel prize in economics—it took him two more years to win it, sharing it with Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen—and I must admit I was a bit intimidated the first day I’d entered the lecture theatre a month earlier. I was course shopping then and had been in some classes of extreme alpha professors who ensured that the whole class knew it. It’s possible that all the sabre rattling impresses young undergrads, but mid-career such antics are just irritating. So it was a delight to find Shiller, the quintessential academic, with the air of being not always there, the last minute rush into class with dishevelled hair, the uncoordinated hunt for the mike, the look of perplexed anxiety when the slides wouldn’t come alive when they should. So he’s late. He complains about having a late morning. About not having enough self control to finish what he should have done the evening before. And then links it to the irrationality of human beings and the course that he teaches where ‘animal sprits’ matter more than equations that bind the world in rigid models. Models that, we’ve found, fail. More importantly, for me, Shiller was a reaffirmation about my views on finance. That finance’s role was to facilitate the workings of the world and not the other way around.