some posts maybe you are never ready to write. nevertheless, the news of marc roberts‘s death over the weekend seems to warrant both an immediate response and the response that is just right. he seemed to usually be able to manage these simultaneously but, given the sense of time that follows a completion of a life well-lived and well-said, i’ll err on the side of the former.
i won’t claim to have known marc as well as many but i knew him well enough to respect him, which means, perhaps, seeing past rough first impressions. he pronounced himself a reformed economist at some point early enough to influence me: politics and the realities of implementation and the curves of ethics-in-real-life became the subject of his writing and his teaching and we are better for it.
marc had a standard line — a bit of a trap — that he would lead you into (funnier to watch others go than to realize you had followed in). you might make a comment; maybe even one you thought useful. then he would start. he grew up in jersey. [fill in a few lines about the roughness of growing up in a steel town in jersey.] they had a saying back then, he’d say, that would apply to the point you’d just raised.
familiar and biting each time (after the first, which was less pleasant). what always made it ok was the sense that he was, and wanted you to be, in pursuit of the right questions. he raised questions of distribution when everyone else was looking at average treatment effects. he was a reformed economist when the economist profession was booming. he wanted to know about implementation when everyone was looking at theoretical equations. and wanted to know about practical theory when everyone was looking at the sexy result of the moment.
we were through “pinning butterflies,” i was told indirectly by marc. categorizing of treatments or results wasn’t what we needed — we needed to explain things and try to make sense of them.
and then to do better.
some posts you are never ready to write. but some some are scratched in before you even sit down to it and some give you a sense that you shouldn’t wait. with marc, the gist sank in early, so one doesn’t have to do much work to imagine he’s still around. which is quite a good thing.
we need his voice. it’ll be missed but, as with all good teachers, it, with its gruff accent, is hardly gone.
thank you, marc. (http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/obituaries/2014/07/29/marc-roberts-chestnut-hill-harvard-school-public-health-professor-had-global-reach-economics-teacher-and-consultant/v41p3cyjbSEjNH2YONAE6J/story.html)