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A copy of the sports section open to the college basketball scores, an unwrapped caffein-laced candy, a cup of coffee three hours old, a Genesis CD, your wedding picture, and a well-worn copy of Human Action really aren't going to tell future scholars much Pete. ;)

More seriously... I think it's totally impossible to "keep up with" the journals in any real way, given the explosion in the number out there. Which is why I think blogs are so important: find an econ-blogger or two or five you trust and follow the leads on what they think are important and go from there. There's just no way any one person can survey it all, so we have to rely on information intermediaries of various sorts. Databases are one, but other economists are another.

Humbling but inspiring post Pete!

The AEA Committee on Graduate Education released a report in 1992 on the study habits graduate students at the top 5 graduate programs were being taught. It went something like this:

1. Never read anything more than 2 or 3 years old, unless specifically assigned.

2. Never read anything about the business world or the contemporary economy.

3. Stick to reading articles reporting the most recent and currently fashionable math equations and data manipulations -- stay away from math equations and data manipulations which aren't "PC" at your university.

4. Don't read history, sociology, anthropology, human evolutionary biology, psychology, philosophy or any of those other squishy, non-economic fields.

5. Preferably have a mathematically competent but scientifically superficial background in undergraduate physics, mathematics, or engineering -- the "real" sciences.

6. Don't bother with the newspaper, or magazines, or book reviews, or library browsing or intellectual journals -- stick with doing the math and data sifting. Repeat. Stick with doing the math and the data sifting. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Things have changed a bit. I think a number of grad school are now allowing their graduate students to read psychology. Just a bit. Not too much, now. A bit.

"But we can do it online in the comfort of our own homes. (Dave have we lost something with progress?!)"
-- I find that flipping through journals, while inefficient, can lead to happenstance discoveries...

The question is one of effectiveness, not efficiency - I'm not sure of long run effectiveness of flipping through journals though.

1. I discovered Rothbard while searching the stacks at my university library when I was an undergrad. There is something to be said about unexpected discovery and surprise among the stacks.

2. I became a member of the American Economic Assn. and received the AER and JEL as an undergrad. Had little clue as to content, but it immediately impressed upon me the need to become proficient in mathematics if I ever wanted to go to grad school in economics (which, by the way, I was determined to do by the end of my sophomore year. Back then my wish was UCLA. I would later turn down admission there for GMU. Best decision of my career.)

3. I subscribed to The Conservative Book Club, were I discovered more Austrian books and eventually The Journal of Libertarian Studies. It was reading Lavoie's article on the socialist calculation debate that led me to enthusiastically apply to GMU. I turned down my seven other offers (teaching or research assistantships) at the other schools I applied to -- turned them down flatly -- as I waited for GMU's glacial funding process to conclude. I will never forget getting the call from none other than Don Lavoie himself, saying I received $$$ and that he hoped I will decide to come to GMU. (I didn't tell him GMU was, now, my only choice!)

4. Back to the AEA. The best part of being a member of the AEA was that I received the directory of all assn. members -- with addresses, office phone numbers, even many with home phone numbers. As a junior I called Milton Friedman's office -- got his secretary and asked if I sent a copy of my Free to Choose book, would he and Rose sign it. Certainly he would, she responded, and off it went. I also called John Kenneth Galbraith's home (I don't recall if I got that number from the directory or from his department secretary). I wanted to drill him on his Keynesianism. Instead, his housekeeper answered and refused to allow me to talk to him.

5. During the summer before my senior year, my wife and I flew Chicago to NYC for free, just for lunch (working for Midway Airlines I got free tickets. Julie and I were poor and decided to see what the high life is). I had a copy of Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom for the flight. As we walked down one of the streets along Central Park (Park Ave?), here comes Galbraith with some young woman toward us. I walked up, said hello, shook his hand. He looked at me confused, as if I were some flunky student of his, and we departed. Five minutes later I thought DARNIT, I should have said "Could you please sign this, to Dave?" -- my copy of Capitalism and Freedom -- without his knowledge of the book's title.

I bring this up because, like so many of us who went on to grad school, and survived it, we loved the life of the mind. At GMU my friends Pete and Steve and I never shut up. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Always engage in the conversation and debate. Enter the challenge, and stay focused.

(But sometimes I need a break from it all, and I must admit that while I'm "on break" it is a true break -- I don't miss the conversation and debate. But then, at some point, I can't wait to throw myself back into it again.)

Please, folks, consider Pete's words:

"Like exercising regularly and eating right, we all know what we need to do to really live a productive and meaningful "life of the mind", we just often lack the will to do it."

Pete's broader point is well taken. Just one small comment. David Skarbek turned me onto subscribing to email announcements of favorite journals. Most scholarly journals have this feature now. You go to their homepage (or the publishers homepage) and request that each new issues table of contents be emailed to you as it comes out. It takes about an afternoon but I subscribed to pretty much every economics, political science, criminology, sociology, and philosophy journal of passing interest.

Here are some of my recent favorite finds:

Ursula Backhaus, A History of German and Austrian Economic Thought on Health Issues (Frankfurter Abhandlungen zu den gesamten Staatswissenschaften, Vol. 6)

http://www.springerlink.com/content/nk61005t1703n4j7/

Jamshid A. Marvasti (Ed.), Psycho-Political Aspects of Suicide Warriors, Terrorism and Martyrdom; A Critical View from “Both Sides” in Regard to Cause and Cure

http://www.springerlink.com/content/a037j8218n7311h3/

In Defense of the Anarchist

http://ojls.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/29/1/115

How many cases do I need?': On science and the logic of case selection in field-based research

http://eth.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/10/1/5?etoc

There's lots more.

You don't have to agree with the politics of C Wright Mills to take on board some good ideas on intellectual craftsmanship from the addendum to "The Sociological Imagination".

SSRN is a great resource to tap into. Its free to register and you get regular emails about new papers in the journals you list as your preference. Better still, you get author details with the papers, so even if you do not subscribe to the journal, you could email the author and most times they are very happy to email a copy of their paper to a grad student.

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