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"Rationality became a straitjacket" - Princeton Quote Prompt

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Dec 30, 2009   #1

Please help me improve this very important essay.

Prompt: Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a jumping off point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation at the beginning of your essay.

"In orthodox economics, rationality became a straitjacket."
-Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

For a while, I envisioned being an economist when I grew up. With ideas like Nash equilibrium and decision trees, I could understand human behavior and perhaps even influence it-a utopian ideal, to be sure. My efforts were spearheaded by a fictional construct: the Rational Man, a no-nonsense character who always tried to maximize his money and happiness.

Throughout my junior year, I studied as an intern under Rational Man. Rational Man the CEO showed me how to use multivariable calculus to win price wars against competing firms. Rational Man took me on his shopping sprees, using indifference curves to purchase the most bang for his buck. I followed Rational Man through wage negotiations and oligopolies and court deals, amazed each time at his ability to squeeze the most money out of each situation. He wielded economic theory like a torch, illuminating the optimal, profitable paths in life...the rational paths. I aspired to be like him.

I stepped through the broken fence, slid down the hill instead of risking the crumbling steps, and knocked on the door to the portable classroom. A white-haired Mrs. Sjong waved me in from behind the window. "Thanks for coming again, Lawrence", she exclaimed as I entered. Since it was only my third time coming to Ingraham High School to help as an assistant math teacher, I first put my proposed tutoring schedule down on her desk. Mrs. Sjong's eyes scanned up and down the array of boxes, noting the circled times. "Are you sure? That's an awful lot of teaching". Altogether I had offered to help four hours a week in lunchtime study sessions and in-class tutoring, time taken out from free periods in my own schedule. Then a surprise: "How would you like it if we hired you?"

Rational Man wouldn't have hesitated to accept. Money was money, and a paying job was more profitable than volunteer service. But I hesitated. How could I explain that intangible taint that accompanied working for cash? There was guilt if I took any more from a school so stretched for funds that its smallest classes had thirty students. There was disappointment if I told my friend Kenneth that I was tutoring not for him, but for money. "No thank you," I irrationally replied to a surprised Mrs. Sjong.

I'm technically an irrational human. I'm not optimizing my class rank when I walk my friend through physics problem sets right before tests. I'm not maximizing the utility of my free time when I work unpaid overtime to program educational games for students whom I privately tutor. But I like to think that the flaw lies not with me, but instead with the Rational Man who fails to realize how much I value helping others learn.

EF_Kevin 8 / 13,335 129  
Dec 31, 2009   #2
That quote and first paragraph have me feeling intrigued! Good job...

I stepped through the broken fence, slid down...----- before this sentence, the paragraph needs a topic sentence. The topic sentence can establish the theme of the para, and it can also set the scene where you were stepping through the broken part of the fence. Can you segue from the Rational Man to this scene?

Toward the end, it seems like a little too much self-aggrandizement, a little to much celebrating your virtue. I think the end should go back to that quote, and it is also necessary to show that you understand how Talem intended these words with regard to economics.


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