Goodbye to Boston

[Probably not of interest to most people–academics may chuckle here or there.]

Just a few days after Scott Alexander heads for the West Coast, I’m also heading west.  I was nearly 27 when I arrived in Boston (in 1982), and today I leave for Southern California, where I’ve always wanted to live (since I was 10.)

I’ve always been a “late bloomer”, perhaps because my parents sent me to school at too young an age.  In first grade I was rated “below grade level” in reading and my high school GPA was only 3.2.

In a public high school.

In the early 1970s.

But I was accepted to the University of Chicago, perhaps because my SATs were much better.  The UC expected each of my parents to contribute $1000/year—good luck with that!  Since I could not afford Chicago, I went to the UW-Madison where tuition was $330 a semester.  I did go to Chicago for graduate school through a combination of student loans for tuition, and working 20 hours a week for room and board.

It was the same story in the job market—a real slow start.  Three months unemployed, then one semester at a branch of the UW, then one year at St. Bonaventure, and then I ended up at Bentley College.  In my second year at Bentley I was given an ultimatum—30 days to produce a letter from my adviser that I was making good progress on my dissertation.  That’s when I started on the project.  I basically did most of the dissertation in about 25 days, sent it to Robert Lucas with the request for a letter, and lucked out.  A few years later I was told that I was up for tenure, which was news to me. Seems I had brought in a year when I was hired.  Who knew that we were supposed to read our contracts?  I asked for a one-year delay and was granted my request.  Then I went up for tenure and was turned down.  Seems I didn’t have any publications.  Oops.

By then I was sending a bunch of papers out to journals like the JME and JPE.  My NGDP futures targeting paper was revised and resubmitted to the JME four times before being rejected.  (That’s unusual.)  My JPE paper (with Steve Silver) was rejected the first time, but then I complained and it was accepted.  (That’s also unusual.)  Indeed I had a number of papers flat out rejected the first time around, but later accepted after I complained.  I think that’s because I wasn’t a very good writer, and it was only in my complaint letter that I properly explained what the heck I was trying to do.  Ironically I got three pubs immediately after being rejected for tenure, including the JPE

So I re-applied for tenure in my terminal year at Bentley, while I also went on the job market.  I got an offer from the New York Fed for $57,000, but decided to stay at Bentley for $33,000.  My colleagues thought I was crazy.  I probably was—but the NY Fed might not have let me do TheMoneyIllusion, at least the way I actually did it.  Then after doing almost nothing on my extra long tenure track period, I started averaging three or four publications a year after I got tenure.  That’s sort of the reverse of how it’s supposed to be done.

Initially I was a very poor teacher.  My evaluations were below 3 out of 5, which is bottom 10%.  After about two years I rose to 4 out of 5, which is average at Bentley, and stayed there until I started blogging.  I expected the blogging to hurt my student evaluations, because I was so busy.  Instead they rose to well above average, until finally in my very last semester (fall of 2014) I got a perfect score (by now the scale was out of 6) on at least some of the questions.  It’s so weird, I had to take a picture to convince myself:

William Galston has a nice piece in the WSJ where he describes returning to a much richer Prague after being away for 22 years, and feeling kind of melancholy. It lacked the romance of his first visit:

In 1995 I could still pass for young, and Europe was young again. As we convened in Prague for an international conference on civic education, everything seemed possible. If history had not quite ended, it was moving in the right direction, and more rapidly than sober analysts had thought possible. With Vaclav Havel in the Castle, the idealists had turned out to be the true realists.

Prague was still struggling to remove the accumulated grime of four communist decades, but the surface didn’t matter. Spirits were high. Music was everywhere, in churches as well as bars, announced on huge placards that magically appeared each morning before breakfast. Students thronged the squares. The ancient buildings were more than reminders of the past; they had become part of a new drama written and staged by a generation that had prevailed against all odds. As Wordsworth wrote of a similar moment: “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!”

I landed in Prague this time under different circumstances. The surface was gleaming, but the spirit had darkened.

Boston was a bit run down when I arrived in 1982, and is now being spruced up in all sorts of ways.  Objectively is a far better city, indeed one of the finest in the world.  But when I think of my life in my 20s and 30s, all this improvement seems kind of meaningless.

I also have mixed feelings about my house, which is a Georgian 2-family built in 1930.  People tell me it was a good investment, but I regret ever becoming a landlord.  I like the appearance of old houses, but over time I got sick of the constant problems.  In retrospect, I realize that this is a sort of toxic waste dump, full of asbestos, lead paint, etc.  I don’t care about the lead, but I have a family history of lung disease so I probably shouldn’t have spend so much time doing dusty construction projects without wearing a face mask.  It’s also a good feeling to get rid of an enormous mountain of junk that I had accumulated.  Whatever possessed me to accumulate stuff like a pile of old Fortune magazines from the 1930s?  I don’t seem able to throw anything away.  Millennials are smart in being less materialistic.

