Monday, September 20, 2010

Economics and literature

It was a very full day today, but perhaps the coolest thing I learned is that there is a character based on James Tobin in the Caine Mutiny. Here's the key bit from an old Minneapolis Fed interview with Tobin:

REGION: "A mandarin-like midshipman named Tobit, with a domed forehead, measured quiet speech, and a mind like a sponge, was ahead of the field by a spacious percentage." That's how Herman Wouk described a character-based on you-in The Caine Mutiny. How did you come to be enshrined in a Wouk novel?

TOBIN: That was said in The Caine Mutiny, in the first chapter, and, as you just read, referred to a midshipman, named Tobit, at the school. T-o-b-i-t. It wasn't a very deep disguise.. This school was the midshipman's school for what used to be called those "90 Day Wonders." They would take us for 90 days and make us naval officers. We're talking about 1942, the early days of war after Pearl Harbor. We were assembled in this "ship" in Columbia University in a dormitory. We were taught to be naval officers, supposedly in three months. We were arranged alphabetically in the dormitory. At the top were the people with my first initial T, and also U, V, W. We knew the people adjacent to us and up and down better then the rest of the group, and one of those fellows was Herman Wouk. We were acquainted and were good friends. He was famous in the school because he had been a gag writer for Fred Allen and Allen's famous radio program of the day.

Wouk wrote The Caine Mutiny later and he wanted the protagonist in the book to go to the school that both Wouk and I attended. So that's how this matter came up. That's my only appearance in the book. Wouk and I never had any contact after those 90 days-I was not in the same theater of war that he was or on the same ship or anything. That's how all that came about. The first days after the war when I was beginning my teaching career, in the late '40s and early '50s, The Caine Mutiny became a very popular book which all the students seemed to be reading. So, when the word got around that, well, your teacher was in the book, that added to my reputation among undergraduate students, and graduate students, too. Incidentally, for having the best academic record in this school, I, like Tobit, was given a gold watch by J. P. Morgan.

Full interview here.

This all came up because we covered the Tobit model today in ECON 675, my graduate applied econometrics course.

A great big hat tip to Isaac Sorkin for following up!

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