Tomorrow morning I start a cross-country drive.  I won’t miss driving in Boston, which is bad in almost every conceivable way (bad traffic, potholes, no street signs, rude drivers, low speed limits, no parking, snow, unfriendly cops, etc.)  But I will miss the movie scene, especially the Harvard Film Archive.  I plan to switch to watching “films” on TV, since everything is becoming digital anyway.  If only the price of 77-inch OLEDs would drop . . .

Back in 2011, my dream was a midcentury modern house high up in the hills of Sherman Oaks, with a view out over a kidney shaped pool to the valley below.  I’d spend my retirement years reading (or re-reading) my favorite 19th century Anglo-American authors or 20th century European/Latin American and Japanese authors. (Not sure why my taste switched continents around 1910.) Then prices soared and I ended up buying in boring Orange County.

Moving has been a hassle, but visions of my new gazebo with a lake view have kept me motivated:

I still have some packing to do tonight, and won’t have much time for blogging over the next 12 days.  But I’ll try to check in occasionally.



53 Responses to “Goodbye to Boston”

  1. Gravatar of Nick Rowe Nick Rowe
    19. July 2017 at 17:42

    Best wishes on your move Scott!

  2. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    19. July 2017 at 17:51

    Enjoy, Scott. I am really curious about your reaction to California. Whether you’ll feel a culture shock. Looking forward to your future posts on this!

  3. Gravatar of Cloud Cloud
    19. July 2017 at 17:52

    I always wonder how it is like when you move from a house that you live more than 30 years~~ after all I am from HK and our home are just 500 square feet, so nothing much we can move.

    But I bet you have tones of things to move~ You should do a video blog about this “treasure hunt “ ~

    Best wishes to your move~

  4. Gravatar of ChargerCarl ChargerCarl
    19. July 2017 at 17:55

    Is that Mission Viejo?


  5. Gravatar of Stephen Kirchner Stephen Kirchner
    19. July 2017 at 17:59

    Now it will be cheaper and a shorter flight time to bring you to Sydney again! Best wishes.

  6. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    19. July 2017 at 18:07

    Fantastic story, new neighbor (kind of).

  7. Gravatar of Major.Freedom Major.Freedom
    19. July 2017 at 18:54

    California is the best place to go if you like communism.

  8. Gravatar of H_WASSHOI H_WASSHOI
    19. July 2017 at 20:15

    If humans’ evaluator is constant, I think our economic policy goal is clear

  9. Gravatar of Rick G Rick G
    19. July 2017 at 20:25

    If you drive through Phoenix, I’ll buy you dinner.

  10. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    19. July 2017 at 20:30


    Having lived in and traveled to San Diego many times, I don’t think I’d want to live in Southern California for the long run. It has its charms (particularly the ocean and beaches), but the weather is so bland and consistent. Give me storms, cold days, overcast weather, and dry air.

  11. Gravatar of Victor Victor
    19. July 2017 at 20:47

    Welcome to Orange County, Professor. The climate really is like the paradise here!

  12. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    19. July 2017 at 21:37

    Best of luck in every way.

    I grew up in SoCal (Pasadena-Los Angeles) and the weather simply cannot be beat. Plenty to do outdoors, from mountains to deserts to beaches. Parts of me are bright-green with envy.

    It is hot and humid where I live, and I have kids underfoot, seemingly in platoons. Some of them are mine, even.

  13. Gravatar of Riccardo Riccardo
    19. July 2017 at 21:50

    Dear Scott, please consider writing more pieces like this one that are not about economics but instead reflections on your lived life. Over the years you’ve written a few times like this and every single time your writing is compelling in a lyrical way that I don’t often find anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because I’m about the same age and can that much more identify with your reflections of life across the same arc of time. But I doubt it. Instead, you seem to have a gift for essay, so why not run with it? I know, it’s pretty late in an otherwise academic career, and “that’s not how its supposed to be done.” But why not? The Money Illusion wasn’t the standard either. Late bloomer indeed.

  14. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    20. July 2017 at 01:09

    Congratulations and best wishes!

  15. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    20. July 2017 at 03:33

    Thanks for that post, Scott. I second Riccardo’s comment. You’re a refreshingly reflective and poignant storyteller, which many of us appreciate. Congratulations also on (eventually) ‘making it’ publications-wise, career-wise, teaching-wise and blogging-wise. Your personality probably meant it was slower and more painful than it could have been, but slow and steady wins the race, eh?!

  16. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    20. July 2017 at 04:41

    I agree with the commenters above. Essays such as this give hope to all late bloomers!

  17. Gravatar of Justin D Justin D
    20. July 2017 at 05:17

    Cheers to you Scott! Safe travels!

  18. Gravatar of Jose Jose
    20. July 2017 at 06:26

    Great writing Prof. Sumner, I hope you get what you expect out of living in California. Have a safe trip!

  19. Gravatar of Scott Freelander Scott Freelander
    20. July 2017 at 06:31

    Good luck in California Scott. Hope to retire there myself in about 20 years. I’m looking at San Diego.

  20. Gravatar of David R. Henderson David R. Henderson
    20. July 2017 at 07:50

    What Riccardo said.

  21. Gravatar of Thomas Colthurst Thomas Colthurst
    20. July 2017 at 08:00

    Best wishes on your move! I live in Boston (well, Somerville), and I’m sorry I never got a chance to meet you in person while you were here.

  22. Gravatar of Thursday assorted links – Marginal REVOLUTION Thursday assorted links - Marginal REVOLUTION
    20. July 2017 at 08:51

    […] Germany is not the problem, and Scott agrees.  And Scott’s mini-memoir, […]

  23. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    20. July 2017 at 09:30

    Welcome to California Scott!

  24. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    20. July 2017 at 09:34

    … there’s plenty of fire season left to enjoy. Next up: mudslides. Earthquakes year round!

  25. Gravatar of cnk guy cnk guy
    20. July 2017 at 09:50

    I think you’ll be disappointed living in California, too much crime and latinos there. Maybe learning Spanish might help.

  26. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    20. July 2017 at 10:24

    Why did you think buying a 2 flat was a bad investment?

  27. Gravatar of Jeff Moriarty Jeff Moriarty
    20. July 2017 at 10:32

    Hi Scott! Sorry to see you leave dear old Bentley. Best of luck in sunny California! Best, Jeff

  28. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    20. July 2017 at 11:15


    it is sufficiently hot in the valley you are probably better being priced out of Sherman oaks. If you aren’t in the industry it isn’t worth it.

    Good choice going to the OC.

  29. Gravatar of Massimo Heitor Massimo Heitor
    20. July 2017 at 11:36

    Stories like these are probably of zero interest to academics, particularly those American academics who have stated that they care more about the lives and daily struggles of Vietnamese peasants than fellow American citizens.

    In all seriousness, it’s a great story.

    Doing landlord labor seems surprisingly proletarian for the regal ranks of tenured academia.

    $33k in 1982 dollars is about $85k in 2017 dollars. And my 1982 estimate is probably on the early side, making my $85k figure on the high side. That is much less than academics make in today’s world. Regular assistant + associate professors, not full tenured professors make $100k-$150k per year in Austin. And of course, that’s an ~8 month academic year, not a 12 month year. But competition for those positions is brutal.

  30. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    20. July 2017 at 11:54

    Well, southern California has a great climate: not too hot, not too cold. Will you be leaving the east coast Straussians and joining the west coast Straussians?

  31. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    20. July 2017 at 13:04

    On behalf of the People’s Republic of Madison, I wish you good luck in Southern California as a waiter in between auditions.

    P.S. I’m only eleven degrees of separation from Clint Eastwood, so I’ll see what I can do to help with your dream.

  32. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    20. July 2017 at 13:25

    Good post, good luck.

    Malcolm Gladwell did a podcast recently on slow-developing genius. Thought you might find it interesting:

    P.S. I give you three years in Cali.

  33. Gravatar of d d
    20. July 2017 at 13:26

    and cant forget the riot & flood season. been about 20 years since i lived out there. course as i recall it when was in the valley, it might get to 100+, but it would cool very fast too. unlike say Texas, where it can get to 100+ (and of course 20) but wont cool off till 10 pm. and your trip is a lot longer than mine was (only 1500 miles. one way)

  34. Gravatar of d d
    20. July 2017 at 13:26

    and welcome to sunny California

  35. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    20. July 2017 at 14:23

    I am curious about the connection between blogging and your teaching evaluations. Are you aware of anything that changed in your teaching style?

    Has blogging about these ideas clarified your own thoughts? Have your skills at explaining economic arcana improved after writing for “the masses”

    Have brilliant comments brought you new insights? .. or maybe it is rebutting the stupid ones…

  36. Gravatar of Dots Dots
    20. July 2017 at 16:23

    congratulations, Scott. this is a great blog, and market monetarism is cool

  37. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    20. July 2017 at 17:27

    Goodbye. And good…goodbye. (And how does Sumner afford such a nice LA place with a mere $1M-$3M net worth?)

  38. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    20. July 2017 at 17:55

    “I expected the blogging to hurt my student evaluations, because I was so busy. Instead they rose to well above average, until finally in my very last semester (fall of 2014) I got a perfect score (by now the scale was out of 6) on at least some of the questions.”

    It’s clearly the practice from dealing with annoying internet commenters.

  39. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    20. July 2017 at 18:32


    Beautiful post.

  40. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. July 2017 at 02:18

    OT but thought-provoking–

    China agrees to allow imports of U.S. rice for first time -USDA

    CHICAGO (Reuters) — China officials have agreed to allow imports of U.S. rice for the first time ever, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Thursday.

    The move would give U.S. farmers access to the world’s biggest rice consumer, with China importing about 5 million tonnes last year, Perdue said in a statement.


    Okay, Trump is a lulu. But what about this? How is possible this never happened before?

    If you are a CA rice farmer, do you think Trump is “yugely fantastic” or not?

  41. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. July 2017 at 04:10

    Thanks Nick, Cloud, MBKA.

    ChargerCarl, Yes.

    Thanks Stephen and David.

    Major, Communism brought us Silicon Valley and Hollywood? I’m impressed by that system!

    Rick, Alas, Flagstaff.

    Brett, I agree with Victor.

    Thanks Ben and Foosion.

    Riccardo, David and Rajat, Thanks, I’ll consider it.

    Thanks Becky, Justin, Jose, Scott.

    Thanks Thomas and Tom.

    Benny, Financially it was fine, although it’s easier to make money in stocks. Just too much hassle.

    Thanks Jeff, I’ll miss our lunchtime conversations.

    Thanks Massimo. I made $22,500 in 1982-83, the $33,000 figure was for my 7th year.

    Todd, I’ll be in Madtown in a few days.

    Brian, I’ll be dead in 3 years? Seriously, what makes you think I get to choose where to live? My wife would never agree to another move after all the hassles of this one.

    Thanks d, dots and Catherine.

    Ray, What makes you think you know my net worth? And the new house is cheaper than the one we sold.

    Doug and Saturos–that actually may be right.

  42. Gravatar of Uday Uday
    21. July 2017 at 08:31

    Best of luck. Will you be moving to OC?

  43. Gravatar of Uday Uday
    21. July 2017 at 08:32

    Best of luck. Will you be moving to LA county or OC?

  44. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. July 2017 at 14:24

    Bad news though Scott: you can bring your ghillie suite, but you have to leave your assault weapons behind!


  45. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. July 2017 at 14:26

    … also, don’t bring your gypsy moth collection:

  46. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    21. July 2017 at 14:36

    Major, Communism brought us Silicon Valley and Hollywood? I’m impressed by that system!


    What’s happening here? Is this really Am I hallucinating? Have pigs learned to fly? Has hell frozen over??

  47. Gravatar of Alec Fahrin Alec Fahrin
    21. July 2017 at 22:35

    Your story was enjoyable to read. I never actually knew about your past and your academic struggles until now.
    From the few times I’ve been there, California is beautiful. Yosemite and the Bay especially. Other than that, I haven’t visited enough to say much more. Best of luck living happily in Cali.

    I believe that was sarcasm. You never know though. After last year it seems anything is possible.

  48. Gravatar of H_WASSHOI H_WASSHOI
    21. July 2017 at 22:44

    I like the western gazebo

  49. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    22. July 2017 at 05:55

    I believe that was sarcasm. You never know though. After last year it seems anything is possible.”

    Oh, certainly. Considering who’s being addressed is what makes me ask ” Is this real life?”

  50. Gravatar of Federico Federico
    23. July 2017 at 12:29


    You’ll be deeply missed from the Boston area. Now, if you are indeed a late bloomer then I’m REALLY looking forward to posts over the next five years

  51. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    25. July 2017 at 12:54

    There’s nothing odd about having a 3.2 high school GPA, in my view – the classes were incredibly boring! There were only a handful of interesting ones (Physics, Geometry, Pre-Calc, and some English electives) at my high school.

    My high-school GPA was a ways below 3.2, but like SS I had no trouble getting into college. Admittedly after having never had/chosen to do homework before, the first year of college was something of a shock.

    Many of the posts on this blog have been long and complex, and I could understand the self-denigration of the writing skill if they weren’t lucid – but they are lucid, so I don’t get it. This is an extremely well-written blog. I would quibble with the occasional substitution of “it’s” (i.e. “it is”) when the writer means “its,” but that’s it, and half the blogosphere seems to make that mistake.

  52. Gravatar of RobF RobF
    25. July 2017 at 14:54

    Exciting times! Thank you for sharing your story. SoCal, a gazebo, a lake view, and a stack of nineteenth-century novels is a good dream. I wish for you the very best in this next phase of your life.

  53. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. July 2017 at 06:41

    Thanks everyone, and yes, the OC.

    anon, I think I make that mistake because I associate the possessive form with an apostrophe. Of course I know it’s wrong, but when I am going fast I slip into that error.

    Today, good high school students have 4.8 GPAs.

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